Doctor Who – Revenge of the Cybermen Review (or ‘Dedicated to Christopher Robbie; The Greatest Cyberman of Them All’)

I’ve never read a good review of Revenge of the Cybermen.

What I find is that they all say the same thing; “Oh, it’s rubbish” or “Oh, what a comedown from Genesis of the Daleks”.

The normally reliable ‘About Time’ series starts its review with the line…

“It’s well-known that Revenge of the Cybermen is a horrible-mess…”

I’ve yet to find anyone who is overly positive about it, and that’s something I just cannot understand. Once again, I feel it’s a case of the viewer or reviewer being pre-loaded with this notion that it is rubbish and therefore we will look for the negatives.

The Vogans – a race of people who all look like Arnold Ridley

People would sooner decry the ‘crime’ of putting actors like Kevin Stoney under masks rather than praise their performance in spite of it.

People would sooner criticise the amount of rewrites it took to get this script to TV rather than comment on the positives of it or that – unlike Terry Nation – Gerry Davis at least has some level of understanding about the continuity of his own monsters.

People would rather say that Tom Baker is ‘trying to save it’ by adding in the odd joke rather than take a moment to think that his humour was written for him and he just acts it well.

And – most bizarrely of all – people would sooner completely ignore the best part of the whole thing rather than comment on it at all.

Indeed, that review in About Time and many of the other reviews I’ve seen fail to even mention the performance of Christopher Robbie as the Cyber Leader .

But I’m about to put that right…

Doctor Who – Revenge of the Cybermen Review: What’s This About

Our heroes return to Space Station Nerva at an earlier point in history to collect the TARDIS. But they find the corridors littered with dead bodies as a supposed plague has wiped out all but three of the crew and one civilian mineralogist.

It turns out that the mineralogist – Kelman – has been killing people off with Cybermats to pave the way for the Cybermen to arrive on Nerva with a view to destroying Voga – the nearby ‘Planet of Gold’.

But what’s really happening is that Kelman is a double agent, luring the Cybermen to Nerva so that the Vogans can blow it up with a rocket.

Ok…it’s a little confusing

Thoughts – The Plot Doesn’t Make Too Much Sense

I’m not blind. I can see that there are plenty of inconsistencies and holes in this plot.

I can see Kelman doing all that he does if he’s helping the Cybermen, but to kill everyone off to bluff the Cybermen is a bit steep. Mind you, the Doctor does say ‘Who’s the homicidal maniac’ when he first meets him, so maybe that is the issue here. All he wants is gold.

But then he surely could have had enough gold without even bringing the Cybermen into it in the first place?

So it’s confusing.

I love the way this shot hangs for a moment as the Cybermen expect Voga to blow up. The Cyber Leader is gutted.

Equally puzzling is how the Cybermen are able to survive on Voga when gold is all around them and is so apparently toxic to them? And also how the Vogans don’t use golden bullets against them or simply run up behind and smear gold in their chest plate?

And of course it would be remiss of me to ask how two Cyberbombs put in the right place could blow up the entire planet, but one bomb on its own creates a small explosion that kills – but doesn’t destroy – a couple of Cybermen only?

Or how the idea of a transmatting down to Voga means that Sarah is suddenly cured of the Cybermat venom because – as a foreign body – it’s removed from her system, yet it keeps her clothes in tact?

Or why Magrik decides to paint the words ‘United States’ on his rocket?

Or how nobody noticed the Cybermats killing anyone in 79 days of a plague?

Or how the Doctor doesn’t at the very least suffer a crushed pelvis when those rocks fall on him?

Or how Michael Wisher managed to land a part in Genesis of the Daleks on the strength of yet another over the top performance?

Or how the TARDIS isn’t just waiting for them where they left it, but can find them at a completely different point in space and time (considering the Space Station has moved)?

To me though, these might well be problems with the story, but they certainly don’t make it any the less entertaining.

