Return of the Cybermen

Posted in Audio by - March 20, 2021
Return of the Cybermen

Released March 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The Lost Stories range has consistently provided fascinating insight into an alternative world of Doctor Who that could have been under different circumstances, but rarely has that goal been so explicitly realized as with ‘Return of the Cybermen’ that has been adapted for audio by Big Finish stalwart John Dorney. Originally written by Gerry Davis but extensively changed by script editor Robert Holmes to become the 1975 serial ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ in Tom Baker’s debut season, this story sees the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry Sullivan return to Space Station Nerva in search of the TARDIS but instead finding a quarantine from a deadly plague and Cybermen with a perilous scheme to eliminate the greatest threat to their existence.

Understandably, there are plenty of similarities between this story and what the ideas fueling it would ultimately morph into for the televised adventure, especially in the beginning as the TARDIS team members attempts to reacquaint themselves with the changed Nerva before them. However, following a dynamic first cliffhanger that reveals the genuine danger that the Cybermats pose, events begin to deviate with strong results. ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ is certainly a darker and at time campier story by classic Doctor Who standards, but the titular foes’ motivations were more overtly ruthless and vengeful than is typical for this emotionless race guided by logic even as they looked to eliminate a source of gold that posed such a distinct threat. Here, the Cybermen are placed directly aboard Nerva to instantly give them a much more direct sense of menace, and with no implication that they are the last of their race, their explicit mission to destroy a variation of the same threat even if self-sacrifice is required to achieve success is far more fitting of these foes and a much more intriguing piece of background information and development. These Cybermen are still far more emotional that might be expected, but their willingness to discuss and deal with those around them amidst the ever-present plague and while remaining assured of their own superiority is an effective dynamic of logic that definitely helps in a story that still can’t quite overcome the pacing issues that plagued the televised product that grew from these ideas. Nicholas Briggs is superb throughout as the Cybermen, blending aspects of ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ with earlier televised Cybermen appearances to create a haunting but undoubtedly powerful presence that never conveys anything less than the inherent and very real danger these foes present.

In a story that features an incredibly energetic performance from Tom Baker who seemingly effortlessly steps into a story originally intended for his younger self, the major draw will be the debuts of Sadie Miller and Christopher Naylor as Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan, respectively. This is an era that Big Finish has been unable to fully explore with full-cast dramas to this point, but the inclusion of these two actors suggests that the future is one filled with great potential. It’s unrealistic- as with any of the unfortunately necessary Big Finish recasts- to expect a pitch perfect performance from either, but both have moments peppered throughout when it’s impossible to not think that Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter themselves are in the booth. The energy, charisma, and intonations are expertly realised, and although Sarah Jane is hardly given the most prominence in this dialogue-heavy release as she spends a lengthy portion of the script suffering from the plague, it’s nonetheless heartening to see this beloved companion given a second life with Sladen’s daughter easily taking up the mantle and carrying on the Sarah Jane Smith legacy.

‘Revenge of the Cybermen,’ while certainly a story with some memorable moments, is rarely one that tops favourite lists, but this modern adaptation of ‘Return of the Cybermen’ offers a more dramatic and altogether more successful iteration that shows what might have otherwise been. It still may not quite reach the heights of some of the other televised Cybermen tales, but it’s a worthy addition to Doctor Who history that is filled with strong performances and era-specific sound design that excitingly opens the door for further adventures within this beloved early Fourth Doctor era.

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1 Comment on "Return of the Cybermen"

  • Geraint Williams

    Gerry Davis I believe wrote it originally, not Gerry Anderson!

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