Monday, August 11, 2014

Cyberman - Big Finish without the Doctor

Faced with a full day of driving, and with all of the audio series I'd already started currently on hold as I try and patch up my Classic Who knowledge, I was presented with a problem. What do I actually listen to? One idea was to carry on with the Fifth Doctor and Peri after Mission to the Viyrans, but since I'd already hit one major spoiler with that, and I figured going to the start of that period would probably be better anyway. And too big of a undertaking for today.

Or more Companion Chronicles since Rise and Fall was so enjoyable? Especially considering they're so standalone. Maybe one of the spin-offs? After loving Sword of Orion, I was intrigued by more tales of the Cyberwar in the Orion sector, especially after discovering it was an audio only conflict. It's just a shame I haven't pushed the Daleks far enough along.


After careful consideration I decided to go with Cyberman, purely because of the potential I saw in the Orion War. It also offered a nice break from the Third Doctor and his earth-bound period, something that had started to grate.

On reflection it was probably a mistake. Now I've got an eight episode series to deal with instead of loading up the ipod with a collection of one-offs and any I'd listened to would be a bonus. And I only got through two on that day.

Making matters worse was I didn't get what I was hoping for. I expected space opera, something like Sword of Orion meets Battlestar Galactica. What I got was political dealings (part 2) and instead of using the great setup of Sword of Orion we have a totally new approach to the humans using cybermen in their war.

And now a confession. I accidentally started with part 2. I was 40 minutes in when I realised my mistake, and I think it actually helped. Rather than the linear storytelling, I got a shot of something incredibly wrong and then a flashback filling in some of the blanks. Also it meant I opened with Cybermen attacking the androids, which has a bit more impact than a guy having to leave his girlfriend at 3 in the morning because of a mysterious phone call. A girlfriend who comes to play a more important role, but is practically forgettable in her first appearance. Honestly, if I didn't know her secret already I'd have almost ignored her.

Then again I managed to follow what was going on without that first part. It was just set up, and set up that wasn't really needed. A couple of points were clarified. But then maybe instead of blaming part 1, maybe part 2 was overly verbose, going into too much detail.

It’s strange then, that the series decides to do just that with Episode 3, jumping back to show the listener just how certain events and people came to the exact place we saw in Episode 2. But it feels too much here. Like the audience couldn’t be trusted to put 2 and 2 together. Every single detail is laid out for you just so you can understand plot points that are blatantly obvious.

The action I expected doesn’t really kick off until the final part and it just doesn’t work quite as well as anything Big Finish have done before. Especially since this is basically a continuation of one of their best I’ve heard, Sword of Orion, and shares the same writer, but never quite lives up to its predecessor.

There’s no real character to latch onto either. In part 1 the main character’s are clearly Paul Hunt and Karen Brett, but then from part 2 Liam Barnaby takes over. That one makes some sense because he at least was someone who got decent airtime in the first part as Brett’s second in command, and the shift to him as things escalate for the previous two at least flows. However the second character, Samantha, is a bit more jarring (or would be if I’d listened to the two parts correctly) as she’s the girlfriend from right at the start. The revelation that comes with her stepping up to the main character status more than justifies her place, but it still doesn’t quite work. Later on it’s clear she’s developed feelings for Liam - part of which is the concept of androids and humans can live alongside each other that the entire serial hinges upon - yet when her old boyfriend Prime Reordin (she gets about a bit) says he loves her she doesn’t even pause in her reply.

Obviously both Karen and Paul are still kept in the spotlight with very important roles, but towards the end, Liam tries to bring Karen back, and we get a glimpse that it’s worked. But nothing is really done with it. The pay-off is so anti-climatic and of little importance you can’t help but wonder why it was done. It had nothing to do with the resolution of what was going on and just felt tacked on. It was utterly pointless.

None of the characters, or the story telling in general, are helped by badly conceived internal monologue’s used to convey action and character thought, something in 14 serials of audio Who I have never heard, or felt needed. It’s a shame they felt the need here. Also some of them are utterly pointless, occasionally cutting to a monologue to explain something, but then have the character repeat the exact same thoughts to the people around him, in a more natural way.

I also want to complain about the music. It's pretty awful, but by that same measure it does a decent job of mirroring the music from Classic Who and wouldn’t feel that out of place in Tomb of the Cybermen or Earthshock. So I'm not going to bother.

But Cyberman was a chance to do something very different, something Classic Who could never afford, and New Who would struggle to give enough time to. Something where the inclusion of the Doctor would slightly ruin it. That of a full blown war against the Cybermen. Instead it’s trying too hard to be a Doctor Who story without the Doctor.

This serial has easily been my least enjoyed out of everything of Big Finish’s I’ve listened to so far. However, it ends with a whole lot of questions left unanswered so I’m going to listen to the sequel and hope that James Swallow can do more with the concept on the second series than Nicholas Briggs did.

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