Revenge of the Cybermen

Written by:
Gerry Davis
Directed by: Michael E. Briant
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1975
Video Availability: Try

Philip Hinchcliffe's first attempt to repackage the series met with some troubles: not only did the planned six-part finish get pushed back, but he had to follow a Barry Letts four episode introduction. Quite obviously I don't mean this in a "how can he follow that?" way, but in a "the average audience member wouldn't know it was a different producer so they'd think Phil's first one was crap" way.

When you think about it, the first scripts were also very anal. Never mind that he got a Doctor who was more alien and actually bothered to act, after The Ark In Space we're served up a trio of sequels. Okay, The Sontaran Experiment is a mini Kitkat to the previous years' chunky The Time Warrior, but Genesis and Revenge are full-blown stories. Genesis was as good as it was bad, an overblown melodrama that had its moments but is cruelly overrated. Which is perhaps why Revenge gets panned so much. For this is no "Genesis of the Cybermen" as Gerry Davis wanted, but just four Cybermen "skulking about the galaxy in an ancient spaceship". As plots and ambitions go, it's not exactly huge in scale.

Yet it genuinely puzzles me why fans hate it so much. Okay, there's some ropey CSO in this first episode, and an enormous boom mike shadow on Tom's head in the first two minutes, but this was still a step up from what the recent past had offered us. Many of the criticisms built up to knock down this story and build an argument seem fruitless. Christopher Robbie's South African accent isn't, to me, all that obvious. I doubt it really is to most fans, either, but they like to pretend that it is so that their opinion of it adheres to accepted fan "wisdom." Other inexplicable moans include Kellman having a monitor and transmitter in a brush. Snotty criticisms of "wanting to be James Bond" are made, though I don't see why it bothers the same sort of people who think the Jon Pertwee era (which not only ripped off Bond regularly, but even integrated some of its footage) is the pinnacle of Who. I'll set my stall out straight away: I'm not presenting Revenge of the Cybermen to you as a classic story, far, far from it, but as an unfairly maligned average and likeable romp.

Of course, the actual plot intricacies are much better than the overall theme, and let us not forget that this one, with its long-faced aliens who enlist the help of a human double agent, was ripped off wholesale by Eric Saward for Attack. Okay, I admit that the guest cast is extremely lacking in this one, with Ronald Leigh "in my book that's murder!" Hunt a particular offender. All, that is, except for Jeremy Wilkin, hamming it up like a mad bastard, his lip doing more acting than the rest of the guest stars put together.

Gerry Davis's writing, is, of course, of a higher standard than Terry Nation's, though with the indifferent thesping it may not come across that way. One bit I did cringe at however, is Tom's line of "I don't want to lose my arm, I'm rather attached to it." I thought that was incredibly witty when I was seventeen (no slight against seventeen-year-olds), but realise now it's just a bit corny. To follow this up with "so handy" is to hear the sound of a barrel not only being scraped, but the rivets being melted down to be used for scrap. Sarah does two irritating yelps to compound the misery, though Tom's charming smile is a testament to the rapport between the regulars at this stage.

There's a subplot presented with naff-looking Vogans (nowhere near as bad as rip-off-u-like race the Cryons), which is dull but at least their wearing the same design as the seal of Rassilon gives fanboys nightmares. The new sets not reused from The Ark in Space are Red Dwarf season one grey, but Sarah's arse doesn't half look nice in those combat trousers. Just a shame she had to hold the cliffhanger, a particularly inept sequence that dropped the episode a half star. Sadly, the all-new Cybermats are quite pathetic in realisation, though are said to go down a storm at Ann Summers parties.
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Carey Blyton may have peed all over the already dodgy Death to the Daleks, but I really like his stuff here. Well, some of it is still incongruous tapping and military dirge, but there's one particular moment that I really, really love. The eerie "Da… daaa… da-da-da daaaaaaaaa" bit as the Cybermen ship appears. Next the leader looks on, and launches his catchphrase: "That meanz the humanz have recently used their transmat bim!" Okay, he only says it once, but I could happily listen to it all day.long .

I've actually done a story ahead of sequence and discovered that the same Michael E. Briant who made Death a limp excursion and fails to engender tension here was behind an all-time classic. I won't give away which one it was, but it featured killer robots and it's a shame Briant wasn't as on form here. I don't think that's given the game away, has it?

