It was the first full-length BBC novel of the revived era to pit the Doctor against the Cybermen. Although they had also featured in print in the 2007 Quick Reads novella Made of Steel, as well as numerous short stories, their last appearance in a standard novel had been in Illegal Alien in 1997.
When the Doctor arrives in the 19th-century village of Klimtenburg, he discovers the residents suffering from some kind of plague - a 'wasting disease'. The victims face a horrible death – but what's worse, the dead seem to be leaving their graves. The Plague Warriors have returned.
The Doctor is confident he knows what's really happening; he understands where the dead go, and he's sure the Plague Warriors are just a myth. But as some of the Doctor's oldest and most terrible enemies start to awaken he realises that maybe – just maybe – he's misjudged the situation.
In the village of Klimtenburg, just as another storm is about to begin, Stefan is digging a grave for one of the many villagers who has been the latest victim of Klimtenburg's mysterious plague. His shovel strikes something which he unearths and finds it to be a metal arm – which starts moving. It grabs Stefan's throat and kills him by strangulation.
In Gustav's tavern, the villagers finally begin to notice a stranger who they have seen around the village before, but not paid him much attention to. When they learn the man is a doctor – the Doctor – Old Nicolai and Klaus take him to investigate some of the deaths. Collecting a schoolteacher named Olga along the way, the group examines Stefan's body which is missing a leg, which the Doctor notes has been cut off expertly. They then go to examine Magda who is dying of the plague. Her body is discoloured and she is wearing a Talisman. The Doctor asks about it and Olga explains that Vadim, one of the first victims, found many metal pieces near the churchyard and his wife Nefta made them into jewellery. Many of the villagers have one. The Doctor identifies the Talismans as pieces of metal from a Hapthoid reactor unit and the plague is actually Hapthoid Radiation Sickness. They leave to collect the rest of the Talismans to stop others catching the sickness, leaving Magda who has already died.
In her living room which also acts as her classroom, the Doctor and Olga convince one of her pupils, Jedka, to give up her Talisman. With the help of the other children, all of the villagers' Talismans are quickly collected. The Doctor then decides to investigate the source of the metal and when Olga tells him Stefan wasn't the first to be murdered by the “Plague Warriors”, the Doctor fetches Klaus and Nicolai and goes to search the churchyard. They dig up Liza's grave and find her body stolen from her coffin and the entrance to a tunnel has been left open. Before getting the chance to search it, some town guards arrive and tell the Doctor he has been summoned to Klimtenburg castle.
Another storm begins as the Doctor and Olga arrive and the guard captain, Caplan, takes them to Lord Ernhardt who asks for help with his ill son Victor. Victor is found in bed, being tended to by his mother Marie Ernhardt (who is thought of as a witch by the villagers for never apparently ageing) but the Doctor is interrupted from examining him by the arrival of an old man known as the Watchman who has tended to Victor before the Doctor's arrival and is opposed to the idea of anyone else treating him. All are made to leave while the Watchman tends Victor alone. In the passage way, the Doctor is full of questions but he asks too much for Lord Ernhardt who becomes stressed and angry. He punches a wall and manages to dislodge a brick. In response, the Doctor takes off Lord Ernhardt's glove, revealing that he has the hand of a Cyberman.
The Doctor and Olga make to leave the castle but the Doctor takes the underground passageways as a detour instead of using the main door. They discover the Watchman's workshop, containing clocks and watches (from which he derived his title) as well as more scraps of Cyber metal but they are forced to hide when two men – one named Worm and the other the village butcher Drettle – arrive carrying Liza's body and they dump it on a table before leaving. The Doctor examines the body but hides again when the Watchman arrives and begins speaking to an unseen figure with the voice of a Cyberman. The Cyberman overheard the Doctor and Olga and warns him they are still present. The Doctor and Olga charge out the workshop before anyone can give chase.
The two run deeper into the passageways, eventually catching sight of Worm and Drettle again and they begin following them. As they do, Olga tells the Doctor the legend of the Plague Warriors. During an unusually ferocious storm, something fell from the sky and crashed into the church. The villagers investigated but they found nothing and the church had been a ruin ever since. The Doctor believes this is more than a story. They end up at the crypt where they find Stefan's body missing as well. They exit the passages and tunnels at the ruins of the church. He finds a lightning conductor – guarded by a Cyberman. They retreat back into the tunnels and are rescued through a hole in the ground by Klaus.
Later, as the Doctor and Olga rest and recover, the Doctor goes for a quick walk and returns with anti-radiation pills for all the villagers. He then reveals his plan to Olga of going back into the tunnels. On the way, he mentions Bubonic plague and how it came to be associated with the legendary Plague Warriors after the object, really a Cyber-ship, crashed into the church. The Doctor hypothesises that the Cybermen who survived the crash began scavenging any materials they could find in attempts to recover. The pair eventually come across the Cyber Ship where Drettle and Worm are scavenging Cyber parts for the Watchman. The ship is in emergency lighting as it stores power collected from the lighting storms, caused by the Cybermen seeding the atmosphere to create storms. The Doctor guesses the ship is either a colonisation ship or a military vessel as the two of the come across dozens of compartments containing hibernating Cybermen. Before too long, some Cybermen gain enough power to wake up and give chase to the Doctor and Olga.
