Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen – Written by Eric Saward & Read by David Banks (BBC Books)

Attack of the Cybermen is a Doctor Who story that has traditionally been characterized as “troubled.”

The first adventure for the explosive Sixth Doctor after his tacked-on regeneration story (in which he throttled his companion, Peri, leaving a violent taste in the mouths of viewers who then had to wait for a whole new season to see if the new Doctor mellowed at all), it was in some ways all about change.

It shifted the format of the show from four 25-minute episodes per story in most cases to two 45-minute episodes. It toyed, for the first real time in Doctor Who history, with changing the shape of the beloved Tardis, though its treatment of the idea of a fixed chameleon circuit was mostly comical. And at least around the edges, it started the process of reverting from the spiky immediately post-regeneration relationship between the Doctor and Peri to something where, if it was a little short of friendly, it did at least allow each of them to appreciate the strengths of the other.

And yet in other ways, it was very backward-looking, and (which is the criticism most regularly levelled at it) only made sense if you were a long-time Classic Who fan, referencing stories like The Tenth Planet and The Tomb of the Cybermen. Thank you, allegedly, Ian Levine, High Priest of Fan Service.

Does Attack stand up?

It was even backward-looking within the show’s more recent history, bringing back Eric Saward’s creation, the interplanetary mercenary Lytton from Resurrection of the Daleks for a second bite at Who glory. And, also last seen in that story, Davros actor Terry Molloy turned up in Attack – this time without the Davros chair and mask, as an undercover policeman who gets somewhat comically shoulder-thumped to death at the end of the first episode.

For all that though, Attack of the Cybermen stands up astonishingly well nearly forty years on, not least because of an outstanding cast (including Brian Glover and Michael Attwell), and the interweaving of several storylines to significantly positive effect. 

On the one hand, the Doctor and Peri return to Earth in 1985 (nodding acquaintance to Halley’s comet on the way), in response to an alien distress call. On the second hand, Lytton and a crew of crooks (and an undercover copper) plan to raid a diamond merchant’s by going through the sewers where, in another throwback reference, this time to The Invasion, the Cybermen are hiding (though for what reason is, to this day, anybody’s guess).

Meanwhile, on the Cybermen’s second planet of Telos, some time travellers have landed, been conquered and part-converted, meaning the Cybermen now have a time vessel. A couple of those time travellers, Stratton and Bates, aim to retake the ship and get the ever-living hell off the planet, because the Cybermen…aim to blow up the planet, on instructions from their (seen-being-destroyed-in-Tomb-of-the-Cybermen) CyberController.

For what reason, o metal-plated kings of logic? Scientific value, apparently.

Don’t Cryon Me, Dear Controller…

Meanwhile, the history of Telos as established in Tomb of the Cybermen is expanded massively in a handful of lines, to include an indigenous species (the Cryons), who can’t live in temperatures above freezing, and have been sabotaging Cybermen in their tombs (because apparently, only some of the Cybermen were unthawed during Tomb – don’t think about it too hard, because in Tomb,

Earth is a spacefaring civilization and the CyberController was apparently only “damaged,” with both the Doctor and Lytton regarding that event as being in the past, despite this contemporaneously being only 1985, and the Controller, like its minions, having been upgraded to the Eighties Cyber-design). D’you see why it’s troubling to some viewers?

Grimness – Meet Camp

But as we say, if you just take it for what it is, Attack is still a great watch. But, spoiler alert, this is Eric Saward we’re talking about. As with Resurrection of the Daleks, and his later script, Revelation of the Daleks, barely anyone makes it out alive.

But how does it stand up as an audio novelization?

Well, the novelization was written back when Saward had hit just that perfect balance point of adding in extra contextual details to the story as shown on-screen, but not tipping it over to be all about the Sawardverse, as he was later to do with the novelizations of both Resurrection of the Daleks and Revelations of the Daleks (Seriously, don’t bother with either of those, they’re staggering disappointments). So here we get extra lifestyle details of all of Lytton’s crew, and a little more about the hapless time travellers who ended up on Telos, but the story remains more or less recognisable.

More or less, though it has been significantly ironed out, eschewing the number of scene cuts in the TV version, so, for instance, you get a big chunk of Lytton’s would-be diamond robbery before the Doctor and Peri even appear in the book, which can be a little distracting for the core readership.

You also get David Banks on reading duties. Banks, who played the CyberLeader throughout the Eighties and was no small part of the successful renaissance of Doctor Who’s silver medal monsters, has picked up a few recent Cyber-themed audio novelization readings. 

Where, though, in Silver Nemesis, his Cyber voice was quite some way from the authentic shiver-maker of the Eighties, and the voice-enhancer seemed too close to him, so other characters occasionally sounded inadvertently Cyber too, here there’s a tighter control on things, and while his Cyber voices are still significantly different to the ones you remember and want and more or less pay for in these audio novelizations, they’re much closer to what you remember, adding to the drama and helping you feel less cheated out of the main draw of having Banks as a reader. 

If anything here, we learn that Banks is a reasonable mimic, his Sixth Doctor sounding crisp and recognisable, his Lytton suitably droll, and if he turns famous Yorkshireman Brian Glover into a Londoner, that’s actually in keeping with the rewrite in the book, which has his character, Griffiths, living locally with his mum and cat.

Worth the Money?

So should you buy Attack of the Cybermen as an audiobook? Partly, yes, because it’s bonkers and grim in equal measures – more or less the perfect combination of ingredients for an Eric Saward story (We know it was accredited to Fiona Moore, don’t @us). Partly, also yes because of the extra context the book delivers and the closer-to-your-memories Cyber voices. 

And partly yes because Attack is arguably peak Eighties Cybermen – After their triumphant, illogical return in Earthshock and their subsequent complete massacre in The Five Doctors, it’s the last time we see the Cybermen being big and bold and threatening before the baffling shiny runaround that is Silver Nemesis. And while the novelizations of both Earthshock and The Five Doctors are both sublime, Attack of the Cybermen runs steel-plated rings around Silver Nemesis

So absolutely, have yourself a little bit of high camp Sawardian peak Eighties Cyber-grimness, and plug yourself in to Attack of the Cybermen today. Tony Fyler


Be the first to comment on "Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen – Written by Eric Saward & Read by David Banks (BBC Books)"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.