The big problem with serials that don’t have a strong central idea or story, that are ‘just a bunch of stuff that happened’, is that they’re entirely dependent on that stuff being consistently well done to distract from the absence of anything more substantial. This is a case in point. Some of the individual set pieces aren’t bad, but a lot of them aren’t good, and none of them adds up to anything approaching a coherent story.
For example, Lester’s sacrifice – blowing himself and the Cybermen on Voga up with a CyberBomb – is part of a dynamic fight sequence on film and opens the episode really well. But a later fight between the Doctor and Cybermen on Voga looks about as half-bothered as a closing time ruckus and ends with the Doctor looking vaguely peeved as he gets a shoulder rub. And there’s nothing to distract from the fact most of this episode, like The Wheel in Space – Episode 6, involves watching people in control rooms talking about pressing buttons.
The regular cast are incredibly watchable and engaging. Ian Marter reminds us again why Harry is such a useful character as he gives a quite funny recap of what’s going on so the audience can keep up. His sheepish admission that he caused a rockfall and nearly blew up the Doctor elicits the best line of the episode, Tom Baker’s delighted yell of ‘Harry Sullivan is an imbecile.’ The Doctor’s reunion with Sarah Jane is brilliant too. However, Sarah Jane’s character hasn’t had a good season. Here, she’s made to stupidly blab about the Vogan rocket to the Cybermen. She spent much of The Ark in Space frozen, and pretty much the last three stories getting herself into deadly peril and needing to be rescued. It’s a far cry from the co-lead who carried whole chunks of Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Planet of the Spiders herself.
The very first issue of DWM I ever got included an archive on Revenge of the Cybermen. The synopsis and murky B&W photos on rough paper made it look intriguing. And I loved the novelisation, so I’m probably overly hard on the disappointment of watching the episodes. This isn’t as annoying a mess as The Time Monster or as frustratingly dull as parts of The Monster of Peladon. However, the scripts are weak, with no real sense of impetus and no truly memorable characters. It’s a waste of a lot of the talents involved, including Elisabeth Sladen, David Collings, Kevin Stoney and Michael E Briant. The Cybermen are as ineffectual as they are in The Wheel in Space, the story this most obviously resembles. We can only hope that the Brigadier’s space-time telegram contains something more interesting.
Next episode: Terror of the Zygons