Revenge of the Cybermen ★

Travesty follows anticlimax as the Cybermen return after a seven-year break...

138

Season 12 – Story 79

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“You are about to die in the biggest explosion witnessed in this solar system” – Cyberleader

Storyline
The time ring returns the Doctor, Sarah and Harry to space station Nerva, but thousands of years earlier when it served as a beacon for a new asteroid near Jupiter. A mysterious plague is killing off the crew, and the Doctor discovers the cause is a poison spread by Cybermats. The last vestiges of the Cybermen are heading to Nerva to obliterate the asteroid, now identified as Voga, the planet of gold – a metal that proved lethal during the last Cyberwar…

First transmissions
Part 1 – Saturday 19 April 1975
Part 2 – Saturday 26 April 1975
Part 3 – Saturday 3 May 1975
Part 4 – Saturday 10 May 1975

Production
Location filming: November 1974 at Wookey Hole, Somerset
Studio recording: December 1974 in TC1 and TC3

Cast
Doctor Who – Tom Baker
Sarah Jane Smith – Elisabeth Sladen
Harry Sullivan – Ian Marter
Commander Stevenson – Ronald Leigh-Hunt
Kellman – Jeremy Wilkin
Lester – William Marlowe
Warner – Alec Wallis
Tyrum – Kevin Stoney
Vorus – David Collings
Magrik – Michael Wisher
Sheprah – Brian Grellis
Cyberleader – Christopher Robbie
First Cyberman – Melville Jones

Crew
Writer – Gerry Davis
Incidental music – Carey Blyton (& Peter Howell, uncredited)
Designer – Roger Murray-Leach
Script editor – Robert Holmes
Producer – Philip Hinchcliffe
Director – Michael E Briant

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
There’s almost a tradition of Who’s greatest writers running out of juice: David Whitaker, Terry Nation, Robert Holmes, Russell T Davies… All retired from the fray visibly spent of ideas. Add Gerry Davis to that list.

Perhaps it’s unfair to condemn Davis squarely for this travesty. The mid-60s script editor was completely out of touch with the requirements of mid-70s Who, and what we see on screen has been radically reworked by Robert Holmes at his least inspired.

Gold dust being lethal to Cybermen is a ridiculous development. And whoever thought that “revenge” was a credible motivation for such emotion-free creatures fundamentally misunderstands one of the series’ classic foes. Even the Doctor describes them inaccurately as “total machine creatures”. They should have flesh but no humanity.

It’s been a seven-year wait for the Cybermen to return, and they do so with an overall lapse of scripting, performance, design and direction. The first shot of them, silent, in a bland, boxy spaceship set is an anticlimax. Their voices are the worst to date, like someone droning into a biscuit tin – with the Cyberleader often conveying vexation and pride rather than cold logic. “Oh, you are mistaken”, “Excellent” and “It is good” are among other execrable lines.

The part two “climax” where they breach the beacon, firing bolts from their heads, fails to impress, and isn’t helped by an unconvincing tumble from Tom Baker. He should be cut some slack because this isn’t long after he fractured his collarbone on The Sontaran Experiment, and it probably accounts for the peculiar incident when the Cyberleader grabs and shakes his jacket into submission.

The redesigned, articulated Cybermats work reasonably; Elisabeth Sladen certainly knows how to handle a prop to make it look like it’s attacking her, in a cliffhanger reminiscent of the maggot advancing on Jo in The Green Death, by the same director.

The Vogans (entirely Holmes’s addition) are a lacklustre bunch – surprising, given their dependence on gold. Their foam faces and tatty white hair look ridiculous, and it’s depressing to discern actors of the calibre of Kevin Stoney and David Collings chuntering through such dismal dialogue.

The story’s saving grace is the location shoot at Wookey Hole, which, although plainly devoid of gold, provides an unusually convincing setting for subterranean Voga. Only here does the drama occasionally gleam with life.

Whatever your tastes, every season since 1963 ended with a momentous story or a satisfying sign-off. This Revenge of the Cybermen signally fails to do. The Ark “mini-arc” concludes with the Tardis “drifting back through time” (how?), so there’s no chance of a back-to-the-future reunion with Vira. The Doctor, Sarah and (by now almost redundant) Harry are summoned to Earth via the Brigadier’s space/time telegraph, then season 12 ends abruptly.

With a run of 20 episodes, it was the shortest to date. Little did we know at the time but BBC1 schedulers had brought season 13 forward four months to the autumn. In the event, 1975 proved to be the most bountiful year of the 70s with a brand-new Who on 35 Saturday nights.

*
In the summer hols of 75, the fourth Doctor went on the road to meet his fans, and that August Tom Baker came to my hometown Chesham for a signing session at Chapter One bookshop. He wore the full Doctor Who garb – including his original red jacket (which had been abandoned during his second season then being recorded). Fans and non-fans turned out, snapping up newly minted paperbacks of The Green Death and The Giant Robot, many asking Tom if his curly hair was a wig. Even 35 years later, I remember shaking Tom’s hand and touching his iconic scarf. If only my mum had been more adept with our Kodak Instamatic!

Tom 1975

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[Available on BBC DVD]