Ever since Big Finish started their new range that centred around the new generation of UNIT, they have taken on the likes of the Nestenes, the Silence, the Tengobushi and so on. But now, the stakes have reached to critical levels as they take on the new generation of Cybermen while also having to forge a fragile alliance with Derek Jacobi's War Master, resulting in quite possibly the best volume in the new UNIT range. Continuing on from the fifth volume's anthology of adventures, this 4-part story sees UNIT trying to save fellow comrade Sam Bishop from the elusive, black market dealers known as the Auctioneers. At the centre of this rescue mission is an advanced otherworldly virtual-reality headset, which is the key that eventually brings about the arrival of a new breed of Cybermen from an alternate dimension, and no, it's not the one from the 2006 series of Doctor Who.
The Cybermen have always been the most effective monster in Doctor Who history, and this story does a great job of adding and expanding on the concept that was introduced in 2006's 'Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel', which is the idea of Cybermen originating in parallel dimensions as opposed to the main universe where they originated on Mondas. We know by now that they can originate and exist in other dimensions, other planets and other times, which makes things interesting that here we get Cybermen from another parallel universe that are seeking to convert and upgrade other universes until everything becomes the titular Cyber Reality. With virtual reality helmets becoming all the rage these days, it was definitely ingenious as to how this device was used in conjunction with the Cybermen's plan, how they control humans and how they traverse dimensions. Plus, its effective use in this story makes you see first-person shooter games in a whole new and scary way!
Ever since their introduction in 1966, the Cybermen have evolved a lot, originally looking like blokes that stretched some pantyhose over their heads (which to be both fair and honest is their most iconic and chilling design ever!) until they became more and more robotic, and this story sees the evolution and development of the more sleeker robotic design that was introduced in 2013's 'Nightmare in Silver'. These are the most powerful versions, being able to move fast and instantly repair themselves when damaged, and this story does a good job of showing more of what these Cybermen can do by exploring their strengths as well as their weaknesses, plus showing more of their exploitation of nanotechnology as part of conversion. Also, showing that these new alternate breed of Cybermen have the same design as that of the main universe versions reflects more of the Twelfth Doctor's statement about the Cybermen's parallel evolution.
However, despite sporting the current modern design, their "personalities" (for lack of a better term) are very similar to those of the 80's Cybermen where they still had some traces of emotion yet worked hard to suppress them through choice with only the occasional flash of emotion when they are frustrated or succeeding, which actually works within the context of the story and further shows that they are not just robots. Also, Nicolas Briggs does a unique twist on the Cybermen's voice here by combining the low electronic monotone of the current versions, the gruff Darth Vader tones of the 80's versions and the meandering sin-song vocals of the original Mondasian versions, and the result is actually rather effective.
Another element that works really well in this story that doesn't really show up until the last part is the inclusion of the War Master and his fragile alliance with UNIT. The idea to bring Derek Jacobi's War Master back through the Big Finish audio dramas after his all-too fleeting appearance in 2007's 'Utopia' was a stroke of genius, and Jacobi still excels here as one of the best Masters to date. It's fascinating seeing the confrontational dynamic between him and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart with him continuously mocking her father, using both the Cybermen threat and UNIT for his own personal gain and trying to be only one that comes out on top, which perfectly plays in line with his Master and perfectly harkens back to the cat-and-mouse dynamic between Roger Delgado's Master and the Brigadier and his UNIT team. Now we shall wait and see how the War Master contends with River Song early next year.
Cyber Reality is quite possibly the best entry in the Big Finish's UNIT range, with both writers Mitt Fitton and Guy Adams delivering an absolute belter of a multi-parter that pits UNIT in greater peril than before and sees an alliance being formed between old enemies in order to combat an even greater threat. The Cybermen have always been one of Doctor Who's greatest enemies and this story does a great job of adding a new twist on them while also retaining the core essential features that makes them so iconic. The regular cast are all as excellent as before, and Derek Jacobi still kills it as the War Master. After this volume, who knows where the UNIT team will go from here.
DOCTOR WHO – UNIT: CYBER REALITY / WRITER: MATT FITTON, GUY ADAMS / PRODUCER: DAVID RICHARDSON / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: JEMMA REDGRAVE, INGRID OLIVER, JAMES JOYCE, RAMON TIKARAM, WARREN BROWN, DEREK JACOBI / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW