The 1985 Doctor Who story ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ has the accolade of being one of the first in the series’ history to be written by a woman – and yet not written by a woman at all.
By the time Doctor Who Season 22 came around, viewers were slowly getting used to the new Doctor. Colin Baker had been introduced at the end of Season 21 in ‘The Twin Dilemma,’ and his unstable persona had (albeit intentionally) left viewers a little unsure about him. Because of this, the production team wanted to bring back a classic Doctor Who villain to help ease the transition, and offer some reassurance. They ultimately settled on the Cybermen.
Initially, the plan had been for Doctor Who stalwart Gerry Davis to pen this opening story, now titled ‘Attack of the Cybermen.’ He had actually co-created the metal giants along with fellow writer Kit Pedler in 1966, and was therefore an obvious choice for a story that would (hopefully) delight long-time fans.
However, when script editor Eric Sward received Davis’ initial outline for ‘Attack of the Cybermen,’ he had reservations. “Because of ‘Earthshock, it was sort of light of substance,” said Saward, referring to the previous (and action-packed) Cybermen adventure from 1982. “It was more ‘old school’ Cybermen – a lot of standing around and mouths opening. I thought, I’m not taking on someone who is quite experienced and will resist more for a story that I’m not really convinced by.”
As a result, Saward wondered if he should have more input in the scripting of ‘Attack of the Cybermen,’ having written the popular ‘Earthshock’ a few years earlier. However, the union rules at the time forbade a script editor from writing for their own show, as they would – effectively – be commissioning themselves and potentially depriving other writers of work.
But Saward realised that he could get around this problem if he commissioned his friend Paula Woolsey, under the pseudonym of Paula Moore. But all the while, the actual scripting of ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ would fall to him.
“What happened was, she was commissioned to do it, and I actually wrote it,” said Saward.
Or did he? This is where things get a bit complicated, because when Eric Saward was planning ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ he had assistance from Doctor Who‘s unofficial continuity adviser Ian Levine. And in subsequent years, Levine has claimed a certain amount of authorship for ‘Attack of the Cybermen’s scripts.
“I worked the basic plot of the Cybermen story,” said Levine, adding, “Eric wrote the scripts out and all the dialogue.”
Could this be true? Certainly, ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ is one of the most continuity-heavy stories of all time, suggesting a certain level of input from Levine. There is the Totter’s Lane junk yard, first seen in ‘An Unearthly Child’; there are the Cybermen in the sewers, linking back to the 1968 story ‘The Invasion’; there are references to Mondas, and the 1986 Cyber invasion of Earth, linking back to ‘The Tenth Planet‘; there is the TARDIS‘ chameleon circuit (‘An Unearthly Child’ again); there is Commander Lytton, last seen in ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’; and there are the Cybermen’s tombs on Telos (‘The Tomb of the Cybermen.’)
Of course, these details – in isolation – don’t make a storyline. So what is Saward’s version of events?
“I chatted to Ian about possible storyline things,” he said, “and he told me about all the Telos stuff, and I’d seen photographs of tombs of the Cybermen… and I thought they were quite impressive.
“Ian’s contribution to ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ was not as a writer, co-writer in any shape or form. He was a useful adviser, but Ian did not write any of it. He didn’t sit down either with me or by himself and start putting storyline together, developing characters, any of the stuff that I would credit [a co-writer with.]”
So, whilst we can be sure that Paula Moore didn’t write any of ‘Attack of the Cybermen,’ the actual authorship of this classic serial continues to be disputed.
What is your favourite moment from ‘Attack of the Cybermen’? Let me know in the comments below.
Interview quotes taken from the BBC’s ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ DVD documentary ‘The Cold War.’
Cybermen Doctor Who scarf – order now from the Lovarzi shop!