Attack of the Cybermen
The Wheel in Space
The Tomb of the Cybermen
|Dates||Sept. 2, 1967 -
Sept. 23, 1967
With Patrick Troughton, Frazier Hines, Deborah Watling.
Written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis.
Script-edited by Victor Pemberton. Directed by Morris Barry.
Produced by Peter Bryant.
|Synopsis: The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria encounter an expedition on Telos, half of which is determined to explore the lost city of the Cybermen... the other half anxious to wake the Cybermen and their deadly Controller.|
It's Craptastic by David Massingham 23/3/04
Take a gander at Kleig. What a prat. Such shallow characterisation, the writers cleverly delving into the bum-end of the crazed, self-important scientist stock for inspiration. Actor George Pastell imbues him with such ham-fisted over-the-top characteristics that it becomes near impossible to take him seriously. An ineptly thought-out and portrayed character.
Turn to Viner. The coward, the sniveling wretch who warns against the dangers of being unprepared for such a large expedition as the one undertaken here. Marvel as you realise you've seen this character ten thousand times over. Gasp as performer Cyril Shaps hits the same, high-pitched note throughout all of his screen-time. Breath easy when he is mercifully smacked down at the end of part two.
Examine the Cybermats. Ask yourself why. Arguably the most pointless and silly addition to any Doctor Who monsters' arsenal, the Cybermats demonstrate awesome powers by jumping across the room and, erm, nuzzling into protagonists' necks. Laugh at the story's end, when a remarkably cute-looking Cybermat is shown as the ominous "it isn't always over" shot necessary for all B-grade pap like this, the redoubtable Tomb of the Cybermen.
Finally, step back and look at this adventure as a whole. Take in everything -- the near-uniform abysmal quality of the guest performances, the cliched and basic plot, the sometimes bombastic and intrusive music. Also note the striking and effective set-design, the creepy Cybermen, the terrific performances from Pat Troughton and Frazier Hines, the sometimes atmospheric and effective music. Add up all of the elements present in Tomb of the Cybermen, and what have you got?
Answer: A smashing adventure serial, with a brain made from crushed ice, and a plethora of atrocious elements which are made null by the shows sheer exuberance.
It is not very often that so many bad actors are gathered together for one solitary Who episode -- yet with Tomb it matters not, as the performances are so over-the-top that they simply add a kind of nervous energy to it. Have any of you heard the old adage about nervousness and acting? Some actors think that having nervous energy backstage before a play will give them a boost once they make it to the platform. Maybe for some it does; here, the result is a collection of amateurish performances, which are so earnest that a more forgiving viewer will simply ignore them and feed off the energy they cast out. I feed off that energy in Tomb of the Cybermen, and this helps me to enjoy the show more -- whether that be by laughing at it (or specifically, Kafkan and Kleig), or contrasting these camper moments with the genuinely great moments.
And there are plenty of great moments in Tomb of the Cybermen. The most obvious example sees the Cybermen emerging from their tombs, covered in ice, their superbly designed masks giving away no feelings whatsoever.
(Slight side-bar -- the masks used in this story were probably the strongest Cybermen face-plates for that reason -- here, you cannot read any emotions, whereas the Earthshock-style mask seems to suggest malice (at least to me), whilst The Invasion model looks like it's smiling, which is just silly. And we all know that the Revenge versions just look bloody ridiculous. The Tenth Planet stockings are great and darn creepy, but look a tad on the cheap side. Because they are).
Back to the great moments. The Doctor and Victoria's quiet discussion about their families in part three. The claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere. The quick pacing and action-bent of the adventure. The utterly chilling line "You belong to us. You shall be like us". Brrr... then we've also got the cliffhanger to parts two and three, the fantastic opening scene in the TARDIS, Patrick Troughton in general, and the fact that it kind of reminds me of an old cinematic version I saw of Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None".
Ultimately, however, Tomb of the Cybermen has B-grade written all over it. And as such, it works. This isn't a story with a revolutionary plot line, and I can guarantee it that you've seen it all before, and probably with better performances (by the way, am I the only person who thinks Victoria is a bit crap?). It's a lot of fun, and a good introduction to the Troughton years (well, it had better be, hadn't it. Can the BBC hurry up and find season four already?). Just don't expect to look at it with a straight face all the way through.
Though it would have been better without the Cybermats. They are a bit TOO much for my tastes.
8.5 out of 10
A Review by Steve Cassidy 12/10/04
What can be said about 'Tomb of the Cybermen'?
To be frank, it's laughable. Dated? Well, there are illustrations in the Bayeux tapestry who look less dated then this. How we laugh at the silly costumes, dreadful sound-effects and actors who are given lines that even the cast of 'Pearl Harbor' would find laughable. Oh come on, it's silly? You wouldn't show this to your friends on a boys night in? All that black-and-white sixties kitsch?
So why do I love it so much?
Because it has that very rare commodity - genuine drama.
I defy anyone not to have a feeling of horror in the pit of their stomach as the cybermen claw their way out of hibernation. I'll wager most people hold their breath as the Doctor is caught as he tries to climb out of the hatch, and, ye gods, the scene where they catch Toberman and take him away to be converted into a cyberman is chilling.
"You belong to us. You will be like us."And thats the rub. The fear here is of body conversion - the cybermen are almost ghoulish in their pursuit of living human bodies. The plot is given another twist by having the entire tombs designed to trap whoever breaks in. And for them to be so complicatedly designed that only the best brains can be used by the cybermen. And there is menace here, the very fact that they are clambering up from below. That there is only the metal hatch between them and the rest of the crew. So when the iron fist of the cyberman starts to bash through - it is one of the most exciting scenes in the adventure.
It may be, along with Fang Rock, be the ultimate base under siege story. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact I adore a good base under siege story. But what is interesting about this one is the fact that they have got themselves into it. In adventures such as The Moonbase or the fabulous Fang Rock it is the monsters who assault them from outside. Here they have got themselves into the mess - all is curiousity. There is a feeling permeating all the way through this adventure that 'curiosity killed the cat'. That the search for knowledge is dangerous and some things should be left well alone. It is this atmosphere so well created by director Morris Barry which seems to pervade every inch of the adventure.
And the director does a wonderful job. The small cast do wonders with an incredulous script and their individual characters come across very quickly. In fact I recognise half of them from the James Bond films. Cyril Shaps (Viner) is blown up in The Spy Who Loved Me, Roy Stewart (Toberman) plays Quarrel Jnr in Live and Let Die and George Pastell (Klieg) has a tiny part as the train conductor in From Russia With Love. And it seems to be the guest cast which gets all the abuse. Granted, the lines they are given aren't exactly Kafka but each actor gives his/her all. The director really pushes for good performances and it adds to the tremendous paced start of the adventure. All the cliches are there, the treacherous financier, the troublemaking vamp, the professional but out-of-his depth leader, plus numerous cannon fodder along for the ride.
Shirley Cooklin is the most over-the-top. Supposedly the expedition's bankroller the exotic Kaftan is also the employer of Toberman, her black servant/strongarm and is in league with Klieg with her own agenda. It's funny when I look back at the sixites adventures that when the heroes are British - the villains are undoubtedly (East?) European. And so with Kaftan who has the campest Russian/Czech accent ever put on TV. Was it paranoia over the 'Red Menace' and the cold war? Anyway, Kaftan is a very enjoyable character and her backstabbing of the naive Victoria Waterfield in the regeneration chamber was almost lipsmackingly delicious.
