“The sour, rank odour of death is unmistakable.” – Lytton
They finally get a proper Doctor Who episode for Colin Baker, easily one of the best of his era. It is quite well written as a story with lots of strong elements and atmosphere. Right from the start it has a classic Who opener feel as we are introduced to two innocent city workers who will very quickly disappear with a scream. Yet there’s also something new in the feel of the scene with Lytton and the gangster planning a heist in the middle of a busy London street. The plot of the episode purposefully calls back to many aspects of Cybermen lore of the early years—from the events of the original Hartnell Cyberman episode to the Cybermen in the tunnels of “The Invasion” to presaging “The Tomb of the Cybermen”. Even not having seen the episodes, it’s fairly easy to follow the storyline but when you know the nods to Totter’s Lane and the Terrible Zodin, it makes the story a bit richer. It was also just a neat and overdue idea to play around with the TARDIS Chameleon circuit for a bit.
Though they continue to play up his post-regeneration daze and the marked change in his character from his previous incarnation, the Doctor is thankfully much more “Doctorish” in his priorities and interaction with his companion. It’s kind of a nice continuity that all is not yet perfect. I find the interplay of the two almost funny at the start as we see the Doctor busy working away and Peri nervously coming in with an “um…whatcha doing?” demeanor as through trying to keep an eye on an odd uncle. Some have complained about the Doctor’s continued hard edge, but it’s such an improvement from last time that I can forgive all.
The angry acting of the character playing Bates is grand. The whole arc of him and his companions trying to make it to safety is so pointless and sad in the end but he does a great job of driving our interest in it. The Cryons are exceedingly interesting characters—very sympathetic in their dying struggle. Like the last episode, the costumes are quite elaborately odd but in this case it works very well. Their ultra-feminine hand motions, whether stroking Peri’s hair or describing destruction, make their characters very interesting. Flast especially brings a lot of pathos and pity to her scenes.
The plot pacing of the story is quite well done. There’s a wonderful sense of trepidation when the Doctor makes the TARDIS materialize in the wrong location and notes that the Cybermen are nervous and even he doesn’t understand why. It all builds up to the sad conclusion for most of the characters including the demise of Lytton. The Doctor is perhaps a bit over the top in his regret for not having seen him as a good guy, but it makes for an evocative ending. Overall the story is even better than I remembered.
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
Flast’s torture by the Cyberman—she’s already lived such a harsh life and to see her die writhing in agony is rather hard to watch. It’s only redeemed somewhat bittersweetly by knowing that she has already set up the element of their destruction. It’s just sad she doesn’t get to see it in the end.
A few small things—they really miss a trick by not having some darkly foreboding music play at the first appearance of the mysterious police pair instead of the silly jaunty music that doesn’t fit the weight of their appearance. Also, one wonders why they couldn’t have the Cybercontroller in a better fitting costume that didn’t make him look quite pudgy?