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Review: Doctor Who - 135 - Legend of the Cybermen

Posted on June 25, 2010 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Legend of the CybermenFor the last two Big Finish releases, we've had something of a mystery. First, the Doctor winds up in 18th century Scotland where he bumps into his old companion (for he is old now) Jamie McCrimmon. Except something's odd. Jamie doesn't remember him and Scottish history has been strangely altered – Glasgow and Edinburgh have been destroyed and replaced by something that seems to be an oil refinery.

Then, after a short trip to a mysterious castle to collect the TARDIS over in the Companion Chronicles, the Doctor and Jamie head off for the Titanic, where again, history appears to be on the fritz since this Titanic is not for crashing.

What can be going on?

Well, it was pretty obvious from about halfway through Wreck of the Titan, but I won't spoil it for you here. Needless to say though, following the revelations at the end of the play, something odd really is going on and the Doctor and Jamie are going to have to find out how to fix it.

This time, though, they're going to have to fight the Cybermen to do it. But at least their old friend Zoe Heriot is along to help, in a conclusion that is both strange and really rather good. Warning: a few spoilers ahead for at least the first two plays, but I'll do my best to avoid any biggies.

Plot
The Cybermen are on the march through the Hundred Realms, killing and converting as they go. Resistance is useless.

Trapped on the outermost fringes of the battle, the Doctor and Jamie are astonished to encounter an old friend: astrophysicist Zoe Heriot.

It's the happiest of reunions. But what hope is there of a happy ending against the unstoppable Cybermen?

Is it any good?
Well, it's not quite Ringpullworld good, but this is actually quite a satisfying conclusion to the whole thing: clever, funny, well plotted, and some decent performances. I'm not sure whether it was because Nick Briggs was off working on Big Finish's Sherlock Holmes range or not, with Alan Barnes subbing for him on script editing duties, but it's definitely the best of the recent trilogies. Indeed, it makes both City of Spires and Wreck of the Titan seem better in retrospect, even if it does effectively reveal that City of Spires fell back on that old Big Finish plot device: the deliberately bad bit of writing.

The whole play is set in the Land of Fiction and the void surrounding it, with the Doctor, Jamie and eventually Zoe encountering everyone from Alice in Wonderland to the Artful Dodger to Dracula in their attempts to save the Land from the invading Cybermen. The Cybermen have in turn begun to cybernise various fictional characters, including giants, fairies and the Valkyrie, which in contrast to the normal Big Finish attempts at comedy, actually does lend itself to some amusing moments and makes you wonder why we never saw any non-human Cybermen on the TV show – because they're great.

The play also likes to play with narrative techniques and given this is all in the Land of Fiction, there's a whole degree of authorial cleverness going on, with characters switching out of narrative styles, narrating their own actions at some points, breaking into each other's fictions and even discussing the nature of their own characters within narratives. For the truly weird, there's even a point where one of the characters finds himself in an audio recording booth, being directed by Nick Briggs (if the extent of Briggs' direction technique is "read out the lines and try to make them sound convincing" that would explain a lot, but I'll charitably assume that's a meta-joke).

There's not a lot that's truly surprising. The events of City of Spires and Wreck of the Titan and the revelation of what the black fluid actually is, means there's at least one revelation about a character that you'll see coming from pretty much the end of Wreck of the Titan, certainly long before the final reveal. That in turn will imply something about another character so that reveal is entirely predictable. You'll guess the true identity of another character within a couple of seconds of hearing her name. The return of characters from the previous two plays won't surprise anyone, particularly in the case of Captain Nemo, because there's no way Alexander Siddig would have taken such a small part in the previous play. The cliffhanger at the end of episode 1 (OMG! Cybermen!) is on the front of the CD. Only how the whole thing started will come as a true surprise to anyone, although there is at least one double bluff that almost had me going for a second.

But actually, that's not too much of a problem. Much of the fun is in the journey rather than the landmarks along the way, and the general interactions among the fictional characters. Ian Gelder's Dracula, Abigail Hollick's Alice and Steven Kynman's Artful Dodger are a delight. Wendy Padbury gives a far better performance than she did in her Companion Chronicle. The angry Jamie gets to interrogate the Doctor on why he never came to visit. The repeating two-tone music from The Mind Robber is used delightfully here, easily more eerie and effective with those two notes than anything a legion of Big Finish composers (and Murray Gold) have ever managed to produce. And the final scene might actually bring a tear or two to the eye, reminding you of the true power of fiction.

It's not flawless, there's too much continuity and sometimes the play does hit a wrong note. But on the whole pretty much a eight or nine out of 10.

The trilogy
So now we're at the end, would I recommend the whole trilogy? Well, certainly this third part is worth listening to, in and of itself. There are enough references to the previous plays to make you feel a little left out if you hadn't listened to the first two parts, but you could probably get by without them. You will miss out on the overall story arc and the general cleverness of the whole concept won't have such an impact when it's explained, if you decide not to listen to them either.

But, on the other hand, City of Spires was only really okay and it did mean you actually had to sit through some deliberately bad writing (the villain) to listen to it, purely to get a pay off in the third play. I pity the people who had to do that. Wreck of the Titanic similarly only really works as a build up towards the final revelation. Once you have that, which you will have done if you're listening to this play, there's not much point buying the whole play.

So, on the whole, I'd say buy this one, skip the first two, but if you've already got the first two, lucky you.

Price
Amazon CD: £14.97
Big Finish Download: £12.99
Big Finish CD: £14.99

Cast
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
Frazer Hines (Jamie)
Wendy Padbury (Zoe)
Steven Kynman (The Thief/The Young Lord)
Abigail Hollick (The Lieutenant)
Ian Gelder (The Commander/The Pirate)
Charlie Ross (The Rebel)
Nicholas Briggs (The Cybermen)

Writer: Mike Maddox
Director: Nicholas Briggs

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