Revenge of The Cybermen
By Gerry Davis
Reviewed By Will Barber
You've no home planet, no influence, nothing! You're just a pathetic bunch of tin soldiers skulking about the galaxy in an ancient spaceship!
The Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan arrive at the Nerva Becon several hundred years before it becomes the home of the human race. The Doctor soon discovers that his old foes, The Cybermen want to destroy the planet of gold, Voga. The Doctor, Sarah and Harry must defeat the Cybermen before they can once more become the most powerful force in the universe.
The beginning of this story is reminiscent of the beginning of a David Bowie video. The Doctor, Sarah and Harry are floating in front of a space station in the worst green screen effect I’ve ever seen. Revenge of The Cybermen is an odd mixture between action adventure and silliness. The whole affair is very 70s, although that is not a bad thing. Looking at it as a period piece is it very good. However, when we scratch the surface and compare it to more modern stories, it does not fare as well.
Revenge is a child of its time. With effects that look like they have escaped from The Clangers, Cybermen who look like their pants should have flares on them and a supporting cast who have some of the oddest fashion you are likely to see. The story, however, when measured up to more recent stories is very good. Revenge is dampened by the effects of the time which do not live up to the grand vision of the story. For instance, when the Cybermen invade Voga, The Vogans are terrified of the two Cybermen that stalk their land. If the story was done today it would be hundreds of Cybermen, not two. However, this toned down vision of the Cybermen fits the story, they, rather like the Vogans are nomads trying to survive as they float through space. If the Cybermen were on the brink of extinction then it would not make sense to have hundreds of them, like in previous stories such as The Invasion and Tomb of The Cybermen. Indeed, it is ironic that the Vogans fear fellow nomads who don’t have many weapons to attack them with.
The story regularly jumps from The Beacon to Voga and this gives us an interesting mix of sub plots throughout the story. The Vogan subplot shows us the political struggles on Voga between Tyrum (who seems to be doing an impression of a drunk William Hartnell) and Vorus. One wants to change the old way and the other wants to keep it. Vorus, who represents youth, though you wouldn’t be able to tell that with the white wig he rocks, wants to destroy the Cybermen once and for all and lead his people into the light. Tyrum on the other hand represents the old order and want the Vogans to stay beneath the surface of Voga and just wait until the Cybermen go away. Interestingly, Tyrum eventually shoots Vorus restabilising the old order as the true and decent one. One could suggest that Gerry Davies is saying that a change from new to old is a bad thing and everything is all right as it is. Davies was known for his obsession with new technology and the reason he created The Cybermen was to warn people about prophetic limbs. Davies was in some way frightened of technology and the way it could affect human behaviour. It seems from this episode that he preferred us to be like the Tyrum’s of this world, cowering in the old order.
The second and shorter subplot deals with how the remaining crew manages with the death of their fellows. The whole thing portrays the British stiff upper lip; nobody complains about the stress of it all and they don’t think that they should call in reinforcements because they don’t need it. It is interesting to suggest that the two subplots stem from the same fear of change and that if we carry on as always then everything will be all right.
Tom Baker is all tooth and curls in this story. It is in Revenge that we truly get to see Baker’s Doctor emerging more. We see, like the previous Doctor that he is fiercely moral, lambasting the Cybermen for their plans of destruction and death. However, the best parts aren’t the scripted dialogue, no, they are Baker’s small and precise movements. His big grin, his twirling of the hand and his all-round sense of fun help Baker make the part of The Doctor his own. Even though the writers are still writing for Pertwee, something Baker would mention many times later, his ability to add lib changes it from simply a Pertwee stand in to full on Tom Baker. This shows just how good when it comes to making a part his own, Tom Baker is.
Revenge is a 70s story. It is goofy, it is silly but above all it is fun. We can invest in the characters and see them develop as the story goes along. It may not be the greatest Doctor Who story of all time but it is one of the most enjoyable.