The human race is locked in deadly combat with the ‘Android Hordes’ in the Orion System. Light years from the front line, the Doctor and Charley arrive to sample the dubious delights of a galactic backwater, little suspecting that the consequences of the Orion War might reach them there. But High Command’s lust for victory knows no bounds. Trapped aboard a mysterious derelict star destroyer, the Doctor and Charley find themselves facing summary execution.
But this is only the beginning of their troubles. The real danger has yet to awaken.
Somewhere in the dark recesses of the Garazone System, the Cybermen receive the signal for reactivation…
Paul McGann as the Doctor in Sword of Orion.
Paul McGann (The Doctor)
India Fisher (Charley Pollard)
Bruce Montague (Grash)
Michelle Livingstone (Deeva Jansen)
Helen Goldwyn (Chev)
Ian Marr (Ike)
Hylton Collins (Vol)
Toby Longworth (Kelsey)
Barnaby Edwards (Digly)
Nicholas Briggs (Cyberleader/Cybermen)
Alistair Lock (Cybermen)
Written By: Nicholas Briggs
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
X X X X X
A cold open where someone dies horribly. A vibrant, yet ramshackle alien colony. A creaky old salvage freighter. An abandoned, claustrophobic intergalactic battleship. A ship’s captain who demands strict discipline from her new crew. And a strange traveler and his travelling companion who just happen to show up at the best, or worst, possible time…
Whereas Storm Warning was a great introduction to both Doctor Who and Paul McGann as the Doctor, Sword of Orion serves as the introduction to the “classic” Doctor Who story; an exotic, yet remote and creepy location where things are not what they seem, with the veil of secrecy quickly lifted from the eyes of our protagonists as they struggle to cope with the immediate and imminent danger!
Going by the above description, Sword of Orion would have fit right at home during the 1970’s or 1980’s run of serials. This audio play serves as the introduction of the Cybermen, the original Mondas version, to the Big Finish run of productions, taking place before Tomb of the Cybermen in terms of canon. If this had been a television serial, their big reveal at the end of the second episode would have been a shocking twist, but their presence in this serial is given away on the CD cover. When they do make their appearance, however, Nicholas Briggs and Alistair Lock nail their audio presentation, adding just the right amount of what I can only describe as “non-emotional characterization” in their voices. The sounds of the Cybermen waking from their hibernation is haunting, as if a locust was clawing its way out of a cocoon of metal and hydraulic fluid, and the Cyber-conversion of secondary characters provides some very unpleasant mental images with the editor’s choice of noises.
With that said, the Cybermen didn’t need to be the villains in this story. Any race could have served, be they an existing race or a new one, as the story does little to advance or reveal anything new or exciting about the Cybermen. The Cybermen are awakened by visitors onto their hibernation ship, slowly come to life, menace the crew, but are beaten back in the end by our intrepid Doctor. It seems that, for as well as they were brought to life, the Cybermen were only introduced so early in the run in order for the Eighth Doctor could find some “legitimacy” among skeptics by beating back one of his long-time foes. The second Big Finish audio featuring the Cybermen, Spare Parts, does a MUCH better job integrating the Cybermen into the story.
The villains of the piece aside, McGann and Fisher once again sparkle as the Doctor and Charley, both together and, as is wont to happen to Doctor and companion, seperately. The Doctor can be found throwing himself headlong into a situation before realizing that he’s in over his head. Although the material isn’t very challenging and very straight forward, McGann plays it with such enthusiasm and wonder that you can buy him overlooking or being slow to draw a conclusion on a plot point or two.
It’s really Charley who starts to come into her own as a companion in this serial. As an Edwardian-adventurer, she’s in awe of the 26th century and its surroundings, but plays it off with a ‘devil may care’ attitude, not letting it overwhelm her. This also leads her to sympathize with a certain in-story faction for a good bit of the story, until she realizes just what exactly they stand for. This characterization rolls over into the next audio, The Stones of Venice as well. The chemistry between the Doctor and Charley is still on display, but it’s not all hero-worship and “isn’t he the greatest” on the part of Charley, which, after some of the “new Who” companions, might come as a welcome relief.
As opposed to Storm Warning, the secondary cast falls a bit flat, even with a certain twist regarding one of them. You have the new, by-the-book captain, the questioning second officer, the scoundrel crew member, and several others that don’t rank much thought. The writers almost pull of an Alien style “blue-collar crew” in distress story, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. The script could have used a once-over as well, as there is some cringe-worthy dialogue, even by the standards of Doctor Who. The story is brisk, though, with little exposition and always something happening or about to happen, and there is a sense of palpable tension from the end of Episode 1 all the way to the climax.
Final Synopsis – Sword of Orion is your typical Who story, and that’s not a bad thing. There are some low points in terms of dialogue, and the Cybermen had much more potential as the main villains. But the story moves quickly, the chemistry between the Doctor and Charley continues to solidify, and really, you can’t go wrong with a half-way decent Cyberman story. A worthy follow-up to Storm Warning that both newcomers and long-time fans would enjoy. 3/5.
Next up – The machinations of a love-sick aristocrat, a proud art historian and a rabid High Priest of a really quite dodgy cult combine to make Venice’s swansong a night to remember…
Paul McGann as the Doctor in The Stones of Venice.