Attack of the Cybermen

attack of the cybermen

Your regeneration has made you vindictive, Doctor.

Not at all. I’ve never found it difficult to despise people like you.

Lytton and the Sixth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor attempts to fix the TARDIS chameleon circuit at 76 Totter’s Lane in 1985, where the Cybermen are planning to change history by having Halley’s Comet crash into Earth.
Review

With so many references to past episodes of Doctor Who, Attack of the Cybermen rarely has time to form a coherent story of its own. The story also seems to be symbolic of the major problems of Doctor Who of this era – script editor Eric Saward’s bloodthirsty storytelling, as this is a story in which no-one other than the Doctor and his companion survive. This being said, it is still quite an entertaining episode, bogged down perhaps by too many ideas, especially when it comes to the second part of the story and it does feel like, whoever wrote it, struggled dealing with the new format of 45-minute episodes.

6 gun cybers

My main issue with this story would be the violence and the nastier tone. Littered throughout the episode are moments of such sadistic cruelty and they feel quite troubling. The most horrific incidence of this comes towards the end of the story, where the Cybermen crush Lytton’s hands, which just feels gratuitous and wrong. The Doctor is not exempt from this as he urges Peri to shoot Russell and brawls with one of Lytton’s policemen in the sewers. The fact that the fight takes place off screen and finishes with the Doctor saying that the policeman is “having a little lie down” feels all the more problematic. This is symbolic of the new direction the production team were trying to take Colin Baker’s Doctor away from the affable Peter Davison incarnation, but they overstep on too many occasions. I feel so sorry for Colin Baker because he is giving it his all but he is let down by decisions by the production team to make this Doctor darker than his predecessors. All this whilst wearing a multicoloured dream coat. Fortunately, Baker has had his chance to shine through working with Big Finish in more recent times, which has been seen to redeem his Doctor in the eyes of many fans. However, Colin Baker does deliver a good performance. Eric Saward is well known for saying that he does not rate him as the Doctor, which is something that bothers me as Baker is clearly doing the best he can do with some pretty ropy material at times. The dynamic between the Sixth Doctor and Peri is really well played by Baker and Nicola Bryant, and I really like their relationship. They both seem to get on the other’s nerves, but there is a shared fondness for each other.

The story also suffers from evoking nostalgia a bit too much at expense of doing anything new. When it comes down to it, the Cybermen’s scheme is actually a pretty good one. They plan to alter the course of Halley’s Comet to crash into Earth in 1985, which would in turn prevent the events of The Tenth Planet and the destruction of their home planet, Mondas. This is quite a good “timey wimey” idea but it is sadly not allowed enough time to develop properly. It only really gets introduced halfway through the second part, and due to other subplots like fixing the Chameleon Circuit, which doesn’t really serve any true purpose to the plot except ensuring that the Doctor and Peri don’t have an easy escape. It does feel as though the writer struggled with the reduced running time, as they had thirty minutes less to play with. That being said, the heist set-up is quite well done but also ultimately feels broken up by scenes with the Doctor and Peri, which really kill the pace. Elements like the scrapyard that they land in being 76 Totter’s Lane or the quarry being the same one that was used for Tomb of the Cybermen end up just feeling like fan-baiting cameos that add nothing to the story.

totters lane

The Cybermen return after we last saw them in Earthshock, where they killed Adric. The highlight of any Cybermen episode in the 1980s is the performance of David Banks as the Cyber-Leader, and he doesn’t disappoint here. However, as the story is designed to tie into Tomb of the Cybermen, it also sees the return of Michael Kilgarriff as the Cyber Controller, which feels unnecessary as the actor has sadly put on weight since the 1960s and it looks a bit bizarre to have a portly Cyberman. There’s also a Cyber Lieutenant, which also makes this story feel overcrowded with Cyber leadership, especially when Banks is so capable of leading the Cybermen effectively. The Cryons also look fantastic and as they are a race of all female aliens are worthy of note, but the voices are really irritating! The plot with Bates and Strutton on Telos attempting to escape also feels as though it was a distraction from the main plot, and I never really felt any empathy for these characters or their plight.

