Return of the Cybermen was the first release in the sixth series of The Lost Stories. It was based on the original drafts of the TV story Revenge of the Cybermen originally written by Gerry Davis, the scripts were adapted by John Dorney and featured Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, Sadie Miller as Sarah Jane Smith and Christopher Naylor as Harry Sullivan.
Dorney claimed that the story "fits with the TV continuity and makes a sidestep at the same time", in the sense that one can swap out Revenge and listen to Return in its place while keeping the continuity of the surrounding series intact. (VOR 144) An additional ending scene originally sought to fully reconcile the two versions in-universe but it was ultimately cut from the final work.
These cybernetic monsters have devised a plan to eliminate the greatest threat to their existence. And if the Doctor and his human compatriots do not play their part in this scheme, they are to be destroyed.
Captain Warner transmits a warning from Space Station Nerva, stating it is a quarantine zone due to being ravaged by a mysterious plague. Captain Warner types out a report, when Anitra asked him to take a break. He refused, and she goes off to get a cup of coffee. As Warner continues typing, he hears a noise in the room, and a Cybermat jumps out and bites him. As Anitra returns to the room, she sees Warner on the ground and radios Commander Stevenson that Warner had been infected.
The Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry Sullivan materializes on board Space Station Nerva's mess hall. Sarah Jane states she is hungry, and the Doctor notes that the meals have just been cooked fresh as they are steaming. The Doctor and Harry notices a communicator on the wall and investigates them, while Sarah Jane eats the meal. The Doctor joins Sarah Jane, while Harry continues investigating the communicator. Harry states he feels uneasy, as there doesn't seem to be anyone on board the station. The Doctor has Harry join in, as if there are anyone on board they will eventually notice them eating their food. Unknown to them, they are being watched by the remaining crew, who question who they are and how they come on board. Commander Stevenson insists they pay the penalty, where they are not allowed to leave alive.
The Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry Sullivan head off to find the crew. Harry Sullivan questions if it is a similar situation to the Mary Celeste, which the Doctor denies. Sarah suddenly yells out, as she sees an insect-like creature with red eyes in the corner of the room. The Doctor notices the scratches, and checks his diary. They continue exploring, and Harry notices a figure up on a balcony. The trio calls out, and the figure runs through a door, which closed behind it. The Doctor opens the door, only to find an empty room. As Harry was about to walk in, the Doctor stops him, and asks him to fetch a fire axe from the corridor. Sarah asked if the Doctor notices more scratches on the floor, and the Doctor replied yes, as well as noticing a glittering dust. The Doctor takes the fire axe from Harry, while he continues to investigate the dust, which he confirms is gold. The door then closes and locks behind the trio, and the Doctor asks Harry to use the axe. As Harry hacks at the door, he gets knocked back, as the door had been magnetised. The ceiling then starts to lower.
Anitra walks in to see Kellman at the controls and questions what he is doing. He answers he is disposing of the intruders. The Doctor stands the axe upright in an attempt to wedge the crusher, in hopes of notifying the operator that they are inside. Kellman walks off, leaving Anitra to monitor them. As the fire axe cracks and snapped under the force of the crusher, the Doctor pleaded with the operator to save them. Anitra deactivated the crusher, and the ceiling moved back to its original position. Anitra opened a hatch and lets them out. Kellman hold all of them at gunpoint, and Commander Stevenson questions them why they ignored the quarantine signal. The Doctor questioned what plague, and the crew shows them Captain Warner, who is bedridden with veins bulging out of his body. The Doctor notes he had seen this before, and proceeded to check his diary before it was snatched from him by Kellman. They question more about the plague, and Anitra explained the plague began over a year ago, and lost most of the crew from it. They had been unable to find out how it transmit, and they were then isolated and left in quarantine since. The Doctor and Harry were then taken to the control room to be interrogated, while Sarah stayed with Anitra.
