Audio drama Doctor Who: Hour of the Cybermen was always going to be a very special release for a certain generation of Doctor Who fans. It sees the return of the Eighties Cybermen.
The Eighties were a special time for the Cybermen; it was then that they came out of semi-retirement after a seven year absence from Doctor Who, and arguably became the equals of the Daleks in the programme again. The two men responsible for the Cyber-renaissance were David Banks, who played every Cyber Leader of the decade, and Mark Hardy, who played their long-suffering, button-pushing sidekicks, the Cyber Lieutenants. Because of the nature of the roles, they were always most impressively vocal performances. For a generation of fans, these two particular actors were the Cybermen – and Hour of the Cybermen sees them both return to the roles for the first time in 30 years.
OK, so bringing them back to battle the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker, on the top of his form) is a big deal. But Hour Of The Cybermen is so much better even than that.
They’re a canny lot, Big Finish. They’ve only given the task of bringing back the Lords of Logic to Andrew Smith, a writer who, above all, takes care that his stories make sense on every level, which means that for once, for once in their Cyber-careers, the Cybermen, ruled by logic, have a masterplan that’s actually logical. Think about it for a second – there are probably only two or three stories maximum in the whole of Cyber-history where you could run them through a basic logic algorithm and find that they made any sense at all. Hour Of The Cybermen makes sense in its Cyber-planning, its human skulduggery, and its ultimate resolution. It’s a Cyber-tour de force.
In terms of actual plot details, Hour Of The Cybermen is the second in a loose trilogy of stories featuring an Eighties version of UNIT that we’ve never encountered before. It starts very much in Jon Pertwee territory, with the Doctor, alone, arriving in an England suffering from a particularly odd calamity – a drought without an accompanying heatwave. Water-looters are afoot, but more than that, there are alien refugees in the area, and the story builds in logical increments, so you feel you have something of a handle on the fundamental elements that make the story.
In a nod to a couple of Sixties Cyber-stories, the Cyber-plan here is significantly advanced, and only the Doctor popping up at an inopportune moment has any chance of stopping them. The Cyber-doohickey at the source of all the trouble makes perfect theoretical sense, and the plan into which it fits makes sense in terms of the Cybermen’s universal goals. The human (and alien) heartbeats along the line make sense too, and there’s a story-strand here that brings an element of the Cybermen to the fore that should have been exploited long before now, and which Smith threads strongly through his script.
If you’re thinking of buying Hour Of The Cybermen for nostalgia purposes, then you’re in for all sorts of treats. The Cyber Leader gives more than one outing of his “excellent” catchphrase, and there are several lines that, while they aren’t quite replays of the greatest hits, are subtle enough reworkings to both feel fresh and evoke the Eighties Cybermen in all their relatively chatty glory. In terms of the Eighties Cyber Leader’s habit of frequently explaining the Cyber-Plot to anyone who would listen, this story ticks that box too – he even stages a demonstration of how the plot will work at one point, but you don’t think of it as a fault in the story, because now, as then, you just want to hear David Banks’ Cyber-Leader talk more.
As with all the best Cyber-stories, there’s a fairly high body-count, and a body-count including people about whom you’ll care, which in itself underlines the difference between the listener and the villain – the scary thing about the Cybermen is they don’t care about the people who die, and we do.
There are other significant nuggets of nostalgic Cyber-glory here too – including a moment repurposed from classic 80s story “Earthshock” which will make fans smile. And before it all becomes about Smith, Banks, Hardy and Colin Baker, listening to the music in this release will also give you chills and grins if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Cyber-geek, because again while steering clear of actual riffs on previous Cyber-themes, there’s enough here to trip your nostalgia-triggers into utter geek meltdown.
In short, if you’re an old-school Doctor Who fan looking for cyber-thrills, Hour of the Cybermen could well be the Cyber-story you’ve been waiting for for decades – a tight, logical plot, with the Cybermen on the top of their terrifying form, incredible Cyber-voices, human peril by the bucketload, a desperate fight for survival, and a Sixth Doctor that ultimately saves the day with an audaciously straightforward bit of jiggery-pokery, and an act of important compassion. Excellent!
Doctor Who: Hour of the Cybermen is available to buy now exclusively from Big Finish until August 31st 2018, after which date it will also be available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading audiobook retailers.