“I wanted to bring them freedom, Tyram. Freedom from fear, freedom to live as Vogans should, on the surface, not cowering like worms in the earth.” – Vorus
Well, I guess they can’t all be Genesis of the Daleks, right? The last story was so good it was inevitably downhill from there, but it’s too bad it was such a precipitous drop to the level of this story. The idea of bringing back the iconic Cybermen in Baker’s premier season after their absence for the entire Pertwee era was a great one. Unfortunately, the execution is horrible. The script tries to be clever by starting us in the middle of the story, referring to things and events in the past as if we know them. This can sometimes be an interesting narrative device, but in this case it just comes across muddled. There is no surprise reveal of the Cybermen which might have been satisfying—they’re just mentioned in the course of conversation. Their susceptibility to gold and big defeat in past battles by it is taken as a well known fact. (They don’t breathe so we have to assume the reference to it “suffocating” them is just a shorthand explanation.) When I was younger, I thought the “glitter guns” must be something that the Doctor had helped develop in battle against the Cybermen in the Hartnell era or something. The Doctor mentions that they are waiting for the TARDIS to drift back in time to their point though there’s no way for him to have set this up since they just arrived directly by Time Ring from their last adventure. You feel as if you missed an episode or two. It would have made much mores sense for them to set this up as an adventure in the far future after their reawakening of the Nerva survivors with the TARDIS having simply been waiting for them all those years.
Even worse, there’s a lot of internal inconsistency in this story. The motivations and personalities of the characters shift wildly and don’t make sense as aspects of their story are revealed. This is especially true of Kellman—the story wants him to be a bloodthirsty power seeker, a double agent really working for good, and a casual mercenary who’ll take any side all at the same time. The division of power among the Vogans is also unclear for much of the story. Surely they don’t think that these few Cybermen defeated means they no longer have to worry about them as a threat across the galaxy? There’s some horrible physical acting by the clunky Cybermen and the direction fails on several counts. Finally, we come to the end with the rocket and hurtling space station and all sense of speed and distance and physics in general just goes out the window.
There are a few pluses. It’s cool how much of it was filmed in a cave. (The little skidoo water jets are just funnily cute.) Tom Baker starts to show his playfully glib side. The return of the Cybermen is something to celebrate, especially with the noticeable redesign of the Cyber Leader and Cybermats. I like that the space plague carried by the Cybermats with its visible spread through the veins actually mirrors the same plague used by the Cybermen in their attack on Moonbase in the Troughton era. The Vogans are an odd design but at least something new and therefore interesting.
For the most part, however, this story is a bit of mess and not a very satisfying conclusion to Nerva arc or the whole season.
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
The TARDIS crew making their way through piles of dead bodies littered across the floor of the space beacon.
- Cyber aversion to gold
As noted, the story is a muddle but the biggest frustration is seeing the Cybermen arrive on Voga and slaughtering the Vogans left and right with none of them even halfway thinking to use their gold supply to attack them despite the fact that it’s the very reason the Cybermen need to destroy the planet and were defeated with in the past. As it’s nicely put in The Discontinuity Guide: “Voga is the Planet of Gold. A place where they use gold for everything, including chains and guns. But when the Cybermen arrive, a species who are so susceptible to gold that a handful of thrown gold dust kills them, two of them gun down half of the Vogan army! Why aren’t the Vogan bullets made of gold? Why don’t they just hit them with their guns? Argh!”