So let’s take a moment to defend the Revenge of the Cybermen

The Cast

For a start this story has one of the strongest casts in the history of the show. And Michael Wisher.

There’s Kevin Stoney, once again doing a fabulous job in spite of his mask.

Also under the masks are David Collings (Robots of Death/Mawdryn Undead), Wisher and Brian Grellis (Invisible Enemy/Snakedance).

And on Nerva there is William Marlowe (Mind of Evil), Ronald Leigh-Hunt (Seeds of Death) and Jeremy Wilkin(he who played the bastard in the first episode of Blake’s Seven).

That’s a strong lineup and no mistake. And they all act their parts very well.

Similarly, all three of the regular line-up do an admirable job, with this being Ian Marter’s finest hour as Harry Sullivan. He interacts superbly with both Sarah and the Doctor, and is part of some humorous exchanges including the ‘What have I done now’ part at the start, his getting names mixed up in a very British way, the way he is determined to get some gold and of course the ‘Harry Sullivan is an Imbecile’ moment.

So even with a shonky plot, there are plenty of strong performances to enjoy.

The Presentation

It also looks good.

Yes, it’s fair to say that most of the Vogans look like Arnold Ridley off Dad’s Army for some bizarre reason, but the concept of the Vogans is ok, and the sets of Voga and the Nerva – along with the fantastic location filming down in the wonderfully apt Wookey Hole – make this look like a higher-than-normal budget piece.

Certainly it looks better than Genesis of the Daleks right before it (or after, as was the case with filming), and the design team should also be commended for going to the effort of making the Nerva set look suitably different from the Ark in Space.

And it sounds good as well. I love the incidental music in this as it really adds to the atmosphere.

The Pacing

And for all that people criticise the plot, I would defend it to an extent by saying that it’s at least paced well.

We’ve seen it time and time again in Doctor Who; a story with the name of the monster in it finishing episode 1 by having the monsters *gasp* appear for the first time. But here the Cybermen are mentioned early on, show up briefly in episode one, appear again

Here is Christopher Robbie’s Cyber Leader, standing with bravado and demanding that they ‘Intensify the Radar Signal’

early in episode two and are part of a logical and quite exciting cliffhanger at the end of it.

And as I said above, the writing at least maintains a certain amount of consistency with Cyberman stories in the past. The staple of every Davis written Cyberman story is to have someone say ‘But the Cybermen were killed off years ago; everyone knows that’, and it appears again here. Similarly, he goes to the effort of creating a reason for the motivation behind the Cybermen/Vogan feud.

So yeah, not too bad.

But now to the key to this story; the main reason which I find it so entertaining…

Christopher Robbie – The Greatest Cyberman Of Them All

Let’s just take a moment to consider what the Cyberman are, or at least were devised as.

Cybermen are supposed to be humans who have gradually replaced their human aspects with mechanical ‘Spare Parts’, leading to them ultimately becoming zombie like robotic men. They have also removed all emotions from their being.

So – in spite of how boring the story was – the ones in the Tenth Planet were actually very good as a result of that. They were written as – and acted as – being devoid of any emotion and are therefore single-minded in their approach.

As time went on in the Patrick Troughton era, they did change a bit to become more villainous in their plans, but they were still presented as being monotone and without any emotion to speak of.

You have to assume that since this story was devised by the guy who wrote or had a hand in most of those early Cyberman stories, they would be similar here and at the very least the actors would be briefed on how to play them.

And that’s what makes Christopher Robbie’s turn as the Cyber Leader into one of the most entertaining guest performances in the history of the show.

Robbie decides to play the emotionless Cyber Leader as a swaggering American cowboy who runs through almost every emotion in the book. Glee, anger, impatience, contentment, fear, relief, disappointment, sadness, surprise, happiness, irritation, irony,

And here he is – hands on hips – striding off into the sunset while his despairing second in command follows on with a serious lack of enthusiasm.

humour; you name it, he goes through it.

