Big Finish Productions
The Sword of Orion

Written by Nicholas Briggs Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Running Time 90 mins
Released 2001
Continuity After The Telemovie

Starring Paul McGann and India Fisher
Also featuring Michelle Livingstone, Bruce Montague, Helen Goldwyn, Ian Marr, Hylton Collins, Toby Longworth

Synopsis: When the Doctor sets out to educate Charley on the darker side of her race's future, he does not anticipate being embroiled in the protracted Orion War. The front line may be light years away, but the human race's struggle for victory has led to desperate measures. Trapped aboard a mysterious star destroyer in the Garazone System, the Doctor and Charley find themselves cast as scapegoats. But the real danger has yet to awaken... The Cybermen have received the signal for reactivation.


A Review by Robert Frederick 15/3/01

Well worth buying, the production has a feel much like Aliens that enriches the story. It's plain to see why this story was updated, if the original was this good the fans must have produced wonders in the past. The cybermen appear more in the later half and put in an good performance, all the crew are acted well although I did spot the plot twist coming before it was revealed. This new Doctor and companion team surprised me, this is my first audio that I've bought and I think I'll sample a few more. I didn't know what to expect from the new regulars although we have seen a glimpse of this Doctor it's so strange to hear him in action at last. Charley is good as well although I'm not sure about the thing in the opening scene, must have something to do with the previous story. So a good tale told well and I might have been converted to BFP.

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 30/3/01

The 2nd story of the 27th season is more typical Who territory than the 1st. Storm Warning was pseudo-historical - the atmosphere it created was a recreation of a certain time period - the 1930's. Sword is like meeting an old friend - there is a lot of the familiar Who stuff surrounding it.

I loved the way at the beginning it referenced the previous story. This happened quite a lot on the TV, and it really brought home to me the marvel it is having 4 consecutive stories - happening chronologically. The audio cassettes have a chance to run an arc, in the same way the books do (they look like they are following this also with the 2nd season of McGann next year). There is no obvious arc here between Sword and Storm - but there is a definite continuation of the 8th Doctor and Charley story.

Breaking the production down to its constituent parts then -

The Doctor is great. It is wonderful to have a CURRENT Doctor again - and McGann really is being given a chance to stamp his mark on the History of Who. He really is the star of the show too (a massive contrast to a lot of the books). Charley is excellently portrayed aswell. She comes across as a strong, but good natured young woman. A Sarah-Jane type - the best compliment for any companion. She is not as dominant to the story as in Storm, but she is good nonetheless.

The supporting characters are excellent. A nice mix of different personalities, everyday workers to higher ranked Captains. They intertwine well to fulfill the needs of the story. The Captain is the best portrayed, but there is not really a weak link anywhere.

The story is traditional, nothing too fancy - just a good Doctor Who-like adventure. Like a lot of Cybermen stories it contains the re-awakening of those monsters. The tearing sound as they emerge from their chrysalis's is very effective. And thanks to plenty of instances in the TV series, visualization is easy. This is not plagiarizing the series - just glorying in its best bits. From the scenes on the planet, to the claustrophobic nature of the freighter this is all wonderfully realized yet again by Big Finish. The music only serves to enhance the action - always apparent - rarely intrusive.

My girlfriend, Ruth (see E-Mail address, her computer, not mine!) has been enjoying selected delights from Doctor Who, in all its incarnations, over the last 8 months or so. She loves Cybermen - maybe I should wear a Silver Suit for the wedding! So I sat her down and played her this adventure. She sat entranced throughout all of it. "The Cybermen really are the best" she exclaimed, as it finished. Well Done Big Finish - you have obviously captured the Cybermen perfectly!

Overall - very good. 8/10 (Ruth gives it a 9, because it's got Cybermen in it!)

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 4/4/01

By comparison to the other Big Finish audios, and particularly Storm Warning, Sword Of Orion is something of a disappointment. The biggest fault is that nothing seems to happen. The Doctor and Charley are excellently portrayed here, although Paul McGann gives him more of an edge. They play at Mulder and Scully whilst seperated from the TARDIS, and are badgered by a not very appealing supporting cast. Of the supporting cast Grash played by Bruce Montague works best and his demise is actually quite shocking, whilst the surprise revelation concerning Deeva isn`t really a surprise at all.

