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March 12, 2009

Cold Sore

Attack of the Cybermen

Released: 16th March 2009

Produced by 2Entertain

Attack I would love to fly in the face of conventional wisdom and tell you that Attack of the Cybermen is a neglected classic, but I can't. It's shit. 

Now, I could bang on about how the plot doesn't hang together; how the continuity laden script is completely at odds with the design (couldn't they afford a stencil?); how the Doctor suddenly has an arch enemy that he's never really met before (how does he even know Lytton's name?); how most of the running time is spent listening to muffled Cybermen commenting endlessly on their inability to attack anything, or how they can now be taken out with shovels (and not even gold shovels!); how the incidental music sounds like an outtake from Fingerbobs; how the Doctor is a smug, patronising git and how Colin Baker doesn't help matters when he falls over with all the finesse of a break-dancing clown; how the Cryons make the Sensorites look impressive, or how the TARDIS transforms itself into two of the most boring objects imaginable. That don't even have any doors.

But I won't.

Instead I'll try to dwell on the positives. Namely, Maurice Colbourne and Brian Glover as Lytton and Griffiths. Why they didn't get their own spin-off is beyond me. Who wouldn't want to watch a 26-part series featuring this pair of reprobates robbing diamond merchants and high-tech military installations, bickering at each other as they try to evade the Old Bill and UNIT, before settling down for a nice, warm pint in The Winchester Club each night? But since this is a Paula Moore script, everyone dies. Which is a shame.

Lytton They'd have to ditch Malcolm Clarke's Theme for Lytton and Griffiths, though. Even Waterman couldn't have hummed along to that. Incredibly, there's a isolated score on this DVD, and while the Cyberman March from Earthshock never fails to raise a smile, the rest of Clarke's output is all over the shop, ranging from cheap gags (JS Bach collides with Steptoe and Son) to twee, irritating arpeggios and the obligatory atonal clanging that would have put Test Dept to shame.

Aural rape aside, the first episode is actually quite good. It's nicely lit for a start. But when we leave the atmospheric sewers of London for the over-lit tombs of Telos (think post-apocalyptic Beejams) it doesn't take long for the ennui to set in. The hero is unlikable, the companion doesn't stop whining, the villains take ineptitude to dizzying new heights and the convoluted plot gives you a headache. And since I didn't bother to watch this mess when it originally went out, I can't even lean on the crutch of nostalgia to help me through it.

And finally, isn't treating Lytton's death as if it's in the same league as wiping out the Silurians a bit rich? As much as I love the scoundrel, did Lytton really redeem himself just because he was working for an oppressed race of ballet dancers instead of a bunch of Nazis? Surely he's just a equal-opportunity bastard?

Extras

No matter how "bad" the story might be, the extras are usually worth the price of admission alone and, thankfully, Attack is no exception.

Kicking things off is The Cold War, a nicely produced making-of documentary that features interviews with Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Terry Molloy, Eric Saward, Ian Levine, Sarah Berger and director Matthew Robinson. Well paced and thoroughly researched it covers every aspect of the production in a fair amount of detail; it even managed to surprise me a few times (I honestly had no idea that Griffiths was almost played by *spoiler*). What I don't understand is why anyone would want to take the credit for writing Attack of the Cybermen. Why don't Levine and Saward pin the blame on Paula Moore/Woolsey/Lucan - a woman who seems to have dropped off the face of the planet and who's only known photograph resembles something from Crimewatch - instead of fighting over its authorship? Take the alibi and run with it, you fools! In fact, everyone concerned seems very proud of this story and while there is a token nod towards the perceived wisdom I alluded to at the beginning of my review, it's dismissed out of hand by the culprits.

Next up is The Cyber Story, an illustrated history of the silver giants from The Tenth Planet to the Tenth Doctor. While it probably won't tell you anything you don't already know, it's imaginatively presented with some very slick graphics and impressive CGI titles. Sandra Reid, designer of the original Cybermen is great value and the ongoing discussion about the design of the monsters over the years is handled particularly well. It only falls apart with the introduction of a weird coda that features Professor Kevin Warwick, the world's first cyborg. Which isn't as sexy as it sounds. Here is a scientist who has managed to secure the funding required to fire electrodes into his brain so he can control things via the internet. Which means that one day we'll be all Cybermen. Probably.

Warwick This is all well and good but does this man really deserve another extra all to himself? And an Easter Egg? Is there no end to this man's talents? He's building an army of evil skeleton robots, you mark my words. He's our version of Tobias Vaughan. I can imagine him drawling 'Packer' in that strangely hypnotic drone of his. According to Warwick, it's a small step from controlling an iPod with your eyebrows to talking like Roy Skelton in a depopulated world of the future. Hasn't it occurred to him to stop his research before its too late? Hasn't he learned anything from watching Doctor Who?

Back on topic, The Cyber-Generations is a montage of stills from every classic Cyber-story set to music. I thought I'd dismiss this out of hand, but the quality of the images, coupled with some truly great Cyber-themes (I can't stop doing it now), made for a pleasant trip down memory lane. It's a bit like distilling the history of the late twentieth century down into silver foil and synthesisers, as well as a great primer for the wife. Having recently purchased 3 out of 4 of the classic series Cybermen figures I only needed one more to complete the set (and the Controller from Tomb of the Cybermen to boot) and when I knew she was planning to go to Tesco (which occasionally resembles a branch of Forbidden Planet) I told her which one to look out for. She exclaimed, "Cybermen all look the same to me". Unbelievable.

If that lot isn't enough, there's also an above-average audio commentary that features Baker and Bryant in very good spirits, with Terry Molloy and Sarah Berger providing ample support on episodes 1 and 2 respectively. It bubbles along quite nicely and Colin admits that Gangsters is one of his favourite TV shows of all time (here! here!), he reveals that Telos now contains all of his household's waste, and he laughs at Michael Kilgarriff as the Fat Controller (there, I've said it). Who knows, maybe the new production team will invite an actor back to maintain continuity even if he's turned into a bit of a porker? It can happen.

Rounding things off are the Radio Times listings, the continuity trails (more arpeggios!), production notes, a photo gallery, and a pant-wettingly scary trailer for Image of the Fendahl.

It's out on Monday.

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