peri cybermen

The story does benefit from some great direction by Matthew Robinson, who previously directed Resurrection of the Daleks, and the scenes in the sewers in the first part particularly stand out as establishing a good creepy tone. The best moments demonstrating this are when the Cyber-Leader emerges in the sewer scenes, and the cliffhanger at the end of part one is also quite good. There is a good jump scare moment towards the end of the second part when Lytton’s ankle is grabbed by a Cyberman, which really made me jump. Additionally, the story does benefit from a strong performance from Maurice Colbourne as Lytton, playing him as a suave and canny operator. It does bother me that the story seems to make more of their prior relationship – the Doctor seems to know a lot about Lytton despite the fact that they don’t spend much time if any actually directly interacting in Resurrection of the Daleks. It’s strange that this episode closes with the Doctor regretting the death of Lytton specifically considering the death count in this story.

Despite the story’s issues and the fact that it seems more keen about the idea of recycling plot ideas from stories like An Unearthly Child, Tomb of the Cybermen and Resurrection of the Daleks, I have to say I did enjoy Attack of the Cybermen. It’s by no means a classic story, and not one that I will be racing to revisit any time soon, but I think it is better than its reputation suggests.

Verdict: A well-directed episode with an interesting idea for the Cybermen, but the reliance on strong stories from the show’s past really damages this one. The overly violent story is also problematic. 6/10
Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), Maurice Colbourne (Lytton), Brian Glover (Griffiths), Terry Molloy (Russell), James Beckett (Payne), David Banks (Cyber Leader), Michael Kilgarriff (Cyber Controller), Faith Brown (Flast), Sarah Greene (Varne), Michael Attwell (Bates), Jonathan David (Strutton), Brian Orvell (Cyber Lieutenant), John Ainley (Cyberman), Stephen Churchett (Bill), Stephen Wale (David), Sarah Berger (Rost), Esther Freud (Threst)
Writer: Paula Moore (A pseudonym – disputed authorship)
Director: Matthew Robinson (2nd story)
Parts: 2
Behind the Scenes

  • This is the first episode to be produced as 45-minute episodes, a practice which finished with Revelation of the Daleks.
  • The story sees the return of Lytton, played by Maurice Colbourne, who had appeared in Resurrection of the Daleks, as well as marking the only time Terry Molloy appeared not under the prosthetics required to play Davros. Michael Kilgariff also returns as the Cyber Controller, a role he originally played in Tomb of the Cybermen.
  • Authorship of this story is highly disputed by Eric Saward, the script editor, and Ian Levine, a “fan advisor” to the show at this time. Eric Saward would have been forbidden from commissioning himself to write a story under contemporary BBC rules, so he commissioned Paula Woolsey to write elements of the script and submit them to him. Another theory states that it was a collaboration between Levine and Saward, submitted under a pseudonym, while yet another states that Woolsey wrote the story using plot ideas from Levine and Saward aided in the development and rewrote elements. Ian Levine himself claims full authorship of the story.
  • This story introduces the sonic lance, a successor to the sonic screwdriver, however, it never reappears on television after this series.
  • Following on from the poor response to the new Doctor after The Twin Dilemma, the production team decided to bring back an old foe to test the Doctor. Gerry Davis was initially commissioned to write a script but this was deemed unsuitable.
  • Director Matthew Robinson went on to create Byker Grove and cast Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, launching their careers.

Best Moment

The reveal of the Cyber-Leader in the sewers beneath London.
Best Quote

Who are you?

I’ve already told you. I am known as the Doctor. I’m also a Time Lord from the planet of Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous.

You’re bonkers!

That’s debatable.

Russell and the Sixth Doctor

The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos

This review contains spoilers for The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos.  You have been warned…

tardis team battle.jpg

Roughly translated, means Disintegrator of the Soul.

Oh, another cheery one.

Thirteenth Doctor and Graham O’Brien

Synopsis

On the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos, lies the remains of a brutal battlefield.  But as the Doctor, Ryan, Yaz and Graham answer nine separate distress calls, they discover the planet holds far more secrets.  Who is the mysterious commander with no memory?  What lies beyond the mists?  Who or what are the Ux?

The answers will lead the Doctor and her friends to a deadly reckoning.

