Thursday, 29 August 2013

Revenge of the Cybermen written by Gerry Davis and directed by Michael Briant

This story in a nutshell: To misquote the Doctor from Voyage of the Damned - ‘You can’t even sink Nerva Beacon!’

Teeth and Curls: Like Troughton, Baker took a little while to settle into the part but once he had he was without doubt the definitive article (Pertwee has been the only actor so far that was obviously comfortable with the role from day one). Come Genesis of the Daleks, Baker had found his niche but unfortunately Revenge was filmed earlier but broadcast later than the Dalek classic so it feels as if the character/actor is getting jittery at random intervals. Fortunately this would be the last time that Baker feels uncomfortable with the responsibility for such a massive role. The script for Revenge of the Cybermen is so bad (and re-written by Holmes I fail to understand why it couldn't have been doused with the same magic as Genesis) that it gives the Doctor dialogue that is so toe curlingly awful and out of character (or just plain embarrassing at times) that even an actor of Baker's calibre cannot make it sound natural - and this is the man that made the events of The Pirate Planet sound plausible. 'Who's the homicidal maniac?' he asks, an odd question at the best of times and later describes the Cybermen as 'total machine creatures.' At one point he describes a character as 'Sir' which is truly out of sorts for the generally superior fourth Doctor. So much of this script would have been rewritten, binned or improvised had it taken place in later seasons and I'm starting to wonder if forcing Baker to stick to the script might not be as productive as certain Hamilton Bidmead's might suspect. I do like how playful he is with Harry. I think it's often forgotten how well the male companions got on with their Doctors (Steven, Jamie, the Brig, Harry, Turlough, Jack, Rory) and Ian Marter plays Harry so sweetly that Baker can mock him but never maliciously. If the Doctor scents a rat he will find one (what the hell?). Considering Kellman is the only reasonable suspect for the killings on Nerva to point the finger at him is hardly the most impressive of deductive leaps. The Doctor that I recognise makes a brief appearance when he holds the wires together and risks electrocution to save his companions lives. He also threatens Kellman with the sting of a Cybermat unless he tells him everything he knows, showing a surprisingly sadistic streak (Pertwee would never enjoy the moment quite so visibly). Not to be out done by Sarah and her waltz with the Cybermat, he break dances on the floor once he is shot by the invading Cybermen. Realising the Mondasian meanies are going through something of a mid life crisis the Doctor takes every opportunity to niggle at all their insecurities. What I find odd is that once the story moves down to Voga the Doctor is barely detectable, despite a sizable chunk of the action. Baker is subdued, the character lacks any wit or intelligence and his greatest feat is to take a Cyberman from behind and steering the Beacon across the surface of a planet like a number 22 bus.

Lovely Lis: This is the story where Sarah is so badly written that she admits thinking gives her a headache. She can’t make her snuggle up with the Cybermat look real (it would tax any actor) but she really plays her infection for real. ‘Stop going on about your stupid gold!’ – despite some reprehensible dialogue Sladen and Marter still make a magical team. Sarah has heard of the Cybermen but thought they were wiped out ages ago (obviously the Doctor has been getting out his invasion snaps again). Go and watch her eye rolling reaction to Harry’s ‘Are you aware you’re heading straight towards us?’

An Imbecile: It is very nice to see Harry’s medical training is used consistently throughout his time with the Doctor. He’s such a thoughtless old rogue and always thinking of money, the idea of a planet of gold giving him delusions of great wealth. Remember in Ark in Space when he suggested that the Doctor could sell the TARDIS or where he tries to steal the (very bling) Time Ring and now he is attempting to nab nuggets of pure gold. Guess what he wants it for? To buy himself out of the Navy and set up a little practice in the country! It's nice to have a game plan, I suppose. ‘The Doctor will be worrying about us’ ‘I’m worrying about us’ – I really like that exchange. So much emphasis is placed on Haryy being an imbecile for causing the rockfall and trying to unbuckle the Doctor’s cumbersome strap but how on Earth would anybody know in either case?

Sparkling Dialogue: Are you kidding me?