The Doctor and Harry Sullivan were questioned, who revealed they know nothing. The Doctor asked for his diary back, as he might know how to solve their problem. Kellman reluctantly returned it, and the Doctor begins flicking through it. He finds an entry labelled 'C' and 'T', with a drawing of the same scratches, and tried to think what it stood for. Sarah Jane was helping Anitra tending to Captain Warner when she noticed that Anitra had dozed off. She decided to read a book to pass the time, unknowing to her the same insectoid creature is in the same room as her. The Doctor continued checking only to find nothing. Growing impatient, the crew led the Doctor and Harry out of the room. Meanwhile, Anitra finally wakes up, and watched as the Cybermat leapt and bit Sarah Jane in the neck. The Cybermat fell to the ground, and is poised to leap again. Anitra sounded the alarm, which alerted the men to them.
They all ran to the sick bay where Anitra and Sarah are. As the duo are cornered by more Cybermats, the two began to throw various bottles at them to stop them. The Cybermat was disabled when Sarah threw a bottle of gold dust at it. The men appeared, and the Doctor examined the creature. He finally realized what it was, while Harry examined Sarah, who is starting to grow weak. The Doctor explains the Cybermat's weakness to gold to Kellman, and Kellman started to accuse the Doctor of planting them on board. Sarah started to have veins showing, and the Doctor begins to wonder where the antidote is. The crewmembers question why would there be an antidote, and the Doctor answered that they would be too logical to create a plague without an antidote. The crewmembers further question who did he mean by "they", and the Doctor replied he meant the Cybermen. Kellman stated it is nonsense, as the Cybermen had died out decades ago, which the Doctor states everyone were mistaken. Kellman continues to accuse the Doctor of bluffing, and the Doctor stated that there's a Cyberman hidden in the same room. The Doctor asked what was in the cupboards, and the crew are unable to answer. Anitra then answered that the first two are full of medical supplies, the next two are used by Kellman, and the final two are used to store radiation suits. The Doctor detects that there is something in the final cupboard, and asked for the keys. Kellman initially refuses, but eventually relents. The Doctor opens the fifth locker, only to find nothing. The Doctor then opens the final locker, only to find radiation suits. The Doctor noticed the boots are of a different colour than the rest of the suit, and as they move them apart, a Cyberman exclaimed them to stay where they are.
As the Cyberman advances on the Doctor, Harry uses Kellman's gun to fire at the Cyberman, only for it to have no effect. The gun overloads, and as they try to leave Harry Sullivan was knocked out as another Cyberman appear. The Cybermen announces they were not ready to meet the Doctor yet, and their plan has been broken, they must now wait for the Cyber Leader. The Doctor demands the antidote to their plague, but the Cybermen refuse, as they control Nerva. Harry awakens, as the Cybermen have everyone sit at the corner. The Doctor takes out his diary and shows Commander Stevenson the Cybermen's weakness to radiation. The Doctor has Harry Sullivan pretend to be injured and lifts him onto a bed, and they bring over an X-ray machine. They then dim the lights and points the X-ray at the Cyberman and the Cybermen are forced to retreat.
As the group recuperate, Kellman protests their actions, as he wants to negotiate with them. The Doctor berates Kellman that the Cybermen are completely logical, and by showing they can defend themselves they would be able to negotiate. The Doctor reasons that the Cybermen needed the crew alive for some reason, and they must find the Cyber Leader, which is hidden on Nerva somewhere. Commander Stevenson states they have searched the station many times and found nothing, but the Doctor insists that they must be hidden somewhere. Kellman decides to stay out of them, while the Doctor and Harry head off with Stevenson. Kellman also leaves, leaving Anitra to care for Sarah.