Preamble

Personally, I feel that finales of Doctor Who are best served by being made up of two parts.  This allows for further development of ideas established in the series and generally means the story has more of an impact, helped along by the cliffhangers. Since the show’s revival, this has allowed for moments like the Daleks coming out of the void ship in Army of Ghosts, the Eleventh Doctor being locked in the Pandorica by an alliance of his greatest enemies, alongside the destruction of the entire universe in The Pandorica Opens, and in more recent times, the reveal of the Mondasian Cybermen and the return of the John Simm incarnation of the Master in World Enough and Time.  The first part usually does most of the heavy lifting, allowing the second part to delve into some more interesting areas.  The only stand-alone finale to date that has really worked for me (and I know there have only been two excluding this one) has been The Name of the Doctor, but this is probably because of the hype leading up to the 50th-anniversary special.

As always, I went into this episode with a perfectly open mind, and having largely enjoyed this series so far.  Without further ado, I’ll get to the review.

Review

The Battle of Rankoor Av Kolos brings to a close Jodie Whittaker’s first series of Doctor Who, which has been in my opinion, a solid series with the only issue of having a consistent lack of a compelling villain.  It almost goes without saying, but the music, direction and casting are fantastic again here, as they have been throughout the series.  The show looks and sounds the best it has in years.

andi

Speaking of a lack of compelling villains, this week’s finale sees the return of Tzim-Cha, last seen in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, who I quite liked as a villain, even if he was underdeveloped, understandably, in favour of the new Doctor.  In a series of humans as the true baddies, or aliens who can be redeemed, Tzim-Cha stands apart, as we have seen him hunting innocents and here, willing to commit genocide on six planets in his quest to seek revenge on the Doctor for her role in his situation on Rankoor Av Kolos.  His defeat on Earth and his 3,407 year exile seem to have unhinged him even further, and he is truly beyond redemption.  Equally, I understand the frustration that the main villain is not a recurring enemy, like the Master or the Daleks, but this wraps up the Grace storyline for both Ryan and Graham quite nicely and I feel serves the story and series much better than if this had been left until Series 12, especially with the news that this won’t be broadcast until 2020.  Tzim-Cha is an intimidating and threatening screen presence, even if he does throw armies of battle droids at the Doctor, Paltraki and the TARDIS team.  His deception of the Ux, who believe him to be their creator, also marks him out as a master of manipulation and the strongest bad guy this Doctor has encountered, which admittedly isn’t saying much.  I also quite like the fact that this adversary isn’t one who is terribly well known to the Doctor, and therefore the audience.  This makes his ultimate plan less predictable and the Doctor actually have to work hard to try to counter his evil machinations, which add meaningful stakes to the story.

From a story perspective, I found the central premise and the more science fiction basis interesting and I liked the idea of the race of the Ux.  I also like the fact that this story takes place away from Earth, and although Earth itself is threatened as part of the grand plan, it genuinely does feel as though the TARDIS has landed galaxies away.  However, I do feel that there are too many ideas in play here, which means that the story feels as though it would have benefitted from a second part.  Specifically, I feel that the use of the neural blockers to prevent the memory loss effects of the planet really should have had more of an impact on the plot.  I feel that they’re quite effective when being used to allow the gradual recall of Paltraki’s memories through the story, but when the Doctor removes them from herself and Yaz, I feel that there should have been more consequences for either one of them or both of them.  As it happens, the only ill effect is a bit of a headache, which feels a bit frustrating.  I’m also not a massive fan of the Doctor being able to summon the TARDIS with her sonic screwdriver, which I know is not without precedent as far as the audios are concerned (for the record, I’m not a fan of it there either).  The explanation that alignment to Stenza technology helps this happen feels a bit like lazy writing and I feel like a simple throwaway line expressing surprise that it worked may have reconciled it a bit for me.  As it is, it feels like a deus ex machina and makes the sonic screwdriver feel even more like a magic wand than it already does.  It did make me shout at the screen, which I never feel is a good moment.  The climax does also feel very abrupt, which seems to be a recurring issue when Chibnall is writing.

battle

What happened to “never do weapons”?

