Monday, 19 August 2013

Story 79 - Revenge of the Cybermen


In which the Doctor, Sarah and Harry finally return to the Ark. The Time Ring has brought them to the space station at a much earlier time - thousands of years before the solar flares, when the craft was a navigation beacon called "Nerva". The Doctor explains that the Time Lords will soon spot the mistake and send the TARDIS back through time to meet them. They leave the control room and enter the outer transept - and find dozens of corpses. Nerva Beacon is a navigational craft, set up to monitor a rogue planetoid called "Nova Phobos", which has drifted into the Solar System. A terrible plague has broken out, and now only four crew members are left alive - Commander Stevenson; his lieutenant, Lester; radio operator Warner; and a civilian scientist named Kellman. Kellman has set up a transmat station on the planetoid. The Doctor and his companions arrive at the forward control centre just after Warner has received a radio message from Voga - which is, according to Kellman, a supposedly dead world. Kellman uses a remote control device to send a Cybermat to kill the radio operator. However, the Doctor recognises the alien venom used - and the name "Voga", which Kellman has given to the planetoid.


Stevenson allows the Doctor to investigate. Sarah is attacked by a Cybermat and infected. Realising she might be cured by use of the transmat - the alien molecules being filtered out by the process - the Doctor sends Sarah, with Harry to look after her, down to Voga. Sarah is cured, as the Doctor had deduced. Harry discovers that the planetoid is rich in gold. They are captured by Vogan troops. The Doctor tells Stevenson and Lester that the planet Voga was destroyed many years ago by the Cybermen, after it supplied large quantities of gold in the last Cyberwar. Humans used this to develop a weapon called the Glitter Gun which destroyed Cybermen - the metal being toxic to them. Nova Phobos is all that now remains of the planet of gold. Sarah and Harry are prisoners of Vorus - leader of the Guardians. This group guard the upper levels. Vorus is a political enemy of President Tyrum, who has control over the city militia at the heart of the planetoid. Tyrum does not trust Vorus, who wants their people to resume life on the surface. The old president still fears the Cybermen and insists they stay hidden. Vorus has actually made a deal with Kellman to lure the Cybermen to Nerva Beacon. He has a rocket - the Skystriker - poised to destroy the space station. Kellman is a double agent - appearing to be working for the Cybermen but in the pay of Vorus.


The Cybermen dock with the station and take everyone prisoner. Kellman invents an excuse to travel down to Voga, in order to report to Vorus. Sarah and Harry have escaped and found themselves in the custody of Tyrum. They tell him of events on the station - including the presence of a Cybermat. Tyrum challenges Vorus about this, and open hostilities break out between the Guardians and the Militia. The Cybermen plan to send the Doctor, Stevenson and Lester down to Voga with powerful bombs strapped to their backs. Any attempt to remove these before they reach the core of Voga will result in death as they are booby-trapped. Two Cybermen travel down with them, carrying a signal booster. Kellman is captured by Tyrum's men and reveals the whole plan. Harry forces him to help him intercept the bomb party. Kellman is killed in a rockfall. Whilst Stevenson travels on towards the core, the Doctor, Harry and Lester double back to the transmat area armed with gold to attack the two Cybermen. Lester sacrifices himself to blow up the aliens.


Unaware that it is now overrun by Cybermen, Sarah has travelled up to Nerva. The Doctor goes to rescue her. Both are captured, as the Cyberleader reveals a contingency plan. The beacon will be loaded with bombs and crashed into Voga - with the Doctor and Sarah onboard. Seeing the beacon begin to move from its orbit, Vorus tries to launch the Skystriker - but is shot by Tyrum. The rocket launches as he falls dead onto the controls. The Doctor and Sarah free themselves and are able to return the beacon back to its orbit, whilst Stevenson sends the Skystriker after the Cyberman spaceship - destroying it. Harry rejoins the Doctor and Sarah on the beacon as the TARDIS materialises. The Doctor discovers an urgent message from the Brigadier, recalling them to Earth.


