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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
Hour of the Cybermen


Starring: Colin Baker
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 829 5 (CD), 978 1 78178 830 1 (download)
Release Date: 31 August 2018

Answering a call from UNIT, the Doctor arrives in London to find the streets deserted, apart from looters in possession of a valuable commodity – water. Britain is suffering an extreme and bizarre drought. The cause is suspected to be extraterrestrial. The discovery of a signal being transmitted into space, and of a spacecraft whose crew are desiccated corpses, provides a possible answer. But the true enemy is an old foe of the Doctor’s. The Cybermen have been patient, setting their plans in place over a number of years. As the final stage is implemented, in the darkest hour, the Doctor must identify who among his allies he can trust…

This audio adventure marks the end of a trilogy featuring Colin Baker’s Doctor – but it’s also the middle part of a trilogy, an intermittent saga featuring UNIT that will ultimately encompass the eras of three incarnations of the Time Lord. However, the most attention-grabbing aspect of Hour of the Cybermen is the fact that it features the return of David Banks and Mark Hardy as the cybernetic aggressors they played on screen during the 1980s. You might even regard this as the third in a trilogy of encounters between the Sixth Doctor and the ’80s Cybermen, if you count The Ultimate Adventure.

As a child of the ’80s, I was very excited about the prospect of hearing Banks and Hardy reprise their roles as the Cyber Leader and his Cyber Lieutenant. Sadly, they just don’t sound the same. Maybe it’s because the actors’ voices have aged (it has been 30 years), or perhaps they’ve forgotten the intonation they used to use for the roles. Maybe the modulation applied to their voices isn’t right, or perhaps it’s a combination of factors. Whatever the reason, the irony is that the Cybermen sounded more like their ’80s selves in Sword of Orion, in which Nicholas Briggs and Alistair Lock provided the voices.

What do sound spot on, though, are their stuttering Cyber-guns, while musician Steve Foxon has gone to great lengths to recapture the sounds of circa 1986 in his incidental score, via the use of period synthesisers (a Yamaha TX7 and an Oberheim Matrix 1000 with a Yamaha R100 Reverb Processor and a Boss RDD-10 Digital Delay – for more details on this, head to the “Behind the Scenes” tab of the product page at the Big Finish website). The resulting soundtrack combines the stomping chords of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s Malcolm Clarke with hints of Dominic Glynn, Vangelis and a few more modern touches.

Story-wise, the once mighty Cybermen are far from indestructible – but then, the same complaint has been levelled at Attack of the Cybermen and other television stories, so I suppose writer Andrew Smith (another veteran of ’80s Who) has remained true to his source material. His scripts also acknowledge the fact that it is possible to rile the supposedly emotionless machine creatures, and he gives Banks plenty of opportunities to say, “Excellent!”

Unexpectedly more interesting than the involvement of the Cybermen is the development of the returning UNIT personnel, Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis Price (Russ Bain) and Lieutenant Daniel Hopkins (Blake Harrison). In stark contrast to their previous appearance in The Helliax Rift, in which Price was highly distrustful of the Doctor and Hopkins was a valuable ally, this time it’s Hopkins who’s the surly one. We hear that he argued against summoning the Time Lord, wanting UNIT to be able to fight its own battles, while Price is glad of the Doctor’s help during this latest crisis. Further surprises lie ahead, and a welcome addition to the ranks is Wayne Forester as the plain-speaking Captain Weaver, who reminds me a little of Staff Sergeant Arnold in The Web of Fear.

There are a couple of implausibilities. Firstly, transmissions from Mars reach Earth in seconds rather than the minutes this ought to take (perhaps the Doctor helped to accelerate the signal). Later, the Cyber Leader claims that the bodies of his people contain no water, which I find hard to believe – the Cybermen are cyborgs, so their anatomies should include some human tissue, and that tissue would require hydration.

Speaking of which, perhaps some sort of water-based title would have been more appropriate than Hour of the Cybermen, which suggests a time-travel plot (though it is true that the invaders have been lying in wait for a long time). Dehydration of the Cybermen, anyone? Or how about Desiccation of the Cybermen? Nah, those words would work better with the Daleks, wouldn’t they?

Maybe, given all the efforts that have gone into re-creating the sounds of a 1980s Cyber-story, not always successfully, this should have been called Nice Try of the Cybermen.


Richard McGinlay

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