It’s a flexible creed.  Doors, locks, walls, buildings, fair game.  If it can be rebuilt, I’ll allow it.

No, no, you stopped me shooting at Sniperbots before.

You were new.  I have to lay down the rules if someone’s new.  Also, don’t quote that back to me, my rules change all the time.

Ryan Sinclair and the Thirteenth Doctor

Bradley Walsh continues to be the beating heart of this TARDIS team, and we see him here brought face to face with the creature responsible for Grace’s murder at the beginning of the series.  I completely bought him as someone who was willing to kill Tzim-Cha to get revenge and was completely accepting of what this meant for his relationship with the Doctor.  The interchange between him and the Doctor when they realise that a member of the Stenza is present and the Doctor states that if he goes through with it, he can no longer travel in the TARDIS is one of my highlights of the episode.  Of course, when Graham does get the chance to kill “Tim Shaw”, he is unable to go through with killing him, and the overall resolution of this plot strand does feel a lot more satisfying in general.  I’m looking forward to seeing more Bradley Walsh in the TARDIS, something I didn’t think I’d say ten weeks ago.  There are nice moments between him and Ryan, but Yaz again has little to nothing to do.  I really feel that this team is a bit too large and I really hope that this gets addressed in the not too distant future!

I’ve said it so many times and I’m not going to go into massive detail here as this blog is longer than I intended, but Jodie Whittaker gives another strong performance.  My personal highlight of her performance was her enthusiasm at meeting the Ux which I felt was perfectly played.  I have not been entirely onboard with not having returning foes this series, but it has allowed this element to come to the forefront in the majority of her stories.  Ultimately, the Doctor should be excited by elements she experiences in her travels – the First Doctor did leave Gallifrey because he was bored, after all!

You’re kidding! The Ux?  As in the duo-species, only ever two of you?  Lifespans of millenia.  Only found on three planets in the whole universe?  I’ve never met an Ux!  Congratulations! It must be so cool!

Thirteenth Doctor

Verdict: All in all, I feel that this does give us closure on the major themes of Series 11, aided by another fantastic performance by Bradley Walsh.  There are elements of this story that did fall flat though. 5/10

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Phyllis Logan (Andinio), Mark Addy (Paltraki), Percelle Ascot (Delph), Jan Lee (Umsang), Samuel Oatley (Tzim-Cha)

Writer: Chris Chibnall

Director: Jamie Childs

Behind the Scenes

  • The Doctor refers the TARDIS having regressed Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day (aka Margaret Blaine) Slitheen into an egg in Boom Town and towing the Earth back across the universe in Journey’s End.  Equally, the use of planets to power a weapon was previously seen in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
  • The Doctor has previously encountered planets being shrunk before, in the Fourth Doctor story The Pirate Planet.

Best Moment

The moment the Doctor meets Andinio.

Best Quote

Yippee ki-yay, robots!

Graham O’Brien

Because a Die Hard reference always wins.

graham battle

Demons of the Punjab

No Yaz! We can’t have a universe without Yaz!

Thirteenth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and her friends arrive in the Punjab, India in 1947, during the Partition. Yaz attempts to discover her grandmother’s history, whilst the Doctor encounters sinister demons haunting the land. Who are they and what do they want?

Review

demons

This series of Doctor Who has been fantastic at casting a light on some areas of history that aren’t commonly taught in the British education system. A few weeks ago in Rosa, we had a story surrounding an incident that kick-started a campaign for civil rights in America, and in Demons of the Punjab, we see the start of the partition of India. Despite studying history to degree level, this is an area of history that I was only vaguely familiar with when it came to watching this episode. The new era of the show is harking back to its educational roots, as originally envisaged by Sydney Newman, making this more like William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton episodes. Additionally, we finally get more Yaz, which is something that I feel has been lacking from the series so far, with the focus more on Ryan and Graham, and the direction and music are again fantastic – with this series, it feels like that’s a given! Unfortunately, as with the series prior to this episode, it does suffer with a problem with lack of a proper alien menace, and the creatures featured here are really rather forgettable again.