Do you think the legend of the Cybermen has adversely effected this one? I'd possibly pick this above Wheel in Space and Moonbase, but generally this was the worst Cybermen story to that date. Never mind that, with the arguable exception of Earthshock, it was better than all that followed, the weight of expectation is upon it. The production is a little flaky, but by no means poor, and probably better than over half of Letts's output. I think that if the Cybermen had been a stand-alone race, invented solely for this story, then Revenge would be a lot more regarded. Well, just thought of as a so-so season entry, much like a Planet of Evil or a Hand of Fear. But a turkey? A dire nadir of Who's history? I genuinely, seriously don't get it. This has flaws and can only clutch at mediocrity, but it's easily better than at least a third of Who's output and is always good for a laugh.

The location filming at Wookie Hole is a nice touch, (even if I've always found it a little tedious), though undermined by the studio recreations shot on videotape. Sarah does look genuinely annoyed when Harry bangs her ankle though, a nice touch.
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The shape of the Cybermen's spacecraft is notably phallic, indicating some Freudian theory of I don't know what. You could argue that their desire through the first two episodes to penetrate the beacon is a rape analogy, but it's a little distasteful, so I won't. I remember when this was last reviewed in establishment-reinforcing mag DWM, the Cybermen were criticised because they looked "hunchbacked", an unpleasant criticism that would have dismayed any readers with spinal problems. I mention this because it's yet another redundant criticism from a fanbase that accepts the dummy Daleks of Genesis and the frankly abysmal Wirrn. If you're going to criticise stories for superficial values then at least be consistent, a point lost on those who slate the reasonable Kroll but big up the shaky giant Krynoid.

I must admit, by having the Cybermen using long-range weapons like those in The Tenth Planet it does deflect their menace somewhat. Briant's work with strangulating robots proved to be exemplary, so… there I go, giving away that future review again. I still don't see why a Cyberman with an accent is a bad thing though, and Robbie is a much better vocalist than the flat lieutenant Melville Jones. And I have a new scene to love. Either it's a very subtle joke or I'm just pig thick not to have noticed it before: when the Cybermen are detailing their plans, the Doctor and the two humans are positioned like the three wise monkeys. It's a discrete gag, taking place as they awake from being stunned. Superb stuff.

Okay - and I know I'm banging on and on about just the Cybermen and nothing else here - I admit that the Cybermen don't really have much in the way of characterisation. The Doctor refers to them earlier as just robotic creatures, and their background is all but forgotten. Yet on the opposite side of things is the other major complaint: that the Cybermen are shown to have emotions. I really disagree. "Careful, Doctor, I think you've riled him" is the human's interpretation of the Cyberleader's actions, he expresses no such rage. His resulting attack on the Doctor could easily be a logical decision to physically belittle a potentially dangerous enemy who cannot be downplayed with words. And okay, there is one slag-off I'll allow: 8 minutes and 8 seconds in there's some truly appalling helmet-wobbling action going on. Worse than the Daleks in Genesis with wonky eyepieces and unsynchronised indicator lights? Not really, no.

I must admit there is a certain Nation-like functionality to Davis's writing here, with the best lines (like the Doctor not knowing what his own idea is) presumably written by Robert Holmes. The scene where Sarah listens to the Cybermen discussing their plan is shameful, and poor old Jeremy Wilkin gets hit so hard by polystyrene rocks they knock him through film and into video. With the multiple battle sequences and cave crawling antics this is possibly the most episode threeish of all episode threes. Yet in the final analysis, the Doctor's plan - "take the Cybermen from behind" - almost makes it hit a five-star rating.
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I always thought this was a bit of a rank finale to be honest. It's all Sarah listening in to the Cybermen, "this is good" and messily directed fight sequences. Worst of all, the "Harry Sullivan is an imbecile!" scene is painfully, crushingly unfunny. Even Jon Pertwee could raise more of a laugh than that, while the hands-on-hips stance is, I concur, a little bit silly. But this is no send-up, this is a seriously made story with one or two ill-conceived moments.

Of course, this is the one that introduced the Cybermen's allergy to gold dust, which is quite logical (pardon the pun), but became thoroughly ridiculous by the advent of gold coins in Silver Nemesis. I must also concede though, that the Cyber costumes are a little cheap here.

Okay, I give up - this final episode is shite. The Cyberman that holds the Cybermat and puts it in his mouth looks like Michael Flatley on the internet. There's another that jiggles the Doctor in a pre-coitus way, and some Pertwee-like scrapping and shooting down on Voga. The line "heading for the biggest bang in history" isn't funny, it's just lame. The NASA footage is a terrible misjudgement from Hinchcliffe and the "rolling planet" effect at the end is dire. In fact, this final part has almost completely ruined my "hey, it ain't so bad" stance. But you know what? Despite the low rating of this concluding instalment, this really isn't so bad...
* *

A fun and amusing romp with one or two worthwhile twists and turns. I genuinely, seriously cannot understand why it's so poorly received by fans of the series.
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