5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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ATTACK OF THE CYBERMEN
"This is fantasy! We won't convince anyone!"
Definitely the best Cyberman story we've seen. Apart, of course, from the bits that actually have Cybermen in.
Yes, we know it's heresy. But we've never been convinced by the mobile sardine cans: they just seem alternately dull and silly to us (and sometimes both at the same time). So a Cyberman story that's mostly Cyberman-free has got to be a winner. And here's the clincher: despite its many glaring problems, Attack Of The Cybermen never stopped entertaining us.
First of all, in contrast with The Twin Dilemma the script's absolutely stuffed with terrific dialogue. Since most of us are comedy writers, we're suckers for a well-turned comic phrase, and Attack Of The Cybermen has them in spades. '" I suddenly feel conspicuous." "I'm not surprised in that coat."'? '"How thick is it?" "Less than you."' ? “We weren’t getting very far with me playing pattycake with the walls.”? Priceless.
Then there's the wonderful character of Lytton. We loved him in Resurrection Of The Daleks, and here he's just as good. Yes, he gets a rocky start at the beginning, with some very odd-sounding dialogue, but then he is an alien after all, and after he comes out ("You said you came from Fulham!") he really comes into his own. It's another awe-inspiring performance from Maurice Colbourne, who's mesmerising as the mercenary with a shard of ice for a heart. Sadly, it all turns to custard at the end, when we discover he was actually perfectly lovely and honourable and stuff all along. Yeah, right. Our memories aren't that short. Even that, though, isn't anywhere near enough to sink one of Dr Who's most striking secondary characters.
The plot, of course, is ridiculous. What are the Cybermen doing on Earth? Where did they get the humans from they're using on Telos? Why did... no, stop us now. But it doesn't actually seem to matter. Despite the fact that the whole Bates and Stratton plot's utterly pointless, for example, it's nevertheless deeply intriguing on the way (who knew you could knock off a Cyberman's head just like cracking open a pinata?). Same with all that pointless toing and froing on Earth: totally redundant, but bloody gripping. As for the mountain of fanwank, aside from rolling our eyes a bit at the I M Foreman references we found to our surprise that it didn't bother us at all. Maybe if we cared more (i.e. at all) about the Cybermen, we'd be more worked up about it, but since we don't we just thought it added a nice chunk of depth to the story. And since we're not about to swoon away if they change canon even slightly, we thought the chameleon circuit stuff was fun. (After all, without it we wouldn't have got that lovely "Shh!" scene.)
And the Doctor and Peri? We liked 'em. With his character more defined, the Doctor's much more engaging here than in Twin Dilemma: he's strong (at last!) but compassionate. The “I can’t just leave him!” moment at the end is terrific.
And yes, he’s a wee bit violent too. So? Considering the multitudinous strategies previous Doctors have employed to kill without getting their hands dirty, at least the Sixth Doctor's not a hypocrite. True, it's a bit shocking when he tells Peri to shoot the policeman and she's not sure if he means it, but like we said about Twin Dilemma, shocking is good. If the Doctor was a plaster saint he wouldn't be very interesting, would he? We'll take interesting over angelic any day.
As for Peri, she's great despite having virtually nothing to do. Given this Doctor's slight tendency, shall we say, in the direction of arrogance, he’s in desperate need of someone who’ll stand up to him, and Peri does the job magnificently (let’s not forget that she had the guts to stay with him despite that little matter of attempted murder). We stand by our opinion that this is one of the great Doctor/companion pairings.
Both the Doctor and Peri scintillate in their bickering scenes: we're mystified as to why fans moan about these, because they're not only funny but very characterising, not to mention vital after the Doctor's character confusion in Twin Dilemma. As for the charge that Peri whines, huh. Considering what the Doctor's putting her through, we think her complaints are positively underplayed. Now, if you want a masterclass in whining, have a listen to Stratton (or is it Bates?), who whinges incessantly and moronically about Bates's (or is it Stratton's?) perfectly sensible escape plans. Then come tell us Peri's a whiner. If you dare.
Oh, yes, the Cybermen. Bor-ing. Since they actually get a namecheck in the title, though, we suppose we’d better say something about them. Have they been on a new age retreat or something? They seem awfully delicate: a long way from the tough-to-kill tank-alikes we’ve seen in the past. Not to mention considerate, stopping ten minutes after attempting to kill Peri to make sure she’s warm and comfy. How sweet. As for the deadly dull scenes in Cybercontrol, enlivened only by the Cyberpodge, we found these were only made bearable by yelling out “Bonnng!” at the end of each scene along with the inexplicable bell that always rings at the end of a Cyberspeech. (Try it, it’s fun. Even if it does do in your street cred.)
As for the Cryons, they’re a good idea on paper, but on screen, wiggly fingers and all, they’re terribly worthy and just a wee bit dull. (If Cryons have children, are they Crybabies?)
The ending’s messy and not exactly happy. We’ve seen this before, most notably in Inferno, but it’s a brave choice for a new Doctor and it works very well. It underlines the more adult tone of this season, which we’re nuts about.
It’s illogical, it’s vaguely silly, it’s loaded with continuity. And it has Cybermen in it. We don’t care. It’s good.
MORAL: Don’t work for villains. It’ll be messy.
ULLO, ULLO, ULLO
Those policemen were memorably creepy in Resurrection Of The Daleks, and they’re just as good here. Autonesque, in fact. (Why couldn’t this have been an Auton story? That would have been a lot more fun.)
We love the way Peri jumps up and down to catch the Doctor’s attention.
HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
The Doctor’s yapping on about the mysterious alien being cautious, but it never seems to occur to him to ask himself why if the alien’s being so secretive it’s broadcasting on all frequencies.
BUT YOU PROMISED
One minute the Doctor’s defending Peri from the Cybermen, the next he’s urging her to go with them. How does he know they’re not planning to off her as soon as they get her round the next corner?
It appears that before he’s stopped the Doctor’s plan at the end is just to bugger off sharpish. Leaving the Cryons behind him. Er, what about the bomb?