demons 2

As they are the biggest issue that I have with the episode, I’ll start with the Thijarians. Their design looks fantastic and they are initially quite spooky, but once they are revealed to be witnesses rather than the assassins they are initially thought to be, it makes them feel like another case of wasted potential. That being said, I did quite like the idea of the Thijarians becoming witnesses to the deaths of the lonely, and aliens who have developed compassion is really unusual in this programme. Here again, the true enemy are humans, with Prem’s brother Manish being the bigger threat than the aliens, which would be okay once or twice in the series, but it feels like this has been a bit too repetitive, however, humans are equally capable of horrible acts as any Dalek, Cyberman or Weeping Angel, and this is an episode that embraces this again. Manish’s reaction when offered food at the wedding almost sets him up as a character who cannot possibly be redeemed, which makes it all the more tragic that we know that the TARDIS crew will not step in to intervene in the final standoff between Prem and Manish.

graham and yaz

Coming on to more positive subject matter, we finally get to see more of Yaz, who I have been a fan of since the beginning and been wanting to see more of her. I feel that she was a more rounded character than Graham and Ryan from her arrival in the series, but it is still nice to understand more about her background and family here. Some past stories have almost forgotten about her, with her only notable contribution to The Tsuranga Conundrum being drop kicking the Pting down a corridor. The focus on Yaz makes a nice change and we get a good conversation between Yaz and Graham whilst the Doctor, Ryan and Prem are off investigating in the forest. As I’ve stated previously, I feel that this TARDIS team are quite well established, and it’s interesting seeing the different dynamics when they are split into different sub-teams and the relationships between Ryan, Graham and Yaz as they travel with the Doctor.

This the best thing ever! Never did this when I was a man.

Doctor. You and your jokes!

Yeah. That’s right. My references to body and gender regeneration are all in jest. Such a comedian.

Thirteenth Doctor and Yasmin Khan

This, similarly to Rosa, is another historical episode that relies on non-interference in the established events, as any change in the timeline could wipe Yaz from the timeline and ties it up really nicely. It makes absolute sense as to why the older Umreen wouldn’t want to talk about her marriage to Prem, and ties into the underlying themes about grief that have been present in the series so far, with the death of Grace weighing heavily on both Graham and Ryan. It is perhaps fitting that this episode was broadcast on Remembrance Sunday as it serves as a great illustration of peace and love in general. Episodes in this series are seriously playing with my emotions, as the climax of this one again impacted me deeply, probably thanks to the bookending of the episode with scenes of Yaz talking to her grandmother. Additionally, the shot revealing the ghostly heads of the dead was really moving.

It feels like I say this every week, but Jodie Whittaker continues to shine as the Doctor. She really commands the screen with her presence like all of her predecessors. Her performance in the wedding scene is fantastic and I really like her confrontation with the Thijarians before we know that their natures have changed from assassins to witnesses. The Doctor is still full of the same joy and wonder, and has the same steel as the Doctors who have come before and Whittaker just personifies the character so well.

Verdict: A personal and moving story focusing on an area of history I knew little about previously, Demons of the Punjab is another great historical episode in this series. There are still no really memorable aliens, but I don’t feel that impacts the story too much here. 7/10

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor),Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Leena Dhingra (Nani Umbreen), Amita Suman (Umbreen), Shane Zaza (Prem), Hamza Jeetooa (Manish), Shaheen Khan (Hasna), Shobna Gulati (Najia), Ravin J Ganatra (Hakim), Bhavnisha Parmar (Sonya), Emma Fielding (Voice of Kisar), Nathalie Curzner (Performance of Kisar)

Writer: Vinay Patel

Director: Jamie Childs

Behind the Scenes

  • This is the first time since Father’s Day that we have gone back along a companion’s timeline. It was attempted in Listen by the Twelfth Doctor with Clara, however, it was unsuccessful.
  • This episode was filmed in the Province of Granada, Spain.

Best Moment

There are some lovely moments in this episode, but I’m going to do something a bit different this week and talk about my favourite shot. At the end of the episode, there is a shot of the time rotor from the top, which is such a rarely seen angle and the first time we’ve seen this new console from this perspective. It is beautiful.

Best Quote

Love…in all its forms is the most powerful weapon we have. Because love is a form of hope, and like hope, love abides in the face of everything.

Thirteenth Doctor