Friday, 16 November 2018
Inspirations - Revenge of the Cybermen
Writer Gerry Davis' last contribution to Doctor Who was in script editing the first three episodes of Evil of the Daleks, back in 1967, before handing over to Peter Bryant. His co-creations, the Cybermen, had last appeared in The Invasion, in 1968. Since then they had only been seen in a small cameo in the final episode of The War Games, and another in Carnival of Monsters - their first appearance in colour. Being silver, colour TV never did enhance their image that much.
Davis had revisited the series recently, but not for the TV programme. He had been commissioned to novelise The Moonbase for Target Books - appearing in the shops as Doctor Who and the Cybermen. This would have brought him into the orbit of Letts and Dicks, who were closely associated with the early run of books.
Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks had considered bringing the Cybermen back for Frontier In Space, the first half of the massive 10th Anniversary celebration. They would have taken on the role which eventually went to the Ogrons in the story, being used by the Master to raid the Earth and Draconian spaceships. We know this because there exists in one of Steve Cambden's excellent books a VFX sketch from this story of a Cyberman using a gun to cut through a bulkhead door.
A Cyberman had featured on the cover of the Radio Times 10th Anniversary Special, but it had been a bit of a hotch-potch of costumes from different eras - with an Invasion helmet and a Tomb body. This variant had then been used for the first of the Weetabix promotions - with this costume coupled with a pose from the famous St Paul's Cathedral steps photograph from The Invasion - and it also formed the basis for the design of the Palitoy Cyberman (the one with a nose).
That Radio Times special edition had included a piece by Letts promising fans the return of the Ice Warriors, and of the Cybermen. However, the latter would not be back until Tom Baker and Philip Hinchcliffe's first season.
We've already said how Season 12 was to have a number of popular monsters in it, to ease viewers into accepting Jon Pertwee's replacement.
We've also mentioned the money-saving plan to have two stories set in the same location - thus utilising the main sets twice. Revenge of the Cybermen was recorded immediately after The Ark in Space, and before Genesis of the Daleks, in order to facilitate this. The latter story had to have a scene inserted showing Sarah finding some new clothes to change into in order to maintain continuity, as there was no TARDIS to explain a different costume.
Genesis had seen the Doctor, Sarah and Harry diverted to Skaro by the Time Lords, one of whom gives the Doctor a Time Ring to return them to the space station once his mission has been accomplished. The Ring malfunctions, and they arrive many centuries too early, when Nerva is fulfilling a different function - that of a navigation beacon. It is never explicitly stated, but the Ring has not gone wrong at all. This is clearly another Time Lord mission.
Davis' initial storyline involved a casino in space, which the Doctor and his companions would find to be deserted when they arrived. Robert Holmes was not happy with the scripts, feeling that the single location was not working. Presumably the Cybermen's aversion to gold was something which survived from the initial idea - as a casino would have lots of it. The deserted space station notion was also retained - in part. Instead of it being totally empty, the Doctor and his companions find most of the crew dead, with only four survivors remaining. The biggest change Holmes made was to have the whole Vogan sub-plot added. The planet of gold, with its warring factions of subterranean dwellers, never featured in Davis' original storyline.
One of the things about Cyberman stories in the classic era is that they often borrow from each other. We'll see this reach its nadir when we get to the Colin Baker era. In Revenge of the Cybermen we see the return of the Cybermats - introduced in Tomb of the Cybermen, and last seen in The Wheel in Space. They had been absent from the Cybermen's last outing. The Cybermats are spreading a neurotropic virus amongst the space station crew - victims having discoloured lines appear across their hands and faces. This artificial plague infection was seen before - in The Moonbase - when contaminated sugar had been to blame. The wheel-like space station setting is obviously similar to The Wheel in Space. The use of human traitors to further their plans comes from Tomb of the Cybermen (Kaftan and Klieg) and The Invasion (Tobias Vaughn and Packer).
The series had never featured a Cyberleader before - but that Target novelisation had. There is a black helmeted Cyberleader in the book.
The story has come in for a lot of criticism from fans - starting with the title. Revenge is a human emotion, and the Cybermen aren't supposed to have emotions. A fair point, but we could be kind and point out that the Cybermen never actually use the word, and it could refer to the Vogans' fear of revenge. As creatures of pure logic, there is nothing wrong in the Cybermen wanting to destroy the thing which caused them to lose a war - thus preventing it from happening again.
We also have the performances of the Cybermen - or rather the performance of the Cyberleader (as played by Christopher Robbie, who had previously appeared as the Karkus in The Mind Robber).
He struts about the station with his hands on his hips, getting angry with the Doctor and doing a fair bit of gloating. Again, we can excuse this if we remember that these Cybermen are the beaten survivors of that war - the pathetic bunch of tin soldiers skulking around the universe in an antiquated spaceship.
