Return of the Cybermen is an interesting Lost Story as it’s the original script for what became “Revenge of the Cybermen” and written by Cybermen co-creator Gerry Davis, but the script was rewritten by Robert Holmes after he wasn’t satisfied with this one. Was he right? Well… quite possibly, but still! Let’s take a look at what “could have been” had the script editor not decided to exorcise large chunks of the script, shall we?
The Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan return to Space Station Nerva in search of the TARDIS. Instead, they find peril, disease and… Cybermen!
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.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
First thing that will probably come to most people’s minds is less the script and more the two new re-casts. Sadie Miller does a good job of emulating her mother’s Sarah Jane Smith, and Christopher Naylor mostly nails Harry Sullivan. They both firmly fall into the Tim Trelor “sounds like the character in the performance rather than sounds like someone doing an impression”, which is the best kind of re-cast in my eyes.
As for the story? Well, it’s quite generic. Pretty much all of the stuff set on the asteroid made of gold is absent (and what’s left in its place is occasionally cringey, more on that later) and instead it’s more focused on a basic Cybermen run-around on Spacestation Nerva. There is still a mysterious disease that is causing people’s veins to become visible transferred by Cybermats, Sarah is still infected and needs to be cured, and the Cybermen’s main goal is to destroy an asteroid made of gold that therefore poses a threat to their very existence (them being extremely weak to the substance). Kellman (now played by Nickolas Grace), Commander Stevenson (now Nicholas Asbury) and Lester (now Robert Whitelock) are all still survivors, but there is a fourth in this original script in Anita (Amanda Shodeko), and while there isn’t any kind of civil war or anti-Cyberman plan, Kellman is still responsible for the plague outbreak due to working for the Cybermen, though in this case he just wanted the gold for himself.
The Doctor follows Kellman to the gold asteroid and eventually sees a tunnel collapse on him, but otherwise the stay there is very brief and the Cybermen stay put on Nerva. Sarah at one point plays around with the Cybermat controller, adding gold dust to their bite rather than the Cyber-Plague and that’s how the Cybermen and Cyber-Leader end up getting defeated. Throw in a “desperately trying to steer Nerva away from a collision with the asteroid” scene and that’s your lot. Quite a bit of capture, escape, re-capture as well, that sort of thing. It does feel more like a lost Second Doctor story than a Fourth, which lines up with Holmes thinking the script was “too old fashioned”, which I believe was the official excuse as to why he changed it so much.
The only real bad was the new denizens of the gold asteroid. Instead of the admittedly weird and quite dull Vogans we get quite insultingly dim-witted Welsh (or South African…) miner parodies who have devolved into a simple tribe-like group led by a female named Coetzee (Amanda Shodeko, pulling double duty!) It’s really… weird, and kind of embarrassing, and definitely worth excising from the script as Mr. Holmes did…
Otherwise it’s fine, though like I said it is a bit of a plain run-around.
Well they certainly knew which story to get pictures from this time, that’s for sure, though someone really should’ve pointed out the Cyberman that looks like he’s sitting on the edge of Nerva next to Sarah…
Obviously the Continuity here is a bit awkward as really, unlike the other Lost Stories, this one can’t fit into any established timeline without getting rid of “Revenge of the Cybermen”. I mean, time can be rewritten and all that, so you could say this happened then something altered time and Revenge happened instead (in fact writer John Dorney had originally written a scene where a Time Lord tells The Doctor that time was being rewritten due to what he did on Skaro and so on, but he scrapped for being too fanwanky, which is probably right)
There is a reference to The Doctor’s 500 Year Diary from the Second Doctor era, and he uses it to look up Cybermats and ends up referencing “The Moonbase”, “The Tomb of the Cybermen” and “The Wheel in Space” one way or another, in other words three of the four Second Doctor Cybermen stories. The Doctor, Sarah and Harry arriving on Nerva is due to a continuing sequence of adventures that started with “The Ark in Space”.
Return of the Cybermen is what you want from a Lost Story because it really made you think about “what could have been” and I certainly had a fun time comparing it to the story that eventually replaced it, putting myself in the head of Robert Holmes and going “I see why that was removed” or “they could’ve kept that bit in”. As a story by itself? It’s fine. A plain run-around, or “base under siege” story that was so common in the Second Doctor era, but with the Fourth Doctor and a good sounding Sarah and Harry combo. It’s not going to set the world on fire, but I can see myself sticking it on again for a bit of fun down the line…