Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Doctor Who - Revenge Of The Cybermen

The Brave And The Gold

Doctor Who -
Revenge Of The Cybermen

Airdate: 19th April - 10 May 1975
BBC 1 - Region 0 Blu Ray Four Episodes

Well... Revenge Of The Cybermen is another Doctor Who story from my youth which in no way lived up to either my memories or my expectations of it. That being said it’s still better than the two stories which preceded it.

Starting off with The Doctor (Tom Baker), Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry (Ian Marter) swirling in space and still holding the time ring they recovered at the end of Genesis Of The Daleks (reviewed here), the three arrive back at Nerva some thousands of years since they departed, when it was still a manned beacon. However, there is very little crew left because they’ve all died from a ‘plague’ which, in good old Cybermen style from a previous story, is really the little, sneaky, rat-like Cybermats biting and poisoning various crew members.

It doesn’t take long for Sarah Jane to get bitten so The Doctor sends her and Harry down to the planet Voga, where age old enemies of the Cybermen live in a cave system (actually Wookey Hole in real life), to unscramble her molecules and separate her from the alien poison. However, Sarah and Harry get stuck down there as prisoners of one of two opposing factions of Vogons while, on Nerva, The Doctor has to track down a human double agent and then try and stop a rocket full of Cybermen (allergic to gold, as always) from destroying Voga. So there’s lots of running around on stripped down versions of the Nerva sets from Ark In Space (reviewed here) plus the caves on the planet and... it’s fairly entertaining but it’s not exactly a roller coaster, to be sure. James Bond fans take note, the shoe brush transmitter that the double agent uses here is exactly the same one previously used in Live And Let Die... which Roger Moore sold to the props department more by accident than by design, since he was trying to just give it to them.

Okay, so there’s good, there’s bad and there’s ludicrous. The bad and ludicrous being the dead bodies of the plague victims that litter the floors of the corridors of certain sections of Nerva. I mean, I know I’m now watching this on a high definition Blu Ray but, surely, even then people could tell these were shop window dummies which were, it has to be said, badly placed with their faces turned away from the camera and the joints in the wrists, that hang from unnatural angles from their brittle limbs, clearly visible. Note to set dressers... dead people’s heads don’t raise up slightly from the floor because they are connected to a slightly angled torso. This is really not selling things guys... are extras really that expensive?

And if you want really bad... when a rocket is launched from the subterranean caves of Voga, directed at Nerva, the footage use of it taking off looks nothing like it and is, brazenly, stock footage of a clearly marked NASA rocket departing from Cape Canaveral (or Kennedy... or whatever it’s was called in the 1960s/70s).

The good is... the Cybermen themselves. Tom Baker was only the third of the, then, four Doctors, to find himself up against these creatures. Previously, only the first Doctor and, especially, the second Doctor had fought them in the 1960s version of the show, on a number of occasions. This is also the cybermen's only story from the 1970s, since they wouldn’t get another crack at The Doctor, with a shocking and unexpected consequence for viewers of the time, until the 1980s and the Peter Davison story Earthshock (note, the third Doctor did finally get to meet them many years later when he returned for the special anniversary episode, The Five Doctors). They were completely overhauled for Earthshock in terms of their design and, since the costumes from the Troughton years had not survived the ages, they were rebuilt for this story too, although they do look pretty similar to the versions seen in such stories as The Invasion. This was also the first time they were seen in colour but, with the interior set designs on the spaceships pretty minimal, they do look like they are being shot on black and white stock in some shots... which is nice.

There are also some nice little stabs at humour here including a typical see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil moment when The Doctor and two other prisoners are waiting to find out their fate. We also get to see The Doctor spinning his yo-yo when he is being trans-matted down to Voga. Plus... you know... the jelly babies make another appearance, once again.

One of the things I noticed on this story in particular is that, in the replay of the last few minutes before the previous cliffhanger at the start of each episode, some pretty hefty cuts and also additions make their way into the scenes... it’s almost like watching the old Saturday Morning Pictures serials again (not that I’m old enough to have ever seen those actually at the cinema... mores the pity).

Having discovered recently the basic plot of Gerry Davis’ original story for this, I have to say that... although this particular plot line would have been great with Troughton in it, I’d have much preferred to see the previous incarnation of the script filmed, where Nerva is basically a space casino. As it is, though, this would be the last time Davis would write anything for the show.

What this story does highlight, once again, is how good Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter are together. The dialogue for their characters is excellent and the chemistry between these particular ‘companions’ is strong. Something which wasn’t always a guarantee in the show, by a long shot.

And that’s me about done with Revenge Of The Cybermen, apart from perhaps making the comment that, for a race of cyborgs who have stripped themselves of all emotion... why the heck would they want revenge? They certainly don’t seem to here and that makes a kind of mockery of the title. Interestingly, the last episode finishes with yet another ‘lead in’ to The Doctor’s next adventure which, alas, isn’t on Blu Ray as yet, it’s sad to say.

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