Title: Doctor Who: The Cybermen Box Set
Directors: Michael Briant (Revenge of the Cybermen) and Chris Clough (Silver Nemesis)
Starring: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter, Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred
Released: Out Now
Arriving back on the Nerva Beacon, the Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan await the return of the TARDIS. A plague has spread throughout the station, wiping out most of the crew, in preparation for an invasion by the Cybermen. They plan to use it to destroy the neighbouring planet of Voga which holds a large supply of gold; a substance lethal to them. With Sarah already fallen ill, the Doctor is running out of time to stop them.
As the Seventh Doctor and Ace relax and listen to some jazz, the Nemesis statue begins its descent to Earth. When presented with a silver bow and arrow it will give ultimate power over time and space to whoever possesses it. With neo-Nazis, Cybermen and the time-travelling Lady Peinforte all after the prize, the Doctor is going to have his work cut out trying to stop them all.
While this may be advertised as The Cybermen Box Set it by no means contains the cream of the cyber crop. These two stories are the last complete serials from the classic series to feature the Cybermen and have thus been lumped together in an effort to get them out of the way. Each has its own merits and they are both quite special stories in Doctor Who history, but overall they aren’t the best that the series has to offer. The recent classic series releases have been a little sub-par (in story only, I hasten to add, 2 Entertain are still making top quality discs) and although it’s not about to get any better with Time and the Rani on the horizon, this set is still a lot of fun in its own right.
If classic Doctor Who did series finales then they would probably look like Revenge of the Cybermen, which ended the series of interlinked stories that made up the Fourth Doctor’s first run, though it was originally intended to be Terror of the Zygons. I feel a little more explanation is needed here as this story, although easy enough to get into, could have benefited from a brief “Previously on...” caption. AfterRobot the TARDIS lands on the space station Nerva in The Ark in Space. This is set during the 30th century and Earth has been left deserted after its ecosystem was destroyed by solar flares, an idea recently returned to in The Beast Below. The Doctor and company beam down to the surface via transmat to repair the receiver, and encounter Field Major Styre conducting The Sontaran Experiment. Following this adventure the Time Lords remove the trio from time and send them back to Skaro for Genesis of the Daleks, with only a time ring to help them get back. This is why the Doctor, Sarah and Harry are falling through time at the beginning of the first episode, only to end up further in the past than they expected to be and waiting for the TARDIS to catch up. The production team may have re-used the set from The Ark in Space in order to cut costs but it was a lovely idea and a shame they didn’t try to capitalise on it a bit more by introducing some continuity references throughout the two stories. These days there would be Post-It notes everywhere.
It's hard to believe, but the Third Doctor never took on the silver meanies and so Revenge of the Cybermen is their only appearance of the 1970s. Written by original co-creator Gerry Davis, it’s a very simple story that borrows a lot from earlier episodes and introduces the idea that gold is lethal to the Cybermen. This feels like something we should know already and as such is introduced in a very matter-of-fact manner. The Vogans are a docile enough race (whose name must be carefully typed to avoid comparison to the poetry-spouting aliens from Hitchhikers Guide) and don’t really do anything beyond what you would expect them to. We have divisions in the government with a hothead trying to take control but mainly they all dodder about with static heads which look like they’ve been botoxed for life. Their main claim to fame though is the symbol on their wall, which the design department reused a year later in The Deadly Assassin and is now better known as the Prydonian seal. The location filming in Wookey Hole caves is impressive and it’s nice to see Sarah and Harry together again; they made such a great partnership. Carey Blyton, who also created the rather unique score for Doctor Who and the Silurians, adds some eerie militaristic music to proceedings.
It’s not a bad story, just average, but it’s enjoyable enough and at four episodes doesn’t outstay its welcome. Revenge of the Cybermen also had the honour of being Doctor Who’s first foray into the world of home video when it was released back in 1983. To celebrate this we have a documentary entitled Cheques, Lies and Videotape included on the disc and it’s a fascinating look at a bygone era. TeenageDoctor Who fans begged, borrowed and stole in order to catch a glimpse of classic stories on video and tell their tales of fuzzy tapes and high prices. It’s a wonderful documentary, which makes you realise that fans in the 21st century have it easy: we can simply walk into HMV and see them all lined up in a row.
