If the Daleks are the Doctor’s most infamous enemy, then naturally the Cybermen are the second. They also have their origins during the First Doctor’s era, though their debut came during his last story. But unlike the Daleks, who are evil pepperpots piloted by squids of anger, the Cybermen are humanoid, and if their first appearance in The Tenth Planet is any indication, they originally looked like us, before augmenting themselves with so many mechanical and cybernetic parts they lost their humanity.
Attack of the Cybermen is their ninth appearance in Classic Who. It is the Sixth Doctor’s second story, which is important to note. It’s also the beginning of Season 22, where the format of the show was slightly altered to 45 minute episodes instead of the usual 25 minutes. And as I have mentioned in my previous Doctor Who recaps, this story is quite dark and pretty violent.
The Sixth Doctor did not have a smooth transition after regenerating from the Fifth Doctor. In his first story, The Twin Dilemma, he becomes paranoid and tries to strangle Peri as he believes she is a spy. In Attack of the Cybermen, she is concerned about the Doctor because he keeps calling her names of previous companions, Tegan, Zoe, Susan, even Jamie. And at the beginning of the episode, the Time Lord appeared almost manic as he flitted about the TARDIS attempting to repair the Chameleon Circuit. After calling her Susan one more time, the Doctor does seem to settle down. It helps that he focuses on the task of finding the source of a distress signal on Earth.
The majority of the main plot of part one takes place down in the sewers of London. I was reminded of The Web of Fear which had subway tunnels so realistic, the production team got in trouble for filming in the Underground, when in reality, they were just really good sets. The hunt for the distress signal lead the Doctor and Peri down into the sewers. There they discover the Cybermen as well as Lytton, a man who encountered the Fifth Doctor in Resurrection of the Daleks. When they return to the TARDIS, they’re ambushed. Part one ends on a cliffhanger of the Cyber Leader ordering the execution of Peri.
Thankfully the Doctor manages to convince the Cyber Leader of his cooperation only if they spare Peri. The Cybermen agree since they would prefer to use the Doctor to pilot his TARDIS rather risk using it themselves. They demand he take them to Telos, where their base is. He has no choice but to comply. Once he learns from Lytton of the Cybermen’s plans, the Doctor does his best to tweak the navigational controls so they won’t arrive at their intended destination on Telos, but rather deep in the Cybermens’ tombs.
Without realizing what was happening, the Doctor stumbled into the Cybermens’ plan to change their own past and affect the Web of Time, something he, as a Time Lord, cannot allow them to do. He learns that Lytton is actually an ally of sorts as he is working with the native species of Telos to stop the Cybermen as well.
I did enjoy this episode and think it’s a very strong Sixth Doctor serial. Unfortunately Colin Baker doesn’t have that many stories as the Doctor, especially compared to previous Doctors. There was behind the scenes drama as the BBC was growing weary of Doctor Who and kept threatening to cancel it. It was during Colin Baker’s run that the show was put on an 18 month hiatus to regroup.
Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of how continuity heavy this story was. Thankfully Lytton’s earlier encounter with the Doctor is explained to Peri in part two, otherwise I would be completely lost. They reference several of the previous Cybermen stories, especially The Tenth Planet. This is one of the occasions where I was glad the companion is often the surrogate for the audience. New Who fans are welcome to watch this story, but definitely be aware of how many references it makes.