Doctor Who story in four 25-minute episodes
Written by Gerry Davis
Directed by Michael E. Briant
Produced by Philip Hinchcliffe
Incidental music by Carey Blyton
Incidental music duration: 26 minutes
Produced in 1975 by BBC-tv
Broadcast on BBC1 from 19th April to 10th May 1975
Available on DVD: BBCDVD 2854(A)
Doctor Who has become a massive global success in recent years after the BBC took its long-running low-budget sci-fi series, reinvented it for a modern audience and sold it like mad around the world. But decades ago, long before Doctor Who became all special effects and glitz, it was greatly admired for its interesting, inventive stories, its quirky touches of offbeat humour and its often genuinely scary atmosphere, which it frequently managed to achieve in spite of its often comically low-budget sets, costumes and special effects. This was the classic era of Doctor Who, and it was during this period, with Jon Pertwee and then Tom Baker starring as the Doctor, that Carey Blyton was commissioned to write the music for three serials:
The story concerns the attempts of the Cybermen to destroy the planet Voga, a source of gold which is inimical to their breathing apparatus, and how their plans are thwarted by Doctor Who and his companion, assisted by friendly Vogans (both ‘hawk’ and ‘dove’) and the ‘zombies’ created by the Cyclotron Room to protect itself. The music, scored for B flat trumpet/B flat piccolo trumpet/cornett, tenor-bass trombone/alto trombone/ophicleide/serpent (two players/seven instruments) and percussion runs to 26 minutes. (NB The Producer added a Hammond organ after the recording of the music of the first two episodes, desirous of a more ‘electronic’ sound.)
—Carey Blyton, 2002
Recordings: The extracts from the original incidental music presented on this page are taken from the CD, Carey Blyton: Film & Television Music (2/4); The Film Production Music (which is available for purchase from this site).
In the mid-1990s, nearly two decades after writing the music for Revenge of the Cybermen, Carey Blyton derived a short three-movement work for concert performance from it: his Vogan Suite for Horn in F and Piano, op. 101 (1993). This resulted from an approach made to Alec Gould of AV Music with the idea of writing three little suites derived from the music from the serials; the response was enthusiastic, so the suites were quickly produced and published. The following text is taken from the notes accompanying the original edition:
These three pieces are derived from the incidental music I wrote for Revenge of the Cybermen (BBC-tv, 1975), the third of three Doctor Who serials for which I provided background scores. The story, by Gerry Davis, concerns the attempt of the Cybermen to destroy the planet Voga, and how Doctor Who (Tom Baker) and his companions foil them.
The original scoring was for Trumpet in B flat (doubling Piccolo Trumpet in B flat) and Cornett (played by Michael Laird); Tenor/Bass Trombone (doubling Alto Trombone), Ophicleide and Serpent (played by Alan Lumsden); and a large array of pitched and unpitched percussion (two players). An electronic organ was used in the latter half of the score.
The ‘Hawk Vogans’ march material was played on the Ophicleide, that for the ‘Dove Vogans’ on Serpent; the little waltz at the end was not used in the final dubbing.
For those who remain young at heart, this Doctor Who serial has been issued on a home video, available from BBC Enterprises (BBCV 4013) or through the usual retail channels.
Video update: Revenge of the Cybermen is now available on DVD within the two-story DVD box-set entitled Doctor Who: Revenge of the Cybermen • Silver Nemesis (BBCDVD 2854, disc A). Unfortunately, it is not currently available for purchase separately. (The other story in the box-set is, as the title suggests, Silver Nemesis.)
As an interesting comparison, here are two versions of the same music. The first extract, from the original incidental music score, is the unused “All’s well that ends well” music (as presented above). This was rescored, greatly extended and adapted into a little waltz from the original duple-time material in order to create the third movement of the Vogan Suite. Here are the two versions to compare:
Recording: The extract from the Vogan Suite is performed by Stephen Roberts, horn and Jennifer Partridge, piano, and is taken from the CD, Carey Blyton: Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who (which is available for purchase from this site).
The DVD release of Doctor Who: Revenge of the Cybermen contains a documentary called The Tin Men and the Witch: Making “Revenge of the Cybermen” in which the series’ original Director, Michael E. Briant and Producer, Philip Hinchcliffe recall Carey Blyton’s musical contributions. Sadly, in this particular instance, and for the first time (Carey’s first two scores having been extremely well received), some rather uncomplimentary things are said:
Dudley Simpson, who did such a brilliant job on Doctor Who, I mean, he was just the resident composer. But there is a time when you mustn’t have the same person doing it week after week after week. They get stale, they tend to repeat themselves… it’s not that Dudley was doing any of those things, but we wanted to forestall that happening. We invited Carey Blyton.
