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.
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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.
- 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)