Attack of the Cybermen

The switch to 45 minute episodes is a mildly annoying one, as obviously watching Who now takes up a bigger chunk of my day than usual, but then I suppose I’d better get used to it, considering it won’t be too long before I reach the new series. It works pretty well here, to be fair – I didn’t find my attention wandering, which I feared would be the case, and it’s structured well, with the cliffhanger coming as The Doctor and Cybermen meet for the first time.

The Doctor himself was a lot better this time, although he could hardly have been much worse. He’s merely grumpy rather than nasty, and while he’s not yet redeemed himself enough to stop being my least favourite Doctor ever, I can at least tolerate this version. He still feels OTT at times, but he’s calmed down the florid language a bit, and is a perfectly believable Doctor during the lower key moments.

Peri, on the other hand, is beginning to really get on my tits. She’s so scared and nervous all the time, and it manifests itself by her sounding unsure and tentative on every single line. Mind you, she’s probably still scared that The Doctor might kill her at any moment, and the energy in this pairing is very poor. There’s no love or friendship of any substance, and they’re constantly on edge around each other.

Aside from that, this was a pretty decent story, especially when viewed back-to-back with the previous one. I’m never going to be a fan of 80s Cybermen, but they didn’t annoy me too much here, despite their new found vulnerability to human weaponry. They’re supposed to be unstoppable killing machines – you shouldn’t be able to kill them with a normal pistol. Especially if you’re The Doctor or a companion; they shouldn’t be stashing guns at all, ideally.

The continuity nods to previous Cyberman encounters were interesting, but the danger of reminding viewers of past glories is that it shines a light on the current deficiencies. The nostalgic element was a little over-played, I felt – was there any actual reason for the TARDIS to land at Totter’s Lane? That sort of thing should be saved for special occasions, otherwise it dilutes the mythology.

Lytton was perhaps the most interesting thing about the serial, which again surprised me, as he was good but nothing special last time. Being unencumbered by a Dalek-y helmet enhanced Maurice Colbourne’s screen presence, and made me realise that he looks a bit like Eric Roberts, doesn’t he? His journey from baddy to goody was well handled. I was sold on the change of heart, but not quite on The Doctor being so hard on himself for not spotting it earlier. The script seemed to be implying that he’d been a good guy all along, but the impression I got from Resurrection was that he was a thoroughly bad egg deep down, mercenary-for-hire or not.

One last complaint – the Cryons were a bit annoying. The slowed down movement and lolloping speech patterns are quite a 60s thing, and the reason that they were dropped is because they make the conversations drag on and on. Also, when there’s fifteen minutes to go and you see a bomb being irreversibly set to completely destroy the entire enemy base, it kind of takes the tension out of things.

But despite these complaints, I want to stress that I did enjoy this serial – it’s far from a classic, but there’s plenty to enjoy. It’s always nice to see Brian Glover pop up in things, and his “I thought you were from Fulham” line to Lytton was very Arthur Dent. I wasn’t sure we needed the scenes of the two lads wandering around Telos at first, but the awesome decapitations of Cybermen kept it interesting, and the cool grimness of their semi-converted state made it worthwhile. Seeing Lytton in the process of conversion was also fun, and I liked the extremely violent crushing of his bloodied hands.

And a working chameleon circuit! I wasn’t expecting that, and I enjoyed it so much that I was almost disappointed when it stopped working again right at the end. I always like seeing how The Master’s TARDIS blends in, and there was clearly mileage to be had in a running gag of The Doctor’s TARDIS always getting it slightly wrong.

Having seen that 45-minute episodes can work, and a slightly calmer Sixth Doctor, I’m now less worried about this season as a whole, and I’ll continue to try and judge it fairly. It’s just that each serial is now having to fight against so much – the inconsistency, the testy companion relationship, the horrible production design – that the episodes will have to work a lot harder to match up with the hundreds that I’ve already seen.


Resurrection of the Daleks

I’m back, and so are they, and therefore so is he. I’m committed to watching the episodes as originally broadcast where possible, so I had to wait until I had enough spare time for 45 minute episodes (which thankfully won’t too much a problem for Colin’s first year), and this serial was well worth the wait. The extended running time, combined with brilliant production values, made this feel very special.

It would indeed have made a superb conclusion to the anniversary season, which was the original intention – it even had a montage of (almost) all the old companions, including Katarina and Sara. The story was suitably epic; in a similar way to Earthshock, it took an iconic baddy from the 60s and put them into an action setting. And it did that very well, which is to be expected when you see the name “Peter Wragg” in the credits. As well as the effects, the locations and sets were also top-notch.

The Daleks are used a lot more effectively than they have been for a long time, anniversary cameo aside. For the first time, the mutant itself is dangerous outside of its travel machine, which allows them to add a tense, Alien-style section to break up the standard Dalek stuff. We also see the first seeds of the Daleks breaking off into factions, thus providing further new avenues to explore next time.

Your man Davros is played a hell of a lot better than he was last time, but – having already seen Revelation and Remembrance – it’s now confirmed that they never came close to bettering his first appearance until Julian Bleach came along. Here, he could do with calming down a bit; his long sleep having seemingly made him very grumpy and shouty. Terry Molloy’s incarnation was definitely Davros’s Curious Orange phase.

It’s a shame that there’s only one scene between Davros and The Doctor, but it’s a belter. It’s neat that the Genesis dilemma is referenced, and interesting that The Doctor now believes his decision to be wrong. I don’t necessarily agree with him, but it makes for a compellingly tense scene between the two old adversaries, where you’re genuinely not sure whether the Doctor will pull the trigger or not, and in the end, the decision is taken out of his hands.

Davison’s Doctor is getting slightly darker as he nears regeneration, and this is probably the most grimly violent serial we’ve seen since the days of Hinchcliffe and Holmes. It’s not just the high body count – although it is pretty damn high – it’s the casual manner of many of the deaths. It was getting to the point where I was grimacing with (enjoyable) discomfort with each new killing, particularly that poor metal detecting man near the end.

It’s good that the show acknowledges all of this, which brings me on to the other big part of this story. It’s incredibly effective to have a companion wanting to leave out of disgust at what they’ve witnessed, especially as it’s partly The Doctor himself that’s caused it. It’s a wake-up call for him – people usually leave because he’s made them a better person and they’ve got a new calling, not because he’s actually making their life worse.

I hadn’t really thought about it, but Tegan has been around for bloody ages at this stage – her episode count is up there with Jamie, Jo and Sarah Jane, but I don’t feel like she’s anywhere near as iconic as those three. I’ve never really been sure whether or not I like her, but I must admit that her lonely utterance of “brave heart, Tegan” got me right in the heart. I’ll miss having her around, as from what little I’ve seen of the rest of the classic run, we’re not going to have a strong female companion now until the very last one.

I can’t let this one pass without mentioning the absolutely stellar guest cast. Rodney Bewes! Rula Lenska! Dirty Den! The guy who conned Del Boy by faking a heart attack! All of the above are great, particularly Bewes with his varied and conflicted performance. Some of the prison ship staff were not so good, but I did like Lytton – I’ve since learned that he’s coming back pretty soon, which is an unexpected addition to my recurring enemies list.

Do you know what? Fuck it, I was going to give this an 8 or a 9, but I’ve talked it up to a 10. It’s got pretty much everything I want from a Doctor Who story, and on-form Daleks are always worth a bonus point or two. As is an on-form Davison, and I’m sad that his tenure will be over so soon…