The Doctor’s worst fears are confirmed when he and Jamie are accosted by white robots: they are once again trapped in the Land of Fiction, where fictional characters come to life, but very real damage can be inflicted on visitors fromo outside Fiction. The Artful Dodger comes to the time travelers’ aid, but only when they encounter this character’s cohort do they realize who the real enemy is: Oliver Twist has been converted by Cybermen. The metal giants, trapped in the Land of Fiction by an intelligence that has yet to reveal itself, are laying siege to this dimension and converting the characters inhabiting it. Alice in Wonderland and Dracula have been drafted into service as soldiers, and Captain Nemo and the Nautilus are joining in the fight when it’s convenient to them. But none of them are fighting to defend any kind of real space. Another of the Doctor’s former companions – Zoe – appears and reveals that she is behind the Cyber-war over the Land of Fiction. But when she tells the Doctor how both the Cybermen and the Time Lord were drawn into the Land of Fiction, the Doctor realizes that the turf being fought for so viciously is the mind and soul of his companion.
Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon), Wendy Padbury (Zoe), Steven Kynman (Lord Fauntleroy / Artful Dodger), Abigail Hollick (Alice), Ian Gelder (Dracula / Blackbeard), Charlie Ross (The Rebel), Alexander Siddig (Captain Nemo), Nicholas Briggs (The Cybermen)
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Doctor Who is at its best when it at least has one foot firmly planted on some stable ground in its invented reality. Legend Of The Cybermen gets so strange that it feels like a roller coaster ride: at the end of it, I don’t know if I want to get back on and go again, or if I’m going to lean over the rails and gasp for air to clear my head.
The story confirmed my suspicion that not only were the Doctor and Jamie in the Land of Fiction, but that they’ve been there for all three stories in this “season” cycle, and indeed this older, more skeptical Jamie is a part of that fiction. That the Cybermen would be interested in the Land of Fiction at all is way out there, but it’s paid off with a plausible explanation. The glut of fictional characters – many of them played to each one’s stereotypical hilt – is what starts the process of removing the listener’s feet from terra firma. Once into the second half of the story with its attempts to drag us into the Land of Metafiction and break down the fourth wall that’s barely holding everything together, the story begins to strain mightily under its own weight.
The last two episodes also launch a daring experiment in suddenly switching the narrative structure of the story. It’s an inventive experiment, but almost every time it started up again, I found myself wanting to ditch the storybook silliness and get back to the story. The two major story strains – the fight against the Cybermen and the uneasy reunion with Jamie and Zoe’s older selves – are the substance, and they quickly get buried under an avalanche of style. I applaud the experimentation. I’m just not sure it really worked for me.
Part of what didn’t work, in my mind, was the metafiction factor that began to take me right out of the story. The acknowledgement of the Doctor Who novelizations (and their early tendency to not be named after the TV scripts that inspired them) is cute, but it took me right out of the story to hear Colin Baker ratting off Target-style titles: “Doctor Who and the Dominators… Doctor Who and the Krotons…” The gag about Jamie and the Doctor finding themselves in a recording booth recording some sort of audio adventure was similarly distracting, though not as blatantly obvious. The phrase “too clever by half” springs to mind here. I’ll admit that I wasn’t crazy about the revisitation of the Cyber King (not named as such here, thankfully) from The Next Doctor – it wasn’t my favorite concept on TV, though it made slightly more sense here. (At least in Legend Of The Cybermen we get some sort of explanation of why Cybermen would bother to build a giant-Cyberman-Transformer-sort-of-thing.)
The cast is superb, and it’s their efforts that I can credit for convincing me to put up with some of the silliness. Wendy Padbury has already revived Zoe in the Companion Chronicles, and again she effortlessly turns back the clock and brings Zoe back to life. Frazer Hines is once again marvelous as Jamie – I have to admit to almost being disappointed when Audio Jamie regains TV Jamie’s memories, as I had grown to really like the distinct character of Jamie a la Big Finish. Alexander Siddig is back as Captain Nemo, and the other cast members playing fictional constructs are compelling, even if at least some of their time is spent either going through the expected paces of their characters, or reciting events in the third person. This is a case of an outstanding group of actors helping to ground a story whose head is somewhere in the stratosphere.
I had a bit of a hard time understanding the wobbly Cyber Planner, but then I was having that problem back when the Cyber Planner was on TV in black and white too.