Everything and anything that an emotionless character is meant to be, the Cyber Leader is the opposite.

And I love it.

The way Robbie speaks his lines, with such passion and vigour is juxtaposed against the blank expression on his face. You can imagine him acting his arse off while his shouts are muffled under the fixed metal mask. You can feel his rage as the Doctor decides to wind up him. You can hear the tremble in his voice or the sense of satisfaction when his plans are almost coming to fruition.

He’s just not a Cyberman.

A Cyberman traditionally says stuff like “You belong to us. You shall be like us” or “Clever, Clever, Clever” in a monotone robotic voice.

Christopher Robbie’s Cyber Leader comes away with lines like

“Eight minutes. In eight minutes, the accursed Planet of Gold will be utterly destroyed. Annihilated. Vaporised. It is good”

and

“You two are especially privileged. You are about to die in the biggest explosion ever witnessed in this solar system. It will be a magnificent spectacle. Unhappily, you will be unable to appreciate it. Bwahahahahaha”

I suppose if Robbie wasn’t under the Cyber Leader mask it wouldn’t seem quite as good, but the fact is that he IS under that mask and yet decides to act that way anyway. That’s the genius of it. It’d be like someone playing a Dalek as Kenneth Williams.

But what’s even better is that because you can’t see the emotion in Robbie’s face, he decides to overdo his physical acting. His body language conveys the emotion even it really shouldn’t. When he is standing around trying to decipher the radar signal he looks like an impatient boss in an IT company who is pissed off with his minions despite not quite understanding what’s going on.

When he’s worried about the Doctor dropping the Cyber-bomb, he lurches forward and almost puts his hand to his heart as if to say ‘Well that’s a relief’ and when he’s posturing, he postures big time. While the other actors try to remain rigid and robotic, Robbie

Sadly this group of Cybermen were killed off. Each of them conveying the desperation of the situation in their own inimitable style

walks around with his hands on his hips.

I just can’t speak highly enough of his performance and I just don’t know why nobody else bothers to mention it.

Yes, he’s going into business for himself, big style, but he’s entertaining as he does it, and isn’t that the point?

No doubt as well it’s helped by the way Tom Baker plays against him. The Cybermen end up being treated by the Doctor as seriously as Robbie is taking the part. If the Doctor was acting all fearful of this guy camping it up it wouldn’t ring true. Instead, the reaction is to take the piss out of him, and that helps the situation. My only criticism of Baker is the way he doesn’t ‘sell’ the concept of the Leader’s strength in Episode 4 while he surrenders. It does look a little silly with him acting as though he’s getting an unwanted massage while Liz Sladen is acting her arse off beside them.

So that’s my dedication to him. Christopher Robbie is the most entertaining and interesting actor ever to tackle a Cyberman costume.

You might not like him, but I do.

Random Observations

  • I didn’t mention the guy who operated the controls on the beacon earlier on in the review, but I’ve always wondered if he’s Chinese or Welsh. Or both.
  • When I was younger, I don’t think I appreciated this story nearly as much as I do now. I guess you have to be older to really appreciate the actors and their performances ahead of the plot.
  • The DVD of this story is worth buying even if you don’t like Revenge of the Cybermen, because it comes one of the best DVD extras I’ve ever seen. The documentary about Dr Who on video in the 80s is brilliant, and inspired an article I wrote at the tail end of last year which you can read here
  • The part where the Cybermen are away to detonate the bombs is made even better by the squeeking noise the button makes when pressed. It just makes the whole thing seem pathetic. Brilliant, but pathetic.
  • While there are plenty of issues with the plot not making sense, at least the story starts off well. There’s no pissing about setting the scene at the start; they just get right into it.
  • Of course, you do have to wonder how the Cybermats managed to get on board.
  • Or how nobody noticed the bite marks on the necks of the ‘plague’ victims
  • In the oft-referred to ‘DWM Mighty 200′, Revenge of the Cybermen comes in at 130, while the Sontaran Experiment finished 27 places higher at 103. Another reason why Doctor Who fandom doesn’t appear to have a clue. I mean, how can you possibly say this is a less entertaining story than that 45 minute pile of nothing?
  • There’s a great scene where the warring factions of Vogans are crouched about 10 feet away from each other, shooting point-blank and missing every time. You’ve got to love moments like that.
  • If I have to be critical of the Cybermen here, it’s that the costumes aren’t exactly great. Cheap, spray painted rubber suits and barely fitting masks. There’s a reason why they looked better in black and white.
  • The dialogue includes the line ‘We’re heading for the biggest bang in history’. The innuendo is lost on no-one.
  • You might be forgiven for not realising it’s Kevin Stoney under the mask of Tyrum, but the real give away is his delivery of the word ‘Pleasure’. Unmistakable.
  • How could I forget…I absolutely adore the quoting of MacBeth by the Doctor while he stands over the dead Cyberman. That just sums up the Fourth Doctor for me.