One of the Cybermen with a grotesque arm is fought off but the other, aided by Cyber Wolves (converted dogs that went missing from the village), continues its pursuit. Caught off guard, Drettle is killed by the Cyberman and Worm is killed by the Cyber Wolves but the Doctor and Olga manage to outrun them and head back to the Watchman's workshop. The Watchman is less than happy to see them. The Doctor looks behind a curtain and finds a damaged Cyberman's head which begins screaming when exposed to light. The same head has been instructing the Watchman on all his recent projects, acting as a sort of Oracle. Lord and Lady Ernhard appear to find out what is going on when another Cyberman with a human leg invades the workshop, holding a power converter, declaring “We will revive.” Lord Ernhardt confronts the Cyberman and gets into a fight with it, eventually destroying it as the Doctor grabs the power converter, but then the Oracle takes control of Ernhardt's cybernetic hand. The Watchman is killed and the hand goes after the power converter but Lady Ernhardt manages to tear it off and smash it. The Doctor does the same with the power converter but he realises the power has already been sent to the Cyber Ship.
Escorted by Caplan and the guards, the Doctor and Olga head back to the tavern where a plan of attack is devised. The villagers will act as a distraction for any Cybermen while the Doctor and Olga infiltrate the Cyber Ship again and disable the power. A quick strike is made in the tunnels but when more Cybermen turn out to be active than the Doctor and anticipated, the strike force retreats back to the surface. The Doctor rallies the villagers again and Lord and Lady Ernhardt show up to fight as well. Lady Ernhardt goes with the Doctor and Olga while the villagers fight off the Cybermen in attempts to drain their power from the Cyber Ship. He gives Olga another anti-radiation pill and takes one himself, but not to Lady Ernhardt who is shocked when the Doctor reveals she is a robot. The real Marie Ernhardt died at childbirth and the Watchman built another with her memories. Just then, a Cyberman guarding the churchyard attacks but Lady Ernhardt, despite receiving some damage herself, rips it apart. The Doctor patches her up and then quickly slips deeper into the tunnel.
At the castle, the defending villagers wait at the gates are watched by the Cybermen. Then half of the Cybermen turn away. Lord Ernhardt realises they must be going to back to the tunnels so they can emerge from the castle and attack on both sides. Ernhardt rushes the defenders inside to collapse the tunnels. The Doctor rejoins Olga and Marie, hoping he was successful in what he did but the tunnels collapse, trapping them with the Cybermen, one of which approaches them chanting “Delete. Delete. Delete.”
The battle continues at the castle gates as the Cybermen begin scaling the hillside. Caplan manages to send a Cyberman tumbling down to the ground but watches as it gets back up and begins climbing again. In the tunnels, the Doctor, Marie and Olga manage to dig their way past the rubble and they meet up with Klaus and Lord Ernhardt. They collapse the rest of the tunnel, burying the perusing Cyberman. The villagers begin struggling to continue the fight and so the Doctor orders a retreat into the tunnels while he goes to save Victor Ernhardt who he finds has the body of a Cyberman, hence why the Watchman was unwilling to let anyone else examine him.
Klaus and Nicolai oversee the retreat of the villagers as the Cybermen advance through the courtyard. Jedka demands to know where her father is but no one can give an answer. Meanwhile, the partially-converted Victor is freed from the control of the Cyber-network by the Doctor's sonic screwdriver. He takes Victor to a high point of the castle, hoping to charge him with lightning with can be used to overload the Cybermen with a sudden blast of energy once Victor is reconnected with the Cyber-network. Some Cybermen follow them up the tower but Marie arrives to help. She throws one of the Cybermen off the edge of the castle – and herself with it. Victor is energised but, not connected to the Cyber-network, there is no effect.
As the Cybermen begin to reach the hiding villagers, the Doctor and Victor are taken to the Watchman's workshop where the Doctor is ordered to repair the power converter. But the Doctor reveals the Watchman's Oracle, which the Cybermen had used to manipulate the Watchman into helping them revive without the Watchman truly knowing what he was doing. Victor grabs the head and is reconnected with the Cyber-network, sending the burst of energy through the Cybermen and causing them all to explode. The villagers in the tunnels are also saved but Victor, drained of his energy, dies in his father's arms.
The villagers emerge from the castle and inspect the remains of the Cybermen. Jedka is fearful for her father until Caplan, presumed dead, reunites with his family. The Doctor spends the next day in the workshop and later ensures Lord Ernhardt that the Cyber Ship powered down after the Cybermen exploded, that the radiation would fade in time and all materials in the workshop were destroyed or made safe, but he recommends that the tunnels are sealed. Ernhardt thanks him as he leaves. As he does, someone else appears at the doorway – a rebuilt Marie Ernhardt.