The Good Stuff: Doesn’t Nerva Beacon look far more convincing on film? Jeremy Wilkin is such a playful old sleazebag, he is clearly from the Mark Strickson school of ‘look over your shoulder shiftily’ acting. I was really impressed by the sleek (but huge) new Cybermat design, thank god they have no comically bulging eyes any more. This is one of those Doctor Who musical scores that I shouldn’t like (similar to Time and the Rani and the Keff of Death) but I do, it's oddly memorable (like the sound of a good fart). I understand that the radiophonic workshop adding some extra oomph to Carey Blyton's jazzy score and between them they have conjured up something rather memorable. The plague effects had a test run in The Green Death so they look pretty damn convincing. Does it need spelling out that the Wookey Hole location work is fantastic? No, but let's give Michael E. Briant's filmic location work the credit it is due anyway. A fabulously craggy, shadowy location which reverberates with the gunshot explosions and has lakes you can play about on with speed boats. It's not often that Doctor Who actively seeks out real caves to play about it and this extra expense is much appreciated. The one innovation I was impressed with to the Cybermen design were their functional and stylish head blasters and I’m not quite sure why they didn’t hang around. The Doctor and Harry’s attack on the pair of Cyberman in the cave is one of the few action moments that felt convincing.

The Bad Stuff: You know you are in dodgy territory when a story kicks off with the dance of the Time Ring. The idea of landing in a room adjacent to a corridor full of plague ridden bodies is awesome but filling said corridor full of  what is obviously mannequins rather than extras doesn’t cut the mustard. You can see now why Survivors went for a much more intimate pilot episode rather than unconvincingly filling the episode full of corpses. One of the strengths of Doctor Who is that it has been running for so long that strong actors can play several characters over time and get away with it. The problem with this approach to casting is that it is inevitable that comparison will be made with their previous work on the show. Ronald Leigh-Hunt and William Marlowe both had better characters to play in their previous Doctor Who roles (The Seeds of Death and The Mind of Evil respectively) and far better dialogue to chew on. The Ark sets have lost their cold, clinical feel and thus they don’t feel half as visionary and somebody has felt the need to smear them with functional grey paint which makes them look ugly. Imagine disguising actors the calbre of Kevin Stoney, David Collings and Michael Wisher behind those duff Vogan masks and forcing them to bring such banal characters to life? What a waste of an incredible guest cast. Revenge of the Cybermen features the worst Cybermen redesign by a country mile, instead of the sleek metal warriors of the Troughton era they are now head to toe in silver sponge! Their hydraulic tubing is also so thick and plasticky it clearly serves no practical function but to add some detail to the bland costumes. You can tell this is a Barry Letts commissioned script because he lets Gerry Davis inappropriately plunder his 1960’s scripts in exactly the same way Terry Nation did several times during the Pertwee era. Watch out for Kellman's bizarre spasmodic reaction to be captured - I think he's trying to get away but in a story full bizarre dance-like movement it looks like he is performing the tango with Lester. Gold is lethal to Cybermen? What a rubbish weakness! Why do they even need a weakness? Doing this reduces from formidable mock humans to super hero villains that can be swiped down by their Achilles Heel. It's like saying throwing a bucket of water over the Daleks could finish them off…so they want to wreck havoc on Ocean World! Come Silver Nemesis this freakish vulnerability would have gotten way out of hand. If Kellman is such a benefactor to the Vogan people why does he murder so many people? Considering the story is trying to set him up as a villain who is actually a hero, it does so in a most unconvincing manner, delivering inconsistent actions that simply don't add up. It is about as plausible as when the trick was attempted again with Lytton in Attack of the Cybermen - not at all. Rarely does a story show up the relative tackiness of the sets in comparison to the polished look of the location work. Back in the day monsters knew how to make an entrance - bursting through walls, rising from oceans, tearing through cocoons - but now the Cybermen advance so slowly in their decrepit old banger of a spaceship that the Doctor should have tied them up in a bow and packed them off before they even arrive. Most alarmingly of all, as soon as the ship is docked he suddenly rushes off screaming ‘We’ve got to stop them!’ Does he just enjoy doing everything in a last minute rush? Is that how he made his name for himself? By putting everybody in danger when he could have saved the day before anxiety sets in? Playing Doctor Who villains requires a certain degree of finesse because it is so easy for the actor to go over the top and lose themselves in the part. David Banks would go on to play the Cyberleader as a boastful and violent sort, an actor who can find menace in the melodrama of the part. Christopher Robbie in comparison completely loses his way, playing up the robotic campness inherent in the script (in a twisted version of the Time Warp he puts his hands on his hips and gives a neck massage in ti-i-i-i-me!). I really want to point out all the inconsistencies in the plot but they have been brought up a hundred times before but I do have to ask why the Cybermen aren’t apoplectic just landing on a planet saturated with so much gold? Imagine somebody with an allergy landing on planet of the cats - you'd be wheezing like a grand puss! There is no sense in the Vogans having any culture beyond their requirements to the plot and thus they are not in the slightest bit believable. The exist as a rival to the Cybermen and once they have played their part in the fight we head back to Nerva and forget about the whole bally lot of them. Bask in the glory of the Doctor being set upon by giant polystyrene rocks! Campness of the Cybermen delights in giving the Cyberleader plenty of opportunity to strut about, his hands barely straying from his hips and spouting out lines like ‘It is good!’ and ‘It has failed!’ The story lurches into insane space opera as the Cybermen aim the Beacon at Nerva…why didn’t they just do this all along rather than bothering with all that nonsense with the Zaaber-bambs? It is lovely to see a Cyberman cuddling a Cybermat so adoringly and falling to the floor in a display of love for the creature. The planet rolling conclusion has to be seen to be believed. There are no goodbyes with any of the remaining characters because the plot is (abruptly) concluded - a sure sign that the writer wasn't at all interested in his guest cast in the slightest. For once, neither am I.

