4.7 The Cybernauts
This seemed like the best thing ever when I saw it on Channel 4 in the mid-80s, but the truth is, it’s rather threadbare beneath the unusual (for the show) sci-fi trappings. Of course, those trappings were exactly its appeal: the closest the series came to Cybermen (and a year before they set foot on the South Pole).
Nu-Who’s Rise of the Cybermen arguably owes more to this Avengers story, with its clanking killer(s) and crippled genius initiating huge scientific advances (including “Computers no bigger than a cigarette box”) and planning to take over the country, than Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler’s real deal. It takes its time to reveal the face of the metal monster, but the episode is actually better in the early passages, before the title characters and Michael Gough’s mad scientist Doctor Armstrong take centre stage.
Sensai: You attacked her as a woman, but she has the skill of a man… A bad mistake, Oyuka.
Maybe I’m just biased, though, as my favourite The Cybernauts scene by far offers none other than John “Sondergaard” Hollis (previously in Warlock) as the head of a karate school given to sage sayings (“Interest is for the onlooker. In students, we require dedication”) and unbridled pride in Emma’s performance when she bests Katherine Schofield’s Oyuka. SENSAI ROCKS!
The early part also features several guest spot deaths, including Burt Kwouk (Lobster Quadrille) and Ronald Leigh-Hunt (The Seeds of Death, Revenge of the Cybermen – we’re dodging a bullet that he’s one scene and done here). The cast in general is impressive, also featuring Bernard “Goth” Horsfall, Frederick Jaeger (Death of A Great Dane).
Sidney Hayers does a good job directing too, his first for the series, and the climactic showdown with two Cybernauts facing off is particularly effective, as Steed plants the signal device (a method of murder just seen in The Master Minds) on one while the other lays into it (I wonder if this was the inspiration for The Robots of Death scene where the Doctor achieves similar results with his scarf and hat) and Emma topples the surviving, now immobile Cybernaut with but a finger.
There are some decent lines (“Whichever way you aim it, you hit the chandelier!” comments Steed of a shotgun bent into a u-shape) but it all feels a little under-nourished. Everyone’s reliable (even Ronald Leigh-Hunt dies decently), and Hayers deserves considerable credit, but The Cybernauts is a little pedestrian, if that’s the word, given the show usually sidesteps straight science fiction.