Doctor Who – Revenge of the Cybermen Review: Final Thoughts

Despite its flaws, I think Revenge of the Cybermen is great. I know it’s not the best story ever written and I’d be daft to say that it is, but I watch Doctor Who to be entertained, and this story entertains me more than most. I’ve been looking forward to writing this review because I’ve been so keen for there to be praise of the Cyber Leader online somewhere. Now I’ve finally done it.

Superb cast, great sets, snappy dialogue but a nonsensical plot.

You can’t have everything, but at least we have something.

And I’d take this Cyberman story and these Cybermen over the pathetic ‘Delete Delete’ robots who are subjected to these days.

So give it a go, and keep an open mind.

8 Responses to Doctor Who – Revenge of the Cybermen Review (or ‘Dedicated to Christopher Robbie; The Greatest Cyberman of Them All’)

  1. Bring back Reg Whitehead says:

    Revenge – it is good! One of my favourite stories of all time and its got a score that should be feted as being the most original piece of music ever put on UK television. Compare how different (and better) it is to the generic stuff Dudley was churning out by now.

  2. Eugene says:

    Hello there. I’ve only recently seen this site, and I like it very much indeed. I totally agree on many things, such as the excellence of The Gunfighters and Peter Purves. How do you get your screenshots? I’m not much of a computer chap… I realise this is an odd place to stick my first comment, but hope to be adding many more.

    • sgmilne says:

      Cheers; glad you like it.

      As to how to make the screencaps, it’s easy.

      If you have the DVD playing through your PC, just press alt + Print screen and past it into Paint. Easy.

  3. I’ve always loved it. Still do. David Collings: Best death scene ever! “My Skystriker, my glory!”

  4. galaxybureau says:

    Reblogged this on galaxybureau.

  5. Vulpine says:

    Revenge is my fav episode of all time. I had it on VHS when i was small and have just orderd it today in order to conpleat the 12 seriese of DW. I agree totally with everything you have said (good and bad) but it is brill.

    Vogans helped earth invent the glitter gun….? Then decided to ditch it????

    I must point out that I always thought the emotions the cyber leader had was upgrades he had due to being a leader (I realise I’m fooling my self!)

    My all time fav quote (other than the imbiscile quote) is when the Vogan runs in to report that the cybermen are back and they are under attack, when asked how many cybermen he replies “two at least” fab!

  6. Ha ha! Finally someone else who appreciates Robbie’s performance! I thought I was the only one. I found it really suited the role seeing how his character was so heavily involved in the last two episodes. Otherwise those scenes would have been rather tedious….and boring….plus he has a nice arse ;)

  7. simon says:

    i loved this one as kid it was my intro to the cybermen. the banter between the cyberleader and the doctor is brilliant .it isnt aperfect script but it is entertaining.and yes it deserves to be higher on the list than the sontaran experiment!

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