In which the TARDIS picks up an alien distress signal - originating from 1985 Earth. The Doctor has been trying to fix the ship's chameleon circuit, and when it materialises in London it takes on the form of an ornately painted cabinet. It has arrived in a familiar location - the junkyard at 76 Totter's Lane. The Doctor and Peri find that the signal is being bounced around a number of addresses in the area. Elsewhere in the city, one-time Dalek mercenary Lytton is planning a bank robbery. He is unaware that one of his team - Russell - is really an undercover police officer. The Doctor moves the TARDIS to where the distress signal appears to be originating - a garage workshop. This time, the TARDIS takes on the shape of a church organ. The two Replicant policemen who had survived the recent Dalek activity attack the Doctor and Peri but he is able to overpower them. They find that someone has dug a tunnel down into the sewer system. They descend to explore. Lytton and his gang are also in the sewers - intending to use them to break into a bank vault. They are not the only ones in the sewers - as the Cybermen have a hidden base here. It transpires that Lytton was never planning to rob the bank at all. He has deliberately come here to meet the Cybermen - and has a secret use for the gang members' skills. Russell has managed to escape, and meets up with the Doctor and Peri. He informs them of Lytton's activities. Returning to the TARDIS, they find that the Cybermen have captured the ship. Russell is killed.
On the planet Telos, the Cybermen - lead by the Cyber-Controller - are awaiting the arrival of a time-ship which they have captured. The Controller has a plan to change their history - by preventing the destruction of Mondas in 1986. Halley's Comet is approaching the Earth, and they will divert it to crash into the planet. A weakened Earth will therefore pose no risk to Mondas when it arrives soon after. Two of the time-ship's three man crew are prisoners on Telos, working on the surface to prepare it for destruction. A highly flammable substance called Vastial will be used to destroy Telos as part of a scientific experiment, now that the Cybermen are preparing to abandon it. The time-ship crew - Bates and Stratton - have been partially turned into Cybermen, but the mental conditioning has failed. They are planning to steal back their ship.
On Earth, the Cyber-Leader orders the Doctor to take them all to Telos - including Lytton and the sole survivor of his gang, Griffiths. The TARDIS materialises in the Cyber Tombs beneath Cybercontrol - taking on the form of an ornate elevator. The Cybermen in the tombs are being sabotaged. This is the work of the Cryons - the planet's natives. These beings can only survive in sub-zero temperatures. Peri escapes and meets the Cryons, whilst the Doctor is locked up with their captured leader, Flast. Lytton and Griffiths escape onto the surface and meet Bates and Stratton.
From Flast, the Doctor learns of Lytton's real plan. The Cryons had intercepted his distress signal and employed him to help them. He will help Bates and Stratton regain their time-ship. It needs three crew members to operate it. The Doctor is shocked that he misjudged Lytton's motives. The room where he and Flast are imprisoned contains a quantity of Vastial, and the Doctor plants his sonic lance amongst it - set so that it will slowly build up heat so that the substance will ignite. Flast is killed by the Cybermen after the Doctor uses some Vastial to escape - destroying the guards. He is reunited with Peri. Lytton's party are about to reach the time-ship when they are attacked. Bates, Stratton and Griffiths are killed. Lytton is taken to Cybercontrol, and the Cybermen begin to convert him. The Doctor uses the TARDIS to travel to the control centre. It reverts to its usual Police Box form. The Doctor destroys the Cyber-Controller and the Cyber-Leader. He is helped by Lytton, who is fatally wounded. The Doctor and Peri take to the TARDIS and depart, just as the Vastial is ignited by the sonic lance. Cybercontrol, and the captured time-ship, are destroyed in the blast.
This two-part adventure was written by Paula Moore, and was broadcast between 5th and 12th January, 1985. The first story of Season 22, it sees the programme return to a Saturday evening slot (after the entire Davison run had gone out on weekday nights). It also sees the programme experiment with 45 minute episodes. Resurrection of the Daleks had gone out in two 45 minute parts due to the televising of the 1984 Winter Olympics and been deemed a success. Script Editor Eric Saward (the true author of this story) favoured this format as he disliked having to manufacture cliffhangers every 23 minutes. There was now more freedom in the pacing of episodes.
Paula Moore was the nom-de-plume of Paula Woolsey - Saward's partner. Continuity adviser Ian Levine has also claimed partial authorship of it. One suspects that all of the continuity references are his, whilst the main bulk of the story has Saward written all over it.
Those continuity references include the location of Totter's Lane (from An Unearthly Child), the return of Lytton and his Replicant cop henchmen from Resurrection of the Daleks, plus a number of Cyberman stories.
It is a sequel of sorts to Tomb of the Cybermen. Having the aliens based in the sewers hints at The Invasion. The Cybermen planned to crash things into planets in both Revenge of the Cybermen and Earthshock. And the whole Cyberman plan refers back to the events of The Tenth Planet.
