Plague of the Cybermen by Justin Richards

The Doctor arrives in the 19th-century village of Klimtenburg, to find the locals are being struck down by a plague and local legends of ‘plague warriors’ are resurfacing…

Since the Doctor Who returned the ‘assimilating’ side of the Cybermen has been  much more to the fore in their stories. In their two most recent TV appearances, Closing Time and Nightmare in Silver, they are scavengers desperately clinging to survival by cannibalising other life forms. In this way they are like the Daleks in The Parting of the Ways, but without the philosophy of racial purity that gives them self-loathing. The Cyber philosophy is survival at any cost. Given the parallels, it’s surprising that it’s taken so long for all-out Frankenstein pastiche with the Cybermen. Doctor Who‘s previous foray into Shelley’s work, The Brain of Morbius, is referenced by having the Doctor name-check the planet Karn, and there’s even a character called Victor.

The Cybermen here are not only grotesque Frankenstein figures, partially-rebuilt with corpses stolen from graves, complete with grafted-on human limbs, but the whole story is a beautifully-crafted love letter to Hammer Horror movies. The Cyberman army is being brought back to life by harnessing lightening, there are cursed talismans and the superstitious villagers in a non-specific European country live in the shadow of the mysterious Lord and Lady in the big, creepy castle. There’s even a scene where the villagers charge off with flaming torches and pitch-forks, to cause a distraction for the Doctor. Like the Hinchcliffe Gothic horror pastiches, it has the trappings of Hammer firmly based in a science-fiction world.

The scenes of Cybermen assaulting Lord Ernhardt’s castle would be wonderful to see realised on television, and is surely the sort of thing Neil Gaiman had in mind when scripting the Siege of Nattie Longshoe’s Comical Castle. In this book, the Cybermen storm the walls, climbing implacably to the battlements and occasionally being sent plummeting into the chasm below. In Nightmare in Silver, they simply saunter through an unlocked, unbarricaded door.

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This being the companion-less Doctor of between series 7A stories, our hero soon has plucky local Olga by his side explaining characters, customs and lay-out of Klimtenburg to him. Justin Richards is an expert Doctor Who writer, and his Eleventh Doctor is note-perfect. Here he switches between frivolously disarming and charming the people he meets, and being deadly serious when he realises the true nature of the threat.

The battered, rusted, beat-up looking Cybermen prevalent in the Moffat-era have been my favourite, returning the monsters to their classic horror roots. With this year’s re-design this could be their last outing, but if so then they’ve gone out on a high. This is a thumping good story, with a lot of pace that also manages to fit in several character arcs that make the peripheral characters more than just the stock stereotypes of their genre. 

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Order Plague of the Cybermen from Amazon:

Plague of the Cybermen (Doctor Who) (Dr Who)

On Kindle:

Doctor Who: Plague of the Cybermen (Dr Who)

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