Editor’s Note: On this Day…..is a look back at all things Who, past and present.
Attack of the Cybermen: Part 1
Broadcast on January 5th, 1985 @ 5.20pm (8.9m viewers)
January 5th, 1985 saw a new era of Doctor Who. Colin Baker is the Doctor. After nine months since the transmission of the much derided ‘The Twin Dilemma,’ the audience finally gets to enjoy the Sixth Doctor proper. With this episode, the programme had also been returned to the Saturday tea-time slot after being broadcast during weeknights whilst Peter Davison was in the lead role, a position in the schedule still held today. Another change was the duration of this episode, the first of a new 45-minute episode format, which works fairly well on this occasion, slowly developing the plot. When compared to the modern episodes, however, which are also 45 minutes, the pace is quite pedestrian.
To encourage viewers to give the abrasive new Doctor another chance the Cybermen were chosen to be his adversaries in a strategy originally utilised after the very first regeneration in 1966. Patrick Troughton was given the most difficult task of introducing the audience to the concept of regeneration, even though it was not referred to by that word at the time, and he was assisted by enticing the audience with the return of the Daleks. A healthy 8.9 million viewers tuned in on this occasion so the strategy clearly worked. The Cybermen, however, are just one nod to the past. We have a return to Totters Lane, returning characters Lytton and the Cybercontroller, mentions of former companions and the chameleon circuit is also repaired, briefly.
There are a lot of competing elements going on. Something mysterious in the sewers, armed robbery and Halley’s comet but they do come together eventually. Also thrown into the mix is the planet Telos and the plotline of the two rogue individuals, Stratton and Bates. With so many components it is inevitable that the final result lacks clarity. As a result, we get a limp cliff-hanger, if admittedly traditional with the companion in grave peril. How the Cybermen managed to infiltrate the TARDIS, something they had failed to achieve in their previous appearance (The Five Doctors, 1983), is unknown. The Doctor too is another example of this complex new programme which Doctor Who has developed into.
Colin Baker’s portrayal of the renegade Time Lord was not likeable but that deliberate decision to make him more alien than had ever been seen before was a bold move and an interesting one. If anything, his characterisation is more 3-dimensional than any before. He has an explosive temperament, egotistical confidence but still shares a lighter reassuring moment with Peri. Later, however, he instructs her to shoot Russell, which serves a purpose but equally demonstrates his coldness for some lifeforms.
TARDIS scenes are often a delight to watch but the relationship between the Sixth Doctor and Peri is a particular joy. She shows concern for him, wanting him to rest despite having been throttled by him the previous story. He, in turn, is reassuring to her that despite his new personality he won’t hurt her. It is a lovely moment because as is so often the case with Doctor Who a successful period of the show is built upon an engaging relationship between the lead characters and we get an early sense of a strong friendship. The intention at this point, of course, was that Peri and the Sixth Doctor would go on an elongated story arc which allowed the uncompromising Time Lord to mellow and cement himself as a far more likeable character. Sadly, Colin Baker’s tenure would be interrupted by the instructions from upon high. But in this early moment, there is the spark of friendship which would engage the audience for the next three months.
Enjoy a clip from the episode as the TARDIS lands in the scrapyard at 76 Totter’s Lane.
- The Time Warrior : Part 4
- The Horns of Nimon : Part 3
- Castrovalva : Part 2
- Arc of Infinity : Part 2
- Warriors of the Deep : Part 1