Monday, September 14, 2015

"Revenge of the Cybermen"

Aired Apr 19 - May 10, 1975

4 Episodes

Story 79

Written by: Gerry Davis

Directed by: Michael E Briant


The Time Ring takes the Doctor, Sarah and Harry back to Nerva at last, but they arrive thousands of years before their previous adventure there. Though the TARDIS will eventually drift back through time to meet them, they will have to wait. The station is currently being used as a beacon warning passing ships of a new asteroid orbiting Jupiter.

But the Doctor soon discovers all is not well aboard the Beacon. A mysterious plague has killed nearly the entire crew, and the survivors are desperately trying to survive. Among them is a civilian scientist named Kellman who is studying the asteroid, which he has dubbed Voga. It is discovered that Kellman is working in league with the Cybermen, who want to destroy Voga because its gold rich make-up is anathema to them. Gold, it seems, can coat their breathing apparatus and suffocate them.

The Doctor uncovers that the plague is actually a fast-acting poison injected into the body by Cybermats hidden aboard the beacon. After Sarah is poisoned, the Doctor uses transmat travel to clear her system by teleporting her and Harry down to Voga. The asteroid is inhabited by Vogans who live in caves underground and who are plotting to secure their safety from the Cybermen threat. 
Meanwhile, the Cybermen invade the Beacon  where their plan is to use the Doctor and the final two crewmen to carry cobalt bombs deep in the heart of the Vogan tunnels, destroying Voga. 

Kellman has escaped to Voga,where it's revealed that he's actually a double agent, secretly working with the Vogans to lure the Cybermen to the Beaconwhich they will destroy with a missile, thus ending the threat of the Cybermen forever. The Doctor manages to avoid using the Cybermen's bombs, but Sarah, thinking he is still on the Beacon, returns there to warn him of the missile attack. The Doctor heads back to the Beacon and tells the Cybermen of the Vogan plan. The Cybermen leave, but have loaded the Beacon with bombs and set it on a collision course with Voga.

While he and Sarah succeed in keeping Nerva from crashing into Voga, the Doctor also manages to divert the course of the missile so that it strikes the Cybermen's ship, destroying it. The Doctor, Sarah and Harry find that the TARDIS has arrived, and they hurry off following a distress call from the Brigadier on Earth...


Though nominally written by former script editor and Cyberman co-creator Gerry Davis, the scripts were heavily re-written by Robert Holmes. It's therefore odd that what we wind up with is a derivative, poorly plotted, illogical mess. This is the first Cybermen story in seven years, and it's a shame that we get a rather pathetic outing for the returning monsters that fundamentally misunderstands what made them captivating in the first place, while embroiling them in a story that makes little sense.

You've got to wonder why anyone decided that the Cybermen were supposed to be emotionless in the first place. They've rarely ever been written that way. Even in The Tenth Planet, their first story and the one where they claim to be without emotion, they clearly have emotions. Their subsequent appearances in the 1960s were better at communicating this, but I think that's down to the technique they used to "robotize" the voices. Clearly Robert Holmes didn't like the idea of writing villains without emotions, and as a result, this story begins the trend of making them into gloating, vicious, standard super-villains who purport to have no emotions even as they stand around with hands on hips and smugly crow, "Excellent." 

Then there's the gold allergy created in this story. Let's ignore the continuity mistake of gold affecting Cybermen's breathing (anyone remember The Moonbase where they march across the moon's surface? No breathing there) because as Terrance Dicks once said, "Continuity was what we could remember." But reducing the Cybermen to vampires or werewolves by giving them a "silver bullet" is dumb. And if you do that, then how, you've got to wonder, are the Cybermen walking around on Voga at all? There's gold literally everywhere! And if the Vogans build everything out of gold (as we are shown repeatedly) then why don't their weapons fire gold? And how did the Cybermats get aboard the station? The Cybermen haven't arrived yet.

The story is watchable and has its moments, most of which are generated by a cast that are all doing  a solid job. It's a bit of a crime that actors as good as Michael Wisher, David Collings and the great Kevin Stoney (in his final appearance on Doctor Who) are buried under masks that never work well, but otherwise everyone is great. The location work in the caves is great and help generate a ton of atmosphere, with Michael E Briant making great use of source lighting and unusual camera angles to accentuate the spookiness and mask the fact that they only have about four extras.

But it's a hugely underwhelming return for the Cybermen, and a disappointing end to an incredible debut season for the Fourth Doctor. 

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