Released January 2015
‘The Isos Network’ ends up being a fairly straightforward story, but it also delivers a fantastic marriage between the classic and modern scripting styles for the Cybermen while still managing to maintain a distinctly Troughton era atmosphere. The Cybermen televised in the 1960s never really developed any sense of personality, and after ‘The Tenth Planet’ the actual horrific process of conversion and loss of individuality was never really a focal point until the Sixth Doctor story ‘Attack of the Cybermen.’ The modern series of Doctor Who has thrived with this aspect of the Cybermen, not shying away from showing the conversion process itself nor the resulting stark, blank, single-minded army. While ‘The Isos Network’ does not go into such graphic detail with the inhabitants of Isos 2, it still brings the idea to the forefront much more prominently than most episodes of that time and in doing so adds a disquieting sense of empathy and sorrow to the proceedings.
‘The Invasion’ is arguably the best-remembered Cyberman story of the Troughton era, featuring the Cybermen at their most menacing and haunting as they marched down the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral and the streets of London. ‘The Isos Network’ picks up the threads from the end of that tale as the TARDIS crew follows an escaping Cybership and at the same time adds a retroactive sympathy for the plight of lost humanity, making ‘The Invasion’ a story about much more than just an invasion. This is not simply a story about looking back, though, and what follows is a very heartfelt and entertaining tale as the mystery of Isos 2ès fate unfolds. While not the most complex or convoluted plot Big Finish has ever offered, it certainly delivers an unsettling tale as the Cybermen keep more to the shadows- in line with their 60s counterparts- and slowly regain power and strength.
Commander Seru and team members Alam and Enab are very by the books as they seek to uncover the cause of the seemingly abandoned Isos colony, not given an overwhelming workload but still very competent and admiral in their intent. Kieran Hodgson, the voice of Alam, pulls a double role here, though, and also voices the far more dynamic and tragic Hilsee, the eventual link between the planet’s native giant slugs, the colonists, the Cybermen, and even the resolution to end the Cyber threat. Hilsee is one of the most well-rounded and fully explored secondary characters in recent memory, and Hodgson truly takes full advantage of the opportunity.
Alongside Hodgson, Frazer Hines as both the Second Doctor and Jamie and Wendy Padbury as Zoe both effortlessly reprise their roles, age still having no effect on the voices or energy of either. Excitingly, ‘The Isos Network’ displays different versions of the Cybermen interacting, and Nicholas Briggs aptly changes his intonations to accommodate each’s distinctive voice patterns. While some of the spectacle of this event is lost simply because there is no visual component, the scenes are all written and performed well enough that the mental visualization through imagination very nearly makes up for that loss. Daringly and completely effectively, however, ‘The Isos Network’ shows how merciless and brutal the Cyber conversion process is- showing both completely failed attempts and those that also left a confused fusion of emotion and machine.
While ‘The Isos Network’ may not reach the lofty heights of ‘The Invasion,’ it nonetheless offers a solid continuation of that tale while making listeners rethink some of those classic televised scenes with a new sense of mortality and empathy. Big Finish is bucking its recent trend with the Cybermen and instead offers a classic and uncomplicated tale, and the payoff is tremendous.