Revenge Of The Cybermen
Working Title: Return Of The Cybermen.
Starring: Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Surgeon-Lieutenant Harry Sullivan).
The Doctor, Sarah and Harry return to the Nerva Beacon, but inadvertently appear thousands of years before they left. Whilst awaiting the arrival of the TARDIS, they discover the Beacon -- at this point in time used to direct interstellar traffic -- is overrun by a plague which has wiped out most of the crew. The culprits are the Cybermen, on a vendetta to destroy the deciding factor in humanity's war against them: Voga, the Planet of Gold.
Former script editor Gerry Davis had not written for Doctor Who since Tomb Of The Cybermen in 1967 when he was approached to write a four-part story for Season Twelve by outgoing producer Barry Letts and new script editor Robert Holmes. The Cybermen had been absent from the programme throughout the Pertwee era (except for a few brief clips), their last full-fledged story having been 1969's The Invasion. Davis was asked to write a cost-effective story marking the return of the monsters he had co-created with Kit Pedler (this would be the first time Pedler did not have any story input into a Cyberman story); Davis set to work on an idea called Return Of The Cybermen.
Davis began writing the story operating on the same principle he and then-producer Innes Lloyd had encouraged during their tenure on Doctor Who, by centering the action on one large set, with just a few smaller satellite sets. The story was originally situated on an interstellar casino, but Holmes and new producer Philip Hinchcliffe later asked Davis to revise his story to make use of the Nerva Beacon sets from The Ark In Space, the serial into production immediately before Revenge Of The Cybermen.
Because of the savings this move would incur, Davis was also asked to expand his story to include some new locations. Davis developed the idea of an asteroid made of gold which the Cybermen were out to destroy, which was home to some lost human prospectors. Holmes ended up considerably redrafting Davis' scripts, resulting in the title becoming Revenge Of The Cybermen instead. In particular, Davis replaced the human prospectors with an alien race called the Vogans.
The director selected for Revenge Of The Cybermen was Michael E Briant, who had last worked on Death To The Daleks the year before. The Cybermen were again redesigned for their comeback appearance, although the helmets were retained from The Invasion with only minor redesigns. Of note, the new character of the Cyberleader (in some ways hearkening back to the creatures' first appearance in The Tenth Planet) was given black "handlebars" on its helmet, a pattern which would be repeated in future Cyberman designs. The Cybermats were also completely reworked, in the hope that they would be both easier to manipulate and more threatening; unfortunately, Briant would ultimately concede that the attempt was a failure. Also of historical note, Revenge Of The Cybermen saw the first appearance of the so-called "Seal of Rassilon", a figure-eight-like design created by Roger Murray-Leach. Although appearing in this story as the symbol of the Vogans, Murray-Leach would reuse it two years later on his sets for the Doctor's home planet, Gallifrey, in The Deadly Assassin, from whence it would pass into popular Doctor Who mythology.
Production on Revenge Of The Cybermen began on November 20th, 1974 with location filming at the series of natural caverns called Wookey Hole in Somerset. This day of recording was plagued with problems: Elisabeth Sladen fell off a powerboat and was nearly drowned; her rescuer, stuntman Terry Walsh, fell violently ill afterward; and an electrician fell from a rock and broke his leg. Some, including Briant, would later chalk this up to the crew's mockery of the legendary "Witch of Wookey Hole". Briant would also later claim to have encountered the ghost of an Irish potholer who had perished in the caves three years earlier. Cast and crew then returned to the studio on December 2nd, where the story wrapped up under noticeably less supernatural circumstances.
Although the penultimate story of the twelfth recording block, Revenge Of The Cybermen was transmitted last, and concluded Season Twelve of Doctor Who with the broadcast of part four on May 10th, 1975. Originally, the season was to have continued with a six-part serial, but the BBC decided it wanted to Doctor Who's seasons to begin in the autumn instead of the winter, as had been the case since Season Seven. Consequently, the final story was held over, and would be transmitted instead as the four-episode Terror Of The Zygons at the start of Season Thirteen. Because the earlier start to the next season meant that pre-production and recording would also have to be done three months earlier than expected, the twelfth and thirteenth recording blocks would virtually run together, with no real pause between the two.
Also as a result of the change in schedule, Season Twelve became the shortest Doctor Who season to date, counting only twenty episodes. Nonetheless, it had seen something of a resurgence for the series, whose ratings had begun to decline slightly during Jon Pertwee's final season; it boded well for the future of the Fourth Doctor. And, although Revenge Of The Cybermen was not received particularly well by the people who made it, eight years later, in 1983, it would be chosen by fans as the very first Doctor Who serial released on home video.