The Friday Docback Withstands 'The Attack of the Cybermen'!! DOCTOR WHO Story #137, HornOrSilk Explores 'The Auntie Matter' From Big Finish, And More!!
...with a look at Attack of the Cybermen, a 2 part (approximately 45 minutes a piece) Colin Baker adventure originally transmitted in January 1985.
Last week’s wrenchingly inadequate foray into The Twin Dilemma (C. Baker, Story #136) - a story which immediately precedes Attack chronologically - left me hungering for more Colin Baker DOCTOR WHO. More pointedly, The Twin Dilemma left me yearning for a C. Baker-era WHO which better illustrates the potential and capabilities of his Doctor, newly regenerated in the heinously ungood Dilemma and explored HEREin last week.
Does Attack of the Cybermen fit the bill? More below. But first...
MORE ADVENTURE IN TIME AND SPACE CASTING ANNOUNCED...
LAST WEEK we learned a great deal about the casting of AN ADVENTURE IN TIME AND SPACE, the now-shooting docudrama chronicling DOCTOR WHO’s formative years. Another bit of casting has now been announced...
Claudia Grant will play Carole Ann Ford, who portrayed the Doctor’s granddaughter/companion opposite William Hartnell (played in this docudrama by David Bradley). This casting per her agency...
(l - Claudia Grant plays Carole Ann Ford, - r)
...which also happens to be the first movie directed by Ryan Gosling. Per Variety, HOW TO CATCH A MONSTER co-stars Christina Hendricks and Eva Mendes and is described thusly:
Story is set against the surreal dreamscape of a vanishing city and centered on a single mother of two being swept into a macabre and dark fantasy underworld while her teenage son discovers a secret road leading to an underwater town.
Not the most illuminating description, but one which points to some very interesting possibilities nonetheless.
Smith’s transition to the US market does not come as any particular surprise to those who’ve followed his career over recent years, and has been hinted at for some time. This should NOT be seen as his abandonment DOCTOR WHO; in recent interviews, Smith indicated he and current WHOverlord Steven Moffat have already discussed plans for the show’s 8th Season/Series.
SO, for the time being, at least, HOW TO CATCH A MONSTER...and any other projects, for that matter...may be best considered as gigs that are ‘squeezed in’ between DOCTOR WHO’s shooting blocks...which usually get a number of episodes into the can at tight succession, even if they are not transmitted for some time.
HORNORSILK REVIEWS THE AUNTIE MATTER BIG FINISH AUDIO!!
LAST WEEK, Docbacker HornOrSilk explored the Colin Baker Big Finish audio The Wrong Doctors. This week he’s back with a look at The Auntie Matter. HornOrSilk says he’ll soon return with further reviews, and look for contributions from other readers as well(books, and more?!) in the coming weeks!
I have to admit, while I was pleased to hear Tom Baker decided to do Big Finish Doctor Who stories, I was not entirely upset when he wasn’t doing them. There was something about Big Finish that gave it a sense that the audios existed to supplement and fill out Doctors who had not had as many stories as Tom Baker, thereby giving more substance to their Doctors. Of course, this has somewhat changed, now that Big Finish has existed for so long that Tom’s Doctor, in some ways, is now the underdog.
Having listened to the Fourth Doctor Adventures, I’ve often felt they fell slightly flat, with the exception of Tom’s Lost Stories. This continues to be the case with The Auntie Matter. It is not to say the stories are bad, but rather, it is to say that something seems to be missing. Currently, I think it is the fact that it is taking time to develop how to have the Fourth Doctor present himself in audio when, in film, much of his personality and character is visual. There are things which are done which are close, but yet, I’ve felt it’s not been entirely successful.
Given that, there are good things going on with Tom’s Big Finish audios, and with this one as well. It’s great to have another season with Mary Tamm, the first Romana. The conflict between the Fourth Doctor and the First Romana is seen in this audio, sometimes with humorous consequences. I want more of this in the audios and I hope we see it. However, here the two quickly become separated, and only at the end do they come together and realize that each has been involved with the same alien menace and neither of them saved the earth entirely by themselves.
The story itself is a science-fiction P.G. Wodehouse. The “Wooster” like character does not realize his “aunt” is an alien entity taking over the bodies of several women in order to survive. The “Jeeves” character is turned into two, twin androids, working for the alien-aunt. It’s a simple story, and rather effectively done if one enjoys the Wodehouse nods (I find myself not as enthused as many reviewers on this point, but that is my problem, I would say and not anyone else’s).
To me, the highlight of this CD is not the story, but the interviews at the end, which ends up taking Mary Tamm’s interview and used to create a tribute to her after her death. Tom Baker does a marvelous job with this, remembering his time with her, looking at the way so many died in 2012. Mary Tamm’s own words also show how happy she was to work with Tom once again. We also get a glimpse of how Mary, like Liz, wanted nothing to stop her as she did the audios, despite how unwell she was. It is charming and, even if only a few minutes, worth the cost of the whole cd itself.
I would rather the story 7/10 (others, who are more fond of Wodehouse will probably give it a higher rating), but the Mary Tamm tribute is a 10/10.
Attack of the Cybermen
“The TARDIS, when working properly, is capable of many amazing things. Not unlike myself.” - the Doctor, Attack of the Cybermen Episode One
Cutting to the chase on this one...