This four part adventure was written by Gerry Davis, and broadcast between 19th April and 10th May, 1975. It is the final story of Season 12. As a cost-saving exercise, it utilised the same sets as The Ark in Space, which it immediately preceded it in production order.
The story was commissioned by Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, who felt it was time the Cybermen were brought back. They had been absent for the entire Pertwee run, save for a couple of fleeting cameos. Davis, of course, had helped create them, and had not written for the programme since the mid-1960's. He and Kit Pedler had enjoyed success with the Doomwatch series, but both had left it after artistic differences with producer Terrence Dudley.
Davis' initial story idea revolved around a space casino - which would also have allowed for the inclusion of the Cybermen's latest weakness: gold.
There has been much criticism of the title for this story - "revenge" being an emotive response - as well as the far from emotionless performance by Christopher Robbie as the hands-on-hips Cyberleader. His only other foray into Doctor Who had been to play the Germanic Karkus in The Mind Robber. It does seem to have been a mistake to dispense with the electronically treated voices which had been the standard throughout the whole Troughton era. And Robbie should have kept his hands well away from those hips.
The Cyberleader - with distinctive black markings on the helmet - is introduced in this story. The Cybermats are brought back - with a new serpentine shape.


The new aliens on show - the Vogans - don't impress at all, mainly due to the inflexibility of the masks. Only David Collings (Vorus) and Michael Wisher (Vorus' consumptive side-kick, Magrik) seem to have decent prosthetics. Poor Kevin Stoney - who has given us two of the greatest villains of the series to date in Mavic Chen and Tobias Vaughn - has no chance of facial expression. As Tyrum, he does manage to impress with his vocal work. The masks for the extras appear to have been modelled on Private Godfrey from Dad's Army.
Three of the human crew of Nerva Beacon have featured in the series before. Commander Stevenson is played by Ronald Leigh-Hunt (Radnor in The Seeds of Death) and Lester is William Marlowe (Harry Mailer in The Mind of Evil, and husband to Roger Delgado's widow Kismet). Alec Wallis seems to be director Michael E. Briant's radio operator of choice - having fulfilled a similar role in The Sea Devils. Kellman is Jeremy Wilkin, who makes a fine villain. He has massacred more than 40 men on the beacon with the fake virus, and is acting purely out of greed for Vogan gold, but is helping the Vogans fight the Cybermen and free themselves from self-imposed imprisonment on their planetoid.
Episode endings are:
  1. A Cybermat attacks Sarah - leaping up to bite her throat.
  2. The Cybermen have invaded the beacon. The Doctor tries to slip away but is shot down...
  3. As the Doctor lies unconscious, Harry starts to unbuckle his bomb harness - unaware that it is booby-trapped...
  4. The Doctor emerges from the TARDIS and announces that they have received an urgent message from the Brigadier and must return to Earth.

Overall, a disappointing adventure that has few fans. There is actually not a bad tale trying to be told here, however. Get past the title and it is perfectly logical that the Cybermen should want to destroy what remains a threat to them. The Vogan politics stand up to scrutiny as well - one group wanting to stop running and hiding, the other cautiously apprehensive about rejoining the Universe whilst the threat still remains. Neither side is in the wrong. There is some wonderful location work at Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset. 
Things you might like to know:
  • This story gets referenced in a League of Gentlemen sketch - the one in which Mark Gatiss plays a deadpan cave tour guide.
  • Wookey Hole has a famous stalagmite formation known as "the Witch". An electrician broke his leg after some of the crew "disrespected" it - dressing it up like a fairy tale witch. Lis Sladen then had a near fatal motor launch accident. She also tells, on the DVD commentary for this story, of a strange occurrence. She and Ian Marter were querying a page of script, making notes as they went through it. When they took their notes to the director, the page in question had vanished. No-one else had ever seen this particular page.
  • By filming this season out of sequence, there are some costume continuity issues. The Doctor's brown overcoat is lost in space as time as he arrives on Nerva without it, despite leaving Skaro with it. Director David Maloney had to add the scene with Sarah getting new combat-style gear to Genesis of the Daleks, in order to match this story which had already been recorded.
  • Philip Hinchcliffe hated Carey Blyton's incidental music. (I'm no big fan of the crumhorn either). Peter Howell - who would go on to rearrange the title music from The Leisure Hive - was brought in (uncredited) to make some additions.
  • Look out for the first appearance of the Seal of Rassilon in the Vogan city. Canny designer Roger Murray-Leach reused it for the Time Lords in The Deadly Assassin. Or did the Time Lords have a hand in saving this part of Voga from the initial Cyberman attack...?
  • This story was the first Doctor Who adventure to be released on VHS, way back in October 1983. An early cover design inadvertently used an Earthshock Cyberman.

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