Stevenson shows the Doctor and Harry the plans for Nerva Station. The Doctor asked where have the crew taken ill, and Stevenson said the last search was in the red section with Kellman. The Doctor and Harry decide to search there, while have Stevenson and Lester search the living quarters. They all head off to search for the Cybermen. Harry and the Doctor examine the controls in the red section, and the Doctor notes that they might have hidden in the oxygen tanks. The Doctor finds one of the oxygen tank gauge has been tampered with, as the tank is actually empty. The Doctor and Harry open the door to the empty tank, and find a makeshift storage room. They find a suspicious crate, which they open. They find a skeleton covered in gold dust. Harry Sullivan finds a locket on the skeleton with JHC etched on it. The Doctor claimed that the man had been murdered and hidden there by a human being. They proceed to open another crate, and finds a dormant Cyberman. They open another two crates, and also find Cybermen in them. They close up the crates. As they are about to leave, the door shuts from the outside. The Cybermen begin to awaken.
Meanwhile, Stevenson and Lester search Kellman's quarters only to find nothing. Kellman appear, and they then hear a noise from the oxygen tanks. The Doctor and Harry try using a crowbar to pry open the door, only for it to not budge. Stevenson appear, and despite Kellman's protests opens the door to let the Doctor and Harry out, with the Cybermen close behind. The Doctor questions how Kellman managed to let Cybermen hide in his search area, only for him to smugly reply he didn't know. And then Harry notices a device on Kellman, which the Doctor identifies as a Cyberman call signal. It is revealed that Kellman is working with the Cyberman.
The Cyber Leader bursts through a wall and Kellman lets out the Cybermen. The Cyber Leader explained that as their plans had been interrupted, the crew must now work with them to complete their plans. They mean to increase Nerva's speed and crash the station into an asteroid at a specified location, which will knock it out of orbit and into a sun.
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- The Doctor - Tom Baker
- Sarah Jane Smith - Sadie Miller
- Harry Sullivan - Christopher Naylor
- Commander Stevenson / Pietersen - Nicholas Asbury
- Bill Lester / Badenhorst - Robert Whitelock
- Kellman - Nickolas Grace
- Anitra / Coetzee - Amanda Shodeko
- The Cybermen / Cyberleader / Jim Warner - Nicholas Briggs
- Writer - Gerry Davis (adapted by John Dorney)
- Cover Art - Ryan Aplin
- Director, Music, Sound Designer & Script Editor - Nicholas Briggs
- Executive Producers - Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs
- Producer - David Richardson
- The Doctor states that Cybermen are logical. The best way to survive Cybermen is to be useful to them, so that they keep you alive for longer. When a person's usefulness is over, the Cybermen will simply destroy them.
- Upon discovering a body, the Doctor tells Harry that it wasn't a Cybermen as they do not simply murder for gain.
- The Cybermen do not understand the word "insane".
- The Cybermen do not understand "pacts" or "giving your word", claiming them to be merely humanoid constructs.
- The Doctor claims he is good friends with Rudolf Nureyev.
- The Doctor claims due to inflation and scarcity, the price of gold has been pushed to unimaginable heights.
- Gold dust can coat the lungs of cybermats, killing them.
- The Cyberleader says there is little gold left in the universe.
- This story was recorded on 4 and 11 November 2019 at Audio Sorcery.
- John Dorney had access to the original script as well as a slightly different version printed in DreamWatch Bulletin magazine. He had to submit a synopsis to the BBC so that the story could be approved as sufficiently different from Revenge of the Cybermen. (VOR 144)
- Return of the Cybermen is the very first full-cast audio story to feature Sarah Jane Smith since the conclusion of the Sarah Jane Smith audio series in 2006, although the character had appeared in numerous Short Trips in the interim. According to Dorney, Sarah was barely involved in the original script at all and had minimal dialogue. While he sought to stay as true to the script as possible, he made additions to expand Sarah's role. (VOR 144)
- Sarah Jane is played by Sadie Miller, the daughter of the character's original actress, Elisabeth Sladen. Miller sought the advice of her father, Brian Miller, another Doctor Who alumni, before accepting the role. Nicholas Briggs was very enthusiastic about Sadie's involvement and performance, though he felt that the story itself did not do Sarah much justice. (BFX: Return of the Cybermen)
- Miller joins Daisy Ashford, the daughter of Caroline John, in taking on the role of a televised companion played by their mother. Ashford previously took on her mother's role as Liz Shaw in Primord in The Third Doctor Adventures: Volume Five. Both Ashford and Miller later reprised their respective roles in The Third Doctor Adventures: Volume Seven.