And George Pastell as Klieg? Well, he does seem to get a bit of a bashing. I think he is an enjoyable cliche of a character - the ambitious meglomaniac who wants to open the tombs for his own ends. He is so watchable because he never gives up, he is knocked back again and again and is even shaken by his first encounter by the deadly cybermen. This wonderfully masochistic character seems genuinely obsessed and deluded that he will be able to dominate and control the cybermen. I've of course not mentioned the strongman Toberman. There have been lots of comments of rascism and why is a black man in such a subserviant role. Most people have put this down to the unenlightened sixties. I'm not so sure. This adventure is set in the future, at a time when the cybermen have disappeared from the galaxy - and Toberman is more of a henchman then a servant. We don't know he is a servant I'd put him in the hired mercenary help category myself.
And the regulars? Well, if you wanted to show someone the definitive Patrick Troughton adventure then this would be it. Half of Troughton's adventures are missing but the ones that still remain in their entirety (and there are only a handful of the 16 that he did) are fantastic. Everyone comments on how manipulative he is in this - and yes, he helps the expedition open the tombs because he knows they will do it sooner or later and it is better if he tacks along. But what always strikes me about this particular Doctor is his vulnerability, his humanity. The famous scene where he talks about his family to Victoria and how he can only remember them if he tries is striking. But also, his almost cowardice. Troughton's height and build meant that he wasn't a formidable physical presence (unlike Tommy Baker) and the Cybermen tower over him. He gets himself and others out of situation with his cleverness, the lightning mind can almost be seen behind those twinkling mischievious eyes.
Jamie and Victoria do well. Both being integral to the plot and benefit with interaction with the ensemble cast. Jamie in particular has several good moments with Haydon before he is killed by the Cyber-mannequin at the end of episode one. The chemistry between Partick Troughton and Frazer Hines means this is the first in the series to reach the famed Doctor/companion double act. And I love Jamie's blustering machismo - political correctness has all but stamped it out in 2004. Victoria makes an interesting companion as a 19th century lady cushioned from the world for so long, and then suddenly thrown into a terrible situation. She comes across as a petulant little girl sometimes and her bickering with Captain Hopper seems pointless. However, I love her wariness of Kaftan, her sensitivity has tipped her off about this scheming woman and the scenes between the pair of them are one of the highlights of the adventure.
And as for the cybermen themselves? Well, on screen they look ridiculous. I mean, what can you say about a six foot man in a silver suit with his voice modified to sound like 'metal mickey'. In reality they terrify - relentless, unstoppable machines who aren't out to kill you, oh no - something far worse, they want to make you like them. The costumes are excellent, the black-and-white benefiting their silver sheen and everyone remembers when they break out of their honeycomb-like tomb. In fact, the Cybermen do remind me of insects in this adventure, when they are curled up in their tomb they look like grubs in their burrows.
Michael Kilgareff plays the Cybercontroller and I must admit, I don't like his black costume with the glowing helmet. And the Cybermats... oh just don't get me started. I generally fastforward when ever the Cybermats appear. For a seven year old they must be creepy, insectoid metal creatures that prey on the sleeping expedition. But in reality they look like nail brushes with eyes painted on. I can see why this adventure stinks for some people because of the Cybermats.
However, it is a classic adventure and is now one of my favourites. The original tape has been cleaned up and looks fresh and sparkling in DVD format. And black-and-white add to the eeriness of this adventure - the shadows seem even more creepy. I must give a round of applause to the music as well. At the start it is big dramatic drumbeats reminding me of the opening scene of Face of Evil then at times it is lush and playful such as the scene where the Doctor mentions his parents. The DVD extras are excellent including an entertaining commentary and Deborah Watling (Victoria Waterfield) is just as starchy and funny as she was in 1967.
Some people might decry that Tomb of the Cybermen was found and laid bare before the world, saying like the Doctor "that some things are better left as they are...". I don't, and what's more its made me want to see more Troughton. Kitschy and sixties it may be and I can't guarantee it would be a ratings winner if shown on BBC1 at peaktime in 2004. But like a fine wine, it has matured over the decades.
Quality is timeless, and so is this adventure
A Review by John Greenhead 28/3/05
In my mission to reacquaint myself with Doctor Who an early priority was to watch a Troughton adventure, as I had never seen the second Doctor in action before and was well aware of his high reputation with fans. Given its fame, The Tomb of the Cybermen was an obvious choice among the surviving stories, and I settled down to watch the DVD with much curiosity.
I must confess that I was a bit alarmed right at the start of the story, when Troughton appears to be pulling a Ken Dodd impersonation in the TARDIS, but once the adventure gets going this gifted actor very quickly won me over. It goes without saying that this Doctor is a complete contrast to Hartnell's, but Troughton makes it very clear that under that bumbling, scruffy external appearance is a supremely intelligent mind and a relentless opponent of evil. One of the great strengths of The Tomb of the Cybermen is the way the Doctor manipulates events to ensure that the Cybermen are thwarted. He knows full well that the expedition to Telos is ill-advised, but he helps the archaeologists to enter the tomb anyway, knowing that if he doesn't Klieg and Kaftan will eventually find some other way in and be given a free hand to reawaken the Cybermen, with disastrous consequences. From the beginning the Doctor sees that this villainous duo are up to no good, but he also realises that he can only prevent their evil if he initially facilitates it and keeps the expedition company. Troughton is brilliant at showing the Doctor's deviousness and hidden intelligence in this situation, and he also has a wonderful sense of mischief. This is notable in the scene where he presses the button that opens the chute to the tomb, but gives the credit to Klieg, and then later on when he appears to praise Klieg's plans for world domination, only to completely alter his demeanour before saying "now I know you're mad." It is a wonderful Doctorish moment.
Tomb is therefore undoubtedly a triumph for Troughton, but does it live up to its reputation as a "classic?" Probably not, although it is still a very entertaining story, with lots of good moments. The Cybermen themselves are very well realised, and the Cyber Controller looks particularly impressive with his tall helmet and imposing physical presence, the latter of which comes courtesy of the tall actor playing him, Michael Kilgarrif. The scene where the tomb thaws out and the Cybermen awaken still looks impressive today (apart from the clingfilm they fight their way through), and they come across as chillingly ruthless in their determination to survive and thrive.
As for the human cast, I like both Jamie and Victoria as companions, and in fact I liked Victoria far more than I expected. She has a reputation as a screamer, but Deborah Watling doesn't let rip that much in this story, and she also succeeds in making Victoria quite courageous, notably when she defies Kaftan to try to open the chute, and when she shoots the cybermat. I also enjoyed the indignant way she responds to being called "Vic", and the scene she shares with Troughton in which they talk about their families. This is very tender and well-acted, and it gives Troughton a chance to emphasise the Doctor's caring side and his wide-eyed love of adventure. Frazer Hines plays Jamie in an easy-going, affable way and while he doesn't get much of substance to do, it is obvious that his loyalty to the Doctor is absolute and his courage not in question; it is also clear that Hines and Troughton have excellent chemistry together. My opinion of the guest cast is rather more mixed. I like the gruff Professor Parry and the nervy Viner, but Klieg and Kaftan are too close to being pantomime villains, with both George Pastell and Shirley Cooklin verging on hamminess on several occasions. The American accents of the rocket crew are as bad as everyone says, though they are likeable enough as characters, and then of course there is Toberman. While it looks a little unfortunate today, I don't think the production team was being "racist" in casting a black actor in this role, and Toberman is actually quite an effective character; it should not be forgotten that he is also very heroic at the end.
As far as other positives about this story are concerned, I thought the sets were impressive and that the script is simple and easy to follow. On the negative side, my main problem with Tomb is that it just seems a bit too lightweight to qualify as a true classic, its simple premise having to be stretched out too far to accommodate four episodes. The cybermats were also a mistake, as they just look laughable rather than menacing, and too much like the toys they were intended to be turned into; the moment one of them jumps onto Kaftan's shoulder is unintentionally hilarious. Despite this, however, Tomb is still well worth watching. There are other Who adventures with more substance, but it has its share of memorable scenes and is certainly an excellent showcase for the second Doctor.
