Revenge of the Cybermen

Region 1

Region 2
Box Set
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 79, starring Tom Baker)
  • written by Gerry Davis
  • directed by Michael E. Briant
  • produced by Philip Hinchcliffe
  • music by Carey Blyton
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: Returning to Nerva Beacon (the Ark in Space) to look for the TARDIS, the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry are surprised to find the station under quarantine, with barely enough crew members left to keep it running. Is it really a plague that has affected the crew? And are there life forms beneath the surface of the new golden planetoid nearby?

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), David Collings (Vorus), producer Philip Hinchcliffe,
    and designer Roger Murray-Leach.
  • Making-of featurette (25 min.) with Hinchcliffe, director Michael E. Briant, and outgoing producer Barry Letts.
  • BBC News interview of Tom Baker (The Doctor) (6 min.) on location shooting at Wookey Hole.
  • "Cheques, Lies, and Videotape" featurette on fans swapping & trading episodes (28 min.)
  • Photo Gallery sound effects montage (5 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Well, it's about time that the Cybermen returned. After Patrick Troughton's Doctor got an overdose of them, they've been away so long that Jon Pertwee's Doctor most regrettably missed them altogether. No self-respecting Doctor should go without an adventure with them, and Tom Baker tackles them early in his tenure here.

In this, the only Cyberman adventure of the 1970's, both the writing and the production are significantly rough around the edges, but the story does not shy away from attempting lots of action, special effects, exploration and advancement of the Cyber mythology, and it manages to keep up a tremendous pace throughout a host of excellent story beats.

Travel Loosens the Logic

The backstory to the adventure seems to keep contradicting itself. You can read the SPOILERS that prove this point in the In-depth Analysis version of this review. Maybe the questions that I raise about the backstory have good answers, but the script seems to ignore them, doing whatever it pleases to suit the scene at hand.

The dialogue is also noticeably not great in many places. The opening scene in particular leaves much to be desired in being easily understandable to anyone who hasn't been following all of the Doctor's recent adventures. One good point is made well: that the main protagonists are looking for the TARDIS. I suspect that this could still well be lost on new (North American) viewers who started watching with Tom Baker's first story, since the TARDIS hasn't made much impression during his era yet, and hasn't appeared at all recently.

The transmat is quite busy during this adventure, now becoming a staple Who device with a reliable and enjoyable special effect. The space station segments are quite reminiscent of previous Cyber adventures, with an isolated outpost of Humans battling illness and Cybermats. The only thing missing is a good round of coffee. The Cybermats are at their least effective in this story, and thankfully retired from TV appearances afterward. It is chiefly the exploration of the unknown element of the Voga planetoid that keeps the early parts of the story fresh.

Masking the Vogans

The Vogan race is unique in Doctor Who, using full face masks to achieve a look that is not so wildly alien, but rather very Human, with a slightly different bone structure. The masks for each major Vogan character differentiate themselves really well also. But curiously enough, aliens such as the Vogans were not really attempted on the show after this; instead race after race of humanoid aliens will be played by actors with no special masks or make-up at all. What happened?

This story has an excellent cast; in fact it's hard to find a name in the cast list who hasn't been in Doctor Who before or since. Of particular note, we've got Kevin Stoney, who mastered two brilliant lead villain roles in 1960's Doctor Who, the prolific Michael Wisher who did this story back-to-back with his classic portrayal of Davros, and up-and-coming David Collings who delivers a tour-de-force performance as Vorus here. But they're all Vogans with masks hiding their features and many of their expressions, and the script offers Tom Baker only one, sort-of-anticlimactic scene with the enormous talent playing the major Vogan characters. The political intrigue between the Vogan factions seems too repetitive in its offerings of dialogue, and too isolated from the rest of the story. Yes, it brings quite a bit of action too, but often when the story cuts from the main Cyber plot to the middle of a Vogan-vs.-Vogan shootout (particularly at the beginning of an episode), I find myself stopping and wondering why the Vogans are going at each other, not remembering how they got to that stage. Something about the Vogans just doesn't work.

The Doctor spends far more time confronting Kellman and the Cybermen. Kellman seems far too obvious to last as long as he does. Jeremy Wilkin imbues him with an appropriate sleaziness, but puts an overly melodramatic level of acid into the delivery of many of his lines. And for a Cyber-Leader, the Doctor gets to confront the Karkus from "The Mind Robber" (story no. 45). Christopher Robbie's Cyber-Leader is almost as unique as the Vogans - he hasn't got the electronically emotionless tones of 1960's Cybermen, nor the deviously dark and dangerous tones of 1980's Cybermen. He's very Human, acting robotically, caught between the two in Karkus land. He still gets to exchange some classic lines with the Doctor, and he is enough of a Cyberman to be believable.

