Big Finish: Doctor Who - CYBERMAN Series 1 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Big Finish: Doctor Who - CYBERMAN Series 1 Review

Excellent, says Matthew.

Today it seems there is a myriad of Doctor Who spin-offs on offer from Big Finish. Once upon a time, and not that long ago, that wasn't the case. Those heady early days of the spin-off ranges saw some extraordinary work come to pass. One of those being the first season of Cyberman, written and directed by Nicholas Briggs, with its very different take on the idea of Cybermen infiltration and invasion.

The series takes place against the background of the Android War in Orion, first mentioned in the early Eighth Doctor-Cybermen audio Sword of Orion. That war is still ongoing and is going badly for humanity, who fear extinction at the hands of their creations. Humanity needs an edge, as military leaders Admiral Karen Brett (Sarah Mowatt) and Commander Liam Barnaby (Mark McDonnell) are all too aware. When the mysterious Paul Hunt (Barnaby Edwards) appears offering up the secretive Scorpius Project and a series of predictions that soon come true, deliverance seems at hand. But as Hunt’s influence pulls the old friends apart, and his former lover Samantha Thorne (Hannah Smith) attracts Barnaby's attention, all is not what it seems. Into this decade's long conflict, one of humanity's oldest enemies is looking to rise again, and this time the Doctor isn't around to stop them.

Though released across four months and four discs in the days before boxsets became the template, Cyberman is very much a serial in four episodes. The opening entry, Scorpious, sets up the world, fleshing out the elements used in Sword of Orion. From there, a mystery builds around the mysterious Scorpious project, and how it will eventually intersect with the titular creatures, almost forgotten by humanity. What begins as something of a thriller turns into a race against time, culminating in the finale episode Telos where things continuously go from bad to worse again and again for an hour. Having four hours of running time to play with is something that Briggs uses to his advantage, creating an incredible but bleak vision of the future.

It's something which allows him to play with some big ideas. On the one hand, this is a war story and one which explores what being in such a long-running and expansive conflict does to a person. The answers aren't necessarily pretty, as a scene that comes roughly fifteen minutes into the opening episode proves. It's also that very thing, and the repercussions of it upon those inflicting it, that ultimately plays right into the hands of the Cybermen. That casual inhumanity gets an interesting contrast when we do meet the androids whom they've been fighting against who, with shades of Blade Runner, might be more human than human. All of which comes to a head in that beautifully ambiguous final scene that works on its own even with a second season following in its wake some years later.

Briggs' tale also plays to the strengths of the Cybermen as a threat. Early episodes keep them, and their Cyber Planner for that matter, in the background to a large extent, bringing them out at just the right moments to add menace and mystery. It's here that Briggs does some fascinating things with these creations, having these masters of cold logic become not only manipulators of the strategic situation but also the emotions of human characters as well, pushing them toward actions that suit their purposes. Some might be disappointed that they don't feature more prominently upfront, but it's something that suits the story Briggs is trying to tell.

It's in the latter half, and especially in the final episode, they come out into the open, presented as a full-on force that is nigh-on unstoppable. It leads to some impressive and even gruesome moments that might make more squeamish listeners grateful that they're hearing rather than seeing events. It's everything that a dedicated fan of the Cybermen as a Doctor Who monster could hope for, especially with the Doctor themself not there to stop them. Not to mention written by someone who has an implicit understanding of just how to make these silver terrors all the more effective.

The icing on the cake, as is so often the case with Big Finish, is just how well it comes to life. The cast, led by Dalek Empire veterans Sarah Mowatt and Mark McDonnell, proves more than up to the task. The two of them, in particular, step out of the shadows of their characters in that series to create two very different ones here. Listening to their friendship slowly coming apart, and the actions that lead to it, form the emotional heart of the season. The supporting cast is equally strong from Barnaby Edwards as the duplicitous Paul Hunt to Hannah Smith's not quite what she seems Samantha Thorne to the likes of Toby Longworth and Ian Brooker in multiple roles. Then, of course, is Briggs himself as the voices of anything and everything Cyber across the series, recreating those late sixties era vocalizations to maximum effect, giving the Cybermen significant presence in the process. Combined with a sparse musical score and sound design, the result is a well-realized universe brought to life superbly.

The first season of Cyberman is one of those overlooked gems hidden away in the mountain of dramas Big Finish has produced. Nicholas Briggs created a compelling set of characters and stories, exploring how desperate times can seemingly call for desperate measures, and the dangers that lie down that road. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the old saying goes. With that hell, though, also comes hope.

And, eventually, a sequel boxset. More about that later, I should think.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad