THIS STORY TAKES
BETWEEN THE NOVELS
"A DEVICE OF DEATH"
(& ROBERT HOLMES,
MICHAEL E. BRIANT
RETURN OF THE
'REVENGE OF THE
CYBERMEN / SILVER
NEMESIS' DVD BOX
RELEASED IN AUGUST
THE DOCTOR AND HIS
COMPANIONS ARE LOST
IN TIME. EXPECTING TO
BE REUNITED WITH THE
SECRET MISSION FOR
THE TIME LORDS, THEY
FIND THEMSELVES ON
SPACE STATION NEAR
THE REMNANTS OF VOGA,
THE PLANET OF GOLD.
THE DOCTOR, HARRY
AND SARAH HAVE
STUMBLED INTO THE
LAST BATTLE OF AN
AND ONE OF ITS MOST
TERRIFYING FOES: THE
19TH APRIL 1975 - 10TH MAY 1975
After winning a fan poll to become the first Doctor Who video release, Revenge
of the Cybermen has had a rough few decades. To say that it doesn’t enjoy the loftiest of reputations these days would be understating things just a tad, as of all the Cybermen tales out there, it is Revenge that often gets the worst roasting. And whilst in the past I’ve taken
on the mantle of apologist for notorious adventures such as Time-Flight and even Timelash, I can’t do the same for this four-part travesty, which is now available to own on DVD as part of a tenuous Cybermen-themed box set that it shares with Silver Nemesis.
Any serial broadcast a week after Genesis of the Daleks was always going to look below par in comparison, but even that defence doesn’t hold now as, when watching this DVD out of sequence, Revenge is every bit as bad as it always had been – the picture quality is just
a little better. In any case, even when watching Season 12 in transmission order, by the time that you get to this serial the last thing you’ll want to see is the Ark again! Sorry, Nerva...
Gerry Davis’ narrative is slow and plodding, Michael Briant’s palette is neutered, and Carey Blyton’s “Mickey Mouse” score is so woefully inappropriate that even the producers saw fit
to excise great swathes of it. As for the Cybermen, it’s no surprise that they had decade off after this debacle. Be warned: the more that you love the Cybermen, the more you will loathe their Revenge...
“You’re just a pathetic bunch of tin soldiers, skulking about the galaxy in an ancient spaceship.”
It was thought that the return of an old foe would offer a touch of familiarity for an audience adjusting to a new Doctor, but sadly the emotional parodies of Cybermen that we see here lack the menace of serials past. The one fundamental tenet that sets the Cybermen apart from any other race is their cold, emotionless dependency on rationality and logic, yet here the writer who co-created them does a complete u-turn - the title says it all: Revenge. Rather than spitefully attack Voga, surely – no, logically - wouldn’t the Cybermen have just retreated and regrouped? It puzzles the will how a writer could stray so far from the successful tenets that he himself established. Even the physical realisation of the Cybermen is poor - Briant’s idea of them being able to shoot from their helmets may have looked good on paper, but on screen it just looks feeble, and worse still, the actors’ voices aren’t treated electronically; we just hear human monotones, occasionally punctuated with rage or pique.
Furthermore, the narrative lacks both pace and punch. After the tedium of a cyber-induced plague and then some dreary underground sequences which see the Cybermen try to use the Doctor and company as lemmings, the silver giants decide to crash Nerva beacon into Voga. Now this would have been all fine and good were it not for the fact that any discerning viewer knows right from the off that their plan won’t work as the events of The Ark in Space, set in Nerva’s future, haven’t happened yet. I know “time is in flux” et al, but try telling that to the misanthropist inside you as you watch these events unfold. There’s no tension; no drama. Davis should have at least squeezed a line in there about the future “not being set in stone” or something, as writers so often do in the revived series when faced with similar scenarios.
More positively, the Cybermen
don’t show up to spoil things
until the end of Part 2, and in
fairness when they do Davis
at least paints a fascinating
picture of the end of the Cyber
Wars, the creation of the Glitter
Gun, and the role played by the
Vogans and their gold in the
destruction of the Cyber race.