- Both Sarah and Harry also join Liz, Barbara Wright, Ben Jackson and Katarina as companions who have been recast for audio.
- Nicholas Briggs professed a great nostalgic fondness for Revenge of the Cybermen, and so requested further time to work on the music and sound design for Return. (BFX: Return of the Cybermen)
Deviations from Revenge of the Cybermen
- The single most significant change between the two stories is the complete excision of Voga, the Vogans and the civil war subplot of Revenge. Voga is replaced with a gold-rich asteroid, the Vogans by a lost tribe of colonists who inhabit the asteroid. The tribe plays a far smaller role than the Vogans do in Revenge. Much of the action resultantly takes place aboard Nerva Beacon.
- While the basic plot line aboard Nerva is largely similar to Revenge, the Cybermen intend to launch the Beacon at the asteroid straight away, rather than attempt the Cyber-bomb strategy first. The Cyber-ship plays no part in the story, with the Cybermen already having infiltrated Nerva and hidden themselves onboard, as volunteers on a kamikaze mission.
- No references are made to the Cyber-Wars, although the Cybermen are still thought to have died out long ago and consider gold a threat.
- The Doctor, Sarah and Harry arrive on Nerva in the mess hall and begin eating the food. Kellman tries to have them quickly eliminated in a crusher trap.
- Anitra is added to the Nerva crew. Previously, Sarah was the only female character in the story. In Return, she is joined by Anitra and Coetzee.
- Lester and Warner are given first names, Bill and Jim respectively.
- Commander Stevenson is played as a gruffer, hardened character. Nicholas Asbury claimed this was because he interpreted the dialogue in the script in this way, in contrast to Ronald Leigh-Hunt's more traditional "clipped and RP" portrayal of the character in 1975. (BFX: Return of the Cybermen)
- The Cybermat infection blackens the victim's veins, similar to The Moonbase, rather than emitting the red glow seen in Revenge. The infection lines were previously described as black in the novelisation however.
- Noticing familiarities in the mystery of Nerva, the Doctor frequently consults his Five Hundred Year Diary.
- The first Cybermen to confront the Doctor and the crew are fought off with radiation from an X-ray machine, calling back to The Tenth Planet. By showing themselves able to resist the Cybermen, the Doctor argues the crew have gained some bargaining power.
- The Doctor claims Cyber-Leaders are "larger" than standard Cybermen.
- Kellman's actions and motives are consistently more self-centred and villainous. In Revenge, he is in league with the Vogans, whereas in Return, he is taking advantage of the lost colonists out of greed. He is killed deliberately by Coetzee rather than accidentally by Harry.
- Harry, Sarah, Stevenson and Lester do not leave Nerva during the story. Sarah is cured from her infection by the Cyberman antidote instead of the transmat. Lester is injured by the Cyber-Leader rather than blown up by a bomb and survives the story.
- The Doctor, Sarah and Harry depart in the TARDIS before the Doctor announces the Brigadier has tried to contact them. This is also where John Dorney's original ending would have occurred had it been included (see below).
The story tells a different version of the events of Revenge of the Cybermen, but contains no in-universe attempt to reconcile the conflicting accounts. John Dorney had originally factored this into his original adaptation of the script, although it was ultimately not recorded.
The scene in question saw the reappearance of the Time Lord messenger from Genesis of the Daleks, explaining that the failure of the Doctor's mission on Skaro had caused history, and the Doctor's own timeline, to rewrite itself as a result of the fallout of the Last Great Time War. While offering an explanation for how Return could coincide with Revenge, it also brought up other continuity issues, including:
- Friends leaving in different ways, recalling companion departures made contradictory by differing expanded universe materials, for which Liz Shaw is particularly notable.
