THIS STORY TAKES
BIG FINISH AUDIOS
"THE WRECK OF THE
TITAN" AND "THE
BIG FINISH CD#135
RELEASED IN JUNE 2010.
The Cybermen are on
the march through
the Hundred Realms,
converting as they
go. Resistance is
Trapped on the outer
-most fringes of the
battle, the Doctor
and Jamie encounter
an old friend: Zoe
It's the happiest of
reunions. But what
hope is there of a
happy ending WHEN
PITTED against AN
Legend of the Cybermen is a story about war. On one side, we have the ruthlessly aggressive Cybermen, and on the other a diverse throng of largely human characters. What sets it apart from most Whovian hostilities is that its human characters aren’t real, nor is the Land of Fiction that they inhabit.
As well as being something of an immodest sequel to the acclaimed second Doctor serial The Mind Robber, Mike Maddox’s script was also charged with bringing the sixth Doctor and Jamie’s story arc to a close, tying up all the numerous threads that the foregoing three adventures left dangling, whilst also finding a meaningful role for Wendy Padbury’s Zoe. I’m pleased to report that Maddox not only accomplishes this dazzling feat, but does so with consummate ease, resulting in one of Big Finish’s most exceptional productions to date.
To begin with, Maddox’s imaginative script certainly befits its illimitable setting, conjuring grand images that surpass even those evoked by the preceding Wreck of the Titan. As the Cybermen march through the Land of Fiction, they assimilate not only the human inhabitants of its Hundred Realms but all manner of creatures. Moby Dick becomes a “bio-mechanical submarine”, for instance, whilst giants are turned into colossal Cybermen; not CyberKings, as recently seen on television, but single, dominant entities. The Cybermen don’t even draw the line at the living, seeking to fold the often vaporous Count Dracula into their ranks. Don’t be fooled by Simon Holub’s stunning artwork - this one is about as far from black and white as you can get.
This story’s charms are not limited to its spectacular elements, however. Some of its most memorable and disturbing scenes are those that see the writer put great literary characters to the sword, both literally and figuratively. Here we have Steven Kynman breathe life into an Artful Dodger who is as well-versed in the use futuristic weaponry as he is picking pockets, and Abigail Hollick playing a discordantly battle-hardened version of Lewis Carroll’s most famous heroine. Most extraordinarily of all though, Maddox has Oliver Twist asking for more through the twisted modulations of a Cyber larynx, which I found even more unsettling than one of Justin Richards’ infamous Shakespeare-spouting Daleks.
The writer also does
a splendid job with the
Doctor, Jamie and Zoe -
the latter in particular.
Prior to listening to this
play, I had no idea how
Big Finish were going
to work Zoe into their
equation, but I certainly
didn’t expect them to do
so by making her the new Mistress of the Land of Fiction! It seems that after the Time Lords returned Zoe to the Wheel, memories duly erased, she couldn’t shake the feeling that some-thing wasn’t right. She had herself examined by a doctor, who advised her that she was two years older than she should have been at that point in her life, following which it didn’t take her long to deduce the time-travelling Doctor’s role in things. Yet the Time Lords’ mental blocks remained impassable until the Cybermen attacked again, and the hyper-intelligent astrophysicist found herself being converted into a CyberPlanner. Her memories awakened, Zoe did the only thing that she felt she could - open a space / time gateway to the one place where she thought that the Cybermen wouldn’t be able to do any harm: the Land of Fiction.
Above: Don’t be fooled by Simon Holub’s stunning artwork...
