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20 August 2018

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Andrew Smith

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: July 2018

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

"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."

There was a real buzz online and through fandom when it was announced that David Banks and Mark Hardy were returning to the role of Cyber Leader and Cyber Lieutenant after so many years. Given that Banks had previously said no to a return, it felt all the more exciting that it was finally happening. When I saw that they were coming back in a script written by Andrew Smith, my interest was piqued further still as Smith is always a solid pair of hands and has done some good work for Big Finish in the past.

What is the end result though? Nothing special, sadly, but it has some very nice parts.

The play starts well with the Doctor landing in a deserted London, wryly wondering if dinosaurs have returned, and stumbling upon looters. Before long, and before it really does descend into a full-blown remake of Invasion of the Dinosaurs, UNIT arrive and the Doctor is shown the plight England is enduring and is then reunited with some old friends.

Hour of the Cybermen is a follow-up, of sorts, to The Helliax Rift, a play which roundly unimpressed me. You definitely need to have listened to that first to get any sort of emotional satisfaction out of this play, even if the plot mechanics do not carry over.

Blake Harrison and Russ Bain return as Daniel Hopkins and Lewis Price respectively, and both have changed a fair bit, with Price now written as likeable and Hopkins sombre after suffering a personal tragedy. There is some justification for Hopkins, but you have to question why they’ve gone down this route with Price as it doesn’t really fit in with what we had before, at all. That said, Price’s character was utterly ludicrous in Rift, so I suppose we should be thankful.

The plight mentioned earlier is a drought, which amused me. England has been enduring a heatwave with record-breaking temperatures, so the subject matter feels one step removed from being bang on the money at present. That said, the play was released on the day the hot weather broke and rain fell in some parts of the country, so depending on where you listened to it, it’s either a reminder of what’s outside the window, or a reminder of what was only the day before.

As you would expect from the play’s title, it turns out that the Cybermen are responsible for this state of affairs and it’s with them that the play’s true success lies. Smith writes for the 80s Cybermen really well. Their dialogue rings utterly true, all pomp and bluster despite protesting they have no emotions, and on paper you could read their lines and hear their voices without a moment’s hesitation. On paper. You’d think that having the original actors back to deliver them would make that dream a reality, but in truth it doesn’t quite work. It gets close, but the modulation used for the voices is a bit… off. Not massively, not earth-shatteringly, but definitely off. 70% there and 30% missing at the best of times, nearer 60-40 at the worst. It means you are continually noticing something isn’t quite right beneath the surface, even if Banks’ performance in particular is absolutely perfect, which is a real shame.

And then there is the rest of the play. The main issue with it is that a lot of the plot revolves around a traitor and about, ooooh, ten minutes into the first episode it is very obvious who that traitor is. The fact the others are in the dark is insulting to their intelligence and the listeners’, especially with the Doctor. The traitor’s lines, and especially their performance, robs the play of any suspense whatsoever. It kills the play dead as much of it - most of it, even - is reliant upon this being a shock or dramatic talking point, but because it isn’t a shock it lacks drama, and because it lacks drama, what you’re left with is a lot of people running around and the Doctor carefully and slowly explaining his plans and how clever he is in front of the baddies to substitute for the lack of visuals. This becomes an increasing problem as the play goes along, and the final two episodes in particular suffer enormously from this to the point where those episodes’ 31-minute-long running time felt like a bit of a chore.

Hour of the Cybermen is not a write-off by any means, thanks to the performance Banks gives and Smith’s dialogue for him, but once you take the thrill of the original actors returning and a decent opening episode, you’re left with something a bit empty. Approach with caution. 

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

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!

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