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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
e’re pretty much dragging the bottom of the Cyber-barrel this month, folks. With “Revenge of the Cybermen” and “Silver Nemesis,” all of the Cybermen stories (save for William Hartnell’s final adventure, “The Tenth Planet,” which is missing its fourth episode) are now available on DVD in some form or another. Despite being the Doctor’s third most popular enemy – after the Daleks and the Master – their track record in the series has always been pretty spotty, and there are probably more weak Cyber-stories than there are good ones. Unfortunately, neither of these entries highlights their strengths.
At the time “Revenge of the Cybermen” was unveiled in ‘75, the silver beasties had been absent from the series since 1968, having made no appearances during the Jon Pertwee era. (Somewhere out there, somebody is saying, “What about their cameo in “Carnival of Monsters?” To which I reply, “Come on…”) Tom Baker was the new Doctor, and it was decided that the transition from Pertwee might be easier for viewers if some classic baddies were brought back for his inaugural season. In the case of “Genesis of the Daleks,” an unquestionable classic was produced. In the case of this Cybermen story, well, not so much.
“Revenge” picks up right where “Genesis” left off, with the Doctor (Baker), Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) drifting through time and space, hanging on to a time ring and ending up back on space station Nerva (from “The Ark in Space”) – only they arrive thousands of years in Nerva’s past, when it was a beacon near Jupiter, whose function is to warn space traffic of a new asteroid, which turns out to be a planet called Voga – the planet of gold. Gold plays a huge role in the story, as it’s revealed that the Cybermen are allergic to it (it clogs their chest units), and in some off-screen history lesson it’s stated they’d had some kind of war with Vogans and lost, and now they’ve come back to finish off Voga for good.
If it doesn’t sound terribly convoluted, then I’ve done a wonderful job of streamlining the plot. There could have been a decent story in here somewhere, but it got lost along the way. The biggest problem with this story is it has no focus, and between the humans, the Vogans, the Cybermen, and the Doctor and co., there are far too many characters, and none of them, save for the regulars, are developed terribly well. The Vogans look really weird, even by “Who” alien standards, and the Cybermen, who’d been given an ineffective overhaul for their reappearance, are easily at their lamest ever in the history of the series. It’s perhaps the only time they were ever not even remotely scary or threatening. And I could write at length about what the whole “gold” thing did to the Cybermen over the long haul in regards to the series, but that’s a lecture for a different place.
On the plus side, Tom Baker is just excellent here, as are Sladen and Marter. There’s also a great deal of wonderful location shooting in an elaborate series of caves known as Wookey Hole, which subs for Voga. The story has some really nice moments, but there’s just no whole. Most collectors will want to own it anyway, because it was part of an ongoing arc that formed Baker’s first season, and it moves on from the dangling finish of “Genesis” (a story which every “Who” fan must own). I’ve probably made “Revenge of the Cybermen” sound worse than it is, yet it’s always boggling to me how special this story is for many fans. For years it was the only “Who” story you could get on VHS, which no doubt means that for the longest time it was available to people in a way that the rest of the series was not. Heck, even the video store in the small Missouri town I grew up in had a copy of it for rent. And so it goes.
“Nazis, Cybermen, black magic, living metal, Anton Diffring, the Queen, God and Courtney Pine all have this in common.” “What is ‘Silver Nemesis,’ Alex?” I long to hear that question/answer on “Jeopardy.” “Revenge of the Cybermen” is practically poetic next to “Silver Nemesis,” a story which has the distinction of being the 25th Anniversary tale of “Doctor Who.” You won’t get that there’s much of a celebration going on here, though. Once again, the Sylvester McCoy era proves that it just doesn’t have a clue. “Silver Nemesis” is all the aforementioned concepts and icons incoherently jammed together, searching for a narrative.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around a statue made of a living metal called validium, and apparently whoever owns the thing will be able to control the universe. The Nazis, the Cybermen, and a witch named Lady Peinforte (Fiona Walker) all want it and it’s the Doctor’s job to keep it away from them. The whole thing feels like a LARP game gone wrong. As if often the case with this era of “Who,” there’s an emphasis on silly, ineffective action scenes in lieu of much of a plot. The highlight of this story is the appearance of stage and screen star Dolores Gray in a comedic cameo. Oh, and the Cybermen at least seem formidable – that is, up until Ace (Sophie Aldred) starts taking them out with a slingshot and gold coins. Unless you’re very forgiving, just skip this one. It’s no more or less complicated than that.
Special Features: “Revenge of the Cybermen” sports a commentary track with producer Philip Hinchcliffe, Elisabeth Sladen, actor David Collings, and production designer Roger Murray-Leach. “The Tin Man and the Witch” is a making of that’s about par for the course. A wonderful featurette entitled “Checks, Lies and Videotape” details the efforts of “Who” fans back in the ‘80s to acquire bootleg episodes of the show. If you were ever involved in this pastime, you’ll get a huge kick out of this; one of the best extras I’ve seen on a classic “Who” disc in a while. There’s also a brief on location archive interview with Tom Baker that I believe was also featured on “The Ark in Space” DVD years ago.
The audio commentary on “Silver Nemesis” offers up McCoy, Aldred, script editor Andrew Cartmel, and director Chris Clough. “Industrial Action” is a making of doc. A deleted and extended scenes section adds up to nearly 23 minutes. There are also trailers and continuity bits, as well as an isolated score and an optional Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Both discs also feature the usual photo galleries, production notes subtitle option, PDF materials, and the same coming soon trailer for “Time and the Rani.”