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The Lost Stories range is back with Return of the Cybermen: a new story featuring the Fourth Doctor and, for the first time in a full-cast audio adventure, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan! Adapted from Gerry Davis‘ original script for Revenge of the Cybermen, this release gives us a new take on an old adventure… but is it any good? Read on to find out!
The Doctor, Sarah and Harry arrive back on Space Station Nerva after the events of Genesis of the Daleks, and find it much changed. A terrible plague has stricken the crew, the station is in quarantine and the TARDIS has gone missing! As the title suggests, the Cybermen are behind it all, but just what are their plans? Well, if you’ve watched Revenge of the Cybermen you’ll probably have some idea, but if you haven’t, you’ll have to listen and find out!
The plot of this one is generally quite straightforward. There’s no real major twists, or any complicated subplots; this is just a simple, strong bread-and-butter slice of Doctor Who. Your mileage may vary on whether that’s a good thing, but I very much enjoyed it and it fits well into the era from which its script originally came.
As I’ve said before, this story sees the audio debuts of Sarah Jane Smith (alongside Tom Baker, at least) and Harry Sullivan, who are brought to life here by Sadie Miller and Christopher Naylor respectively. Miller is absolutely uncanny in the role, perfectly filling her mother’s shoes. It’s not a straightforward impression, of course, with Miller putting her own spin on things, but on several occasions she sounds so much like Elisabeth Sladen it brought a smile to my face. I remember being absolutely devastated when she passed away, even though I was only ten at the time, because I’d grown up watching her every week on The Sarah Jane Adventures (and even met her once at my local shopping centre!) so it was truly wonderful to hear my childhood hero going on new adventures after all this time.
Naylor as Harry, meanwhile, is equally as good. The character isn’t nearly as iconic as Sarah Jane, of course, having only been in a handful of stories, but Naylor absolutely captures his voice and was the perfect choice to fill Ian Marter‘s shoes. This looks like it’s the start of a Harry renaissance at Big Finish, given he’ll be returning to the TARDIS in an upcoming series of Fourth Doctor Adventures, and, after this, I’m all for it!
Baker, Miller and Naylor are joined by a strong guest cast composed of Amanda Shodeko, Nickolas Grace, Robert Whitelock and Nicholas Asbury. Shodeko is particularly impressive, taking on the dual role of Anitra and Coetzee and doing such a good job at differentiating them that I had no idea they were played by the same actress until I read the cast list. The other actors are on top form as well, creating a strong ensemble for this story.
The Cybermen here, surprisingly, were the least effective part of the story. They don’t really do much, just stand around and talk, though they’re performed well as ever by Nicholas Briggs. I don’t think Revenge of the Cybermen is the highest-regarded Cyberman story in the first place, and this earlier version is no different as it doesn’t really show them off to their full potential.
Briggs also handles the sound design and music, about which he talks passionately in the behind the scenes feature. He does a magnificent job, perfectly emulating the style of music that the story would have had were it made back in 1975, while also bringing the script to life with some strong sound design. Fantastic stuff!
All in all, Return of the Cybermen is an incredibly nostalgic, era-accurate return to Season 12, perfectly recreating that time in the show’s history, complete with wonderful recastings of Sarah Jane and Harry. While the plot isn’t the most original or compelling, John Dorney adapts it well, and everyone involved brings it to life with some really fantastic performances. After all this time, it’s truly fantastic to finally hear the Fourth Doctor, Sarah and Harry back together fighting the Cybermen and, in spite of everything else, that’s what I loved about this story the most. Highly recommended.
Doctor Who: Return of the Cybermen is available now on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com