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25 March 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Gerry Davis (adapted by John Dorney)

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2021

Reviewed by: Robert Emlyn Slater for Doctor Who Online


"The Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan return to Space Station Nerva in search of the TARDIS. Instead they find peril, disease, and… Cybermen!

These cybernetic monsters have devised a plan to eliminate the greatest threat to their existence. And if the Doctor and his human compatriots do not play their part in this scheme, they are to be destroyed." 

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

Written by Gerry Davis, co-creator of the metal monsters from Mondas, and adapted by John Dorney, Return of the Cybermen is the story that never was. Initially intended to be made as part of the show’s 12th season back in 1975, Davis’ script was heavily rewritten by then-script editor, Robert Holmes. The reworked adventure aired as Revenge of the Cybermen in the end, and Davis’ original story was lost in time — until now. 

Thanks to Big Finish, Return of the Cybermen finally gives us a chance to see how Davis’ version of the story could have turned out if it hadn’t been so heavily changed 47 years ago. Bringing back the ever-popular TARDIS crew of the Fourth Doctor, Harry Sullivan, and Sarah-Jane Smith, Return of the Cybermen gives us an interesting and exciting side-step into an alternate Doctor Who universe, where we get a glimpse at what could have been in April 1975.

In short, this audio drama is about the Doctor, Sarah-Jane, and Harry returning to Space Station Nerva in search of the TARDIS. However, a deadly plague has swept throughout the station, killing most of the crew. When Cybermats attack the TARDIS team, the Doctor must face down his old enemies, the Cybermen, and make sure that they don’t get what they want. To smash the space station into an inhabited asteroid that is rich in gold. 

Return of the Cybermen is also significant in the fact that it sees the debut of Sadie Miller as Sarah-Jane Smith and Christopher Naylor as Harry Sullivan. With Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter sadly no longer with us, it’s down to Naylor and Miller to make us believe that they are the characters that we know and love already. It’s safe to say that they absolutely succeed in doing that. 

Sadie Miller, Elisabeth Sladen’s real-life daughter, undoubtedly has a tough job here in being asked to recreate the character her mother bought to life so beautifully, but I’m very happy to say that she is more than up to the task. Nicholas Briggs says it best in the behind-the-scenes feature at the end of the play. Whilst Miller may not sound exactly like Elisabeth Sladen, there are definitely moments during the story where the vocal resemblance is almost uncanny. It does take some getting used to, but Sarah-Jane is definitely in there, and that’s all that really matters. 

It’s a shame, however, that for a significant portion of the story, Sarah-Jane is out of action due to falling victim to the Cybermen’s plague. It almost reduces her to a damsel in distress, which is something I would expect more from some of the stories from the 60s, rather than from the mid-70s. 

Christopher Naylor also does an excellent job of capturing the voice and spirit of Harry Sullivan in this piece, and his banter with Sadie Miller’s Sarah-Jane is a joy to listen to. 

And, of course, Tom Baker is, as he always is, on top form, bringing a lighter, perhaps even sillier version of his Doctor to proceedings here. Hearing this TARDIS team back together again after so long was a wonderful experience, and one that I hope happens again in the not-too-distant future. 

The story rattled along at a nice pace, and I never found my attention drifting or waning. The first half of the story is a game of hide-and-seek of sorts, with the Doctor and Harry searching for the Cybermen aboard the station, whilst the latter half of the play is a race against time as everyone tries to thwart the metal monster’s plans. 

A particular highlight for me was the scene in the oxygen tanks, which was claustrophobic, creepy, and had me on the edge of my seat. The Cybermen advancing on the Doctor and Harry in the enclosed space, and the rising panic as they tried to escape was brilliant. And the reveal of the Cyber Leader smashing through the wall and revealing his plan gave me chills. He was menacing and sounded unstoppable, and that’s all down to Nicholas Briggs’ fantastic performance. 

Listening to the behind-the-scenes feature after the play, it was obvious how much of a passion project this release actually was for Briggs, with him acting, script editing, and doing the sound design too. 

I was particularly impressed with the sound design (again, the oxygen tank scene being a highlight), and the music seemed to have been dragged straight from the 1970s. Briggs well and truly knocked it out of the park with this one. 

Return of the Cybermen is an enjoyable, interesting look at what could have been, with great performances from the whole cast, Tom Baker, Sadie Miller, and Christopher Naylor in particular. Briggs’ Cybermen were a menacing presence throughout, and Kellman (Nickolas Grace) was a great villain for the Doctor to come up against. 

I for one would love to see some more alternate takes on classic stories if they’re going to be anything like this one. I’m also hoping for more adventures with the Fourth Doctor, Miller’s Sarah-Jane, and Naylor’s Harry Sullivan in the near future. The sixth series of The Lost Stories is definitely off to a good start! 


+ Return Of The Cybermen is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


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