aboard a derelict star destroyer, the Doctor and Charley are
accused of murder by a crew of hardened space-salvage workers.
Meanwhile, a far greater menace is slowly awakening: the Cybermen...
adventure is based on one of the Audio Visuals series of amateur
audio dramas from the 1980s. I have only had the pleasure
of hearing one of the AVs, and I am unfamiliar with the previous
version of Sword of Orion, but on the strength of this
remake, let's have some more! Writer Nicholas Briggs has smoothed
over some of the more sardonic and pragmatic aspects of his
own AV incarnation of the Doctor in order to tailor his script
to McGann's more overtly compassionate portrayal. The main
plot, however, shines through as a particularly sturdy example,
marred only slightly by a rather obvious revelation concerning
the curiously impeccable Deeva Jansen (Michelle Livingstone),
the captain of a rough-and-ready salvage crew.
with the 1982 TV Cybermen story Earthshock are almost
inevitable, owing to its setting on board a sparsely populated
spaceship and that old Doctor Who stock in trade: the
Doctor being accused of a crime he didn't commit. I was waiting
for someone to say, "On this ship we execute murderers!"
voices of the Cybermen, performed by Briggs and Alistair Lock,
are also distinctly '80s, subscribing to the David Banks school
of imbuing the supposedly emotionless creatures with a hint
of urgency, although Briggs and Lock manage to avoid the extremes
of the TV Cybermen's more emotional outbursts. The story takes
place some time after the Cyberwar described in Revenge
of the Cybermen (1975). The Doctor also informs us that
the forces on Telos are currently lying dormant in their "tombs"
(Tomb of the Cybermen, 1967), so perhaps the cyborgs
ought to have sounded like their 1960s or '70s models (a 1968
Invasion Cyberman is pictured on the CD sleeve). However,
Christopher Robbie's Cyberleader in Revenge just sounded
silly, while the 1960s voices had the problem of being frequently
incomprehensible. The important thing is that the Cybermen
provide a palpable threat, being coldly cunning as well as
difficult to kill (unless you happen to possess a weapon like
that belonging to the suspiciously well-armed Captain Jansen).
A tense atmosphere is heightened by some memorable incidental
music by that busy bee Briggs, who also directs the story.
His music imparts a sense of lurking danger and, once heard,
lingers in the memory for days thereafter.
McGann and India Fisher as companion Charley have quickly
settled into their roles as though they had been playing them
in a regular series for years. Ah, if only...