The Cybermen enter the fray late into the proceedings and are denied air-time; also nothing new seems to have been done with them, unlike the Daleks in their prior outings. Sword Of Orion is therefore perhaps most like The Wheel In Space, the villains are underused and the supporting cast difficult to relate to. On the plus side the incidental music is great as is the continued presence of Ramsey, if only we could actually hear him. Overall then, listen with caution: Sword Of Orion is average - nothing more or less.

Always Park In A Safe Place by Robert Thomas 10/4/01

I enjoyed this story a lot and particularly the build up. There is a more detailed build up than the previous story to this one. It's fair to say that the build up takes up the whole of part one. Very nice to hear a story taking its time and adding some atmosphere. The Doctor is showing Charley the future (a market place) and get embroiled with a scrap merchant's ship. Because they part in the docking bay. The interplay between The Doctor and Charley is still handed well and is fresh.

The human characters are the crew of the ship, who are mostly cheeky scrap merchant characters. The captain however is interesting even if her twist is obvious. We all know the cybermen are in here and it's surprising how long you have to wait for them to appear. When they do, they come over very well and I liked their voices.

I'm not sure if the exact ending works but the story holds your attention. I like the slight way in which the stories so far are linked. So good that a casual listener may not even notice. So to sum up two good stories in a row. Where Storm Warning can be described as the perfect case study to pace a four parter this is more of a tension and action story with some intrigue coming across very well.

Just Another Cyberstory... by Peter Niemeyer 12/4/01

I didn't hate Sword of Orion. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. But I did have three major complaints about it, and I'd like to start with them.

First, this story suffers from a phenomenon I have come to call "spoiler amnesia". Spoiler amnesia is the condition in which the author inexcusably forgets that we, the audience, already know who the villain of the piece is because they are named in the title of the story or will appear on the cover of the book or CD. The author then tries to build a great deal of tension around the mystery of who the villain is, despite the fact that we knew it from page/track 1.

This was a Cyberman story. I knew six months ago that Sword of Orion was a Cyberman story. I knew when I saw the CD cover that it was a Cyberman story. And yet, most of the first two parts are spent trying to figure out what sort of nasty creature is luring about. I wouldn't have minded if the presence of the Cybermen had been kept a secret. (Earthshock part 1 is still one of my all-time favorite cliffhangers because nothing in the story foreshawdowed the presence of the Cybermen.) But their presence was the press material. Why did we have to spend 40 minutes waiting for the author to reveal what we already knew?

Second, the back cover blurb gives too much away. The first sentence of the blurb mentions a fact which is only casually referenced in Part 2 and doesn't become significant until Part 4. I read the cover blurb after listening to Part 2, and was instantly able to figure out what was going on because of what it revealed.

Third, the story waits too long to reveal what the Cybermen and the Captain Deeva are up to. Parts 2 and 3 involve an awful lot of running around, and then we get the whole ball of wax half way through part four, when there's only about ten minutes left for the story to make use of these revelations. I prefer much more a story paced like Logopolis or Earthshock, where the complete picture isn't revealed until part four, but significant pieces are revealed throughout parts 2 and 3. Sword of Orion made me feel like I had waited 90 minutes for a good meal, and then had to eat it all in under ten.

Having loaded that off my chest, their are some positives to the story. I am very pleased with the 8th Doctor and Charley. I find both of them interesting and engaging characters. They work well together, and they have enough depth to hold their own on their own as well.

I also liked the production values. The sound effects were very nicely done, and things sounded similar enough to Earthshock, The Five Doctors, and Attack of the Cybermen to feel cannonical.

I did feel that most of the scrap ship crew were a tad unoriginal. Apparently, there are virtually no ships in the Doctor Who universe where the crew members like their work, or at least feel impartial to it. It's almost as much a cliche as the original Star Trek's "red shirt" guy who, as the only non-regular in the landing party, is guaranteed a painful death on the planet.

Bottom line: The story had some decent elements, but suffers too much from spolier amnesia, overly revelatory copy, and badly paced explanations to really make itsef work. Given some of Big Finish's previous works, I have come to expect more from them. Final score: 7 out of 10

The S-word of Orion by Jamas Enright 20/6/01

The Eighth Doctor meeting the Cybermen is one step below the Eighth Doctor meeting the Daleks (which is fine as long as John Peel isn't writing it). Thus, has one big plus for it from the get go. The only possible drawback is if this spectacular promise is delivered on. And, unfortunately, it isn't.

