1 out of 2 found this review helpful.
I like the idea of the Cybermen, but their appearances on television were almost always underwhelming, except perhaps in the early days when they had about them a certain creaky mechanical horror, aided magnificently by those eerie and very robotic voices. Plots were almost always the same, but what can you do? The Cybermen seemed to have one goal only from the very beginning...to make all humanoid life forms "like them", some sort of overly literal programming accident, perhaps, instilled in them back in the days when Mondas was teetering on the edge of global disaster.
I decided to check out Kingdom of Silver because lately I've felt more affinity for the Seventh Doctor, and I find the idea of stories where he is travelling alone intriguing. I think it's entirely possible that every doctor has in fact had periods of solitude that we never saw on television, in print and so on, but if I can imagine any one incarnation doing this and thriving, it'd be McCoy's. The notion sort of ties in to his later persona and that focussed on heavily by Virgin's New Adventures novels: that of the puppeteer and master planner who has, since undergoing much loss and grief, decided that it's best to carry out his machinations as a lone traveller through the cosmos. There's something about Sylvester's portrayal that just works in this way, and you almost feel the way his personality bemuses and overwhelms those around him even more without a companion around. It's as if the first glimpse of that strange little man, so animated and energetic and yet so grave, is our first glimpse, too, and it becomes easy to imagine our own lives being thrown into havoc after the heraldic coming of this mysterious scion. Yeah, I know the companions have perpetually been a staple of Doctor Who, the "audience identification figure" and all that, but frankly I'd love to see more stories where the only character you meet who was around last time was the Doctor himself. Another great thing about this is that you really have no idea if any of the other characters will make it through to the end. In Kingdom of Silver the strongest and most levelheaded native of Tasak, the one man who seems to provide a hope for the future, perishes while attempting to save his friend...it's a noble and powerful gesture but one which you instinctively feel pretty bad about because it may very well spell doom for the future of this formerly war-torn world.
I don't know why Doctor Who doesn't do planets on the cusp of an industrial revolution more often. I've always been fascinated by this stuff, and the fact that societies on the brink of great technological change often come up with some pretty crazy ideas, in science fiction and also in the real world (see some of the novel and wacky ideas for steam-powered or clockwork devices, early computing machines, etc, if you want proof), can make for some atmospheric and mysterious tales. The Cybermen are well placed in such an adventure, too, since they've always had this kind of retrotechnological feel to them for me, despite their computer logic and so on. Though they claim total superiority and efficiency, they really aren't all that efficient nor advanced, and I'm not saying that as a smug representative of the 21st century. I think it's actually one of the points of interest about the race...they've been put together with "spare parts" and bits of organs and technology, a bizarre grafting of the artificial and the biological that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense in a post-Mondasian universe, yet they innately believe that they must survive and that their race is fighting against constant adversity. Really, there's something frighteningly illogical about their sense of logic, and their insistence on "improving" all biological life as a remorseless creed of the survival machine is something that nobody can argue against despite all the evidence to the contrary. I mean, the whole galaxy doesn't want to be suborned; you'd think that a truly logical creed would dictate that the best way to continue the proliferation of the Mondasian strain is to stop wasting limited resources and try to prolong their biotechnological structure by means of fair trade and exchange...but the Cybermen simply can never see things this way.
I really liked Sara and especially Temeter as characters, and you could almost count them as "substitute companions", while of course they do have their own agenda. Unfortunately I'm not too big on this agenda in question. The Orion War stuff is interesting from an ideological standpoint, especially the notion of whether androids have the right to feelings of inate superiority due to special abilities, or how the two groups basically operate on the same principles whilst each believing that they are somehow better than the other. However, while some of that does come up (the careless racism displayed by the androids was an interesting touch), what we really get is more stuff about each side trying to co-opt Cyber-technology for their own ends. If I could have a drink for every Big Finish adventure whose plot revolves around the use of alien artefacts/DNA/biology to build an ultimate weapon of some kind, I'd be well on the way to the hospital by now. Seriously guys, this has to stop. it wasn't a bad idea to start with, but it's been run into the ground so much by everything from Alien and all its sequels, to the X-Files, to Doctor Who itself, that it's now depressingly dull unless you do something novel and unexpected with it, and that just doesn't happen here.
