Return of the Cybermen is the latest of Big Finish’s Doctor Who Lost Stories. While most such tales derive from commissioned storylines that went no further, or ultimately rejected scripts, this is something different. Written for Tom Baker’s first season, the production team of the day felt that the script by Gerry Davis (Cyberman co-creator and 60s Doctor Who script editor) did not quite fit the tone of the show. Extensively re-worked by script editor Robert Holmes, we know the story better as Revenge of the Cybermen.
The other big noise here is the debut of two recast roles, reuniting the popular Season 12 line up. Christopher Naylor plays the redoubtable Harry Sullivan, while Sadie Miller recreates her mother’s iconic role as Sarah Jane Smith.
Return to Nerva
Like a side-step into an alternate dimension of Doctor Who, some elements are familiar here while others are markedly different; there is plenty here that feels fresh. With Cybermen already aboard the Beacon, we indulge in a hunt for them. Later, the inhabitants of Voga are revealed to be a lost colony of human miners rather than an alien species. Throughout however, the ultimate Cyber goal remains the same: destruction of Voga and its gold.
This version of the story feels like 1975 by way of 1968; hide and seek with the Cybermen and an absent-minded Doctor repeatedly consulting his 500 year diary. It does not serve Sarah terribly well either, writing her out for an extended period while stricken with the ‘space plague’.
A Passion Project
Sadie Miller gives a charming performance as Sarah. While not trying to imitate her mother, there are certainly moments which offer a remarkable likeness. We found the resemblance grew throughout the story, or perhaps we grew accustomed to her performance? With an easier hill to climb, Christopher Naylor acquits himself admirably well as Harry too. We are pleased to see that both have more stories in the pipeline this year; The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 7 for Sarah and UNIT Nemesis for Harry. As ever, despite a gentler characterisation of the Doctor, Tom Baker sprinkles his particular brand of magic on the proceedings.
In the guest cast, Nickolas Grace is excellent as the duplicitous Kellman, and Amanda Shodeko impresses in dual roles as Anitra and the miner’s leader Coetzee.
This production has clearly been a labour of love for director Nicholas Briggs, who is on record as big fan of the original. He is also composer and sound designer here, creating a fabulous Dudley Simpson-esque score and a terrific soundscape; we particularly loved the claustrophobic scenes within Nerva’s oxygen tank. Briggs also plays the Cybermen, opting to give them Troughton era voices, rather than the mid-Atlantic twang of Christopher Robbie. He also plays Nerva’s ill-fated captain in the opening scenes.
Return of the Cybermen is an enjoyable tale, and a fascinating peek down the road not travelled. We presume this is a one-off though, due to the existence of these scripts and how significantly they were altered; we don’t relish the thought of a slew of alternate takes on other Doctor Who classics!
This month’s other Lost Story promised to be more conventional, originating from an uncompleted John Lloyd idea from the Graham Williams era. Also in the works is a recently announced Russell T Davies Lost Story, Mind of the Hodiac, for the Sixth Doctor and Mel.
Doctor Who – The Lost Stories: Return of the Cybermen is available on download and CD from Big Finish.