Furthermore, the evidently Rassilon-worshipping Vogans are an interesting race. Visually they are quite distinctive – their gold skin and pronounced eye sockets really make them stand out, if not always for the right reasons. It’s fascinating to see how their culture has evolved with the constant fear of the Cybermen hanging over them; ironically, just like their enemies, their primary obsession has become survival. Their human ally, Kellman, is also
an intriguing character; Jeremy Wilkin plays him in such a way that the audience believes that he is in fact working for the Cybermen, a device that the pseudonymous ‘Paula Moore’ would later recycle with Lytton in Attack of the Cybermen.
“Did you make the rocks fall, Harry? HARRY SULLIVAN IS AN IMBECILE!”
However, the principal difference between Revenge of the Cybermen and the worst Doctor Who serials is there to be seen in the performances of the regulars. Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter are an absolute joy to watch together on screen. I’m particularly fond of the latter; even with the best of intentions, Marter’s Harry can’t help but get things wrong time and time again - either he’s making rocks fall on the Doctor’s head or he’s patronising Sarah-Jane at a pivotal, life or death moment. The “I don’t know if you’re aware, old girl…” sequence at the end is just sublime.
Ultimately though, Revenge of the Cybermen is best known not for its many failings or few successes, or even for being the butt of a memorable League of Gentlemen sketch – it is best remembered for being the first Doctor Who serial to be made available to the public commercially, albeit at the inflated price of £39.95 (£103.07 RPI†) and with all the episode breaks removed. Prior to its release on VHS, Betamax and Video 2000 in October 1983, Who fans had to turn to off-air audio recordings or Target novelisations if they wanted to explore classic stories. Occasionally the BBC would indulge them with a repeat season (1980’s Five Faces of Doctor Who, for instance) but such broadcasts were few and far between.
Above: Cheques, Lies and Videotape...
It’s rather fitting then that this DVD’s flagship documentary, Cheques, Lies and Videotape, explores the dearth of classic Who available prior to video; the early 1980s black market explosion of imported Australian home video recordings; and the lengths that some fans went to to try and put their hands on stories past. Living as we do in a world of on demand entertainment, it’s difficult to recall (let alone fathom) what life was like before DVDs and the internet, and this Nicholas Pegg-penned documentary does a first-rate job of emphasising just how much times have changed.
interviewed here actually miss the days where they’d have
to spend £350.00 (£902.96 RPI†) on a pirate copy of Doctor
Who and the Silurians or labour over which serials to keep
and which to rub off (blank VHS being prohibitively expensive
in its early days). Even though I’m a generation or two down
from these fans, I share many of their sentiments - I have very
fond memories of laboriously trying to track down an episode
guide, and from there spending years lovingly locating and
devouring as many stories as I could in whatever format.
Many VHS releases were available to buy by my time, but
my pocket money wouldn’t stretch to them unless I saved up
for about two months, and so for almost five years my VHS
collection was limited to just Spearhead from Space, Day
of the Daleks, Frontier in Space and The Five Doctors (the
latter I’d not bought, but won in a UK Gold competition). After
my parents had finally invested in Sky, I was able to spend two
years’ worth of Sunday mornings and Monday nights watching
all the stories that I’d only read or imagined previously, only to
be left feeling a bit dejected when they didn’t live up to the images conjured by Target prose
(as beautifully conveyed by Rob Hammond’s rendering of a scene from The Three Doctors novelisation, which in the documentary is brutally contrasted with a Three Doctors television clip, see below).
Above: Hover your mouse over the glorious, prose-inspired image above to reveal the reality!
In addition to the above, the DVD also features a less remarkable twenty-five minute feature, The Tin Man and the Witch, which charts the making of this serial with the DVD producers’ usual aplomb. It speaks volumes about Revenge of the Cybermen though that its director’s Wookey Hole ghost story is far more chilling than the serial itself!
Rounding off the disc is a Tom Baker-less commentary, former
series producer Philip Hinchcliffe and actress Lis Sladen being
joined by a Doctor from another dimension, David Collings (Full
Fathom Five, The Robots of Death, Mawdryn Undead) who also
played Vorus in this serial. It’s enlightening as ever, but a little flat
– Baker’s presence really does make all the difference to these
On the whole though, this DVD release is more than equal to
the howler that it houses. Even if, like me, you aren’t a fan of this
serial, then the box set is worth the purchase price alone for the
outstanding Cheques, Lies and Videotape documentary, not to
mention the underrated seventh Doctor classic Silver Nemesis,
which is in another league entirely…
† Based on an RPI of 86.36 in October 1983 and 222.8 in April 2010
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007, 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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