Take Alien, recast with Cybermen, add Alien, and throw in a final mix of Alien. Then slow it down. The story just drags for two episodes before finally struggling to a crawl for episodes three and finally becoming an actual story for episode four. The Cybermen are barely there, with most of the action taken up by the crew walking, trying to do things, not doing them and then going somewhere else.

Not that the crew are noteworthy. There are a lot of them, with most of them not much more than stereotypes. Only one or two are sketched out further, such as Grash, who is slightly more than a crime boss, but not by much. The other character of note is Deeva Jensen, but her being signposted as something else was done far too obviously. The cast put in decent performances, but there's only so much you can do with thin characterisations.

I always have trouble seeing the McGann audio Doctor as having long hair as he did in the movie. Seeing the in-jacket pictures, and the TV series Fish, don't help this. This makes it hard for me to align this Doctor with the one in the TV Movie. McGann's audio Doctor is passionate, with a sense of humour, even more so than was in the movie. In Sword of Orion, the Doctor really does care, even about the fate of the Cybermen, with McGann bringing a sense of true sincerity to the role.

Charley Pollard really comes off as a typical companion, without being a typical companion. There's no running down corridors, screaming, or really inane questions to India Fisher's performance, but her Charley is very much a counterpoint to the Doctor, bringing the humanity out in the Doctor, and providing a needed basic perspective to many of the scenes.

The Cybermen, once they were actually involved, are effective, in that they had a nice touch of unstoppable menace to them, which is what the Cybermen really need as the villains. More could have been done with them, certainly, but what we get is good.

But all this is nothing without the final addition of effects and music. Too often there was just various sound effects playing with no real picture being painted as to what was happening, making it hard to follow. The incidental music became very intrusive, driving me to nearly scream at one point when the sound grew very heavy handed over the actual dialogue. Incidental music can help, but not when it's crammed into your ears as this is.

Sword of Orion could have been better. If you're a McGann and/or Cyberman fan, you'll be picking this up, but otherwise I'd suggest giving Holy Terror another listen to.

Even worse than the Mutant Phase by Patrick Marlowe 27/6/02

Well, as I explained in my review of The Mutant Phase, this was one of my first Big Finish stories. A while ago, I considered buying this one as my first Big Finish CD. Thank goodness I ended up buying two superb adventures before this one.

Now, The Mutant Phase was terribly complicated but at least it was entertaining at times. Sword of Orion has hardly anything to recommend it.

I have never liked Charley. I think India Fisher dosn't play her with any conviction whatsoever. She is better in this story than in part 1 of Invaders from Mars (which was in a free CD with DWM) but I don't like her at all.

Paul McGann continues to play the Doctor well after his magnificant tour-de force in Storm Warning but he dosn't get as much to do here.

The people on the spaceship... How dull were they? You had the nasty one, the one with a conscience, the OK one and some people who don't do much and are there to be killed. All are dull.

SPOILER (I suppose)
The "revelation" that the captain was an android. I guessed it in part 2! She was so bland to be beyond belief, and when there were mentions of androids... I can't believe it took the Doctor till mid way through part 4 to realise!

The Cybermen... well, what did they do? They kill a few people early on, but only make a full appearance at the end of part 2. They revive their leader, talk a bit and occasionally attack the people on the ship. The voices were faithfully recreated to sound like the post Earthshock Cybermen... except the cover displays an Invasion style Cyberman! I hope Spare Parts (which is to be released soon) features Tenth Planet Cybermen, as promised by the cover.

The plot itself. Very boring and tedious. Some people on a ship. They walk around and talk. Cybermen attack. The people on the ship walk around and talk and shoot things. Traitors... blah blah, yawn. I didn't think it was suspence. I didn't think it was gripping. I thought it was just boooorrriiinnnggg. Even The Ratings War had some funny lines, and The Mutant Phase had a few nice bits with hysterical Daleks...

In short, if you like Cybermen stories in which the Cybermen play little more than a guest appearance (The Invasion, Illegal Alien) then you may like this a bit. But this story is still dull. You won't be missing anything if you miss it.

A Review by John Seavey 14/12/03

It says a lot that this is a story about a mysterious derelict space-ship full of Cybermen... and we don't get to the derelict space-ship until almost the end of Part Two. Very padded, full of boring Mexican stand-offs with Cyber-Forces, and entirely unmemorable. But McGann and Fisher are good. (Ah, how wonderful it is to be able to praise actors' performances...)