A Review by Finn Clark 23/4/06
Tomb of the Cybermen used to be "a lost classic", but people's opinions of it dropped after someone found the episodes in Hong Kong. Having just watched The Moonbase I dutifully embarked upon Tomb as part of my big Doctor Who rewatch, which turned out to be a fascinating experiment. I've given this some thought and the naysayers are wrong. Tomb of the Cybermen really is as good as everyone used to say it was.
The problem is that it's a surprisingly delicate little horror tale which fails if you have inappropriate expectations. You won't appreciate it properly if you're wondering, "Where's the classic?" or, "What shall we watch now after Silver Nemesis?" Everyone knows that it's ripping off Curse of the Mummy's Tomb horror movies, but an extension of that is that it's assuming a certain level of audience anticipation about the Cybermen. In September 1967, everyone was primed and ready. It was only eight months after The Moonbase and thirteen months after The Tenth Planet. What's more, no other Doctor Who monster had ever returned except the Daleks.
I'd stayed away from eighties Cyber-stories. Instead I watched The Moonbase before proceeding to this... and as a result it blew me away.
Episode one positively fizzes. It's a million miles from JNT's Cyber-massacres, instead being 25 minutes of escalating anticipation and byplay from a cracking cast. The Doctor's "special technique" is just one of many gems, with even Jamie and Victoria each getting their own little moment. (1: "I'm all right, thank you." 2: "Oh aye, that.") Yet again I was reminded that I adore this TARDIS crew, but the original characters are just as impressive. There's tension, backchat and suspicious bastards, with everyone busting their nuts to get into the tombs that you know will kill them.
Admittedly there are some downsides in the performances. As so often in Doctor Who, a BBC actor attempting an American accent seems to lose all acting ability. Then there's Toberman, who can be uncomfortable to watch. I don't find the character inherently racist, but what hit the screen looks unfortunate today. It's scary to think that in 1967 the character might almost have been argued to be a step forward for the portrayal of blacks on television! In the end he's the hero who seals the tombs. After all, this was an age when classic Trek's Uhura could be a blow for racial equality.
However if I can watch The Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Crusade, I can watch Tomb of the Cybermen. We progress to episode two and the death toll mounts. Episode two still has plenty of tension among the characters ("You do a lot of insisting, Viner"), but the head count is dwindling as the Cybermen become increasingly prominent... which raises another problem.
This may be a Mummy's Tomb horror film in which the Cybermen want to eat us all, but a modern audience might only see unconvincing rubber suits, comedy Cybermats and Kirby wires. If so, that's their problem. If you let yourself get lured in then this story has atmosphere, helped by being in black-and-white. I like the Cybermen's design and I particuarly like how the story was built around them, exploiting their mythology more imaginatively than any other classic series story. These aren't the usual sixties rent-a-goons besieging a scientific outpost. We see Cyber-pets and Cyber-conversion, while they themselves are more iconic and less chatty. It's noticeable that episode two keeps us waiting forever as the Cybermen assemble, silent and unstoppable. They're the Terminators of the black-and-white era. Eventually Klieg actually asks, "Do you understand me?" Only just before the theme music, exactly halfway through the story, do they speak for the first time in that ear-rattling whine. "You belong to uzzz. You shall be like uzzz."
Incidentally this is the only 1960s Cyber-story for which they weren't redesigned. I don't think it's a coincidence that no other story relies so heavily on their image and reputation. I even like the Cybermats, which despite normally inching along, every so often dart like lightning. As an aside, that looks like an eighties Cybergun in the weapons testing room.
The visuals impressed me. I've seen this story's production values criticised, particular problems being apparently the fights, the reversed film and some plywood sets, but personally I don't see it. On the contrary, yet again I was astonished by the quality of the production. It's hard to credit this as the same show as the Hartnells I'd been watching. You won't see a better-shot quarry in a month of Sundays, while the Cybermat attack could have been infinitely more embarrassing. Imagine a similar scene in Warriors of the Deep, then shudder and scrub your brain clean. For me it works. I credit the direction and the performances.
The last episode's violence was criticised back in 1967. The foam-spurting Cyber-death is surprisingly explicit, though what really sells the shot is Patrick and Frazer's reactions. However even nastier is the (richly deserved) fate of Eric Klieg. Listen to the soundtrack. That's no clean Cyber-chop. Think about that for a moment... beaten to death screaming by a Cyberman. Good thing we never saw the body, eh?
Some people think the plot is a head-scratcher. Why does the Doctor help the archeologists enter the tombs in the first place? Why does he put everything back as he found it at the end? Why is shoring timber lying around on the surface of Telos? Nevertheless I've never had a problem with it. Re-electrifying everything is the best way of sealing away the Cybermen short of actually blowing them up. (I'm sure he'd have happily done that, but for once the Cybermen failed to fit their tombs with a convenient self-destruct facility.) I don't even mind the Doctor leading everyone to their deaths in the first place, since someone will clearly get inside sooner or later and the Doctor's decided it's going to be him. He couldn't have known the precise nature of the Cybermen's plans or that he wouldn't be able to do more than just seal up the tombs again. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Had he blown them up after all, no one would even be asking these questions.
Besides, Troughton is so lovable that it's not often acknowledged how sinister he can be. Check out his expression as he freezes a Chameleon in The Faceless Ones or fondles a camera in The Abominable Snowman location footage. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to meet that in a dark alley. Personally I love this story for the Doctor's manipulativeness, but that's just one of many reasons.
I love Kit Pedler's use of real mathematics instead of technobabble. I love Troughton's late-night discussion of family with Victoria, which even today remains unique. I love the killing smoke, which is one of Doctor Who's best-looking death effects. (I'd have loved Earthshock even more with death smoke.) I love the way Klieg goes so dribblingly bonkers. "Well, now I know you're mad; I just wanted to make sure."
Perhaps we should start listening again to popular opinions from the sixties. If everyone said something was brilliant, maybe it was!
Comic relief by Clement Tang 5/10/12
This is one of those stories that was considered a lost classic before it was found. However, even without looking at the actual story, you can tell how flawed this story is.
The acting is over-the-top. The "American" tries too hard and fails, Klieg and Kaftan make terrible villains, and even the Doctor and Jamie seemed to be overdoing it (Deborah Watling was never a good actress, anyway).
The plot seems slow and dull. A group of archaeologists searching for Telos, and Klieg and Kaftan want to resurrect the Cybermen for their own needs. In four episodes, this is already dragging. Plus, why bother going in and out of the frozen tombs again and again just to stop the villains. Not well thought at all. But then again, I was never a fan of Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis.
I do like the Cybermen, though. They are really scary in here compared to other stories. (I haven't watched The Invasion and have only seen a clip of the Tenth Planet. Frankly, the Cybermen looked like jokes. The Moonbase gave them a much-needed improvement.)
But even though the Cybermen here were so good, they can't save the story. Not in the least.
Making The Mould by Mike Morris 21/5/13
The Tomb of the Cybermen comes is another one of those stories where the folklore seems to carry more weight than they story itself. This was one of Doctor Who's great lost classics, spoken of with hushed reverence, the sets rendered epic by the illustrations from David Banks' book Cybermen. When it showed up in Hong Kong there was a breathless VHS release, and then... awkward silence. Nobody wanted to be the spoilsport who pointed out that the story wasn't really all that, but nor could you say it wasn't disappointing.
And yet The Tomb of the Cybermen retains an air of importance. It's the earliest Patrick Troughton story to exist in its entirety, and the only one from Seasons 4 and 5 untouched by the Great Archive Cull. So it's the first, unexpurgated sight of Patrick Troughton reacting to a changing narrative over the course of a whole story.
It might be produced by Peter Bryant in preparation for his taking over the show, but this is purely a product of the Gerry Davis/Innes Lloyd tenure - and the only real exemplar that remains in its entirety. There are many arguments to be had about whether their impact on the show was for the better or not, but what you can't miss is just how much Doctor Who has changed since the days of Lambert and Whitaker - or Wiles and Tosh, come to that. The verve and confidence of The Tomb of the Cybermen is that of a programme that knows exactly what it's for.
Is that a good development, though? The Hartnell stories are slow and stodgy, but there's also the giddying sense that the writers are making it up as they go along - in the very best way, that is. Here, we're on familiar ground from the first few minutes. The Doctor 'n' pals meet some future-archaeologists who've reckon they've found the remains of the now-extinct Cybermen. A team member dies just by touching the doors, and an imperious-sounding woman offers FIFTY POUNDS to the first man who opens the doors (deflation must be serious in the future). She and her balding friend both have non-specific Mittel-European accents, so they're clearly up to no good. A few minutes in, we already know the Cybermen will be showing themselves to be not quite as dead as they're painted.
This is the sort of old-skool B-movie horror-SF we never saw under Hartnell. Even the more - ahem - straightforward Hartnell stories at least try to give the viewer a strange concept to ponder: take the "time track" element of The Space Museum, for example. But this doesn't really want to give us anything but a haunted house in space, with the Cybermen there to provide scares. It's well-documented that Season Five uses a bog-standard base under siege format in every story bar one, and even its acolytes must admit that's a dreary approach to programme-making. The stories themselves weren't always dreary, but it's no wonder some fans now vocally decry Season Five as Doctor Who at its most limited.
I wouldn't go that far, for a fairly basic reason; most of Season Five's stories are told with a damn sight more competence than The Ark, Galaxy 4 or (god help us) The Celestial Toymaker. For all its limitations, Tomb is entertaining for the vast majority of its length. It's told using just three sets, but they're simply wonderful; they're all shadows and angles, and the Cybermen's "tomb" is as visually impressive as anything the series would ever produce. (You may mock, or rag on the bit where they reverse the film, but what other Doctor Who story ever considered building a multi-level set like that? Even the new series hasn't tried it.) The atmosphere is oppressive, and the Cybermen's awakening is quite rightly famed as a classic moment for the show.
There are obvious problems, though. For a start, it's - well, racist. The fact that all the working-class shuttle pilots are American is no more than irritating, and you might even overlook the baddies' gratuitous Mittel-European accents. (I've always assumed they're German, largely because the names "Klieg" and "Kaftan" suggest it. However, the accents wander to all the way to Belarus and back, so it's hard to know where they're from beyond Foreignland). But then we have Toberman. Let's be clear here; Toberman is a huge, brutish hulk of a man who works for the villainess, who's spoken to like a child by everyone, and who only speaks in monosyllabic grunts. He obvious has an intellectual difficulty of some kind, but we're never told what it is - almost like you'd just, you know, expect him to be like this. And yes, this is one of two notable black characters in the whole of 1960s Doctor Who.
(Deep breath, and some clarification. I'm not accusing the production team of anything more than crass stupidity, and it's perfectly possible to enjoy the story anyway. One can write this off as a Product Of The Times, or maybe say "well, it's not like there was a social problem with black people being thought of as ignorant savages or anything," but there isn't really any excuse. It's not Love Thy Neighbour, but other programmes did know better back then, and Doctor Who should have too.)
Set that aside and all's still not right here. Performances are... let's be generous and say uneven, although the actors are arguably just performing the way the script is written. The dialogue is pretty terrible: Klieg's villainous speeches are cut-'n'-paste madman shtick, and Captain Hopper's - um, is that flirting? - with Victoria has to be seen to be believed.
The biggest problem is structure, though: the story spends fifty minutes waking the Cybermen up, but then doesn't have any idea what to do with them. So they just wander around for a bit and then... they go back into their tombs, accompanied only by the sounds of the story grinding to a halt. When the Cybermen first emerge, they're all huge, silent menace - but most of the cast promptly escape from them, and they go from terrifying to rubbish in a matter of moments. Once they're sealed in (and seriously, why the hell did the Cybermen build a hatch they couldn't open from the inside? They're meant to be logical, yeah?) it all degenerates into a creaking exercise where two groups whittle down each others numbers until the good guys inevitably win.
The Cybermats are a reasonable diversion, but they look a bit too cute and it's never quite clear what they actually do. The rest of the plot tends to be progressed by someone or other doing something stupid. Even the Doctor's not immune; why on earth does he help re-energise the Cybercontroller? Is he feeling quite well?
Troughton is superb in this, but only in the sense that he makes a stinker of a script work better than you could hope for. His quiet scene with Victoria is really lovely; however, for the rest of the story he's in a weird role where he keeps telling the archaeologists that they shouldn't go near the Cybermen, but then goes and helps them anyway. Troughton does his best, trying to suggest the Doctor's motivated by curiosity and a desire to solve problems, but he's jumping through hoops to serve bad plot mechanics. Arguably, the Cybermen wouldn't have been released if he hadn't stuck his oar in, so he really gets a lot of people killed. Dramatically, this could be quite tense, but the script never even acknowledges it.
Yet even here you can see Troughton's childlike space-tramp setting the template on which other Doctors could build. Frazer Hines provides great support as Jamie - as ever, really. Victoria is another matter. When given the right material, Deborah Watling does fine, but for most of this story she's only distinguished from any other standard-issue screaming girl by being prim, overprivileged and really, really irritating. In a sense, she too is a template for the stereotypical "Doctor Who Girl", but not a healthy one.
It's appropriate though, because templates are where we're at. The Cybermen here are part of that process: they're impressive-looking bogeymen, designed to be recurring monsters and nothing more. They look good - the sleek, silent look has a creepy quality that the modern-day stomp-stomp models have lost - but all they really do is walk around repeating a WE WILL SURVIVE catchphrase. Toberman's fate should be an opportunity to look at the conversion process, but the script throws it away with an "evil must be destroyed" scene that's patronising and unpleasant. This story isn't about the Cybermen as a concept, because it's all about establishing an easily repeated format where the Doctor and his good-looking friends meet some expendables and defeat some nasty monsters.
That sounds sniffy, but we shouldn't forget that it's what a good chunk of the series was about. It's not enough on its own, of course, but a lot of great Doctor Who has been based on exactly this kind of plot. There hadn't really been any story quite like this beforehand; the background information of the rise-and-fall of the Cyber-empire is just one example of something that had never happened previously, but we've since taken for granted since. More to the point, the show had to discover this kind of off-the-shelf trope if it was to become the record-breaker it has.
A necessary evil, then? No, that's doing it a disservice. Sure, The Tomb of the Cybermen is badly flawed and it has dated badly (some of its bedfellows, such as The Ice Warriors, have stood up better), but it's still pulled off with style. It's groundbreaking, in its way. It's also enjoyable enough for what it is, but not without some unsavoury elements - and a twinge of sadness for what Doctor Who has left behind.
A Review by Brian May 20/3/14
The Tomb of the Cybermen holds a special place in Doctor Who lore, something that may be lost on younger and newer fans. To any of you reading this, although you may be familiar with the events, you really had to be there at the time. You had to be a fan in the 1980s, well aware of the sorry state of the BBC's holdings of the early years, especially the pitiful paucity of the highly lauded Patrick Troughton era. You would rejoice when episodes turned up, especially from a story in which none previously existed. Episode two of The Evil of the Daleks was a major find, followed by four episodes of The Ice Warriors. But it was the discovery of The Tomb of the Cybermen, all of it, that was the jackpot. The find to end all finds. The Tomb of the Cybermen! One of the all-time classics! That's what we were told by the likes of Jeremy Bentham and Ian Levine, in a time when we still used the word "classic" and could only rely on their "sage" opinions. Of all the stories that could be found in full, it was this one!!!
