Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Revenge of the Cybermen (1975)

I can't deny that I tend to be at the front of any crowd of irate forty something fanboys queuing up to jump up and down on the talents of Russell T Davies. It would, in fact, be the biggest lie since Nick Clegg claimed he always said he'd work with the Tories to deny that I think virtually everything Davies has done with Doctor Who has been entirely to its detriment. I'm sure he's a lovely guy, kind to animals and friend of children everywhere, but I find his writing saccharine, his plotting non-existent to the point of contempt and his characterisation as shallow and unappetising as a puddle of spilt beer. More than all of that though, I find his many little 'innovations' make my skin crawl and leave me irritated and annoyed.

The reliance on the sonic screwdriver/gun and its unfailing ability to open any door except when it can't; the way that psychic paper gets the Doctor into any building except when it doesn't; the adoration the Doctor has for humanity except when he loathes it - even the squabbling companions and their soap opera dull lives, the early painful slapstick, Davies' belief that a mysterious or hard to pronounce title/name/law is somehow more science fiction than space ships - and the introduction of the pointless and unimaginative cliff hanger.

Every one of those has, at one point or another, had me frothing at the mouth like a mentalist.

And yet...

I've been watching the brilliant Revenge of the Cybermen, one part of the greatest run of stories in the history of Doctor Who (from Ark in Space to Terror of the Zygons, inclusive, for those interested) and if you ask me it's the closest thing to proto-RTD Who we see in the show prior to the King of Wales himself turning up in 2005.

Time for a spoddy checklist...

1. Baker employs the the Sonic Screwdriver in a pretty gun-like manner, using it to to cut out a metal lock and to blast cybermats, like a scene from a BBC Dr Who on-line game. Worth noticing the amount of early-RTD style slapstick round this same door, too.

2. Harry and Sarah fill the Mickey and Rose roles thirty years early, doing all sorts of action stuff in the gaps between bickering like fond lovers (odd nobody has ever written a Past Doctor novel with that possibility as its basis, now I think about it).

3. Baker pre-empts Eccleston and Tennant's happy abuse of Mickey as he shouts 'Harry Sullivan is an imbecile' at one point, while his threat to infect Kellman with the cyber plague has a degree of sheer menace and apparent willingness to inflict pain not seen again until Eccleston with the Dalek in 2005.

4. Has there been a more RTD cliffhanger in old school Doctor Who than that between episodes one and two? The Doctor is trapped in a room filling with gas, apparently doomed to a slow, lingering death.

So he opens the door.

A more Davies' style cliffhanger it's hard to imagine...

And finally five - the 'Armageddon Convention'? Why not the 'Shadow Proclamation' instead?

Obviously I'm exaggerating for effect. In two hours of any Doctor Who story, there are bound to be a little things I could point to and claim a 21st century sensibility for, but that doesn't mean that those elements aren't there in Revenge.

But it's also more than that.

There is a bit of slapstick when the Doctor opens the first metal door, but that's all - it's not a five minute scene of Plastic Mickey acting like the robot Santa in Santa Clause 2.

The Doctor does zap a cybermat with his sonic screwdriver, but only one and not a whole host of Cybermen with one John McClane-esque shot.

The Doctor does call his male companion an idiot a couple of times and pretty obviously prefers Sarah, but he doesn't feel the need to balance that out with a ten minute speech about just how great everybody is.

The cliffhanger is still rubbish, though.

Other bits which stick in my mind...

'Fragmentise? I suppose we can't expect decent English from a machine' - a line which, in its very mundanity, gives Revenge a more genuinely futuristic feel than any number of Nightmare Childs and Jagrefesses

Some great use of one screen overlaid over another prop to give the appearance of a futuristic surveillance system.

The cybermats are rubbish, in contrast - nowhere near as effective as those seen in Tomb of the Cybermen, a fact which is most plainly made when one slithers out from under the body of a dead crewman. It should have been creepy and horrible, like some silver insect burrowing through dead flesh, instead it's faintly comical (especially if you spot the fact that every other 'corpse' is in fact a dummy).

And - most importantly of all - if the Vogans are hiding from the Cybermen, why don't all their guns fire gold?

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