Perhaps at the end of the war the Cybermen were not able to carry out complete conversions, and so left more human elements intact. They're not as "pure" as the ones seen in the Troughton stories. It should also be noted that this is the first time that the Cybermen are voiced by the actors inside the costumes - on all previous occasions the voices being dubbed on afterwards.
When it came to making this story, Michael Briant went to the costume store where he was promised half a dozen Cyberman costumes. What he found there were in a very poor state, and so new ones were ordered. He wanted at least six, but the budget would only run to four, one of whom was given the black paint-job to become the Cyberleader.
One thing Briant did insist on was location filming in some real caves, and he selected Wookey Hole, a cave system which lies close to Wells in Somerset. A number of important paleolithic finds have been discovered here, and it is very popular with potholers. This story inspired a famous League of Gentlemen sketch - a monologue from Mark Gatiss as a rather bored cave guide, who mentions that back in the 1970's the caves he's showing had been awash with Cybermen.
The caves have a rather supernatural reputation, and this is one of the things which always gets mentioned when people talk about the making of Revenge of the Cybermen. One particular rock formation is known as "The Witch of Wookey Hole", due to its shape. Visitors are advised not to disrespect it, otherwise they may face bad luck. One of the BBC electricians put a cape and pointed hat on the Witch, and subsequently fell off a ladder and broke his leg.
Ian Marter and Lis Sladen were puzzled by a section of their script and decided to ask Briant about it later, marking the passages of concern. When they saw him later, they could no longer find the marked section in their scripts. Lis later almost drowned when one of the small skimmer motor boats went out of control. She had to be rescued by stunt man (and Cyber-performer) Terry Walsh.
Most spooky of all was when Briant did a recce of the caves. He was left alone for a time after the system had been locked up for the night, and came across a potholer. When he enquired at the exit about why someone else was down there when he was supposed to be on his own he was told that no potholer had gone in, or come out. A cave diver had drowned in the system some years before, and his ghost had been seen on a couple of occasions...
Fortunately the studio recording went a lot more smoothly. There is one sequence where we see the captive Doctor, Stevenson and Lester sitting on the floor. Lester holds his ears, the Doctor his eyes, and Stevenson his mouth. This was a visual joke on the three wise monkeys who "see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil". In Japanese mythology, the monkeys are Mizaru, who covers his eyes, Kikazaru, who covers his ears, and Iwazaru, who covers his mouth. A very similar maxim can be found in China, ascribed to Confucius. The connection to monkeys comes from the -zaru suffix of the names above, being close to "saru" - monkey in Japanese.
Briant cast the actor Alec Wallis as crewman Warner, who is seen operating the radio. Wallis had previously appeared in the programme as another radio operator - Bowman in The Sea Devils, which was also directed by Briant.
For the Vogan Guild Chambers, and Vorus' costume, designer Roger Murray-Leach came up with a figure-8 motif in a Celtic design - inspired by illustrations in the Book of Kells. When the same designer came to work on The Deadly Assassin two years later, he simply reused this design for the Time Lords, for whom it has now become more famously known as the Seal of Rassilon.
We can find an explanation for this design turning up twice in narrative terms. We pretty much know that the Time Lords have sent the Doctor to Nerva Beacon at this earlier point in time deliberately, as it would otherwise be a massive coincidence that he just happened to turn up at this crucial juncture. Besides, how could the Doctor have saved the solar flare survivors in the far future if the space station had been destroyed in the past? There would have been a massive paradox, and the Time Lords don't like these. We could perhaps surmise that the Time Lords intervened in some way to save the remnant of Voga at the end of the Cyberwar, and its natives adopted one of their symbols in recognition of this help.
Another clue as to the Time Lords working behind the scenes here is the fact that the TARDIS just happens to finally turn up as soon as the threat is over and the Cybermen have been destroyed.
There is a message from the Brigadier waiting for the Doctor inside (the ticker tape is clearly seen hanging inside the Police Box prop - ready for Tom Baker to wrap it round his neck before stepping back out). This was to have led directly into the final story of the season, which would have seen Harry Sullivan depart from the show once the TARDIS returned to contemporary Earth. UNIT would therefore top and tail the season.
Having got wind of a new Gerry Anderson series which might prove to be a genuine threat to Doctor Who, it was decided to end Season 12 prematurely and hold that final story back to open the next, which would begin earlier than usual - before the Anderson series had got started.
Next time: Hoots mon! The Doctor finally meets the Loch Ness Monster. Director Douglas Camfield makes a welcome return to the series after a six year absence (so Dudley Simpson isn't asked to do the music). Lots of Scottish stereotypes on show. There is even a Caber, but it's Harry who gets tossed...
... off the top of a barn. Honestly, minds like sewers you lot.