Silver Nemesis was the show’s 25th anniversary story, but it feels like a sequel to an earlier tale, much like Timelash. So much time is spent explaining what has gone before and why everyone is converging on a piece of waste ground in Greenwich. Not only do we have the Cybermen, but a group of Neo-Nazis plus the time-travelling Lady Peinforte and her servant Richard. All in all it feels like a bit of a mess rather than the all-action spectacular it promised but, re-watching it a few years later, there’s still a lot to enjoy. Lady Peinforte and Richard provide some great fish-out-of-water comedy and the only true challenge to the Doctor, with the Cybermen blundering about and the neo-Nazis just getting in everyone’s way. As usual the Seventh Doctor and Ace make a great partnership and even beat Matt Smith to the fez-wearing punch 22 years early. This story also contains one of my favourite pieces of banter between the two, which occurs when they’re observing the Nazis and the Doctor quizzes his companion on whether or not she has her usual explosives. It’s an interesting scene which portrays the Doctor and Ace almost as gleeful terrorists, and the story hints at more darkness when the Doctor confronts the Nemesis statue in the final episode. The background music thumps away throughout and is once again irritating, plus this whole tale has that over-produced 1980s sheen about it. At three episodes though, it’s paced just about right. The similarities to Remembrance of the Daleks are certainly there but it doesn’t make this any less enjoyable and the Nemesis herself is quite an eerie presence, especially when she helps the Doctor to dispatch one of his old enemies. Considering the series cancellation a year later it almost feels like they’re mopping up. Not the best anniversary story there could have been but one that’s enjoyable enough.
In fact both of these stories are pretty unremarkable but each has their good qualities and they don’t hang around long enough to wear you out like some do. With 14 years separating the stories it’s also interesting to see the changes in the show during that time. These two tales are not quite the bottom of the barrel scrapers that some would have you believe and there are certainly worse ways to spend a trip in the TARDIS.
Extras: Revenge of the Cybermen: Commentary with Elisabeth Sladen, David Collings and Philip Hinchcliffe. The Tin Men and the Witch looks back at the making of the story and Cheques, Lies and Videotape tells the tale of video hunting fans in the 1980s. We also have a BBC News report on location in Wookey Hole caves, a photo gallery, subtitles, text commentary, PDF materials and a Coming Soon trailer.
Silver Nemesis: Commentary with Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Chris Clough and Andrew Cartmel. Industrial Action is our ‘making of’ this time and is worth it if only for writer Kevin Clarke’s tale of how he bluffed his way through the pitch of this story. We also have deleted and extended scenes, trails and continuity, text commentary, subtitles, photo gallery, PDF materials and a Coming Soon trailer.
Continuing Adventures: Revenge of the Cybermen is set on the same space station, the Nerva Beacon, as the earlier episode The Ark in Space. References to Voga keep cropping up in the books but so far no one has revisited the planet. The latest has been bang up to date in the New Series Adventures Night of the Humans (2010) by David Llewellyn, which features the Eleventh Doctor and Amy. No-one has seen fit to write up Lady Peinforte’s first encounter with the Doctor but an alternate version of the Nemesis crisis, featuring the Third Doctor, was referred to in BBC Books’ The Quantum Archangel(2001) by Craig Hinton. The extended scenes in Silver Nemesis feature a portrait of Ace in French clothing which was later explained in Virgin New Adventures’ Set Piece (1995) by Kate Orman. Validium, the living metal used to construct the Nemesis, was also used to create The Cold in BBC Books’ Interference - Book One and Interference - Book Two (1999) by Lawrence Miles which featured the Eighth Doctor, Sam Jones and Fitz Kreiner.
Return of the Cybermen: These two adventures may be the last complete classic series Cybermen adventures to be released, but there’s still more out there. Both The Moonbase and The Wheel in Spaceare incomplete; two episodes survive of each, but were released as part of the Lost in Time box set back in 2004. Their first story, The Tenth Planet, has yet to receive a DVD release with perhaps the most galling news about this being that the singular missing episode contains the regeneration of the First Doctor. There are hopes that it may be animated in a similar way to the release of The Invasion. The soundtracks of all three stories still survive though and they have also been released as novels and audio books.
Trivia learnt from the disc: The first episode of Silver Nemesis features a tour group looking around Windsor Castle. As an in-joke, producer John Nathan-Turner populated it with faces from Doctor Who’s past and present production team. We have Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier), Andrew Morgan (director, Remembrance of the Daleks), Ian Foster (production manager, Remembrance of the Daleks and The Curse of Fenric) and his wife Fiona Cumming (director, various stories). We also see Peter Moffatt (director, various stories), Graeme Curry (writer, The Happiness Patrol) and Kevin Clarke (writer, Silver Nemesis). The tour guide was Vere Lorimer (producer and director of many series such as Blake's 7, Doomwatch and Tenko).