Novelization by: Terrance Dicks
TV script by: Gerry Davis
Episode aired: April/May 1975
Novelization released: May 1976
Overview: This was the 3rd Cybermen story to be novelized, following The Moonbase and The Tenth Planet. Gerry Davis had written the earlier two novels, so this was Dicks’ first time writing for the Cybermen. Interestingly, Davis is given co-copyright with Dicks, either because he still had proprietary rights to the Cybermen, or because the novelization’s prologue (“The Creation of the Cybermen”) is recycled from his previous two books.
The original episode: Revenge of the Cybermen was the final episode aired in Doctor Who‘s 12th season. Sole author credit went to Davis, but much of the episode as produced was plotted and scripted by Robert Holmes, the series’ then-script editor. The BBC’s own website is rather critical of the finished product.
In print: Although Revenge was the first Doctor Who story released to home video, the novelization came out nearly a decade beforehand. When comparing the episode to the book, and looking at the details of earlier script drafts as described on the DVD, it seems clear that Dicks wrote the novelization based on the pre-production script rather than on the finished product. Certainly the Cybermats are more evocative in print:
It scurried between the corpses, triangular in shape, metallic body scaled like a silver-fish, large red electronic eyes glowing on top of its head. It was like a giant metal rat.
The Regulars: Assuming that the novelization was adapted from a script written before Tom Baker was established in the part of the Doctor, that excuses why the Doctor is written more Pertwee-esque in the book, and lacks hints of Baker’s unique screen presence. When meeting the Nerva Beacon crew, Dicks writes: “The Doctor performed introductions, with all the aplomb of a vicar at a garden party.” One can’t imagine Tom Baker’s Doctor being this diplomatic. This Doctor also doesn’t quote from Macbeth after gold-dusting a Cyberman to death in Part Four, but he does refer to his companion as “my dear Sarah,” which sounds very Pertwee.
The companions are also different than we knew them from TV. Sarah Jane was only in her second season as a regular and Harry was in his only season. When Sarah spies a Cybermat early on, Dicks writes: “[She] reacted in true feminine style; she let out a loud, hearty scream.” Out of respect for the late Lis Sladen, let’s pretend this sentence never happened.
Harry is portrayed more as the square-jawed, fair-haired action hero he was originally conceived to be, before the more physical Tom Baker was cast as the Doctor, and the Harry role was reduced to comic bumbler. The physical comedy in Part One where Harry nearly causes the Doctor to lose his arm in a sliding door, is not in the book. Harry here physically assaults the story’s weaselly human double-agent, Kellman, nearly throttling him before being dragged away.
The Cybermen’s physical strength comes across much better in print:
The Cyberman reached out a giant silver hand and tried to open the door. It was locked, so the Cyberman simply ripped it off its hinges, tearing the steel sheeting like paper.
The Chapter Titles of Death: Chapter 6 is titled “Attack of the Cybermen”. Paging Mr. Saward, paging Mr. Eric Saward… your future awaits!
The Cliffhangers: Later on, when the novelization word count would shrink and Dicks would become nearly the lone author in the line, the four-part TV adventures were rigidly formatted in print: twelve chapters in all, with cliffhangers at the end of chapters three, six and nine. Although Revenge is 12 chapters, none of the cliffhangers come at chapter breaks. The run-up to the end of Part Two is more dramatic, with the Doctcor and the Beacon crew putting up a longger fight before the Cybermen arrive. Most interestingly, the Part Three cliffhanger occurs in mid-sentence. When I first started marking the cliffhangers in my books, I was a bit thrown by the placement here; I drew a line from mid-sentence to the bottom of the page to denote the episode ending.
Good prose/bad prose: In a rare Terrance prose clunker, back-to-back sentences in Chapter 10 begin with the word “But”. In a much better turn, the Vogan leader, trying to make political hay of the death of his chief opponent, observes: “A martyr was so much more satisfactory than a political rival.”
Personal memories: This is one of several books I own in Pinnacle format, with the text Americanized by its U.S. publisher, and with dramatic, albeit poorly-adapted, cover art. Consequently I’ve never owned the Target edition. I bought this one later in my novelization-collecting career, long after I’d seen the TV story, and before this month I don’t think I’d actually read it more than once or twice.
Final analysis: As one of the earlier Target books, Revenge benefits from having a few extra pages. Apart from the unfortunate description of Sarah Jane, the book’s an improvement; most of the action sequences are superior to the TV realization, and certainly the Cybermen are more imposing. The Doctor is a little “off” but Harry benefits the most. I re-read this book over four days (stopping at the appropriate cliffhangers) and finished Part Four on the day Lis Sladen died. Unfortunately this wasn’t Sarah Jane’s best story, but mentally hearing her lines in Lis Sladen’s voice was my own little way of saying goodbye.