And that's where it all started to go downhill...
Doctor Who has taught me a lot. I learned about the second law of thermodynamics and the theory of relativity. And, thanks to The Tomb of the Cybermen I was made aware of the Kirby wire, in a scene that's now one of the most highly ridiculed. (The empty Cyber-suit in episode four sometimes gets included, too.) The thing is, if Tomb hadn't been recovered and all we had today was a recon with telesnaps, these faults would probably not have been noticed. But as they exist on film, they're immortalised for all to see. However, they're in a very small minority and there's a lot of good stuff on display. The location filming is nice and the design quite impressive. Another example of an empty Cyber-suit, namely the cliffhanger to part one, is forgiven come the resolution, as it's a nice bit of misdirection and subverts the traditional monster revelation (plus the fact that the empty suit is meant to be as such!). This builds the tension further as the second episode unfolds, leaving us once again having to anticipate the Cybermen's emergence, a wait that's rewarded handsomely in a deservedly memorable scene. Part three ups the ante as the protagonists escape from the tomb, with every possible opportunity for maintaining suspense taken advantage of (the Cyberman grabbing Victoria a prime example). The final episode is a bit more sedate, but the story is wrapped up nicely, despite a ridiculous moment when the Doctor helps the Cyber Controller into the revitaliser (wouldn't it have been better just to let it collapse, as it was about to do so anyway?)
But Morris Barry's direction throughout is very good, with small touches, such as a dissolve in the second episode between two shots of the same image, that simply but stylishly communicates the passing of time. To criticise the act of reversing the footage to realise the Cybermen going back into the tombs would be nitpicking to the extreme; indeed the same trick makes the shot of the Cybermat crawling onto the sleeping Callum look a treat. There's more to it than the Kirby wires, you know. Barry uses his skill to turn a rather cliched, base-under-siege mummy tribute into something just that little bit more.
Perhaps that's it? Underneath it all, it's a very straightforward tale. Perhaps we were anticipating something more, well, grand? Well, that shouldn't be the case if we'd read the Target novel or the Titan Books transcript, the latter published just a few years before the story's recovery. It was never going to be anything challenging or sophisticated; if David Whitaker or Ian Stuart Black were the writers, maybe, but not Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis.
What about acting and characterisation? Well, yes, a bit to be said here. As the story is full of cliches, so too are the guest characters, and some aren't that well performed, George Roubicek and Shirley Cooklin especially. Actually, the regulars and Aubrey Richards aside, everyone overacts at times and dodgy accents reign supreme. You could at first hurl allegations of sexism at the story; in episode one, as the expedition prepares to divide up and search the tombs, Parry recommends the "women should remain here". Kaftan rejects this, perhaps not for the most altruistic of reasons, but a step forward nevertheless. Later, Victoria is made to run off and seek the help of the brave, square-jawed Captain Hopper to open the tomb. But Hopper, the proverbial male chauvinist pig, is shown up as such and Victoria is allowed to get her own back with some sly barbs.
What about racism? A lot has been written about race in The Tomb of the Cybermen that I don't think I could add much more. Most of the discussion focuses on Toberman. He is quite well cast; as a tall muscular man, Roy Stewart fits perfectly, and the fact he is black should be immaterial. The character isn't as dim-witted as some people say, either (when the Doctor speaks to him slowly in the final episode it's because of the Cyber-mind control, nothing else). It's simply the unfortunate writing of him as a servant that's the issue; if he'd been a mercenary for hire, no problem; if a white actor had been cast, again no problem. The same sort of character was present in the previous story, The Evil of the Daleks; however, his position as a servant is a reflection of the era he came from. But Tomb is in the future, which we'd expect to be more enlightened, so it doesn't have that excuse. It's a careless but inadvertent racism, if any. However compare this with the awful accent for a Chinese character in The Wheel in Space, or the depiction of a money-obsessed Jew in The Web of Fear, and then tell me if Toberman is offensive.
The trouble with The Tomb of the Cybermen is that it was found at a time when we were expecting perfection and it failed to deliver. However, it's enjoyable enough. Okay, it's a traditional monster story, with the unavoidable cliches as the genre it pays homage to. But with some nice directorial touches and a good sense of pacing, you could do far worse. 7.5/10
P.S. The writing of this review was well underway when the wonderful news broke of the recovery of The Enemy of the World, in full, and The Web of Fear, one episode short of complete. The younger and newer fans now have their own Tomb of the Cybermen moment, and we old folk have it all over again! They're both highly regarded stories, but I'm confident the availability of reconstructions and fandom's subsequent ability to judge them more critically in their longer absence has benefited us immensely. We know already that in The Enemy of the World a black actor plays a character who is a servant; we also know her race is incidental. In The Web of Fear we have, as mentioned above, a dreadful Jewish stereotype, whilst I suspect the Welsh may be none too happy either. Let's just hope there are no Kirby wires...
"To bring them back in front of my eyes" by Hugh Sturgess 24/4/16
In my review of The Moonbase, I related my belief in the fundamental purposelessness of the Cybermen. Barely any of their stories rate as classics; unlike the Daleks, their design is not strikingly unique; they are devoid of personality; and, again unlike the Daleks, their schemes never expand beyond invade/destroy Earth. In the Troughton era, they are panto villains who sneak about the place implementing silly schemes and intelligence tests and so on. In the Saward era, they are macho stormtroopers who get routinely splattered. No story has ever been improved by putting the Cybermen in them. Indeed, they seem to bring mediocrity with them - Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel is famously bad, and even Hinchcliffe and Holmes were struck by the curse, going from Genesis of the Daleks to Revenge of the Cybermen. They're "second to the Daleks", but only because someone has to come second. Doomsday made a very simple point: in the mythic Daleks vs. Cybermen story, the Daleks laugh, piss on the Cybermen and roll away. They make a pretty shoddy understudy.
Just what are the Cybermen for? It's a question the original series only considers in The Tenth Planet. The new series thinks through the concept in Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel, depicting them as barely sentient rogue technology, and the Moffat era continues this in The Pandorica Opens, amping it to its macabre extreme in Death in Heaven. The equivalence of Cybermen with zombies is one of those brilliant ideas that is obvious once said out loud, and there are lots of stories to tell about zombie-Cybermen, but no one would describe zombies as particularly intellectual baddies. Zombies are a force of nature - you might as well ask for a return appearance of the tornadoes from Twister or the asteroid from Deep Impact. It reduces what are meant to be the series' second-greatest villains to a weapon to be wielded by other, more eloquent baddies. In Death in Heaven, for instance, the opinion of the Cybermen about Missy's plot is not even canvassed.
(Compare Missy's utter domination of the Cybermen with the Master's interaction with the Daleks in Frontier in Space. The big shock reveal is that he has been working for the Daleks all along. The reverse, that the Daleks are acting as grunts from the Master, seems ludicrous somehow.)
Tomb of the Cybermen has an idea, buried deep down in its icy depths. Doctor Who loves nominative determinism, so Aridius is arid and Mechanus is inhabited by Mechanoids (and even Skaro might be taken to be a "scarred world"). The Cybermen's tombs are on Telos; that is, an end-point or a goal (hence teleology, as in the intriguingly titled The Teleological Response of the Virus by Sarah's aunt Lavinia, mentioned in The Time Warrior). Naming the final resting place of the Cybermen "Telos" is surely as significant as naming their original home planet Mondas, a corruption of the Latin "mundus" (world). The Cybermen are, the name implies, humanity's telos. They are what the arc of history bends towards. Replacing ourselves with technology to prolong our lives, we are taking steps ever closer to our Telos. We belong to them. We will be like them.
