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Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen (part two)

Once again, our son enjoyed this much, much more than I did. His favorite part came when the Doctor slides a volatile chemical into a corridor, leading a Cyberman to investigate. The chemical ignites shortly after contact with warm air, sending explosions and sparks everywhere. If you’re at the age where seeing Cybermen blow up is the greatest thing ever, then this show was made for you.

I enjoyed a short scene where Lytton introduces one of the alien Cryons to Brian Glover’s tough criminal character. The Cryon doesn’t understand Glover’s character’s slang – “minder” and “you winding me up?” – and it is kind of cute seeing Lytton patiently translate. For reasons he takes to his grave, Lytton decided not to tell the Doctor that he was working for the Cryons, and not the Cybermen. There’s not a lot more that they could have done with this character, but the writer certainly enjoyed him more than he did the Doctor and Peri.

The story assumes everybody in the audience has a well-thumbed copy of Jean-Marc Lofficier’s Doctor Who Programme Guide on the shelf. Since our son doesn’t have that book, he asked me to pause it because he couldn’t make sense of the Cybermen’s plan, which is basically “destroy Earth before the events of a previous television adventure happened.” He might not have the most developed sense of drama, but he’s savvy enough to know that “they intend to change history!” is a very, very bad thing!

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Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen (part one)

With season 22, Doctor Who was back in its old home of Saturday evenings, but with longer, forty-five minute episodes. Colin Baker got a run of six serials in this slot and some of them are a little entertaining. “Attack of the Cybermen” is credited as being written by Paula Moore, but it’s apparently a co-write between Eric Saward and two other parties. It brings back Saward’s character of the mercenary Commander Lytton, previously seen in “Resurrection of the Daleks,” and the scenes with him are by far the most interesting in the story.

There’s a really annoying sense of disconnect in this adventure. The stuff in London is shot on 16mm film and deals with Lytton and some other criminals prepping for a job to heist £10 million in diamonds. It’s incredibly watchable. They keep cutting back and forth with the Doctor and Peri arguing in the TARDIS. It’s not even remotely watchable.

But that’s the grown-up in me talking again. The Sixth Doctor is continuing to keep our son completely charmed. There’s a running gag about the ship’s Chameleon Circuit being repaired but still going wrong that he loved, and there’s just a hint of slapstick in the Doctor’s movements along with his bellowing. He got a huge laugh out of the Doctor almost stepping into an open hole in a scrap metal yard. He claims to hate the Cybermen, but for some reason, the Cybermen in this adventure are either the constant victims of lucky shots or they were built from scrap metal parts, because their heads get knocked off or they get shot and green goo goes spraying everywhere. It’s terrific television for under-tens.

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Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks (parts three and four)

If you read around, you’ll find some stories about how the American movie version of “Resurrection of the Daleks” was edited together from a complete cut of the first half, and a rough cut, lacking music, voiceovers, and sound effects, of the second. These stories don’t really explain how weird, ridiculous, and strange the experience was. Lionheart, the company that syndicated Doctor Who in the US in the 1980s and 1990s, made all sorts of dumb decisions about the prints that they offered stations, but one of the worst was not phoning the BBC to get a replacement copy. We were stuck with that thing for years.

Bear in mind that for a long time, your average American viewer might not have had any idea that these 90-minute adventures were edited movie versions of four-part serials. There were clues that something was up, though. There were occasional editing hiccups, like the one halfway through “Arc of Infinity.” For some reason, the editor used the end of part two rather than the recap at the beginning of part three, so the shot of Sarah Sutton has the sound of the cliffhanger “sting” over her face right before the credits rolled.

So with “Resurrection,” halfway through, there’s the clumsiest edit in the universe. Rodney Bewes’s character says “I’m a Dalek agent,” and the screen goes black for a half-second, and then picks up halfway through a Dalek shouting “-terminate” and there isn’t any music or sound effects anymore. This makes some of the scenes completely comical. When the actress playing the civilian advisor to the military is deafened by a weird sci-fi sound, there isn’t actually any sound. She just falls over with her hands over her ears making odd noises. Another scene doesn’t have a pair of voiceovers by Terry Molloy, so he just opens a door and closes it for no apparent reason. Then there’s a trooper who gets shot in part four. With the music blaring, you can barely hear him, but without the music, he steals the scene when he yodels “Eeee-ohhh-urrrrp!” before falling over.

I wasn’t a big buyer of the Who VHS range. The tapes – at least the American tapes manufactured by CBS/Fox, were notorious among some of my friends for being bargain-basement quality. But I did buy the VHS of “Resurrection” just so I could see the second half as it was meant to be seen and heard!

While our son absolutely loved all the Daleks blowing each other to pieces, the most interesting thing to me about this story is that it writes Tegan out in a remarkably grim and unhappy way. The whole thing is relentlessly bleak – not just the entire supporting cast, but literally every character we see onscreen at all, save the resourceful mercenary Lytton and his two guards, all die – and part three of the story doesn’t just tread water as part threes in Doctor Who generally do, it’s tediously violent and gruesome while also barely advancing the plot. And so this is the point where Tegan decides that she just can’t stand it any more, and leaves. I think the final punch in her gut is the Doctor telling her that he intends to murder Davros. So when it’s finally safe to go because everyone is dead, she shakes the Doctor and Turlough’s hands and she’s gone before she bursts into tears. It’s so abrupt and sad, and it’s always punched me in the gut.

I was talking with our son two nights ago about the idea of fan theories. He was talking with some other kids about connections in the Pixar universe, and how Andy’s mom in Toy Story might have been Jessie’s original owner. I told him that there were all sorts of fan theories in Doctor Who and that I’d tell him about one in a couple of days. That’s because the previous day, I saw that somebody had suggested that the gun used in the most recent episode, “Resolution,” came from the warehouse in this adventure.

A couple of other theories come to mind about this story. Tegan leaves with literally nothing but the clothes on her back. She doesn’t even have a handbag, and that miniskirt doesn’t look like it has pockets. I think she made a collect call and phoned her grandfather, who we met in “The Awakening,” and he took the train up from Little Hodcombe to get her.

I was reminded of one of the many great ideas that Virgin’s line of Doctor Who novels introduced in the 1990s. At one point, the Doctor’s companion Bernice is left abandoned in 1909 and makes use of the Doctor’s bank account. At some point, the Doctor realized that it might be a good idea to have a resource available to any of his companions that get stranded or stuck in the UK, and time travellers should be pretty good about taking advantage of compound interest. I figure that’s part of Companion Orientation, getting the account number and a couple of withdrawal slips, and maybe an ATM / debit card for when you’re on the right side of the 1980s, so that when you call it off because it’s not fun anymore, you can take out a few hundred pounds to get your life back in order. All Tegan would need is proper identification… so maybe she should have grabbed her purse!

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Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks (parts one and two)

Yeah, that’s the Doctor carrying a pistol. I’d ask what the writer was thinking, but the writer was the program’s script editor Eric Saward, who had a very strong interest in telling stories about tough guys with guns. One of the tough guys with guns in this story is a mercenary working for the Daleks called Commander Lytton, played by Maurice Colbourne, and it’s fairly obvious across this story and the character’s next appearance that Saward would much, much rather have been working on a program called Commander Lytton, Space Badass.

Joining Colbourne in this story is Rodney Bewes, yet another example of the show casting a really recognizable face from a sitcom. Bewes is best remembered as one of The Likely Lads, a much-loved comedy from the sixties and seventies, and was also the straight man to the puppet Basil Brush for many years. This is the first adventure to feature Terry Molloy in the role of Davros. Molloy seems to try to make Davros much more disgusting, with a constant mouthful of spit and bile, than either of the previous actors to play him did.

When I was thirteen or fourteen, “Resurrection of the Daleks” was one of my favorite adventures, because it’s a story with lots of tough guys talking macho, and lots of guns, and, in our son’s favorite moment – most kids’ favorite moment, I bet – a Dalek gets shoved out a second story window and blows up when it lands dome-first on the pavement. I kind of prefer these less invincible Daleks, honestly. I think this story has aged very, very badly, but our kid, who was already riding high on the thrill of a much more invincible Dalek in Tuesday night’s new episode, “Resolution,” was in heaven.

More to talk about in the serial’s second half, though, so stay tuned!

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