Entertainment Magazine

Review #3183: Classic Doctor Who: “Revenge of the Cybermen”

Posted on the 13 December 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: John Keegan

Written by Gerry Davis and Robert Holmes
Directed by Michael Briant

As some long-time readers might know, I’m a bit of a contrarian, especially when it comes to negative opinions. Particularly in politics, religion, and such; sports, not so much!) In the context of media, if someone tells me that a show, movie, or book is terrible, I’m going to look for the silver lining. Sometimes I’ll feel the same way with something that is praised to the heavens, but it’s usually my first response to a work that has been universally reviled.

Review #3183: Classic Doctor Who: “Revenge of the Cybermen”

Sometimes, though, the reputation is well-deserved. Some failures are not even close to noble failures; they simply don’t work due to fundamental weaknesses in key areas. Very often, especially when it comes to a low-budget production like Classic Who, it’s a combination of writing and/or acting. Most of the time, though, the writing is the first building block to falter, and that’s the case with “Revenge of the Cybermen”.

I’ve come to consider the first season of the Tom Baker era as something of a summing-up victory lap. We get a signature serial that brings the Daleks (a First Doctor staple) full circle. The season started with a UNIT-heavy farewell to the Third Doctor era. “The Ark in Space” was, in essence, a template for what the Fourth Doctor era could be. So how else could the season end than with a touchstone to the Second Doctor era, which was dominated by endless “base under siege” stories with the Cybermen?

The season-long arc with the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry cast adrift in time, separated from the TARDIS, is meant to come to a close where it began: Nerva Beacon. The story starts out with promise, as the station has apparently come under attack, as it’s littered with dead bodies. Somehow, there are cybermats on the station (sadly, not the remote-controlled rat kind), and that means the Cybermen are waiting in the wings.

It all goes downhill from there. The Cybermen have been redesigned from their most recent appearance (late in the Second Doctor period, so quite a few years earlier), and they look fairly ridiculous. Gone are the zombie-esque proto-Borg of, say, “Tomb of the Cybermen” or later stories; these are more emotional, more individualized units. It just doesn’t work as well, in terms of presenting an imposing threat.

I also have to question the logic of putting guns on their foreheads. I get the general concept, but in terms of offensive capability, it’s remarkably limiting. It also gets very, very old when the Cybermen invade the world of Voga. Much of the third episode is nothing more than Cybermen and Vogans shooting at each other, again and again, with precious little in the way of plot in-between.

There’s also the concept that the Cybermen are in some way “allergic” to gold. To be fair, in the story, the explanation is somewhat sensible; gold powder, if introduced to the breathing units of the Cybermen, can plate the internal workings and render them useless. The problem is that this is almost impossible to do, so having Voga be the “Planet of Gold” is rather pointless. Not to mention that there are plenty of other, more expedient ways to achieve a similar goal. But this is far from an “allergy”, so much as a technical flaw that could be easily rectified by the Cybermen before they proceed. It just doesn’t make sense as a central plot element.

Beyond the plot convenience and oddities that abound, it’s just too damn similar to the Cybermen stories of the Second Doctor era. It was apparently commissioned before they knew what direction would be taken with the Fourth Doctor, so it was extensively rewritten to fit the new mold. That explains where some of the plot continuity issues came about, but the time spent rewriting might have been better spent tackling a completely new story. Much like what would happen with the Borg in the Star Trek franchise, the Cybermen were better when they were used sparingly, almost as an inscrutable force of nature. As used here, they sadly contribute to a poor ending to an otherwise solid start of the Fourth Doctor era.

Writing: 0/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 0/4

Final Rating: 4/10

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