This, I think, is the Cybermen's Unique Selling Point. Almost everything else a monster can be, the Daleks can be too, except, essentially, our own children. This is never realised on screen in the series' depiction of the Cybermen, but I think it's fascinating. Tomb of the Cybermen is a Freudian meeting with our own superegos, in which humanity journeys into the depths of space to find the last remains of the Cybermen, only to find our own future instead. In this reading, using the iconography of The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb is a clever subversion of the genre, since the mummy is explicitly from the distant past, while the mummified Cybermen are from our own future. This, I think, would be a fascinating new angle for the Cybermen, once their current conception has been exhausted. Tomb of the Cybermen is, in this respect only, worthy of its "classic" label - it gives a reason for the Cybermen to exist at all.
It is a classic in that respect only, because the rest of it is crap.
Watching Tomb of the Cybermen today, it is a total mystery how it came to gain its "classic" label. Testaments to its general brilliance read as messages from some parallel universe, and those written before it was rediscovered are really very funny. "The Tomb of the Cybermen is quite simply the best [Cyberman] story," Martin Day enthused in 1985, singling out the story's "superb acting" for special praise. Following the story's recovery and release on VHS, Jeremy Bentham judged the Cybermen to be "at their best" here, in "classic, blood-curdling style", while Jeff Stone described it as "100 minutes of pure magic". David Howe and Stephen Walker, in The Television Companion, describe it as "well-paced, gripping [and] genuinely frightening". Come on. At least Day had the excuse that he couldn't watch it to make sure his intuition that it was really good was correct.
Though, fair enough, maybe this is the best Cyberman story of the original series. The only one that I'd say was actually good off the top of my head would be Earthshock, so this might be number two. The Cyber designs here are rather effective, particularly the "grinning skull" mask, though the quacking sound the Cybermen make when in duress is outrageously funny.
The Cybermen's plan is less crazy than they'll get in The Wheel in Space or The Next Doctor, but think about this. Running low on energy and resources, they go and hide en masse in a fridge. They anticipate that humans will come to investigate the tombs, so they plan to weed out all but the most intelligent by installing booby traps only idiots will fall into and fiendish mathematical puzzles composed of symbolic logic and Boolean algebra. They failed to anticipate humans with dynamite to blast their way in. Or a team with a single brilliant individual (like this one) who unlocks all the puzzles and lets the rest blunder in. These smart humans are going to get converted into Cybermen and put in hibernation. And this solves their energy crisis how? The Cybermen are so depleted they crawl back into their tombs before the humans are dealt with, and the Cyber Controller wouldn't have made it to the revitalisation chamber without the (inexplicable) help of the Doctor. The solution they have developed is to a totally different problem. (Unless they are looking for someone with a brain to solve the problem for them.)
But the Cybermen are not alone in their stupidity. For a story that goes on and on about logic, its plot is illogical, and for a plot that hinges on intelligence everyone in it is a moron.
Just what is the Doctor playing at here? Famously, he is the driving force that gets the archaeologists through every obstacle in the story: the outer doors, the interior doors, the main hatch, etc. This means that everyone who dies, apart from the "fifty pounds" guy at the start, dies because of the Doctor. This is not dwelt on by the story, but it sure has been by reviewers. I can see an argument for the Doctor to do this. Klieg doesn't seem like the sort of person who would accept that the doors are electrified and just go home. I dare say it wouldn't be that long before someone checked the doors again and found that they were perfectly safe. If the Doctor hadn't restored the power and reopened the hatch, Klieg would either have finally cracked the sums or just used explosives to blast open the tombs. So if the Doctor wanted to make sure that the Cybermen were never revived, then it is not a bad idea to hurry things along.
But this is not how it is played. The Doctor merely says that he was helping Klieg so he could "see what he was up to". Well, congratulations, Doctor. The shifty bankroller of the expedition to locate the Cybermen, who shows a great interest in reactivating the facility and who talks a lot about the power of logic, and whose colleagues have already sabotaged the expedition's spaceship and tried to murder Victoria, turns out to want to use the Cybermen for a sinister ulterior purpose. I'm sure the two men who died thanks to your "help" are glad you finally worked that out.
Furthermore, he can't even say that he has made sure that the Cybermen will never be reactivated. He merely puts them back to bed, rewires the controls and leaves a lethal booby-trap for the next schmuck who comes along. He doesn't think anyone else is going to blast open the Tombs and defrost them? The argument for accelerating the opening (if the Doctor doesn't do it someone else will) remains outstanding at the end: what the Doctor has frozen someone else can unfreeze.
And he can't stop doing stupid things. In Episode 3, he suggests that they lock Klieg and Kaftan in the weapons-testing room (repeat that: the WEAPONS-TESTING room), where they promptly find a Cyber-gun and take everyone hostage. In Episode 4 alone, he makes two further spectacular screw-ups. He is confronted by a depleted Cyber Controller on the verge of keeling over, begging for his help and... he provides it. Instead of just locking him in the revitalisation cupboard, he insists on actually recharging him, so much so that the machinery nearly overloads. This could be justified as the only way they can get out of the room and stop Klieg (using the Controller's strength), but again the story does not co-operate. "Where would you rather have him? In or out of there?", he asks Jamie triumphantly, but as soon as the Controller is revitalised he busts out. After the Controller has seemingly been killed, he insists on going back down into the Tombs to freeze them up again, even though the Cybermen are by this stage so weak that they have returned to hibernation of their own free will. Needing to be frozen in the first place suggests that, had he left them to run their batteries flat, the Cybermen would have died for good. Each of these dumb decisions directly results in someone's death.
It's a good job, then, that everyone else is just as stupid. Klieg's reaction to obtaining the Cyber-gun is to declare: "I am invulnerable with this." This has shades of The Simpsons episode in which Homer buys a gun: "This must be how God feels when He's holding a gun!" (Incidentally, the only person Klieg shoots survives.) I'm not sure whether we're meant to take Klieg seriously or not. There comes a point when the story snaps and begins to treat him with outright contempt, when he tells the Doctor that he has forfeited his right to existence by mocking him and the Doctor almost wearily urges him to kill them, knowing that he will inevitably decide to go the Bond-villain path and monologue. "I've heard this all before," the Doctor says, adding insult to injury by pointing out the lameness of the character.
Does there not seem to have been extensive adventuring between the opening TARDIS scene and arriving on Telos? Victoria goes from a frock to a miniskirt more revealing than her era's night-wear, with only the objection that it's "a bit short"; Jamie insists that he hasn't had much exercise lately, when he spent a large part of Evil of the Daleks rushing around Maxtible's house as part of the Daleks' tests; the Doctor asks Victoria if she is happy travelling with him, as though she's had more than a few hours on which to base her judgement; and Jamie seems to be noticeably less shy of girls. It's possibly that last point, along with Victoria's fashion decisions, that meant that the missing adventure couldn't be shown when there were children watching... There you go, slash authors. Fifty Shades of the Embodiment Gris.
It's conventional to throw a bit of shade at Kaftan, Klieg and Toberman for being ridiculous ethnic caricatures. I'm not going to break that convention, but what struck me was that these are not ethnic caricatures of the time of production, but something much older. This story doesn't just tip its hat to pre-war adventure serials or Universal Pictures horror flicks, it seems like it was actually made in the 1930s. Yes, Klieg calls the Doctor "decadent" to add an echo of the Communist menace to his portrayal of a shifty foreigner with what might be an Eastern European accent, but he and his associates are straight out of nineteenth-century thrillers or Jack London adventures. "Klieg" and "Toberman" sound German, but naming their associate "Kaftan" conjures up a whole world of Orientalism circa 1890. They are the descendants of bearded anarchists with spherical bombs, Conan Doyle's German spy-master von Bork and Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu.
