Review: Doctor Who – 135 – Legend of the Cybermen

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

  • J Burt

    What happened to your wonderful Big Finish reviews? Have you carried out your threat not to continue with them?

  • Well you’re very kind to class them as wonderful, but at the moment, I’m kind of ‘regrouping’. The free download of the first ep of the Tegan/Turlough/Nyssa trilogy kind of brought it home to me that
    1) a lot of these things aren’t very good, they’re rushed together, the scripts never do anything too amazing or interesting
    2) they’re all trilogies now, and the first two parts are never really standalones. The recent Land of Fiction trilogy brought that home, with the first play having a dreadful conclusion, the second play merely being filler where everything is revealed and the the third play having all the meat. You can’t really listen to any of these three in isolation, so that’s £39-£45 to get anywhere approaching a decent story.
    3) I don’t want to have to listen to three plays of Sylvester McCoy in a row. Individual plays I can cope with, but three in a row? Life’s too short.
    4) There’s plenty of things in life that are worth £45, but Big Finish audio plays aren’t in that list, and I can’t recommend people go out and buy them as a result. The result is that as long as Big Finish are making all their main range trilogies, I’m essentially going to be writing “don’t buy this” in each review. That’s not constructive or helpful. The Internet has enough snark on it without me adding to it and I don’t want to be AN Other “Internet snark guy”.
    5) The Lost Stories are largely dreadful and lost for a reason. The new season isn’t even really “lost” stories – they’re “what would have happened if we’d got a season 27, gone with whatever plan we claim we would have gone with at the time and then wrote a bunch of stories to that plan”. They’re in no true sense lost, so we’re looking at an entire season of original Big Finish Sylvester McCoy plays. cf point 3.
    I’m tempted to stick with the Companion Chronicles, since they’re standalone, reasonably priced and are actually decently written in many cases. But it’s all a little tarnished by the main range for me and I don’t really have the enthusiasm.
    So I’m regrouping. If Big Finish move away from trilogies, I’ll probably go back to the main range; and with the Companion Chronicles. I might even pick and choose a few, since the Mara play does at least look enticing and I loves me some Kinda and Snakedance (although I fear my memories will end up tarnished if I do listen to it). But I think I need a break from it all before I can do that.

  • Sorry, I’ve only just caught up on this (bad Rullsenberg), but I think you’re right about the trilogy format. it isn’t always necessary and I’m equally as unconvinced as you are that they’re worth £45.
    However, as a total aside, I am still finding that some of the companion chronicles work well. Actually I still regularly listen to the Jo Grant one (yes, I’m shocked as well!) that BF gave away for free a little while ago.

  • J Burt

    It’s a shame as I always looked forward to your reviews which were honest and presented some strong insights.
    I was not bowled over with the Mara story myself because I did not like the concept of the Mara taking over the Doctor. It underwhelmed me.

  • Maximara

    There are some concepts that just don’t work and this is one of them. The hint provided by the blub (Hundred Realms and happy ending) is quickly confirmed–the battle is happening in the Land of Fiction. The problem is once the location is confirmed the idea that the Cybermen are a threat falls flat on its butt; this is the Land of Fiction where based on the name you have the entirety of fiction to throw at whoever is dumb enough to invade the place.
    No matter who or WHAT they are any invader is going to be curb stomped so fast it is not even funny; the only way that wouldn’t happen is if the ruler of the Land of Fiction is a total and complete moron. Big Finish tries to handwave this away by saying that certain realms (such as the four color realm ie comic books) were taken out early. But that is a MEDIUM–what about the radio, movie, TV, and novelizations of those characters?
    Even limited to the “classic” realm you have loads of things to destroy the Cybermen with–the entirety of Heaven and Hell (Dante’s “Divine Comedy”), atomic bombs (H.G. Wells; 1914 “World Set Free”, the entirety of the Greek and Roman pantheons (like the Cybermen are going to stand a chance against lightning bolts from the sky–and Medusa was there the first time around so we KNOW they are part of the place), heat rays (Wells again), and the list goes on. Even in “classic” realm you have robots going back as far as 600 BC including Golem, Talus, Olimpia, Ellis’ “The Steam Man of the Prairies”, and Olympia SO WHY NOT USE THEM?!?
    While the character interactions are interesting the flaw in the premise makes it impossible to enjoy the story as the war could not have happened if the location had been used to even a fraction of its TRUE potential.