Tom Baker’s first season as the Doctor was simply stellar. Not merely a breath of fresh air after Jon Pertwee had spent five years in the role, Baker was blessed with excellent companions in Sarah-Jane and Harry, and a strong set of stories.
The season concluded with this four-part story, which revisited the sets used for the second story from that Season, Ark in Space – mostly as a BBC cost-saving measure. This is a rare instance of the practice working well, as the TARDIS team arrive fresh from their adventures in Genesis of the Daleks to participate in a story that harks back to the base-under-seige style stories of the Troughton era.
Space Station Nerva is apparently afflicted with a plague, leaving only four crew surviving. In actual fact, there is a subtle game going on whereby the villianous Professor Kellman has the appearance of helping the Cybermen to destroy the Planet Volga – the fabled ‘planet of gold.’ In actual fact, Kellman is working for a faction of the Volgans, under the superbly aloof David Collings as Vorus, who aim to lure the last surviving Cybermen to the beacon and then destroy them with a rocket.
Into this predictably chaotic situation step the Doctor, Harry and Sarah – who as with much of the season become victims of circumstance and are involved because they have no choice – having arrived by Time Ring (a necessary plot device for the preceding story) they have to wait for the TARDIS to show up so that they can escape. Which turns out not to be so easy when Kellman tries to use a Cybermat to kill Sarah. Or when the Cybermen show up and attach a bomb of substantive power to the Doctor’s back.
Often this is not the best loved serial of Season 12 – indeed it is felt to be the weakest in the season, not least as the Cybermen don’t quite carry the same cold calculating menace that they had in previous serials (it certainly ruined it for me to learn that the Cyber Leader was portrated by Christopher Robbie, the chap who played the Karkus in The Mind Robber). I disagree on the whole, not just because I don’t really rate The Sontaran Experiment, but also because I think Revenge of the Cybermen is a largely fun and harmless jaunt, provided one overlooks the obvious plot-holes. It ticks along at a steady pace, with good incidental music, and a cast you have great empathy for.
This was a story I adored watching as a child on VHS, and still enjoy on DVD as a grown up. It may not be the greatest story in the world, but on the whole I think it deserves a better reputation than fans have credited it with!