What is interesting, though of course it hearkens back to the very purpose of the Cybermen and their origins, is the use the people of Tasak, or at least Riga and the scientist Ardith, hope to get out of the Cyber-technology...medical and scientific breakthroughs that could benefit millions all over the world. Yeah, we know the Doctor's warnings are justified, but these people really do mean well and it could be that they could indeed learn many positive things from applying this technology toward a useful end...one designed to make peoples' lives better. I did think this was rather a cracking story in the end, but it had the potential to be a little less traditional, and perhaps focussing more on the natives and their culture, and perhaps some of those who were experiencing terrible medical conditions due to the war and who were saved by infusions of Cyber-nanogens, might have been an even more fulfilling angle. It would have been even more horrible to witness what happened to these people once Cyber Control was activated. It's a little unfortunate that the story touches on all these serious issues, but we end up with another power-mad dude in a tomb, with the Doctor and company running around and trying to blow things up.
The Cybermen are quite menacing here though, and I haven't really gotten that impression from them for a long time. Things move very quickly once they're awake, and despite what seem to be some new "improvements" they indeed carry that "ancient" and somewhat badly-put-together feeling that I mentioned earlier that is part of what can make them so frightening. They stomp heavily about like they way several tonnes each; they creek, spark and buzz; their voiceboxes have a tendency of going on the fritz in this rather eerie way when they haven't used them for centuries or are under stress. They also talk mostly like the chatty, sing-songy Cybermen from The Tenth Planet. When did that become the norm? Well, never mind; I actually rather like it; they come off as completely emotionless yet having this sort of pre-programmed pretense toward benevolence...you can actually picture that voice saying something like, "this will noooot hurt a bit." I was, by the way, under the impression that Merel had been fully converted until the end, perhaps into a Cyber-Leader (mostly due to the voice and his seeming slight degree of autonomy, I suppose), but it turns out he was just an expendable Cybrid. Why was that? Also, someone in another review mentioned that he thought the Cybermen had become too Borg-like in this story, and while I'm usually inclined to think it's the other way round, the instant transformation of humans into Cybermen (or Cybrids, I guess, but I still don't really understand what those are) due to nanogens injected into the blood is a little too quick, easy, and, alas, reminiscent of Star Trek: First Contact. Part of it is the mystique and horror built up around the cyber-conversion process until now...I've always imagined it as a noisy and painful process involving lots of drills, bolts and electrodes; something that, if ever depicted, would resemble one of H. R. Giger's worst nightmares, so while the transformation that does happen here is pretty terrifying, it just doesn't feel quite right. It also carries on a somewhat aggravating trend in Big Finish (as well as on the TV, really) in which viruses, alien DNA and so on, all seem to be made of some kind of supermolecules that act extremely quickly on whatever they come into contact with. If you believe this stuff, merely having some alien DNA in your blood will turn you into a hybrid, and in a matter of hours or minutes, at that. I'm not extremely fussed about this, though, as I guess when you get down to it it isn't any weirder than people instantaneously transmogrifying into werewolves and so on in fantasy tales, and a lot of Doctor Who more closely resembles fantasy than science fiction anyway. Still, I wouldn't like to see this sort of thing become a habit, I think...next we'll have "Cybermen, the Instaconversion Model," and they'll be walking around pointing at people and firing nanodarts into their bodies.
I'm not sure how much I like the format Big Finish was playing with for a while here: a three-part tale with a short, often vaguely connected piece to finish off the CD. It works well enough here, Keepsake being a rather sad coda to the whole affair. I would rather Temeter and Sara have turned rogue and decided to just do their own thing; I know they were soldiers and that that might be unrealistic or too idalistic, but they were good characters wasted on what I feel is a somewhat dull subplot, so their end just wasn't very pleasing and didn't really come off as noble or necessary or anything like that. I haven't listened to the Cyberman spin-off plays, and as a result I think I might be missing something crucial. Essentially, it was a worthy angle to follow up on but I kind of wish we'd gotten more meat in the main tale instead. Too many stories, in Doctor Who and elsewhere, try to bring us to alien worlds where "noone has gone before" and yet don't really bother to create a meaningful culture, even when the thrust of the tale is supposed to be that culture coming face to face with some force that is anathema.