I just don’t think he really understood how to score action. I really got my knickers in a twist over the post-production of this show because I felt that the Vogans, they all looked bald and stupid, you know, sort of Mickey Mouse running around, so I thought, “Oh, God, this is not working at all.” Normally, in that situation, Dudley Simpson gets you out of the hole because you say to Dudley, “This bit’s not working; really, you’ve got to do something here, you know; can you do this?” So, Dudley often would change the mood of something and get you out of a hole if something wasn’t working. This music compounded the sort of Mickey Mouse quality. It added to the problem rather than solving it. So I was pretty brutal really. But Carey was a good sport and went along with it. So, when we were doing a recording in combination with Radiophonics, I actually more or less got him to make music up there and then, deviating from what he had written. It was almost like he had a crash course in, well, how do you score, you know, menace and suspense and action. And it just wasn’t his natural forte.
It should be acknowledged that Carey does not deserve all the blame for this particular series’ failings. There were clearly some serious difficulties with both the story and the production; Philip Hinchcliffe had noted (as quoted above) that elements were simply not working, and also recalled that “The story was a bit uneven and in places the production was uneven.” Michael Briant similarly noted: “I think the Cybermen were difficult, as horror figures, to portray effectively.”
In reality, it’s clear that this particular series was dogged by delays and difficulties, and that some aspects of the filmed results left a certain amount to be desired. By this stage, Dudley Simpson was the standard in-house composer for Doctor Who, and the era of musical experimentation discussed in the documentary accompanying the Doctor Who and the Silurians DVD was well and truly over. Although Dudley Simpson’s music was unquestionably very successful in this and other sci-fi series, the establishing of a ‘standard Dudley Simpson sound’ was an unavoidable side-effect of having him do so much. His music became ubiquitous in 70s TV sci-fi series such as Doctor Who and Blake’s 7. Carey had only written the incidental music for two previous Doctor Who series, and both of them had been more robust stories than this Cybermen offering. To expect him to come up with a Dudley Simpson-style solution that would rescue the on-screen action from its deficiencies was probably unrealistic. Perhaps the production staff’s ears had become so accustomed to the Simpson sound that there was no longer room for alternative voices, as had been the case in the Silurians era. Or maybe it was just a case of different people, different tastes: the producer with whom Carey had worked previously was Barry Letts, but he had just been replaced by a new man, Philip Hinchcliffe. Given the production problems that already surrounded this story, the circumstances were probably not conducive to a more successful outcome in any case.
Carey’s own perspective on the matter emerges in a letter he wrote to Philip Hinchcliffe after all the work was complete:
re: REVENGE OF THE CYBERMEN
Now that the dust over the above has well and truly settled (even if the accounts aren’t!) and I’ve managed to catch up on some pressing concert hall commissions, I thought I’d just drop you a line about the above.
It would be dishonest of me to say that I enjoyed every single minute of working on the above; I certainly enjoyed the actual writing of the music, as I always do. But the production was dogged by so many delays and problems that it became rather traumatic for everybody at the end, I think. I know that Michael felt that what he described as “the resurrection of a boring monster” put everything onto the wrong foot right at the very start, leaving aside the late arrival of the scripts and everything else.
However, I was very pleased to meet you, and I enjoyed working with you very much, especially at the Radiophonic Workshop, where what we were doing – albeit in haste – was more creative than the somewhat gruelling sessions in the Sypher Suite. (REVENGE OF THE CYBERMEN or NORMAN STRIKES AGAIN!)
I hope that I shall have the pleasure of working on another “Dr. Who” again, on a less frenetic and harassed production. If so, then it would, I think, be good if we could discuss the music in depth before anything was written – changing instruments (or adding them) in mid-stream is always a risky venture, though I think we got away with it this time – just!
Good luck with the ensuing productions, which must be well-advanced by now. I’m much looking forward to the return of the intrepid Doctor, as are my two small boys. (“And Father Makes Three”...?)
With all very best wishes,
Sadly, Carey’s hopes of writing further incidental music for Doctor Who were not to be fulfilled. If his failure to be invited back was a result of the failings of this particular story then that seems a little unjust, especially considering that his first two scores had been highly successful, and were singled out for praise by some of the individuals involved with them, both at the time and subsequently (see the quotations on the pages about the Silurians and Daleks stories). Nevertheless, it was a case of ‘third time unlucky’, and this Doctor Who score turned out to be Carey’s last.