There are no words for how disappointed I was when I watched Attack of the Cybermen on VHS. I had loved The Tomb of the Cybermen and enjoyed The Tenth Planet, and having read that this story brought elements of these two stories together (and included the return of Michael Kilgarriff as the Cyber Controller) I really wanted to see this story. My disappointment was reflected in the fact that it does not do the least justice to the older serials, and especially Tomb.
Fast forwarding several years, my dad bought me the novelisation on paperback. Initially unimpressed (“Why did you buy this exactly?”) I read it one night when unable to sleep – and loved it! Enjoying the story on its own merits and with the back story properly explained, Attack of the Cybermen becomes a much better story, and it meant the DVD received a much more sympathetic viewing than it may otherwise have done.
The plot is relatively straightforward – the Cybermen are trying to travel in time to prevent their home planet of Mondas from being destroyed, as seen in The Tenth Planet. At the same time a former Dalek mercenary, Lytton (who previously appeared in Resurrection of the Daleks), is working with the inhabitants of the planet Telos, who have been driven underground by the Cybermen taking over their planet – his aim is to stop the Cybermen making use of the time vessel the Cybermen have stolen. The Doctor is not sure why he is drawn in, but eventually realises that the Timelords engineered his arrival.
Straightforward plot – but overly complicated realisation, hence why the story worked better as a novel than as a televised episode! As the first episode in Colin Baker’s first full season as the Doctor, it was perhaps ill-advised to begin with a convoluted storyline, that is gruesomely violent in places, and involves a backstory few fans would actually get. I don’t think it contributed to the decision to put the show on hiatus, but it certainly didn’t help get Baker off on the strongest foot. Peri similarly does not shine in this story, and her attire does little to discourage the perception the producers chose her primarily for her sex appeal – given that where given the opportunity Nicola Bryant does an excellent job, it makes one wonder what could have been if Peri had been allowed to tone down the costume, and play less of the damsel-in-distress.
Don’t get me wrong – it will take a couple of viewings to make sense, but Attack of the Cybermen will grow on you. You just end up with the feeling that it would have been better to have dropped the convoluted backstory and told a simple and straightforward adventure.