“REVENGE OF THE CYBERMEN” – Season 12, Serial 5, Story 79 – Written by Gerry Davis and Robert Holmes (uncredited); Directed by Michael E. Briant – It’s the end of Tom Baker’s first season in the TARDIS and the show aims to go out strong, following up the Daleks with the Cybermen, who want to destroy the biggest gold depository in the universe. This serial is so successful that the show doesn’t bring them back for seven years. Because This Is Pretty Dreadful Stuff.
There’s really not much to say about REVENGE OF THE CYBERMEN that does anything but pile on this rather dreadful serial. Certainly, Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, and Ian Marter do their best to carry the water, but this serial is largely DOA, starting bad and getting worse.
REVENGE is the worst kind of four-part serial in that there’s very little tension or conflict or momentum to propel a mundane story forward. It’s the kind of serial that there’s no real reason to watch it, unless 1) you haven’t seen it, or 2) have somehow convinced yourself that it can’t be as bad as you remember. (Or 3) that you, you know, actually like it.) In a weird way, REVENGE is kinda watchable for being so unwatchable, since it’s the rare pre-John Nathan Turner Tom Baker serial that’s this bad.
It’s a shame, too, since I love the core idea here. To compensate for their weakness to gold, the Cybermen are going to blow up a small asteroid named Voga because it’s the universe’s biggest depository of gold.
I genuinely love this idea. The Cybermen get knocked for being Daleks Lite a lot, but this plot feels like the Cybermen are the only villains that make sense, simply because of that gold angle. NEW WHO needs to do something like this with the Cybermen. The updated NEW WHO look makes them one of the best looking villains in the series, and it’s time they got a longer directive that makes them feel like a really viable, dangerous, unique threat. They have been used rather well at times in the relaunched series, but I want them to feel like more than Villains of the Week.
REVENGE is partly a space station serial and partly a rebellion serial. After doing the Time Lords dirty work in GENESIS OF THE DALEKS, the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry are back on space station Nerva, only at a far earlier time than when they were here for THE ARK IN SPACE.
The mystery gets off to a promising start, as they find dead crewmen lying around all over the station. Theu discover that there’s only a few crewmen left alive and they’ve sealed themselves off behind a protective barrier to protect themselves from the virus that’s killing everyone else.
Except it’s not a virus that’s killing everyone else.
It’s a Cybermat.
It’s a decent beginning, even if there’s not much pace to it, but things go quickly wrong. The most obvious bad guy, Professor Kellman, turns out to be a bad guy, and there’s a whole separate plot down on the asteroid that involves an old dude who’s in power and a young dude who wants that power. Nothing on the asteroid really works, and it feels like it’s here just to give Sarah and Harry something to do besides asking the Doctor a bunch of useless questions.
REVENGE also does that silly thing where they make you wait for the villain to arrive, even though there name is in the serial’s title. Then when they do, it’s like, “Ohmahgawd, it’s the Cybermen! Who could have ever guessed?”
It’s all rather limp. The Cybermen aren’t a threat and the Vogans aren’t a threat and yet we’ve got to sit through four episodes of this tediousness. At least with NEW WHO, if an episode sucks, you can try again the following week, but in CLASSIC, it’s not the case. If you showed up for Episode 1 of REVENGE OF THE CYBERMEN and didn’t like it, you were stuck with three more episodes (and then an off-season) before something new came along.
The biggest problem with REVENGE is that it just feels tired. This was a script commissioned by Barry Letts (from one of the Cybermen’s creators, Gerry Davis) and heavily re-written by Robert Holmes, and it feels like a formulaic show of the past, made by people ready to move on, instead of a high note to the end of a very good first season for Tom Baker and producer Philip Hinchcliffe.