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Soundtrack Review

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Doctor Who
Revenge of the Cybermen
Original Television Soundtrack


Composers: Carey Blyton with Peter Howell and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Label: Silva Screen Records
RRP: £10.99
SILCD1585 (CD), SILED1585 (download)
Release Date: 24 November 2023

As with so much television music from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, the original master tapes of Carey Blyton’s score for Revenge of the Cybermen were not retained. The only surviving copy is a set of four 7½ips ‘composer’s copy’ domestic ¼-inch tapes. It is from digital transfers of these that this release is taken. Sadly, and to Blyton’s obvious and understandable disappointment, the completed music did not meet with the complete approval of the production team, and much of it was not used. Peter Howell of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop added some electronic embellishments and arranged some additional cues for Parts Two and Three, but most of those were also left on the proverbial cutting room floor. For this release, Blyton’s original score is presented (and heard here for the first time), followed by the additional, alternative and ‘enhanced’ cues, all of which were also on Carey Blyton’s tapes…

Revenge of the Cybermen concluded Season 12, with its opening instalment transmitted on 19 April 1975. I don’t remember seeing the original broadcast, being just five years old at the time. Nevertheless, this soundtrack, scheduled to coincide with Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary, is very familiar to me. This is because Revenge of the Cybermen was the first Doctor Who serial to be released on home video, which led to me watching it many times during the mid-1980s (it was initially issued on VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc and Video 2000 in October 1983, but I didn’t buy it until the price came down a couple of years later).

Mark Ayres, the compiler and producer of this release, says, “This is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive, mysterious, misunderstood and even controversial scores in Doctor Who history, and it delights me to finally bring it, complete, to your ears!” I have to say, it isn’t one of my favourites, but this presentation has certainly given me a new perspective on it.

I prefer the high-pitched, Clanger-esque brass sounds used to represent deep space to the plaintive, low-pitched parps that underscore the once mighty but now beleaguered Vogan race. The deep space theme is heard in “Return to Nerva Beacon”, “Cybership I” and “Cybership II”, the latter two tracks making for a surprisingly upbeat introduction to the Cybermen! The Vogan theme is introduced in “Can Anyone Hear Me?” and subsequently recalled in “Cybermat / Unspool / Plague” and “Searching Kellman’s Room”, among others. The brass instruments used were B-flat trumpet, B-flat piccolo trumpet, tenor-bass trombone and alto trombone, together with the more primitive cornett, ophicleide and serpent. A martial beat is added for the more hawkish inhabitants of Voga, led by Vorus, as featured in “The Skystriker”, “Sarah and Harry Captured” and “Caves Chase”, while a mournful military march salutes the numerous human crew members of the space beacon who have died in the line of duty in “Return to Nerva Beacon”.

Many of Carey Blyton’s Cyber-themes are effective and memorable. These include the scratchy sound of the Cybermats (produced, I believe, by scraping a Latin American güiro), first heard at the end of “Return to Nerva Beacon” and again during “Cybermat / Unspool / Plague”, “Sarah vs Cybermat” and “Remote Control Threat”. Halfway through the story, the Cybermen themselves come to the fore, in the deep, ominous booms of “Boarding Party”, “The Beacon is Ours” and the end of “Cybermarch”. There’s a funereal quality to these tracks, which anticipates Malcolm Clarke’s more familiar compositions for the 1980s stories Earthshock and Attack of the Cybermen. Also eerily predicting the future is the beginning of “Loose Thinking / The Bomb”, which sounds rather like John Carpenter’s main theme for Halloween!

However, you may find yourself wishing that the march at the end of “Cybermarch” went on for longer. Producer Philip Hinchcliffe evidently felt the same way, which is why “Looped Cybermarch” was created. This extended track is presented among the additional, alternative and ‘enhanced’ cues that comprise the final 22 minutes of this 51-minute album. The producer (in his first year on Doctor Who) didn’t like Blyton’s experimental compositions, particularly his Vogan themes. (Director Michael E. Briant, on the other hand, must have known what to expect, having worked with Blyton a year earlier on Death to the Daleks, which had included an underwhelmingly comical theme for the Daleks themselves.) Hinchcliffe brought in an uncredited Peter Howell of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, to add more menace to the score.

Some of Howell’s ‘improvements’ work better than others. A lot of them feel out of place because they seem like they belong in another era of the show. For example, “Put That Gun Down (synth cue)” and “Remote Control Threat (alternative)” are more reminiscent of the Radiophonic Workshop and Dudley Simpson’s late ’60s and early ’70s work on stories such as The Invasion and The Mind of Evil than Simpson’s more acoustic compositions of the mid to late ’70s. Others, such as “The Red Zone (Random Organ)” and “Heartbeat Countdown II (synth cue)” sound like Howell’s later, credited work for Seasons 18 to 22. Several tracks, including “Sarah and Harry Captured (alternative)”, “One More Pull (alternative) and Vogan Gunfight” and “Caves Chase (alternative)” actually work against Blyton’s music rather than enhance it – the brief for these appears to have been, “Play the synthesiser as loudly as possible, to drown out the original.”

It’s Howell’s Cyber-additions that are the most successful, including three “Cybership” cues and two versions of “Looped Cybermarch”. It’s somewhat fitting that the cybernetic creatures should benefit from synthetic augmentation, and it’s these tracks that tended to make the grade and be included in the finished episodes. There’s also a special place in my heart for the two-part “Heartbeat Countdown” synth cue – when we were teenagers, my friend and fellow fan Jeff Watson (another reviewer for this site) joked that this repetitive rhythm was one of the catchiest tunes on the entire soundtrack!

With several more obvious Doctor Who greats having already been released by Silva Screen prior to the diamond anniversary, Revenge of the Cybermen is definitely one of the more niche scores. It’s not easy listening, and I wouldn’t recommend it as an entry-level purchase by or for anyone who’s just getting into Doctor Who. Nevertheless, this return to Nerva Beacon has its moments.

A vinyl release is set to follow on 08 December 2023.


Richard McGinlay

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