However, the Cybermen quickly fortified themselves inside Castle Frankenstein (an apt dwelling for the “silver Englishmen” if ever there were one) and soon set about killing and converting the populous. Using their “bookworms” - adapted versions of Cybermats - the Cybermen adapted their fictional environment to suit them, co-opting the White Robots to serve them and setting themselves up to conquer with impunity. In response, Zoe freed the Land’s inhabitants of their fictional constraints, imbuing each of them with free will so that they might fight back. Some - like Alice, Dracula, and Nemo - rose to the challenge, whilst others – such as the comic strip “space leaches” of City of Spires – went mad, embracing iniquity and greed rather than aspiring to become something more than just plot ciphers. In desperation, Zoe realised a new character, one lifted from her own novel Doctor Who and the Laird of McCrimmon; one that she hoped would prove enough of a riddle to lure her old Time Lord friend to her land to finally put paid to the Cyber menace.
With ink pumping through his veins in the place of blood, suddenly Jamie’s “Black Donald” soubriquet takes on a whole new level of appropriateness, allowing Frazer Hines to really take the gloves off and play his stalwart old character in a fresh and dangerous way. This leads to some glorious scenes between him and Colin Baker, as the disconsolate imitation of the Doctor’s old friend vents decades-old anger that has not only been pent-up but sealed away inside memories that he couldn’t touch until now; anger and memories that aren’t his
to have. At times, Maddox inevitably moves into School Reunion territory, but this is most welcome when the material is delivered with the vehemence that it is here. Wendy Padbury is equally outstanding, effortlessly recreating the “lassie with the cheeky grin” and the pert relationship that she shared with the Doctor and Jamie. Indeed, Baker, Hines and Padbury gel so very well together that it’s often hard to believe that it wasn’t Baker playing the Doctor back in the day, rather than Pat Troughton.
The story’s conclusion is beautifully done, bringing back the grief and injustice of The War Games, but presenting it in a much more explicit and harrowing manner. It is to Maddox’s credit that he doesn’t seek to resile from the harsh decree imposed by the Time Lords - it would have been all too easy for him to leave Zoe with her memories cheerfully in tact - nor does he allow himself to be bogged down in the post-War Games / Two Doctors continuity quagmire, circumventing the issue by having the fictional Jamie’s memories bestowed on him by Zoe, whose memories only run up to the end of The War Games (as the Celestial Intervention Agency never reunited her with the Doctor after the trial as they allegedly did
the real Jamie).
Turning to the production itself, Legend of the Cybermen is as aurally diverse an affair as you’re likely to find in the medium. Jamie Robertson’s sound design and score manages to rival Howard Carter’s in the previous play, if not in its sheer splendour then in its unparalleled multiplicity. These four episodes fuse together so many different styles, from children’s audio book all the way up to full-blown audio drama, even breaking the fourth wall on one occasion as a Cyberman playing Nicholas Briggs (sic) directs Jamie!
Overall then, Legend of the Cybermen brings this ambitious quadrilogy to a suitably grim and gratifying finale. You’ll be hard pressed to find a Doctor Who story in any medium with the mesmerising mix of colourful elements that this one boasts, and you certainly won’t find one that can match it for sheer imagination.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 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.
Terrance Dicks’ 2005 novel World Game crystallised the already-popular theory that following his trial at the end of The War Games, the second Doctor’s sentence was suspended whilst he carried out a number of top secret missions for Gallifrey’s Celestial Intervention Agency. Following World Game, the Doctor was reunited with Jamie – memories duly restored – who would aid him in his missions, including the one depicted in The Two Doctors.
At some point thereafter, the Time Lords’ sentence was carried out: the Doctor was forcibly regenerated and then exiled to 20th century Earth, and Jamie was returned to his native time and place, his memories of his TARDIS travels erased. It has never been stated whether or not the Doctor remembered his post-War Games employment beyond his enforced regeneration, though this seems unlikely given the sixth Doctor’s ignorance of events demonstrated in The Two Doctors and the agency’s need for the utmost discretion. Certain dialogue
in Legend of the Cybermen further suggests that the Doctor doesn’t remember his days spent at the agency’s behest.
The fictional Jamie’s memories, once they are unlocked, also appear to end with The War Games, however this is to be expected given that these memories were given to him by Zoe, who did not have any knowledge of Jamie’s post-trial reunion with the Doctor.
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