Toberman... Jesus, where to begin? The Notting Hill riots were ten years ago. Enoch Powell will see the river foaming with much blood just seven months later. In 1968, South Africa demands that Basil D'Oliveira be kicked off the British cricket team because they don't want their team to play against someone with his skin colour. Black people were a real and politically significant part of British national life in 1967, and what does Doctor Who serve up? A near-mute black manservant who sacrifices himself to avenge his mistress. Whether it is racist or not, I don't know - originally Toberman was to have been deaf, explaining his muteness - but it is astonishing how disconnected it is from the reality of contemporary Britain (and America, since Davis and Pedler must have been aware of the civil rights movement). If Toberman had been a libidinous criminal (or "grinning piccaninny" as Powell put it), then at least that would been a stereotype with some relevance to contemporary society, however odious. Toberman is a cliche from a time when black people were exotic foreigners, not neighbours, activists, sporting heroes and a social reality to be argued out in Parliament. Making matters worse, he is the second near-mute ethnic manservant who sacrifices himself for his mistress in as many stories (Kemel the "black Turk" in Evil of the Daleks). The past, the future, it doesn't matter - Doctor Who is getting its picture of reality from the 1930s.
We can't even say that Klieg, Kaftan and Toberman are a once-off. This era lives off ethnic stereotypes. The base-under-siege era began, in The Tenth Planet, with a lascivious Italian gawping at Polly, and any ethnicities not caricatured there were covered in The Moonbase. The Web of Fear begins with Julius Silverstein, an unambiguous anti-Semitic caricature. This is a point in Doctor Who's history that regularly trades in offensive racial and ethnic stereotypes. That it comes during an era regarded by first-generation fandom - those who watched the series as kids in the '60s and came of age in the '70s, such as Bentham, Howe and Walker, etc - as a creative highpoint is painful, but true.
It's striking that, in the Howe and Walker book, neither the authors nor the other critics they quote make any mention of the dubious ethnic stereotypes in this story, beyond that their presence is, apparently, an "inspired decision". This is a recurring feature of The Television Companion, and is actually more disturbing than the original material. When they come to review The Talons of Weng-Chiang, they don't even include a boilerplate declaration that yellowface is, in 1998, an unacceptable theatrical practice; indeed they compound the problem, stating that it is "difficult to believe" that John Bennett (playing "the inscrutable Li H'sen Chang", a description that clearly means simply "Asian") is "not actually Chinese". There is nothing to suggest that this is ironic in the slightest. Yellowface may or may not be racist (it's an echo of a time when it was normal for male actors to play women, women to play boys [a la Peter Pan] and white people to play dusky-skinned foreigners), but saying that Bennett's stereotypical Asian accent and slightly broken English ("In my country we have saying...") are so convincing it's hard to tell that he isn't Chinese is. That Howe and Walker see nothing wrong with the ethnic stereotypes of Tomb and the uncritical pastiche of Victorian Sinophobia in Talons is a sign that they are so acculturated to this that they consider it normal. It seems almost engineered to prove the point in my review of The Moonbase that the adoption of the base under siege was a creative and moral disaster for the series.
The Talons of Weng-Chiang, however, can fly over its uncomfortable racial politics thanks to the staggeringly high quality of its script and its acting. Tomb has no such recourse.
The gender politics are terrible even by the standards of the time. Parry and Hopper both instinctively assume that "the women" should stay where they are and not take part in anything interesting, and, when Victoria and Kaftan press the point, Parry assigns them the nebbishy Viner to chaperone them. I thought it would be difficult to depict the female companion in a poorer light than Polly in The Moonbase ("Is that a spaceship?", "No, that's the scanner"), but Victoria's tremulous wailing and the frankly exploitative decision to get her straight out of her Victorian frock and squeeze her into a vanishingly small miniskirt manage to get us there. A nasty pattern is taking shape here so far as Gerry Davis's attitude towards women is concerned. As with his attitude to foreigners, he seems to have got it from the 1930s.
Perhaps it's appropriate that those fans who thought or even still think that modern Doctor Who would be improved by hewing more slavishly to the writing and visual conventions of the 1970s are likely to be the ones who entrenched Tomb of the Cybermen as a classic, since making Doctor Who now based on the '70s is the equivalent of what Tomb is doing here.
How exactly did this story become such a classic? All these flaws were obvious before the story was rediscovered. Howe and Walker's blindness to this story's ethical problems suggests part of the explanation (and it is interesting that Doctor Who From A to Z, published the same year, contains a chapter entitled "Ethnic Ethics" that takes the depiction of Toberman to task and was written by the much younger Gary Gillatt). But so does the fact that even first-generation fans saw Tomb as very young children. Reconstructing a childhood experience of anything is difficult, since what leaves an impression on us as kids is not what strikes us as adults. It seems that there was something very memorable about Tomb. Steven Moffat remembers being terrified by the trailers for it. It seems hard to imagine now. Yes, the famous scene of the Cybermen crawling out of their tombs looks impressive, if you bear in mind the available budget (particularly coming, as it does, at the end of a recording block that began with The Smugglers), but it doesn't look THAT good. For me, I think the Menoptera invasion of Vortis looks much more impressive.
I think that maybe there is also a difference in how we watch television today compared to the sixties. The quality of television (and television sets) at that time made the experience one of peering through interference at slightly blurred objects in semi-darkness. Plenty of fans recall being terrified by the theme tune and the title sequence. Today, with ultra-crisp definition (watch the latest Doctor Who episodes and believe your eyes at the level of detail you see), we have a different relationship with the sounds and sights coming from our TVs. (I admit that I'm basing this mainly on About Time.) Just as the way drama is produced has changed radically, so has the way it is consumed.
The disappointment when those first-generation fans finally got their chance to rewatch Tomb must have been crushing. It would have been like someone tearing away part of their childhood. The living nightmare they remembered was unfrightening, slow, poorly acted and impenetrably badly written. It's watchable entirely for Patrick Troughton's performance, which is as good as everyone says it is. Fans like Bentham and Jan Vincent-Rudzki had spent their adult lives criticising Doctor Who as it then existed for failing to match up to the memory of their childhoods (both Bentham and Vincent-Rudzki criticised the Hinchcliffe and Williams years for being too predictable, which is hilarious given their adoration of the most formulaic era in the show's history), only to find that their idol had feet of clay. Did they hit the caps lock inside their minds and demand to know what had become of THE MAGIC OF DOCTOR WHO? It's almost like a Doctor Who story in itself. There never was a golden age.
We all have fond memories from our childhood that don't stand up to scrutiny. I, for instance, lived in mortal dread of a giant nose inside the Melbourne museum when I was really young (like, one or two years old). Childhood is an animated, wondrous, frightening time, when everything is intense and nothing is taken for granted. But we can't go and seek it out again, behind two big electrified doors buried deep in the dirt of the adult world. Tomb of the Cybermen is an important story, no question about that, but it really doesn't deserve the "classic" label it got.
You Belong to Us, You Will Be Like Us by Jacob Licklider 3/6/04
The Tomb of the Cybermen has an interesting history with fans. Until being found in 1992 in Hong Kong, it was one of the stories that were completely missing and only heard about from the novelization and the word of mouth surrounding the story. The word of mouth said that this was among the best of all Doctor Who stories, with enormous sets and some of the best acting ever seen in Doctor Who. The hype allowed the BBC to immediately release it on VHS to the fan reaction that it was good, but not nearly as good as some of the other Doctor Who stories, and that the people who said it was a classic were seeing it through rose-tinted spectacles. I'm here today to see if the story really was as bad as people reacted to it.