- "A famous author", Mary Shelley, both travelling and not travelling with the Doctor, referencing Mary's Story and her other adventures with the Eighth Doctor which are contradicted by The Haunting of Villa Diodati.
- The meeting between the First, Second and Third Doctors playing out very differently.
- The Seventh and Tenth Doctors experiencing the same event, referencing the original novel and the televised adaptation of Human Nature. The Tenth Doctor is also referred to as the Doctor's "eleventh bod[y]", alluding to the existence of the War Doctor.
The Time Lord would have then vanished as he insinuates that the Doctor's actions have caused a Time War (though the word "war" is cut off). The Doctor and company then experience further timeline distortion as the Return timeline "become[s] redundant". When the distortion settles, the trio arrive back on Nerva Beacon, where the final lines of dialogue delivered by Sarah and the Doctor quite literally echo their opening lines from Revenge:
- SARAH: (ECHO) Thank heavens for that! We've made it. Haven't we?
- DOCTOR: (ECHO) Of course we've made it. Did you think we wouldn't?
The end of Return therefore would have led directly into the start of Revenge, with the events of the latter, as in the real world, essentially overwriting the former, but still allowing both versions to exist within the same continuity.
Although the scene was not included in the final product, being deemed "too silly", Dorney nevertheless shared the pages on Twitter on 24 October 2020, the day after Big Finish first revealed the cover and cast.
Some similar ideas were present in A Device of Death, a novel in the Virgin Missing Adventures, which takes place between Genesis and Revenge. It established that the fallout from Genesis resulted in changes to the timeline which were closely observed by the Time Lords, who follow up the Doctor in an attempt to make the best of his mission's shortcomings. The novel's focus on this aspect is primarily limited to the immediate effects on Dalek history; Return would have expanded this to draw attention to the wider consequences.
The scene can still be read as a coda to the audio release, much in the style of Wish You Were Here, the short script release bridging the gap between the two adventure game instalments Blood of the Cybermen and TARDIS. Unlike that example, however, the ending of Return was not released in an official capacity and so it falls outside the scope of what is considered a valid source by this wiki.
A fan recreation of the ending was also created with John Dorney's blessing, but as this was not an officially sanctioned or licensed creation, it also falls outwith the scope of this wiki.
- When trying to identify the Cybermat, the Doctor refers to his Five Hundred Year Diary, (TV: The Power of the Daleks) but struggles to remember that "C" stands for "Cyberman" and "T" for "Telos". (TV: The Tomb of the Cybermen)
- The Doctor has seen a Cyber-Virus before. The last one was Neurotrope X. (TV: The Moonbase)
- The team uses gold dust against the Cybermen and Cybermats. (TV: Revenge of the Cybermen, Nightmare in Silver)
- The Doctor finds out from his diary that radiation works against Cybermen. (TV: The Tenth Planet)
- The Doctor insinuates that not only has he met Sherlock Holmes, but that Arthur Conan Doyle was Holmes's real identity. (COMIC: Funhouse; PROSE: All-Consuming Fire)
- The Cybermen use humans as workforce. (TV: Attack of the Cybermen)
- The Doctor shows a fondness for buttons. (TV: The Christmas Invasion, A Christmas Carol)
- Harry climbs through the service ducts in the Nerva Beacon. Sarah previously did the same. (TV: The Ark in Space)
- One crewmember compares the TARDIS to "a convenience". (PROSE: Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast; COMIC: Terrorformer)
- The Doctor has left a Space-Time Telegraph to the Brigadier in case of emergencies. (TV: Revenge of the Cybermen, Terror of the Zygons, The Day of the Doctor)
- Harry compares Nerva to the Mary Celeste. The Doctor dismisses the idea due to witnessing what actually happened. (TV: The Chase)