Rounding out the Human cast are Ronald Leigh-Hunt of "The Seeds of Death" (story no. 48), William Marlowe of "The Mind of Evil" (story no. 56), and Alec Wallis of "The Sea Devils" (story no. 62), who all put in solid, underplayed performances that work well for the story.

Harry Sullivan's experience in traveling through time and space begins to benefit him in this story. After the first episode, whenever he can get away from the Doctor, he is quite capable of taking charge, solving problems, and easing tensions among aliens. Unfortunately, the Doctor still gives him a hard time whenever he can, and appears to be unfair about it in this story.

Carey Blyton is back to do his third and final score for Doctor Who. I quite like his "Deep Space" Cyber theme, which works well both in building suspense and backing the introduction of Cybermen and other elements, and which also works as a dirge over evidence of the Cybermen's deeds. It's not very sophisticated, but it works well in those cases, and uses some excellent electronic instrumentation as well. Much of the rest of the score evokes a typical Blyton mood: that of the old tired army joke. This is perhaps appropriate at times, but it does damage to viewer impressions of the Vogans and at various other points. Sometimes the music is just too simple. But of all Blyton's scores, this one seems to have the most creative use of instrumentation and arrangement. And it's nice to get some variety from the Dudley Simpson style. Mind you, since Simpson put so much extra into his music this season, Blyton will not have an easy time in the rankings......

I confess though, that by dubbing in a bit of Malcolm Clarke's "March of the Cybermen", slightly mixed with Blyton's incidentals, the Cybermen suddenly seem much more real, and one can take the Tom Baker confrontation with them more seriously.

The Cyber costumes are satisfying this time around, with the rings on the side of the head bringing them up to standard as begun in "The Invasion" (story no. 46). The Cyber-Leader with black head elements is a far cry above the silly stationary Cyber-planner seen in "The Wheel in Space" (story no. 43) and "The Invasion", so we have that to be thankful for. However, the Cyber-weapons suck this time around. Small flares arcing from their heads towards the floor are no substitute for good visual beam weapons, such as what the Daleks get in "Genesis of the Daleks" (story no. 78). The sound effect, while reminiscent of later Cyberfire in the 80's stories, is underdeveloped and a bit limp here.

A suite of music from this story (5:28)
is available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who:
The 50th Anniversary Collection
4-disc version (2013)

More info & buying options

A longer music suite from this story (6:54)
was released on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who:
The 50th Anniversary Collection
11-disc version (2014)

More info

Music by Carey Blyton
3 re-recorded tracks
"Deep Space" (1:29),
"Vogan March" (1:50), and
"All's Well That Ends Well" (0:54)
feature on:
Audio CD - Sherlock Holmes meets Dr. Who

More info & buying options

The last of these three cues was not actually used in the television story.

This story features some very excellent location footage for many of the grander cave-interior sequences, giving Voga a reality that it could never have achieved in the studios alone.

"Revenge of the Cybermen" saves its best for last: a very fast-paced, action-packed, effects-laden finish that does the story proud. Yes, we can nit-pick about how Voga seems to become a cylindrical planet instead of a spherical one as we fly around it, but the energy is right, and the effects are still neat. I like it. And the TARDIS makes its first proper materialization of the Tom Baker era. Things are looking up.

Perhaps this story is not the type that Philip Hinchcliffe wanted to be doing, and perhaps it is his least favourite. But I certainly prefer it over many of Hinchcliffe's gothic stories. This is more like what I feel Doctor Who should be about. It's a relatively enjoyable romp. Don't take it too seriously, and you can easily have fun with it.

Season Twelve Rankings:

Best Story:

    The top two gems are obvious:
  1. Genesis of the Daleks
  2. The Ark in Space

    These last three are also all highly enjoyable:
  3. Revenge of the Cybermen (the right story beats & pacing, rough edges)
  4. Robot (many classic dramatic scenes, well-paced action, rough edges)
  5. The Sontaran Experiment (excellent technical style, weak in story ambition)

Best Writer:

  • Robert Holmes
  • Terry Nation
  • Terrance Dicks
  • Bob Baker & Dave Martin
  • Gerry Davis

Best Director:

  • Rodney Bennett
  • David Maloney
  • Michael E. Briant
  • Christopher Barry

Best Music:

  • Robot
  • The Ark in Space
  • The Sontaran Experiment
  • Revenge of the Cybermen
  • Genesis of the Daleks

"Revenge of the Cybermen" has become available on DVD and VHS video. Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for North America:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
Box Set
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC in the U.S.
NTSC in Canada
PAL in the U.K.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "Terror of the Zygons"

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