Big Finish: Doctor Who SCOURGE OF THE CYBERMEN Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who SCOURGE OF THE CYBERMEN Review

Matthew Kresal is under siege.
Though best known for their full-cast audio dramas, Big Finish have been dipping their toes into audiobooks for quite a while now. So it's perhaps unsurprising that after producing numerous Short Trips and full length audiobooks for other ranges such as Bernice Summerfield and Blake's 7, they would do so for Doctor Who at some point. After all, the long-running BBC series is their bread and butter. And with Scourge of the Cybermen, the company launches their Audio Novels range with a bang.

Written by veteran Big Finish writer (and BBC Books novelist) Simon Guerrier, Scourge of the Cybermen is an evocative tale. Set in a sea base beneath the ocean of an alien world, Guerrier puts the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith into what might have been a Second Doctor base under siege tale, complete with the silver foe. Yet Guerrier finds something new to do with the Cybermen, including creating in prose images that would be as iconic as their marching down the steps of St Paul's if this was on screen. Meanwhile, Guerrier's sense of atmosphere echoes both stories from that final Third Doctor season and from earlier in his era, with the action sequences reminiscent of his first season. Intriguingly, it also follows hot on the heels of another nautical base under siege tale for this TARDIS duo in the form of The Gulf from the latest Third Doctor Adventures set. Guerrier's audio novel, however, is a different kettle of fish from that story, though it's one of those odd coincidences in themes that pops up from time to time with output as vast as Doctor Who tends to have.

It's evocative in other ways, as well. Given elements of the plot, especially the initial threat that appears, it's hard not to think of Scourge as among the first Doctor Who responses to recent events, particularly with discussions of shortages and mob mentalities. It's by no means at the forefront, but it's a subtext that runs throughout that gives this an immediacy which helps roots the seemingly fantastic in reality. Elsewhere, Guerrier knows how to write solid action sequences, including one battle scene (which the author credits to editor Roland Moore in the extras) that echoes combat in the Vietnam War with the sense of an enemy unseen but capable of reaching out and striking without warning. Elsewhere, the cast of characters, including the seabase commander and security chief, brings to mind characterizations from Modern Who. It's a superb mix of elements and something that Guerrier handles well for the most part.

"For the most part," because as strong as it is, Scourge of the Cybermen does suffer from much the same problem as the six-part TV adventures that Guerrier and producer David Richardson consciously echo in their work. Namely, it's perhaps a tad longer than it needs to be, with the plot beginning to wear thin around halfway through. Even towards the end, as the finale plays out in an extended series of action sequences worthy of a big-budget movie (let alone a mid-1970s BBC television budget), there's a sense that events are unfolding not at a more natural pace but instead dictated by a set running time. There's still plenty of thrills and twists to be had, including clues that this reviewer entirely misread to his surprise in one of the cliffhangers, yet one wonders if this might have been even better if it had been a leaner, tighter tale.

It's also, in Big Finish tradition, exceedingly well-realized as a production. Jon Culshaw, who read Terror of the Master released earlier this year in what almost seems to have been a pilot for this range, returns as narrator. As was the case there, Culshaw proves to be an adept audiobook reader, whether he's presenting his impeccable Third Doctor impression or bringing thrilling underwater action scenes to life. He's given able backing by Nicholas Briggs voicing an entire army of Cybermen, bringing these tyrants of logic to life with all of their menace intact. Steven Foxon, who did the sound design and music for Terror of the Master, returns as well, heightening the atmosphere without ever getting in the way of prose or performer.

While it may have benefited from being more tightly paced, Scourge of the Cybermen is a fine first outing for the Audio Novels. Guerrier crafts a wonderfully done Third Doctor base under siege tale, showing how this Time Lord of action deals with a familiar foe in a story that resonates in our current world. Combined with Culshaw's superb reading and Foxon's atmospheric soundscapes, it's a story worth seeking out for fans of both audio and literary Doctor Who.

Doctor Who: Scourge of the Cybermen is available to purchase from the Big Finish website.

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.

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