Anyone questioning Colin Baker’s proficiency as the Doctor should check out Attack of the Cybermen, and nearly every misgiving or misconception you may’ve brought to the equation might well be quickly assuaged.
Here, in his second full post-regeneration story, C. Baker presents himself with fascinating multiplicity. He’s a man of action (literally and figuratively), but he’s also a person somewhat amazed by the adventure he’s now undertaking. He's fascinated, bemused, and bewildered by the individuals surrounding him on his journey. His frequent arrogance and bravado is harshly counterbalanced by an almost childlike humility at times, per his ongoing realization that he does not have all the answers...no matter how much he may wish that he did. In many regards, and based primarily upon this story, Colin Baker's Doctor is one of the boldest and most inventive interpretations of the character we've ever seen.
Scripted by ‘Paula Moore’ (a pseudonym evidently encompassing a number of possible contributing writers, including longtime WHOverse personalities Eric Saward, Paula Woosley, Ian Levine, or some combination thereof), Attack is ambitiously structured and (for the majority of Episode One at least) unfolds simultaneous stories across multiple settings on Earth, and beyond. Notable (and controversial) for its atypical quantity of harsh violence, AOTC rolls out a generous dollop of dismemberments and decapitations of Cybermen, and offers no small portion of those exploding baddies to boot. Cybermen are shot in the head at point blank range, an ice creature boiled to death in heat it can not naturally withstand, there’s one protracted electrocution, and numerous takedowns by ray gun. Excessive? That depends on one’s point of view, I suppose. But I’d argue that the Doctor lives in a universe which is intrinsically dangerous and hostile, and such edgy action feels more ‘truthful’ to the overall DOCTOR WHO concept than watered down, sanitized tomfoolery. DW, to me, at least, has always been about choices and their consequences...how our actions in the here and now resonate to affect those around us. In the real world, our decisions do not always have shiny results - presenting action (in which there are many decisions) in a more realistic vein supports a conceit DOCTOR WHO often tries to convey: sometimes we triumph, and sometimes we wreck. Somedays, everybody lives. And some days are a bitch.
Apropos of this discussion is the matter of the Doctor as a fighter. And a killer. The Doctor being willing to facilitate a bad guy’s demise, whether directly or otherwise, is not a unique concept in WHOstory, and was evident very early on in the show as a whole. This fact seems forgotten by many who've either not been exposed to enough WHO to recall the character’s more aggressive moments, or by those desperate to interpret him as some sort of transcendent angel. The truth of the Doctor is that he is not a transcendent angel...he is imperfect. Hs is learning about himself at the same time we are learning about him, and he carries anger which sometimes sours into vengeful rage.
He’s also hundreds of years old - and a denizen of that aforementioned ‘dangerous universe,‘ where death is frequent and genocide is not uncommon. So, why WOULDN’T the Doctor know how to fight? Or be willing to fight? It’s not like he’s looking for a rumble, but his being able to go to the mat with an aggressor makes perfect sense...and...like the ‘violence’ above...even supports his character, and the series’ premise as a whole. The Doctor's actions is Attack frequently make more sense, and feel more intrinsically 'right,' than many other responses the character has offered over the years. Id' suggest that viewers shocked by the violence (and Doctor) evidenced in Attack of the Cybermen look upon that reaction not as being a specific shortfall of this episode, but of inconsistent and sometimes discontinuitous presentation of the character over the decades. This sounds far harsher than I actually intent it to...but you get the point. Hopefully.
Attack of the Cybermen marks one of the few times the TARDIS' Chameleon Circuit actually functions. Resulting in a numerous styles and appearances throughout the episodes....
Following a slam bang opening 40-something minutes, Attack’ s energy does wane a bit in its second installment. The cliffhanger/resolution bridging Episodes One and Two is a tad anemic, and is followed by a parade of plans and schemings and plot machinations which drag proceedings down a bit. But the larger picture suggested by such intricacies are more than enough to keep one’s attention engaged, if a tad restlessly.
Despite such stumbles, Attack of the Cybermen clearly posses a directorial vision which is certain, a narrative which is expansive and (for the most part) driving. Impressive photography and design work are evidenced throughout...
...shaping AOTC as an affectionate celebration of WHO tenets and gags...
Attack of the Cybermen returns the Doctor to the location we first met him back in 1963. Evidenced by the sign behind companion Peri (Nicola Bryant).
...while also driving its specific storyline through to an action-filled climax. A finale which also kicks our Doctor in the figurative balls. As discussed above, life and the universe are not always happy, happy, joy joy places, and AOTC won’t let you forget it.
When all is said and done, Attack of the Cybermen emerges as a paradoxical and frustrating testament to what DOCTOR WHO could have been in the 80s and 90s, but frequently wasn’t. If more stories of the era had been like this, perhaps DOCTOR WHO’s fate would have unfolded differently. But here we are, and regardless of the show’s eventual derailment due largely to lesser, lazier tales that were unimaginatively executed, at least we still have Attack. An adventure which, unlike its preceding episode, does its fledgling Doctor justice - and vividly portends both his ultimate potential, while offering tantalizing hints at what might have been. And what could still be...
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