The Doctor meets up with Olga and Klaus who are on a walk since the weather has improved. He notes they are holding hands but offers no further comment. Without a proper farewell, he heads back to the TARDIS and takes off. He shows signs of weariness and thinks to himself, “I'm getting too young for this sort of thing” and continues his lonely travels.
- Eleventh Doctor
- Olga Bordmann
- Lord Ernhardt
- Lady Ernhardt
- Victor Ernhardt
- The Watchman
- Old Nicolai
- Liza Clemp
- The Oracle
- Most Cybermen are unable to use their wrist blasters because they do not have enough power. One of them fires only once.
- Malkeburg and Drettleburg are the closest towns to Klimtenburg.
- The Doctor thinks of Karn and Margate when thinking of the rainiest, wettest, stormiest place he has ever been.
- The Doctor has a wet napkin from a recent trip on the Titanic.
- This is the fifth prominent appearance of the Cybermen in an extended print format, following Iceberg, Killing Ground, Illegal Alien and Made of Steel.
- No regular companion is featured in this story (as is the case in The Dalek Project, Dark Horizons and The Dalek Generation). Olga serves as a one-off companion.
- It is not made clear which variant of Cyberman the Doctor encounters in this novel, a running problem with many of Matt Smith's Cyberman stories. The Doctor's mention of the Telosian Cyber-tombs imply they are the ones from Mondas. However, the Cybermen are heard using the term "Delete", have blasters on the wrists, and are linked via the Cyber-network like the Cybus variant. As seen on the cover, they are the same Cybermen of the Cyber Legions from A Good Man Goes to War, Closing Time, Assimilation² and The Eternity Clock. Neil Gaiman, writer of Nightmare in Silver, has suggested the two separate Cyberman variants have become the same race. The Doctor Falls later introduced the concept of parallel evolution, which suggests the different Cybermen are all part of the same species regardless of their origin. The episode also suggested different Cybermen evolve for different purposes; the Nightmare in Silver variant, for example, is a "weapons-grade version".
- Early in the book, the spelling "discoloration" is used. Later, it is spelled "discolouration". Later, "Cyber Wolves" is also written as "cyber-wolves".
- This is the second Cyberman story of the revived series in which no head Cyberman – Cyber-Leader, Cyber-Lord, Cyber-Controller or Cyber-Planner – is identified, the first being The Mazes of Time. Only standard Cybermen are featured, although it is possible that there originally was a commander but it did not survive the crash. The Oracle plays an important role in helping the Cybermen recover, however.
- On a tweet, author Justin Richards stated that the character of Lord Ernhardt was "played" by Peter Cushing.
- The novel's mention of Karn from The Brain of Morbius preceded the planet's return to the TV series later that same year in The Night of the Doctor. The novel's other two sibling releases also contain brief connections to Doctor Who's then-upcoming 50th anniversary: The Dalek Generation ends with the Doctor declaring "No more," and Shroud of Sorrow is set on 23 November 1963.
- The Doctor recalls the Cyber-tombs on Telos. (TV: The Tomb of the Cybermen)
- The Doctor claims he can speak seven-year old, similar to how he claimed to speak Baby. (TV: A Good Man Goes to War, Closing Time)
- To protect the villagers from the radiation, the Doctor hands out anti-radiation pills. (TV: Destiny of the Daleks) Some of the Cybermen are weakened by exposure to the radiation. (TV: The Tenth Planet)
- During the battle, some of the village guards fight the Cybermen with swords. (TV: The Next Doctor) Green liquid begins squirting from a Cyberman's arm when it is wounded by one of these attacks. (TV: Attack of the Cybermen)
- The Cyber-network (referred to as the Cyber-web) is used to cause the Cybermen to collectively self-destruct. (COMIC: Assimilation²)
- Olga claims the Doctor is bad at lying. (TV: Flesh and Stone, The Vampires of Venice, A Christmas Carol, HOMEVID: Bad Night)
- The Cybermen use converted wolves, known as Cyber Wolves. The Cybermen on Centuria used Cyberdogs in their mines. (COMIC: Enemy Mine). Additionally, the brains of cats and dogs were also used for Cybershades. (TV: The Next Doctor)
- The Doctor mentions the planet Karn. (TV: The Brain of Morbius)
Editions published outside Britain
- Published in the USA by Broadway Books in 2013 as a paperback edition.
- Published in Italy by Asengard Edizioni in 2014 as a paperback edition.
- This novel was released as an audiobook on 11 April 2013 complete and unabridged by BBC Audio and read by David Warner with Cybermen voices by Nicholas Briggs.
- Official Plague of the Cybermen page at Penguin Books
- The Discontinuity Guide to: Plague of the Cybermen at The Whoniverse
- The Cloister Library: Plague of the Cybermen
- EXCLUSIVE – Neil Gaiman Talks Doctor Who And Cybermen. SFX (May 7th, 2013). Retrieved on January 5th, 2014.
- Justin Richards' Twitter page (June 15th, 2013). Retrieved on January 9th, 2014.