❉ It’s a Tom Baker double bill as two Lost Stories from the 1970s are brought to life in full cast audio form.
“This pair of Lost Stories is an interesting duo, two very different stories produced in two very different eras of the show, and in many ways they exemplify the two extremes of the Lost Stories range.”
Big Finish’s Doctor Who Lost Stories range has always been an interesting one, quite unlike any other range they’ve ever done. The script quality can wildly fluctuate from story to story (after all, some of these stories weren’t made for a reason), but in the end one of the big reasons the range exist is to satisfy that inner fannish curiosity, a glimpse at what might’ve been.
Return of the Cybermen is based on Gerry Davis’s original script for what later became Revenge of the Cybermen on TV, and unusually for the Lost Stories range, isn’t really a lost story as such. For the most part Return is broadly very similar to Revenge, a lot of the same plot beats are there, but it’s all the little details that really make Return stand out from Revenge, the biggest changes being that the Cybermen are onboard Nerva from the start, and that instead of spending most of the story on Voga and a Vogan Civil War, we spend two scenes on an unnamed asteroid with a bunch of trapped human miners.
In that respect Return feels a lot closer to the original intention of what the story was meant to be, inexpensive to make, primarily using pre-existing sets, and maybe a day or two of location filming featuring a handful of actors (as opposed to the vast swathes of impressive Wookey Hole filming we’re all familiar with). Unfortunately, this does rather mean that, script-wise at least, Return definitely feels a bit lesser than Revenge, which was always sort of going to be inevitable.
This is one of the frustrating things about the Lost Stories range, a weak script can hold back an otherwise fantastic release, because Return of the Cybermen is an absolutely brilliant production. You can tell Nicholas Briggs had a lot of fun working on this release. His love of Revenge really shines through not only in his music, sound design and direction, but in his Cyber-performances. He manages to do something remarkable: A sassy Cyber-Leader that still comes across as emotionless and threatening.
Across the board the cast’s performances are top notch, from Nicholas Asbury’s Commander Svenson to Nickolas Grace’s Kellman (Boy, there sure are a lot of Nicks working on this one), but the standout performances come from the three regulars, Tom Baker’s Doctor and Christopher Naylor and Sadie Miller as Harry and Sarah. Tom Baker is of course amazing, no need to go into detail, but Naylor and Miller really capture the essence of their characters perfectly, their chemistry is evident right from the beginning. I eagerly await hearing this trio again soon!
Jumping ahead four years, John Lloyd’s The Doomsday Contract is about as far away as you can get from Return of the Cybermen, not only in terms of time, nor as being a wholly original unmade tale, but also by being eye-wateringly expensive to have made in 1979. People often like to compare Douglas Adams’ script-edited Doctor Who as being like The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but really outside the humorous nature of it, the comparison rather falls flat. The Doomsday Contract is as close to Hitchhikers as you could ever get in Doctor Who without getting a lawsuit from the estate of Douglas Adams (or reading Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen). I could summarize the story, but in doing so would be a great disservice to the story and would just result in me listing jokes. I was laughing from start to finish, and not only that, but every single joke strand weaves together to form one of arguably the most ingenious and satisfying endings to a Doctor Who story ever.
Like Return of the Cybermen, Briggs’ direction of The Doomsday Contract is top notch, with the (fabulous) sound design and music being handled by Howard Carter this time, giving The Doomsday Contract a really distinct vibe from the previous story. The massive and diverse cast of characters in the story all do a fantastic job, with Paul Panting’s Smilax being the standout performance. Given the fact Big Finish have used Mark Seven from previous Lost Story Daleks – The Destroyers in other plays, hopefully that means we could see more of Smilax in the future!
This pair of Lost Stories is an interesting duo, two very different stories produced in two very different eras of the show, and in many ways they exemplify the two extremes of the Lost Stories range. When it comes to Return of the Cybermen, your mileage will vary. It’s about as good as Revenge of the Cybermen overall, in some ways it’s a bit better, in others it’s not. I do recommend it, but keep in mind what I’ve said. Whereas The Doomsday Contract is quite possibly one of the best releases Big Finish have ever had, a laugh riot from start to finish, and a deeply satisfying story to boot. It’s up there with Farewell Great Macedon, The Elite, and countless other Lost Stories in the category of If it had been made, it would’ve been considered one of the best of all time. I can think of no higher compliment to pay it than that.
❉ ‘Doctor Who – The Lost Stories: Return of the Cybermen’ and ‘Doctor Who – The Lost Stories: The Doomsday Contract’ are now available to own as collector’s edition 2-disc box sets (at £14.99 each) or downloads (at £12.99 each), exclusively from www.bigfinish.com.
❉ Stephen Brennan has been writing for fanzines and charity anthologies for some time. A writer by day, a game developer by night, they can be a bit of a grump, but with a mischievous twinkle in their eye that lets you know they aren’t all bad.