Released in 2001 this was the second story for the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard and is also an example of an AudioVisual tale being re-purposed as a Big Finish story. Written and directed by Nick Briggs this of course stars Paul McGann and India Fisher and a sizeable cast including Barnaby Edwards, Toby Longworth and Mark Gatiss.
Why is this a classic? Read on and find out – given this release is more than twelve years old I may be generous with the spoilers. Be warned!
The synopsis from the Big Finish product page is as follows:
The human race is locked in deadly combat with the ‘Android Hordes’ in the Orion System. Light years from the front line, the Doctor and Charley arrive to sample the dubious delights of a galactic backwater, little suspecting that the consequences of the Orion War might reach them there. But High Command’s lust for victory knows no bounds.
Trapped aboard a mysterious derelict star destroyer, the Doctor and Charley find themselves facing summary execution. But this is only the beginning of their troubles. The real danger has yet to awaken.
Until, somewhere in the dark recesses of the Garazone System, the Cybermen receive the signal for reactivation…
Having been introduced in Storm Warning this is Charley’s first trip in the TARDIS and she ends up on Garazone with the Doctor. The story starts off based entirely on this fascinating location until the TARDIS ends up taken onboard the spaceship Vanguard by mistake which then means that the Doctor and Charley need to break into the ship and become stowaways. All this against a backdrop of human / android wars.
We then have a classic story of the Vanguard finding a storm damaged, abandoned Cybermen spaceship only to re-awaken the crew who begin to attack the Vanguard. The Vanguard itself is led by a new Captain Deeva Jansen who has many mysteries of her own.
As the plot unfolds we get cybermats, airlock battles and layer upon layer of revelation. The whole story is pure-play Second Doctor Cybermen in feel and matters are resolved as an ion storm hits the Cybermen’s ship solving the immediate problem.
There is a deeper conflict as well; Deeva is an android masking as an Earth Security agent so that she can make an alliance with the Cybermen against the human race or at least gain some of their secrets. This last reveal gives this story its unique character.
Having heard both the AudioVisuals version and this one I really like this story. The action builds along familiar lines and main characters are well realised. Some of the crew come across as stereotypes but I feel that they had to else the main plots would be crowded out.
This is almost a one-man production for Nick Briggs who also did the sound design and music (as he did on the AudioVisuals version) and in my opinion does a solid, atmospheric job.
Why is it Classic?
Opinion on various forums and review sites is mixed; many reviewers such as @wavenode and Doc Oho (his 1/10 review here). Taking a lot of the points made as true I’m still ‘so what?’ in my response. Much as I will listen to a band play live versions of 70s classics, re-watch old stories or even watch material just to be entertained I also love this story. It is atmospheric, has ideas that could sprout wings (such as Garazone and the human/android war) and works well for Charley’s first trip – we can focus on her and not the plot.
I wasn’t collecting Big Finish from the start but given this was a Paul McGann story and a Cyberman story this ticks lots of boxes – this is release #17 don’t forget; fans are still excited about the whole Big Finish piece.
It is almost entirely formulaic and from an idea Nick Briggs first produced back in the 1980s but even then it was popular.
I loved the original when I eventually heard it and this is also one of my favourites from Big Finish. It is Classic and even if you don’t like it is still an important early release.
Let me know what you think!
Tony, March 2013