The story is the opener to Season 5 also known as the base-under-siege season, so-called for the style of story produced around the time. The Tomb of the Cybermen is no different, as it sees the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria, right after the events of The Evil of the Daleks, arriving on the planet Telos where an archeological expedition is looking into the remains of the Cybermen, who disappeared after a series of wars. The team discovers the entrance to a giant tomb, which is set up with logic puzzles so someone very foolish unleashes the Cybermen, who are sleeping inside the ice of the planet, and, because this story takes place on a day ending with a y, madman Eric Kleig, who had a hand in sponsoring the expedition, wakes them up and wants to use them to take over the Earth. The rest of the story plays out like a base under siege as the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria have to get the Cybermen back into their tombs and escape the planet so the universe can rest easily. Writing out the plot like this, it sounds like it would be boring, but as the story is only four episodes long and the writing is so tight that it doesn't feel like it drags at all, except for Episode 3, which doesn't have much occurring throughout. The plot is helped by some great sets that just look and feel metal, especially on the monochrome film. If the Cybermen were to build a tomb, this is what it would look like. The honeycomb tomb itself is a beauty of a creation. It's only three stories, but the direction of the story makes it feel bigger, as you have actors going right up next to it and several shots from far away. Mention also has to be made of the music choices for this story, as they were all taken from stock sources and the selections chosen from other science fiction, which sounds great.
The acting is where many people had a problem, and I have to agree with some of the complaints. Some of the acting in this story can be really bland, with Captain Hopper being a stereotypical American and an actor who obviously wants more to do with the role he was given but didn't have the opportunity. There are also a few obvious red shirts in this story who are just boring, as you wait for the first cliffhanger to kill them off for good. Allegations have been made that this story is sexist and racist, which I don't really agree with. The racist allegations come with the character of Toberman who is black and a servant, but he is meant to be hearing-impaired, so people have to talk to him slowly, so I don't really see a problem with it except for the unfortunate casting of a black person.
The sexist allegations come against Victoria, who is treated like a scared little flower who can't fend for herself. This can be refuted, as Deborah Watling has several moments where she is moving the plot along. Also Victoria is supposed to be a teenager, so of course she will be treated like a child, as she is only sixteen in these stories. She also gets a great moment with the Doctor where they reminisce about their families, which is really good to see, as it touches your heartstrings. Klieg, played by George Pastell, is one of those over-the-top characters who is just great to see, as he has ambitions but is an idiot being strung along by Kaftan, his partner in crime. She dies in Episode 4, leaving Klieg to act on his own, where we get some great scenes of Klieg being an idiot. The main event of the story is Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines, who are on top form, cracking jokes at each other and just having a good time in their roles. They even integrate Deborah Watling into their fold, as they build up a good relationship with the new member of the TARDIS crew.
To summarize, The Tomb of the Cybermen may not be a perfect story, as there are some dodgy moments and really dodgy casting choices, but it is still really good. The plot and a lot of the story's design, direction and acting comes across really well, and this thing should be in everyone's collection. 90/100.
A Review by Donna Bratley 10/1/20
The rediscovery of a classic is exciting, but for me at least there's also a glimmer of dread. Can it live up to the hype? What if it's actually... a dud? In just over an hour and a half, Tomb sweeps aside such trepidation. It's every bit as good as its legend implied.
Yes, there are issues. Toberman is appallingly drawn, a crude pastiche of the "noble savage"; and it's notable that both principal human villains are deliberately "exotic" (as opposed to unmistakably Anglo-Saxon). I'm the first to insist that every Doctor Who story is a piece of its specific time and should be judged as such, but that doesn't make unthinking racism any more comfortable.
Victoria, too, gets a bad rap in popular memory. She screams. She's easily scared, quick to run for the aid of a big, strong man and downright gullible in her dealings with the icy Kaftan (daft name, gleeful menace from Shirley Cooklin). Having got hold of the villain's gun, she promptly drops it and runs away. That's a rookie mistake, but she is a rookie. (Jamie does much the same later, and he has no excuse.)
Victoria has only just stepped aboard the TARDIS from the sheltered life of a well-to-do Victorian girl. She's sweet yet impulsively gutsy and already endearingly loyal to her new friends. Deborah Watling doesn't have the steeliest material to play with, but she's always likeable and certainly not just a squealing wallflower. She susses Kaftan as a wrong 'un from the outset. When cornered, she's smart enough to find a way of fighting back, and her sickly-sweet put-down to the obnoxious Hopper (an early case of Who not "getting" Americans) is a personal highlight.
She also fits seamlessly with the Doctor/Jamie double-act, seen at its strongest throughout. From moments of silent comedy through affectionate bickering and into scenes of high tension, Troughton and Hines are a dream team, never missing a character-filled beat. Whether it's the inadvertent hand-hold, "Not you, Jamie!" or the king of the beasties defying a Highlander's knot-tying expertise, they're an absolute joy. Even poor material (hello, The Dominators) is watchable with them. Give them a strong story to work with and they're the pinnacle of Doctor/companion combinations.
There's an argument made that the events of Tomb are all the Doctor's fault. Surely though, it's human arrogance at the root of the trouble? His contribution is to recognise and react to its danger. By blind luck, brute strength or both, human curiosity would be satisfied: and how would Klieg's hapless party contain the horrors of the tomb alone?
He may not yet see himself as the omnipotent guardian of their species he'll become, but the second incarnation knows humanity is best not trusted with things it doesn't understand. All his ever-so-innocent little prompts, feeding out just enough rope for Klieg to hang himself on, are given with the cast-iron certainty that only he can prevent the delusional logician from wreaking havoc far beyond Telos.
He's one step ahead throughout: subtly telling Kaftan he's twigged how her party's escape route was blocked; prodding and provoking Klieg while generally making himself indispensable (and pressing the relevant missed button), however it might be resented. It's a bravura performance from a "poor old man", and he even gets to enjoy one truly atrocious pun. The cybermats (more likely to cause a paroxysm of giggles than dread, despite the energetic reactions of the cast) having a "complete metal breakdown" is richly deserving of a McCrimmon eye-roll, yet I laugh every time.
The most grounded of the supporting characters are the well-meaning, ineffectual Parry and his borderline hysterical second, Viner. Klieg's motives are so thoroughly daft - and his veering from absolute self-assurance to whimpering fear and back so abrupt - that he's virtually schizophrenic, but as a power-drunk intellectual with zero conception of reality, George Pastell handles tricky material with skill. He's a ghastly reminder of our arrogance, egged on by a callous associate whose only apparent connection to humanity is a surprising affection for her hulking servant.
They're memorably overblown baddies who meet suitably nasty ends, which helps compensate for the bumps in characterisation. And the hair-tearing stupidity of the Brotherhood's plan proves once again that academic brilliance and common sense very rarely work hand in hand.
In their own inimitable ways, the Doctor, Jamie and the Cybermen all make the same point. It's fitting the only one Klieg is likely to heed comes in the form of a metallic arm around his throat.
I don't care that one of the Cybermen ripped his costume, nor that there are visible wires lifting Roy Stewart during Toberman's epic struggle in the tombs. I'm puzzled why the Controller has a giant veined egg cup on his head, while the Cybermats are an addition who miss their purpose as objects of terror by a couple of star systems. Pretty much all the supporting characters do irrational things to further the plot, but that does at least make all them terribly human. It's why they need the Doctor around.
The tomb doesn't look substantial, but it's beautiful, and the iconic shot of the dormant Cybermen reawakening within their "honeycomb" (backed by a truly ominous blare of music - still one of the most memorable, all these years on) is well worthy of its status.
There's a bare minimum of padding around the narrative. I could gladly lose the scenes with the awful Hopper, even as I recognise their necessity, but elsewhere the talking is nicely rationed, with the next big event never too far away. It chills, shocks and amuses in all the right places, and if some twists are signalled well in advance (the Cybermat coming to life in Victoria's bag, for one), I can forgive the writer and director for the shortcuts. There's pace, colour and character enough to cover a multitude of sins.
Thank goodness we have it in full to enjoy.