Thursday, 16 July 2009

Doctor Who: Revenge of the Cybermen

Part One

“I don’t want to lose my arm, I’m rather attached to it. It’s very handy.”

Another direct continuation, as with every story since Planet of the Spiders, and we’re back on Nerva. According to Sarah, the TARDISeers have just spent “weeks” on Earth and Skaro. But this is Nerva in a much earlier period (although the TARDIS is going to travel back to meet them) and it’s full of dead plague victims. Except this plague seems to show symptoms rather similar to those we saw in The Moonbase

Nerva’s crew are using PCs which look hilariously dated to the modern viewer- although once again this could just be a retro design. Come to think of it, are these the first desktop computers seen in Doctor Who? Their operators are a rather dull bunch, if heroic, the sole survivors of the “plague” who are determined to keep Nerva running. Apparently it has a very important role as a “beacon” near Jupiter.

So, an asteroid, Voga, has drifted into Jupiter’s orbit? How completely unlike The Tenth Planet this script from Gerry Davis is. Already the story has a distinctly retro feel. There’s something very Wheel in Space about this first episode. It’s good to see more recent continuity being maintained though, with talk of “transmats”, but it’s even better, once we’re introduced to some Vogans, to hear mention of the Cybermen! It’s been so long!

Surprisingly early we discover that Kelman’s a traitor, and also that this 30th century space station is using some very retro tape spools. Pleasingly, the TARDISeers aren’t treated with suspicion for very long (that sort of thing can get very tiresome), they get to work on the “plague”, and we cut to the Vogans for some exposition - the Cybermen died out centuries ago; there was a Cyber-war; Voga was attacked.

Finally we get to see some Cybermen! In colour! A bit more hydraulic in appearance, but not that much different from last time. But last time was ages ago- it’s good to see them again!

Part Two

“The beacon is ours!”

Amusingly, the Cybermat attacking Sarah is clearly being moved by Elisabeth Sladen. But there’s not much else to amuse in this episode, much of which is taken up with a dull Vogan power struggle. After a promising first part things are getting a bit dull. 

Still, we get our traditional end of part two reveal of the Cybermen, and they still seem pretty cool at this stage, with their immunity to gunfire and guns in their helmets.

Part Three

“You’ve no home planet, no influence, nothing. You’re just a pathetic bunch of tin soldiers scuttling about the galaxy in an ancient spaceship.”

So far there’s not much that’s fundamentally wrong with this story, but the guest characters just all seem dull. Unfortunately, from this point on things start getting worse. For a start, the Cybermen open their mouths; This is a problem: their voices are awful.

We discover the Cybermen have a weakness to asphyxiation by gold dust- not necessarily a problem at this stage as gold dust is rare and only effects them in a specific way for which you have to get close. 

Unfortunately the Cyberleader seems genuinely riled by the Doctor’s taunting, completely unlike the logic-driven, emotionless creatures we’ve seen before, as shown in dialogue such as “Only stupid Earth brains like yours would have been fooled” and “Clever, clever, clever”. Er, yes.

But what is a serious problem is that these Cybermen seem indeed to be “total machine creatures”; they have “parts” to “build” a Cyber army. Cybernisation and body horror is no longer an issue and the Cybermen are just robots. Oh dear. Still, not to justify it, but perhaps there could be an explanation? We’ve never had a Cybermen story set this far into the future before, so perhaps they did indeed die out centuries before, after or even before the events of Tomb, and these few “total machine creatures” are just the remnants?

The plot thickens- Kelman is really working for these dull Vogan chaps. And the Cybermen have bombs. Unfortunately there’s an embarrassing example of as-you-know-Bobbery here as two Cybermen explain their plans to a listening Sarah.

Part Four

“We’re still heading for the biggest bang in history.”

I love the “Harry Sullivan is an imbecile” scene at the start. The Doctor’s being a bit of a git, of course, but there’s no real nastiness. Tom Baker can get away with this sort of thing in a way Pertwee couldn’t.
There’s a bit of NASA stock footage as the Skystriker rocket is launched, and the Cybermen escape from the rocket. There’s an interesting comment here from the Doctor: “Nice sense of irony. I thought for a moment he was going to smile.”

We end with a summons from the Brigadier from the “space-time-telegraph”…

Something of a missed opportunity, this. The plot was actually ok but the characters were too dull to care about, both because of the writing and because of some workmanlike performances. And although we got lots of Cyber-tropes these “total machine creatures” just didn’t feel like Cybermen. 3/5.

Season 12 overall gets 3.8/5, giving it a surprisingly lowly eighth place. Still, I have reason to believe things might be about to pick up…

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