Robert Holmes inherited “Return of the Cybermen” from the previous production team and hastily re-wrote it as “Revenge of the Cybermen” for Tom Baker’s first season as the Doctor. If you’ve ever wondered if the original version might have been superior or inferior to “Revenge,” those questions can finally be laid to rest with the latest addition to Big Finish’s The Lost Stories line.
“Return of the Cybermen” uses most of the same building blocks as “Revenge” did — Cybermats, Cybermen, Nerva beacon used as a bomb to crash into a source of gold — but spins them in an entirely different way. Gone is the subplot involving Voga and its politics and in its place is a third-episode diversion to a lost colony of miners sitting on a stockpile of gold. “Return” eschews to the 60’s version of a Cybermen story with the metal monsters lurking around for much of the first portion of the story before finally arriving en mass to effect whatever nefarious plot they’ve cooked up this time. Each story introduces a new weakness for the Cybermen based on whatever the story decides is in abundance — in this case, it’s x-rays and gold.
“Return” isn’t necessarily any better or any worse than “Revenge” was. It’s a fascinating “what if” look at a story that has a fairly questionable reputation among Doctor Who fans. Tom Baker is on hand, sounding as if he walked off the set in the mid-’70s and he’s joined by Sadie Miller taking over for her mother as Sarah Jane Smith and Christopher Naylor as Harry Sullivan. Miler and Naylor do a fine job of channeling Liz Slader and Ian Marter respectively.
Alas, the story does not include the infamous line, “Harry Sullivan is an imbecile!” from the original. It may have been a bit of a stretch to include it here, but it might have been a fun little homage to hear Tom Baker deliver that line again after all these years.
“Return of the Cybermen” is an interesting curiosity in the canon. And while it feels a bit stretched out to run four episodes (so did “Revenge of the Cybermen” to be honest), it’s still worth giving a listen to if you’re even a little bit curious about what might have been.