Doctor Who: Return of the Cybermen
Starring: Tom Baker, Sadie Miller, Christopher Naylor, Nickolas Grace, and Nicholas Briggs
Written by: Gerry Davis
Adapted by: John Dorney
Direction, Score, and Sound Design by: Nicholas Briggs
“You should have learned by now…Resistance is USELESS!”
Revenge of the Cybermen, first televised in 1975, served as Tom Baker’s first series finale. It also enjoys a “cult-classic” status amid Whovians and those who remember its release and odd trajectory afterward. Originally written by the creator of the Cybermen Gerry Davis, Revenge underwent extensive rewrites from longtime Who scribe Robert Holmes under orders from the incoming script editor Philip Hinchcliffe. Who had taken over the show and wanted to pepper Tom Baker’s opening season with classic monsters.
Even during filming, Revenge of the Cybermen received even more changes from director Michael E. Briant as he battled a supposed “curse” that besotted the serial’s on location filming at the Wookey Hole Caves of England. Virtually transforming it entirely from its original version under Davis’ pen. Who was said to be “unhappy” with the final product. From there, the serial became one of the first produced for home-video under the burgeoning BBC Video in 1983 to go along with the Terrance Dicks’ Target Novelization of the serial. Published just a year after the serial’s original broadcast.
But now, Big Finish Productions have provided what could arguably be the “definitive” version of this serial in Return of the Cybermen. A recent release from The Lost Stories range adapts and reworks various “lost” scripts from across time and space.
Armed with vastly improved production values and brand new score from the voice of the Cybermen Nicholas Briggs, Return of the Cybermen aims really high. Especially for a single release. Further, it’s an adaption of a fairly well-known television story. Itself also adapted in other forms a few times now. How then to avoid the trap of it sounding or feeling similar to all the others?
For one thing, it comes with basically an entirely new cast. While the original Gerry Davis script is far busier and even a touch convoluted, writer John Dorney and director Briggs find novelty in this new take on Return of the Cybermen. All of whom provide sterling and engaging performances throughout all four parts.
Tom Baker, as per usual, is giddily entertaining as The Fourth Doctor. Turning Davis and Dorney’s wordy wit on the page into sparkling, consistently funny exchanges. Even more interesting, Baker channels himself in 1975, taking his usual profound timbre and potting it down to the more cheeky and sly Fourth Doctor of his first season. It’s a marvelously intuitive performance from an already well-tested performer.
Daughter of Elisabeth Sladen, Sadie Miller, steps into the role of Sarah Jane Smith. And she does so marvelously and effortlessly. Providing not an impression of Sarah Jane or her mother’s performance of the character. But a fully formed, devastatingly charming take all her own. One that more that matches Christopher Naylor’s nearly uncanny take on Harry Sullivan. Effectively recreating and equally paying tribute to one of the greatest TARDIS Teams in Doctor Who’s history. Something Big Finish Productions have become increasingly great at as they “recast” and recreate characters and incarnations of The Doctor.
Further, on the production side of Return of the Cybermen, tactile care and craft is displayed throughout. In the special features of this release, director Nicholas Briggs states this is one of his favorite serials. And as such, jumped at the chance to adapt it and even took it upon himself to score and sound design the story. On top of performing as the Cybermen, script-editing, AND directing!
But I am happy to say that the his love for the original serial shows through. All of the incidental music and sound effects here are some of the best I have heard yet from Big Finish Productions. The snapping, buzzing drone of the Cyber-Mats against the tremendous laser gun sounds of the Nerva Beacon survivors (one of the first things thrown OUT by the BBC in 1975) is just pure Doctor Who. And all these sounds and “updated” auditory special effects paired against the awesome, synth-heavy score pack Return of the Cybermen with charm and import.
Ultimately, Return of the Cybermen stands as a testament to what loving Doctor Who can achieve. From the care taken in re-adaptation, to the performances, and finally to effort taken at soundboards and synthesizers, undoubtedly Return of the Cybermen was made with love. We now get the pleasure of experiencing it.