The Shallow Bit: The Cybership is a huge silver penis. You can’t go round the galaxy invading in such a phallic vehicle. Clearly the Cybermen are having something of a mid life crisis, having tarted themselves up to the nth degree. The Doctor hides underneath Kellman’s bed and almost gets several thousand volts up the jacksie. The obsession with male genitalia continues with the Vogan rocket comparable to a giant nob as well. What is it with these inadequate races and there compensatory craft? Is Voga the blingest planet in Doctor Who? Attacking the Cybermen from the rear? Doctor, you old rogue. ‘We’re still heading for the biggest bang in history!’

Result: The Hinchcliffe era is rightly celebrated as one of the most innovative, expensive and imaginative periods of classic Who but it is worth remembering that all eras of this show are capable of producing their own duffers. Revenge of the Cybermen is terrible, one of those rare examples of a story where pretty much everything goes wrong. I will usually go to great lengths to find good things to say about the most slated stories but in this case I am stumped, its that bad. Hinchcliffe was lumbered with two scripts containing old baddies that he didn't want and whilst he and Holmes managed to salvage Genesis of the Daleks and shape it into something exceptional, the same care and attention was lacking with the season finale. The script needs hardcore dissection to make it even passable, the dialogue is perversely bad, the plot riddled with logic vacuums (you couldn’t call them holes) and characterisation lacks any finesse (and I would argue that any of these people are characters but plot functions). The spongy tubular camp-as-Christmas Cybermen fudge their comeback and by the end of the story they are so ineffective you actually feel quite sorry for them. Probably not the intended response. Not even Tom Baker, Lis Sladen or Ian Marter can raise the bar on this story with the leading actor at sea in a script that gives the Doctor so little to work with and his companions swept away in the tide of ineptitude. Worse, the extraordinary guest cast are lost somewhere in there, unrecognisable and struggling with poorly written parts. When the most exciting thing is a Carey Blyton score and the fact that they managed to shoot the story in some real caves, you have some real problems. Let's chalk this one up to experience and never mention it again: 2/10

1 comment:

David Pirtle said...

Just when I thought it couldn't get any sillier, the 'Skystriker' turns out to be a Saturn V. You'd think they'd at least use stock footage of a less-recognizable launch than Apollo.