A Good Old Fashioned Doctor Who Adventure by Matthew Kresal 11/2/10

Following on from the events of Storm Warning, the eighth Doctor and his new companion Charley soon find themselves a few hundred years in the future visiting first a futuristic space port and then facing the silver giants known as the Cybermen. After the triumphant beginning of Storm Warning, Big Finish choose to take a still-relatively-new Doctor up against an old enemy in a story that is steeped in Doctor Who tradition. While perhaps a bit too traditional, if not predictable at times, Sword Of Orion is still a good old fashioned Doctor Who adventure.

Both Paul McGann and India Fisher build on their strong performances from the previous story. Given that this is essentially a traditional story, it's interesting to note just how good the performances are out of both McGann and Fisher as both bring their distinctive performances to what are effectively archetype characters of the Doctor and companion. The chemistry between them in the previous story continues here as well and it is especially apparent during the first episode. McGann is also given a bit more exposition in this story, such as the absolutely haunting reading he gives of the Cybermen's back-story to Charley. While the writing may be archetypal, the performances sure aren't and the story is all the better for it.

The supporting cast is good as well. Michelle Livingstone gives a nice performance as scrap ship captain Deeva Jansen who is far more then she first seems to be. Bruce Montangue, who I rather disliked in his role of Chief Librarian Elgin in Big Finish's The Genocide Machine, gives a much better performance here as the rather tough and even unlikeable Grash. The scrap ship crew consisting of actors Helen Goldwyn, Ian Marr, Hylton Collins and Toby Longworth come across rather well in their respective roles. Not to forget the brief appearances of Mark Gatiss and Barnaby Edwards in the story's beginning either. All told, it's a good supporting cast all round.

Then, of course, there are the Cybermen themselves. In their first Big Finish appearance, the silver giants are voiced by Nicholas Briggs and Alistair Lock and their work captures the voices of the Cybermen from their 1980's appearances spot on. The Cybermen come across rather well as both a threat to the characters and has characters facing a threat themselves. That said, the Cybermen do take ages to show up and start having any real effect on the plot; this seems rather odd considering that, unlike say Earthshock, where their late appearance was meant to be a surprise, this story puts them on the front cover and gets nearly halfway through the story before they start making a sizable impact on the story. While it might not be their best appearance, the Cybermen do get a nice audio debut here and certainly better the Daleks got.

The post-production of the story was done by Nicholas Briggs, who also wrote and directed it as well. Briggs' post-production work is pretty good in establishing the locations in which the story takes place, such as the electronic yet recognizably Arabic bazaar music in the first episode. Briggs also adds little touches such as the sound of breathing and slightly muffled voices of characters while they are wearing spacesuits for example. In terms of the quality of its post-production, Sword Of Orion is as good as any other Big Finish audio.

The script, on the other hand, is a different story as it is effectively a Doctor Who story by numbers. The script is adapted from a story Briggs wrote back in the 1980's for the Audio Visuals series of fan audios which was, as Briggs has said, deliberately written that way and became quite popular back in the day. Having listened to that version, there's a lot of that story here especially once the story leaves the spaceport behind and the scrap ship heads out into space. The problem with the script is the very fact that it's a by-the-numbers story which contains many of the cliches of the Cybermen's appearances in the original TV series. These range from their late appearance in the story to them menacing an isolated group of humans right down to the return of the worm-like Cybermats. The problem is that the story becomes quite predictable, which makes Briggs' attempt to create atmosphere and suspense downright futile at times. The story does get a boost from the inclusion of a subplot regarding the far-off war with androids in the Orion system and how it all relates to the events of the story which keeps the story from being entirely predictable. While I like traditional stories, this one is just too traditional for its own good.

While suffering from being a far too traditional story, Sword Of Orion has its plusses. It has fine performances from McGann and Fisher, good performances from its supporting cast and some fine post-production work to boot. While it might not be the best of the eighth Doctor audios, if you enjoy the more traditional stories or want to get all of the Doctors up against the second longest running villains of the series, you'll enjoy this. Otherwise, this is a good adventure but nothing spectacular.

Reused Silver by Jacob Licklider 23/7/17

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 worldbuilder 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 worldbuilding 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 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 naive. 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 (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 worldbuilding 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