This idea of not looking at the covers is paying off really well. Since the stories don’t even announce the titles, I go in blindly and see (ha, pun) what turns up. This story starts out with setting the scene. Charley and the Doctor are concerned about their new pet, the Time Pterodactyl, Ramsay, so they need to stop to get him medicine or something equally fake to give them a reason to go shopping. Some smuggling operations, a bazaar (though, it’s a shame they didn’t call it Akhaten), and a mystery involving a ship called “The Silver Jackal” all develop. On its own, I would not necessarily have made the connection, though I was pretty sure I knew what was coming, but the moment echo-trumpet plays, I knew without a doubt, we are encountering the Cybermen! Let’s talk negatives. Echo-trumpet, echo trumpet….
First, let’s go over Rule One of Earth Space Patrol: never name a ship anything with Silver in the title. Cybermen are drawn to this like termites to boats with names like “Wooden Carrier”. Where is Eggplant Eagle? Crimson Crusader? Yellow Submarine? They are all safe, because someone knew better than to name them “Silver (fill in the blank)”. I know Nick Briggs is awesome and was probably trying to capture the excitement of his own childhood, but we’re a more intelligent audience than we were back then and we demand better storytelling. Silver Jackal could have been called Cyber Carrier and no one would have known. Second, Charley is going back to her Winter for the Adept counterpart personality, sounding like a posh ass. “Oh, you could say that…” When she’s just talking, she’s fine. When she flips to Edwardian Adventuress, I want to jettison her out the airlock. Lastly, this story has the most abrupt cliffhangers of any story thus far. They turn up out of nowhere and suddenly end with a “Destroy” … like, out of nowhere, am I making that clear? Then after the reprise, it’s covered in 10 seconds, while most every other story takes a whopping 2 minutes to recap. Clearly they are thrown in for the sake of the cliffhanger and little else. Echo-trumpet, echo trumpet….
Now, here’s the crazy thing: this story is intense and very interesting. Those complaints are minor when held up against the power of this story. The cliffhangers really do seem to be there for the sole purpose of chapter breaks, but if you didn’t need them and listened straight through, this is a fantastic story. Charley notices things before the Cyber-reveal like the lack of creature comforts and the really big chair. There are hints throughout. Echo-trumpet, echo trumpet…. The music is perfect too, as the typical Cyber trumpet sounds. Grash (Bruce Montague) is a little over the top for my liking, but the cast works really well together and it feels like a bigger cast than usual for the Cyber-threat. I am unsure how I feel about Deeva (Michelle Livingstone) because of episode 3. In episode 3, they go out of their way to let us know something is amiss with her. I admit that this leads to a really great ending but it felt too forced. There was no lead-up to it in the first two parts, so its sudden arrival seems forced. But, as a fan of philosophy, I love the end dialogue as Charley discusses the differences between Cybermen and Androids. Echo-trumpet, echo trumpet….
Oh, I do want to give special acknowledgement to one thing that I thought was superb about the writing of this story. Charley is an “Edwardian adventuress” so she would not know what an “android” is and she does struggle with the word. She also doesn’t understand what a server is and the writing shows that this has not been overlooked. So while things like continuity are not a big thing, at least the writer was paying attention and that counts for a lot. Echo-trumpet, echo trumpet….
I did find flaw with the story, like the overused musical queue and a few other aspects, but overall this is an action packed story that hasn’t forgotten its roots. Long live the Cybermen. Echo-trumpet, echo trumpet…. ML