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Attack of the Cybermen

by Eric Saward

Book review by Paul Scoones

Recently I had the good fortune to read the two remaining novelisations completing the six-book set that forms Season 22, namely Attack of the Cybermen and Revelation of the Daleks.

Eric Saward's novel, Attack of the Cybermen was first announced as commissioned back in early 1984. Five years later, it has arrived, but was it worth the wait?

The second novel is still a handwritten manuscript stage - the author is Jonathan Preddle, and it will be the third release from JPS books.

It is indicative of the standard of Attack of the Cybermen that it took me an entire day to struggle through the bland, uninspiring narrative - I'd read a few pages and then get bored and do something else.

Whereas two days later, I became engrossed in Jon's gripping narrative that I couldn't put it down until I'd finished. The disgusting thing is that Saward is a professional writer with much experience, but Jon, a complete novice, I believe has done a far better novelising a Doctor Who story - and one of Saward's at that.

What is disappointing about Attack of the Cybermen is that the book had a lot of potential. In several interviews, Saward has hearkened on about his liking for the character of Lytton, so you'd expect an excellent treatment of Commander Gustave Lytton when Saward finally gets around to writing about him - well at least I did - but no. I came away from reading Attack of the Cybermen knowing no more about Lytton than when I started to read. A two-dimensional character on the page, Lytton just seems to accept his fate unquestioningly without resistance to the Cybermen. It is if he hardly cares. His motivations are very difficult to perceive as well. His death scene could have been a very grand moment, but instead it is glossed over with the same bland writing that permeates the rest of the book. The bumbling petty crook Charlie Griffiths is given more background and character than Lytton, though this is not necessarily a good thing, the book opens with Charlie's mother getting him up in the morning like a school boy.

Description, rarely a strong point in Doctor Who books, is particularly lacking here - it is next to impossible to perceive what the Cryons look like, virtually all we learn about the Cybercontroller is that he is very tall! The only characters that evoked any sympathy were Russell the undercover policeman and Flast the Cryon who sacrificed herself to destroy the Cybermen on Telos.

One small positive note is that Saward has abandoned the heavy handed humour of his earlier books, bar a few comic passages. If Saward's first novel (The Visitation) is 'bland' as so many reviewers have called it, then what does one call Attack of the Cybermen? 'Extra bland'? Admittedly the TV serial wasn't particularly stunning, but surely that's ample reason to make a better job of the novelization.

I was keen to read the book as I am novelizing the first Lytton story, Resurrection of the Daleks, and I wanted to pick tips on how to write Lytton, however I know now that I won't be copying Saward.

In final comparison with Jon's upcoming book, I think that the big difference is that Jon cares for the story and characters, as many dedicated fans do, where as it is plainly obvious from one chapter of Attack of the Cybermen that Saward most definitely does not. No, it wasn't worth waiting those five years.

This item appeared in TSV 14 (July 1989).

Index nodes: Attack of the Cybermen