Tuesday, 22 September 2015

FTA: Doctor Who Classic: Attack of the Cybermen, Vengeance on Varos and The Two Doctors

This sixth volume of articles from Celebrate, Regenerate! covers stories from the early Sixth Doctor.(See here for more on this project.)

Attack of the Cybermen
(Main article.)

A lot of my other articles in this book have waxed lyrical about my history when it comes to Who – how I came to the show from old DVDs and repeats and was already versed by the time the New Series came to cement my love. Attack of the Cybermen represented something of a new stage in my appreciation of Who that came about two or three years ago when I decided that this New Series wasn’t keeping me topped up and that I really should go back to my roots in the Classic Series. The first Classic Who DVD that I went out and bought was one that I remembered from when I was a kid – Attack of the Cybermen, a tale that is the epitome of what I love about the series.
      I’ll not beat about the bush and assume, due to all of his hallmarks being present, that we can call this a Saward story. Saward’s multi-strand dynamic allows most of the plot to happen outside of the realm of our two squabbling main characters – at least for the first half of the story. Those squabbling protagonists are somewhat of an acquired taste for many Who fans, often making them dismiss Six’s era completely. Me? I like them, and they’re the highlight of the era – I just really enjoy seeing the two characters bouncing off of one another and I really, really like it when Six’s enjoyable arrogance is counteracted by Peri’s wit. Of course, this doesn’t happen very often… but it’s worth the wait when it does.
      The ineffable Maurice Colburne also gets a chance to really stretch his wings after playing a very supportive role in the previous season’s Resurrection of the Daleks. Lytton is slimy and charming, strong and yet vulnerable – you never quite know where you stand, and that means that Lytton becomes the singular attraction whenever he’s on screen. The Doctor’s final declaration that he had misjudged Lytton, when the characters spent the best part of five seconds together in Ressurection, is a bit silly, but that’s what it’s all about, in the end.
      I know that Attack of the Cybermen is in most quarters considered “bad” but in my experience… there’s just something there, a charm, a flick of the tongue, something that keeps me coming back. Unlike Time and the Rani, which I know is hilarious, the reason why I like Attack so much so far eludes me… but it’s probably a mixture of heady nostalgia, my favourite villains and a Doctor whose performance gets me interested every single time. It’s not perfect, but I don’t think Attack ever really wanted to be.

Vengeance On Varos

One of my favourite films is 1999’s The Truman Show, and one of the main reasons for that the way that it managed to predict and fully take apart the concept of Reality TV several years before it arrived on our screens. Little did I know that Vengeance On Varos manages exactly the same feat 15 years prior, all the while infusing it with the 80’s trademark satire and horror. Vengeance doesn’t so much attack 80’s TV so much as it brings it to its knees, by not only criticising the creators of video nasties but also the audience willing to watch them.
      The story is famous amongst detractors of Colin Baker’s Doctor for the scene in the second episode where the Varos facility’s guards end up falling into the acid bath. It’s an interesting cultural phenomenon in its own right that some disliked the character so much that they actually remembered the scene to implicate the Sixth Doctor in their deaths. As strange and fascinating as it is, it’s one small scene in a much bigger picture. Every step of the way, video nasties are criticised in a variety of ways, from their purely profit-driven nature (in Sil and his cronies) to the way in which they influenced the market. It was also a jab at the expanding role of the media in politics, to the point where “democracy” is dealt out from the living room.
      The story’s best feature though has got to be Arak and Etta. While their scenes were tacked onto the end of production, they still have a profound effect on the story’s potency, helping to reflect the attitudes of the people of Varos; without them, we would be left with trying to find a compromise between the rebellionist views of Jondar and the madness of the Mentors. They are a direct lifeline to the audience at home, calling out to them to have some standards. And they’re funny, too. 
      The most important thing in Vengeance on Varos is not the gore, or the silliness of people transforming into birds, although that does form part of it. It’s about the way that ideas influence people; and it tries to promote an awareness of those ideas in the viewer. And, as we can see by the controversy it created, it’s an aim that the writers very much succeeded at.

The Two Doctors

I’m a bit of an anomaly when it comes to your average Who fan. Most fans my age started with the new series in 2005, and explored the Classic Series from there. Well, I didn’t. I started with two stories; a DVD of The Five Doctors, and the VHS of this story, The Two Doctors. In hindsight, this explains a hell of a lot about the areas of the series that I like, as The Two Doctors contains almost everything that I love about the series – expansive continuity, fun monsters, complex villains and political messages that never really know what they’re doing. Oh, and running. Lots of running. 
      Colin Baker is on top form as his arrogant and somewhat abrasive Doctor, but at every stage of the way he shows just how awesome he is. From the waterside recollection of tasty gumblejacks, to his fear that the death of his younger self would destroy the Universe, to the despair at the lengths that his old friend Dastari has gone to gain favour with his own creation. If there’s any story from Season 22 (which I love, if no-one else does) that I would use to introduce someone to the series, it would definitely be this one. Why? A few reasons. For one, it’s got the best use of the Sontarans since their first story, with creator Robert Holmes returning to write for them after their embarrassing use in Season 15’s Invasion of Time. For two, it’s by far the most normal and certainly accessible multi-Doctor story, and it requires pretty much zero knowledge of previous stories; it’s one of the only stories from this era that doesn’t have a lot of continuity.
     And sure, the story doesn’t really fill its runtime, but even the filler scenes (the trip to Seville, especially) only serve to highlight not only how damn beautiful the setting is, but also how fun the series can be when simply walking around in its world. So what if the story’s messages are a bit brutally expressed? This is a world full of intriguing characters – Dastari, the Androgums, the Sontarans, Oscar Botcherby – and it never fails to entertain despite not really doing anything. And in my eyes, any story capable of doing that is worthy of great praise. And a good chuckle or too. 


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