Doctor Who: New Series Adventures # 49
Chronology Placement: Set between “The Angels Take Manhattan” and “The Snowmen”
Synopsis: When the Doctor arrives in the 19th-century village of Klimtenburg, he discovers the residents suffering from some kind of plague – a ‘wasting disease’. The victims face a horrible death – but what’s worse, the dead seem to be leaving their graves. The Plague Warriors have returned…
The Doctor is confident he knows what’s really happening; he understands where the dead go, and he’s sure the Plague Warriors are just a myth. But as some of the Doctor’s oldest and most terrible enemies start to awaken he realises that maybe – just maybe – he’s misjudged the situation.
Set some time after Amy and Rory’s departure, but before he discovered the mystery of Clara Oswald’s many lives, this Eleventh Doctor adventure features a lonely Doctor in rain-soaked 19th century Germany attempting to thwart the Cybermen and the deadly plague they have brought with them. Justin Richards’ novel is quick off the mark, wasting no time in introducing the titular threat and revealing the origins of the plague that is afflicting the villagers of Klimtenburg. With the enemies already revealed in the title of the book, there is little need for subterfuge and as a result, the novel has a well-paced opening act that quickly establishes the main players and thrusts them into action.
Weakened but no less dangerous, Richards’ Cybermen are a slow but unyielding foe – capturing that same sense of unstoppable menace seen in iconic adventures such as “The Invasion” and “Tomb of the Cybermen”. In fact, “Plague of the Cybermen” owes a great deal to those stories in terms of the atmosphere Richards creates, and stripping the Cybermen of their gadgets somehow makes them all the more terrifying. There is a hint of Michael Myers about the way they relentlessly chase their prey without emotion, confident that they will inevitably catch up with them. There are plenty of chase sequences in this book, and whilst our heroes are more nimble and can dodge the Cybermen with ease, these steel sentinels never tire and never give up.
Klimtenburg’s villagers and its Royal family make up the supporting cast for this adventure and despite their sizeable number, Richards develops them all nicely as individuals and ensures that each character has an intriguing subplot that ties into the main storyline. Olga acts as the female companion for this adventure and as such gets the most focus, accompanying the Doctor throughout his countless expeditions into the catacombs beneath Klimtenburg. I also enjoyed learning more about the Ernhardt family, unconventional as they were, and how Richards gradually revealed their true nature throughout the story. Each named character had a role to play in the story, and I also liked how the location of Klimtenburg felt like a character in itself – creating a unique setting for the adventure to unfold. The juxtaposition of Cybermen in 19th-century Germany reminded me somewhat of “The Next Doctor”, although without the ridiculous giant Cyberman stomping through Victorian London. This was a simpler, less bombastic take on the characters and it benefitted from its “low tech” perspective.
One of Justin Richards’ strengths as a writer is his ear for dialogue, and he delivered some brilliant lines between the Doctor and Olga as they investigated the Cybermen together. He captured the Eleventh Doctor’s personality perfectly onto the printed page, bringing his absent-mindedness and alien behaviour to life. Some of the dialogue was so authentic, you could imagine Matt Smith’s delivery of the line as you read the words, which just shows how well Richards nailed the character’s voice. The descriptive prose sections flowed beautifully too, making the book immensely readable and great fun too. My one criticism would be a plot twist in the final act of the story involving Lord Ernhardt’s wife which didn’t ring true for me – it felt a little too anachronistic for the plot and I found it hard to believe that it could happen. I know that it’s science-fiction, but it felt a bit too convenient and bent the logic of the story slightly. That said, it proved vital to the plot and ultimately, I made peace with it.
The Cybermen stories released during the Eleventh Doctor’s era were a bit “hit and miss” in my opinion – I loved the cameo appearance of the broken Cyberman in “The Pandorica Opens”, but found both “Closing Time” and “Nightmare in Silver” to be somewhat lacking. “Plague of the Cybermen” remedies that and delivers the Cyberman story that the Eleventh Doctor deserved, evoking memories of “Tomb of the Cybermen” and making them truly terrifying again. Atmospheric and packed full of action, Justin Richards really gets to the bottom of what makes the Cybermen such a scary adversary by focusing on their ferocious determination to survive. Part Gothic Horror, part base-under-siege, “Plague of the Cybermen” combines both Doctor Who genres together nicely to create a page-turner of an adventure that’ll please even the most discerning of Cybermen fans.
Score – ★★★★ ½
Doctor Who – “Plague of the Cybermen” is currently available in paperback on Amazon, or as an eBook from Amazon Kindle. An audiobook version is available for free on Audible, if you sign up for a free 3-month trial.