Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - Hour Of The Cybermen
July rounds off Colin Baker's current run Doctor Who adventures for Big Finish.This time its the sixth Doctor's turn to encounter the new UNIT team, introduced earlier this year in Peter Davision in The Helliax Rift, as they take on the might of the 80's Cybermen.
Hour of the Cybermen has been written by Andrew Smith and directed by Jamie Anderson. It's is available to download at the Big Finish site here and goes on general release on the 31st August. Here is the synopsis for this latest main range release...
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 extra-terrestrial.
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.
I'll be joined by my son Ben, a regular co-reviewer of the Doctor Who main range and one of the show's biggest fans...
Baz Greenland (aged 37)
80's Cybermen stories were never the strongest for these villains, or the show as a whole; Earthshock is perhaps the biggest stand out of them all, but fans fondness for this story is no doubt down to the death of a key character in the story's closing moments. Hour of the Cybermen features the return of the 80's Cybermen in style, offering not just a great tale for this enemy, but possibly the finest Doctor Who adventure this year. If Big Finish has been the chance to showcase just how great Colin Baker could be, then this story offers the same redemption for the Cybermen.
This entry features the return of the new UNIT team established in The Helliax Rift. While I found the medical officer Lieutenant Daniel Hopkins (Blake Harrison) a likeable character, the new team were far from the loveable solider types of the Pertwee or modern era. There was no Benton or Osgood to be found here (arguably Russ Bain's Corporal Lewis Price was downright aggressive). So picking up five years after that story - and with these two key characters established - Hour Of The Cybermen offers the opportunity for a bit of character redemption and progression.
And here's where the story plays its first hand. This is not the continuation of what could possibly be a long-running series of new UNIT stories, but a trilogy of tales featuring the rise and fall of Daniel Hopkins. Having played the companion to Davison's Fifth Doctor last time, here he is something altogether different, a man broken by the death of his wife and child, struggling to find a place in this world and throwing himself into his work. Price meanwhile, is softened at the edges, leading an investigation into the threat of a country-wide drought and actually calling for the Doctor to help rather than threatening him with the barrel of a gun.
The mystery of the drought creates an intriguing hook for the first part, the Doctor encountering half cyber-converted Riva (Frog Stone), who takes the place of Harrison as the companion role. There is a real sense of desperation, the UNIT alien-monitoring facility Cerberus failing to detect the real threat, while Riva and her comrade Atriss (Wayne Forester) hide on Earth, their shipmates dead and Riva having no memory of what has transpired. Throwing the Cybermen into the mix makes for a potent catalyst for drama, Harrison revealing his true traitorous self and murdering Price and Atriss at the end of part two offering a genuinely jaw-dropping cliff-hanger.
As for the Cybermen, they are a brilliant threat here, playing the long game having recruited an embittered Harrison to their cause and then developing technology that can literally evaporate the hydrogen molecules in water, something humans are mostly made out of. When they reveal themselves to Earth and give humanity the choice of slow painful death by dehydration or cyber-conversion, the stakes have never felt higher. The Cybermen have never quite matched the heights of the Daleks but this is one of their best tales, showing them to be an intelligent and patient as they are ruthless and merciless. Plus the booming voice of David Banks' Cyber Leader adds a nice bit of continuity too.
Hour Of The Cybermen is an expertly crafted and well-directed tale offering high stakes, shocking twists and an intense mystery and threat for the Sixth Doctor to solve. It's not the new UNIT continuation we all assumed this would be but that idea worked in the story's favour to shock and surprise the listener. The story ends with villain Harrison half converted and comatose by the story's end and I can't wait to see how his story plays out with Sylvester McCoy's Doctor later this year...
Ben Greenland (aged 12)
The last story in the Sixth Doctor trilogy in 2018 is my personal favourite of the year, with Lure of the Nomad coming close second. In that story, 'companion' Matthew Sharpe was revealed as a member of the Myriad, the alien enemy of that story. That was a big reveal, but not as successful because we hadn't seen Matthew before. But I think that idea works better here, with the reveal at the end of part two, that Daniel Hopkins has been working with the Cybermen. It gives more impact, because Hopkins had already featured in April's The Helliax Rift and been a good guy too. The end of the story also sets up an exciting last instalment of these UNIT stories when they meet the Seventh Doctor.
This story was thoroughly enjoyable with huge twists and a great plot. I loved the idea of the Cybermen eliminating water, forcing humanity to submit to Cyber conversion. It was really sad when Hopkins kills Price (I loved his "they may have no emotions, but have you noticed? They still scream when they die" line about the Cybermen). Finally, Colin Baker is on top form as always, bringing a better performance to the Sixth Doctor, showing he could have been so much more on TV...
At the end of part two is a set of four moody, atmospheric tracks that make up the Hour Of The Cybermen music suite. The first is delightfully heavy on synth chords, capturing the grim, somewhat OTT nature of the 80's Cybermen. The second is an enchanting, moody piece, haunting riffs very much in keeping of that era of Doctor Who. The third track is a fun mix of the two, clunky and heavy in the synth chords, while the fourth is 80's Doctor Who to a T with its atmospheric beats and heavy use of keyboard.
There is also a trailer for upcoming main range release Red Planets, featuring the return of the Seventh Doctor TARDIS trio in Sylvester McCoy's Doctor, Bonnie Langford's Mel and Sophie Aldred's Ace.
Finally, things are rounded off with a set of interviews with the cast and crew. There's a lot of great discussion about the appearances of the 80s Cybermen in stories Earthshock, The Five Doctors and Attack of the Cybermen, the latter of which featured Colin Baker's Doctor and of which he has fond memories of. David Banks and Mark Hardy who return to this original roles as Cyber Leader and Cyber Lieutenant offer many insights into playing these big bads.