Rather than pleasing the fans, this has actually turned a lot of people away from this story. (Levine obviously only thought of a certain clique of fans who might be pleased). Having the Cybermen, the Controller and the tombs looking nothing like the Troughton story then annoyed the fans he was aiming at.
Casual viewers would have been quite lost at all the references. One big continuity info dump brings the plot entirely to a halt early in episode two.
Whilst one can see where Saward is coming from regarding the 45 minute format, each episode still requires some moment of incident around the 23 minute mark anyway, and this format will lead to problems later in the series when the Doctor fails to show up in his own series until the second half.
This particular story suffers from the whole Bates / Stratton sub-plot. It just doesn't go anywhere.
The other thing to mention now, that will grow as a concern as the season progresses, is the amount of violence on show. Apart from a couple of Cryons, every guest artist dies. Lytton's hands are crushed, bloodily. And the Doctor uses a gun to blast the Controller.
The continuity gets out of hand with the casting as well, as the portly Michael Kilgarriff is re-employed as the Cyber-Controller - having created the role in Tomb. This time he gets to say his own lines. Naturally, Maurice Colbourne is Lytton. Griffiths is Brian Glover. Bates is played by Michael Atwell, who had been one of the original Ice Warriors (Isbur in The Ice Warriors). Terry Molly, the new Davros, gets to show his face as Russell.
Not showing their faces are the Cryons. Flast is comedienne and impressionist Faith Brown, and Blue Peter's Sarah Greene is in there somewhere as well. Brown will later lend her tonsils to the "Doctor In Distress" musical monstrosity.
The episode endings are:
- The Doctor, Peri and Russell enter the TARDIS and are attacked by Cybermen. The Cyber-Leader orders Peri to be killed...
- The TARDIS departs from Cybercontrol, the Doctor regretting having misjudged Lytton. The complex explodes.
Overall, it is a bit of a mess - albeit a well directed mess. The pacing seems all wrong. Sub-plots seem pointless. Too much continuity, even for a fan like me. There is a lot that doesn't make sense, as you will read below. Quite why Ian Levine wants to claim part of this is a mystery.
Things you might like to know:
- The boss of the baddies has come to be referred to as The Fat Controller (a la Thomas the Tank Engine, in case you didn't know). Kilgarriff was too big for the standard Cyberman costume supplied, as you will notice if you look at his cuffs. Extra material had to be added.
- Director Matthew Robinson decided to have the Cryons all played by female artists. It was announced in the press that one of them would be played by Koo Stark - famous at the time for having been a girlfriend to Prince Andrew. She dropped out, to be replaced by Sarah Berger.
- Robinson moved on to help launch Eastenders, and did not direct a Doctor Who again.
- As a race, the Cryons are not well thought out. They cannot exist on the surface of their own planet. Whilst sounding female, they all have mustaches.
- A big deal is made of the Doctor's angst at misjudging Lytton - a character that he never actually meets in his previous appearance. The Doctor shouldn't even know his name. A missing adventure would not help, as it is clear that there hasn't been any interim meeting.
- Why are the Cybermen planning to destroy Telos - when their plan is to change history so that they never set up shop here in the first place?
- Why are the Cryons collaborating in a scheme that will actually lead to their planet being invaded? They should want the Cybermen to stop Mondas' destruction surely?
- And just when are the Telos scenes set? If it's a sequel to Tomb then it must be set post 2500 AD. Yet the Cryons pick up Lytton's signal from 1985. It looks as if events on Telos are happening concurrently with events on Earth. If it is set in the future then how can the Cybermen have travelled back to 1985, when they've only just got the time-ship? All very confusing.
- The producer had been talking about replacing the Police Box shell for the TARDIS on a number of occasions - claiming that kids no longer knew what a Police Box was. Having the ship change in this story looked as though he was going to go through with this threat, but this was never going to happen. It generated column inches in the papers - which was all JNT wanted.
- The Halley's Comet plot is set up then entirely discarded. It is a throwback to earlier drafts where the Cryons were supposed to live within the comet.
- The music in the sequence where the Doctor and Peri observe the comet on the scanner is from a documentary about... Halley's Comet. The Steptoe and Son theme (also by Ron Grainer) is referenced when the TARDIS arrives in the junkyard.
- Some fans started a rumour that the first story of this season would be called "The Opera of Doom", and would feature Lightfoot and Jago as well as Omega and the Master, the Rills and even Padmasambhava - plus the Cybermen. (So not quite as many continuity references as actually made it to the screen, then...). Despite the lunacy of such a concept, respected fanzine DWB picked up on it and printed it as news.
- Attack of the Cybermen marks the final appearance in Doctor Who for Pat Gorman. He's one of the partly cybernetic workers in the Gerrard's Cross sandpit. He first appeared back in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, as one of the rebels. Once Pat's no longer in the series, you know its days are numbered...