The final story in the 12th season of Doctor Who, Revenge of the Cybermen is a often derided by fans as being a weaker effort at best and just plain rotten at worst. I've always been surprised by that. The two times I've seen it (the first time being in the late 70's) I've quite enjoyed the story, and this time is no different. While it does have a few problems (what Doctor Who adventure doesn't?) this story has a lot going for it including some great location shooting, the Cybermen, a solid story, and Tom Baker at the top of his form.
Traveling back to Space Station Nerva via time ring following the action at the end of the last story (Genesis of the Daleks), The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry find the station littered with the dead bodies of the crew. There are survivors, but only four: Professor Kellman, a planetary surveyor, Commander Stevenson, and crewmen Warner and Lester. They think that a plague has infected the station, but when Warner comes down with the illness The Doctor correctly deduces that it isn't an infection but a poison that has been killing the crew. Unfortunately he's too late to save the young officer.
When Sarah is attacked by a worm-like robot, a Cybermat, and injected with the poison The Doctor has Harry use the Transmat to beam them both down to the subterranean caverns in the planetoid that Nerva is orbiting, Voga. (Nerva is positioned there to warn off freighters that don't have the newly discovered object on their star charts.) The Doctor's plan works and Sarah is cured and Harry discovers something amazing: The ground is littered with pure gold. Before they can return to the space station however Harry and Sarah are captured by the (heretofore unknown) inhabitants of Voga. It seems they've stumbled into the middle of an internal power struggle between Vorus leader of the Guardians of the mines and Tymun, Chief Councilor of the race.
Voga is the legendary Planet of Gold, a world that is filled with the metal. Not only is gold valuable, but it's also the only substance that is poisonous to Cybermen, and Voga was the reason that the mechanical creatures lost the Cyberwar. Once the weakness had been discovered and the Glittergun invented, it was all over for the Cybermen. That made Voga a target however, from both fortune hunters and surviving Cybermen, so the Vogans retreated into the interior of the planet had hid. This has kept them safe for generations.
Vorus is tired of hiding though, and has come up with a plan that will make their race strong and proud once more. Along with Kellerman, he's come up with a plan to lure the last of the Cybermen into a trap: Space Station Nerva. Once there they plan to blow the station up ridding the galaxy of the Cybermen, but the Cybermen aren't so easily tricked. Once they're on the station the Cybermen reveal their plan to blow up Voga. The problem is that if either side wins, The Doctor or his companions will end up dead.
This adventure has taken its share of criticism over the years, and only some of it is warranted. I've often wondered if the dislike of this story is due to being overly familiar with the adventure. Revenge of the Cybermen was the very first Doctor Who story to be released to the home video market, in October of 1983, and fans had to wait until July of the following year for the second (a 60-minute edit of Brain of Morbius) and then the schedule was just one or two stories per year until 1990. That meant that Revenge was pretty much the only game in town, aside from the new episodes, and was viewed over and over. (In one of the extras a woman recalls how she'd rent the video and watch this story nearly every week!) It's hard not to spot errors and flaws that permeate most Doctor Who stories when put under that type of microscope. The classic Who never had a polished look, and that's a large part of the appeal. It's a case of fun, innocence, and not knowing how bad things would look overcoming budget and time constraints.
While I wouldn't argue that this is one of the best Doctor Who stories, it is still a lot of fun and well worth watching. The Cybermen are great villains, the best to come out of the show in my opinion (and the obvious inspiration for the Borg from Star Trek: the Next Generation) and while they don't necessarily shine here, they are still menacing. It's impressive to see a couple of Cybermen hold off the Voga troops without bothering to hide behind cover during the battle, and even The Doctor is sufficiently worried about them.
The Vogans are an interesting race that was developed very well. Vorus wasn't an evil person; he just had a different opinion about how their society should be run. It was easy to see both sides of the disagreement, and what's tragic is that both sides had a valid point of view.
The underground caverns were done well, since they wisely decided to shoot on location in some real caves. They gave the show an authentic feel that very few installments of the classic series had. The show wouldn't have been the same if it had been shot on a sound stage.
As for the critiques of the adventure, many of them are valid. Harry does come across as a bumbling buffoon, there are some plot holes (why can't the Vogans kill the invading Cybermen? They have tons of gold), the Cybermen do take too long to show up, and the Cybermats are rather silly creatures. But if you can't look past rather minor bumps like that while watching Doctor Who, it might not be the show for you. Just relax and enjoy the ride, it'll be fun.
The mono soundtrack has been cleaned up and is very good. It is nice and clear with no hiss or background noise to take away from the story. Being a mono track, there's really not much more to say about it.
The full frame video has been cleaned up by the Restoration Team and it looks good. The original cinematography wasn't that impressive, there are a few spots where whites bloom (when Cybermen catch a spotlight on a particularly shiny part of their suit for example) and the color design is very drab, but the disc reproduces that well. The colors are solid though and the level of detail is decent. This is an average looking Doctor Who disc.
Another great set of extras are included with this show. First off is a commentary track with producer Phillip Hinchcliffe, and actors Elizabeth Sladen, Rodger Murray-Leech and David Collings. It was a nice track, with some fun anecdotes about the filming and the various people involved. Phillip Hinchcliffe is pretty tough on the show, and seems to hate it more than most of the fans, which puts somewhat of a damper on things. Doctor Who commentaries are usually fun though, and this one is no exception.
As far as video extras go, the first one is just fantastic: Cheques, Lies and Videotape. This documentary runs nearly half an hour and discusses what life was like for Doctor Who fans before video recorders, DVDs, and official releases of stories. This is going to date me a bit, but I could totally relate to everything that was discussed. (I used to make audio recordings of Doctor Who and Monty Python in those pre-VCR days as is mentioned. Even after VCRs were available it was tough to get new Who episodes. I had a friend who knew someone in
Next up is The Tin Man and the Witch, a 25 min. making-of featurette. This was nice, though a bit too much time was spent on the possible haunting of the caves where part of this adventure was filmed. Come on guys, enough with the silly ghost stories. The rest of it was interesting, though Phillip Hinchcliffe takes even more pot shots at the story.
The Location Report was great, a vintage interview with Tom Baker on location. It's only 5 minutes long but a great addition.
There is also an 'info-text' option for each story. This is something that the other Who releases have and I'm a big fan of them. This pop-up text options allows viewers to read about the shooting schedule, changes between various story incarnations and the final version and learn about the history of the supporting actors. It's well worth watching, though it can be distracting so watch the story without it once.
The extras are wrapped up with a three minute Radiophonic Workshop music demo, a photo gallery, and the usual Radio Times listings.
I'm always surprised when fans deride this adventure. Sure, it has some flaws, but it's still a lot of fun and brings the Cybermen (who did not appear in the Pertwee era at all) back to the Who Universe. The extras are really good this time too, making this an easy disc to Recommend.