Continuing directly on from the end of Storm Warning, Sword of Orion sees new companion Charley Pollard take her first trip in the TARDIS as they have to get medicine for the Vortisaur they took along with them on the outskirts of the Orion Wars between the humans and androids. It doesn’t take long for things to go wrong and the Doctor and Charley get themselves tangled in a conspiracy to revive the Cybermen to help defeat the humans. Now the story isn’t very original as once the Cybermen appear the story becomes a remake of The Tomb of the Cybermen with characters with better motivation and a bleaker ending. It also serves as a world builder for the audio Kingdom of Silver released in 2008 and in turn the two seasons of the Cyberman spin-off series released in 2005 and 2008. This story would help with connecting the plots of Earthshock, The Tomb of the Cybermen. The Invasion, and Revenge of the Cybermen all together into a more tightly knit history for the Cybermen. Even though Sword of Orion was released in early 2001, it created a solid place for the rest of the Big Finish Cybermen stories to spring from and firmly introduce what version of the Cybermen we would see. Yet with all these connecting threads this is an extremely overrated story because of how much world building is done throughout the audio leaving very little room for the plot. What’s even stranger is that this was the third Audio Visual audio to be adapted into Big Finish (The first was The Mutant Phase and the second was Last of the Titans based off the story Vilgreth). I don’t have a problem, but it shows just how spreading out an originally hour long story to two hours. It makes it suffer as a story. Before I can get into the real problems I want to stress on the really good elements from the story.
First, Paul McGann’s performance in Storm Warning was not a fluke as here he is still the breathless romantic even when at the backwaters of the galaxy. He walks his way into a shop and gets the owner to show how shady he is with a few words and with a glance gets Charley to follow him. He works out what’s going on before everyone else but stays quiet as he still may be wrong. He believes in the humanity in the androids and refuses to take any sort of side in the android vs human war as even though he knows what androids are, with sentience they should be allowed to live, but they also are servants. He knows they aren’t humans, but they shouldn’t still be slaughtered. He even admits that they can make mistakes as they want to make an alliance with the Cybermen. I love McGann as the Doctor and this feels like a true continuation of his era. India Fisher’s Charley Pollard also gets her first real chance to interact with the science fiction world of the Doctor as everything fascinates her but she isn’t naïve. Charley can handle herself even if she gets herself into the trouble. Nicholas Briggs is also great as the Cybermen as they feel like they’re out of The Invasion almost as if this is the missing Jon Pertwee Cyberman story. Props also have to be given to Michelle Livingstone’s character who I don’t want to give away the twist of the story which is masterfully done. The music of this story is very atmospheric and reminiscent of Earthshock with a lot of clanging metal. There are some subtle nods in the score to the 60s Cybermen stories littered throughout the story. The direction is great with Nicholas Briggs making this a baby of his as he obviously loves this story and what it means for Big Finish as a whole. I also love the extremely bleak ending even if it sort of wraps up way too fast to allow for much closure.
The bad of the story however is its supporting cast as they are all sounding really quite generic. You have the standard salvage ship crew full of reprobates who won’t hesitate to get someone killed if it means they get out of the story. They are united under the fearless leader and there is of course a traitor in their ranks. This story tries to create a moral dilemma with this, but it fails as the characters are not grey enough to do that type of story. I also said how much the plot has problems with the fact it smashes together other Cybemen stories while Briggs thinks he is being entirely clever. These flaws may be few, but they are glaring and really make my enjoyment of the story be diminished from their blatancy and how easy it would be to fix them.
To summarize, Sword of Orion boasts a great cast, great direction and some great music. The world building of the story really is quite a treat to listen to as the atmosphere and gruesome moments build to what could have been a great story. There are flaws in its stereotypical characters making the story black and white and an unoriginal plot. 60/100