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The Tomb of the Cybermen

“The Tomb of the Cybermen” was the first Troughton episode that I ever saw.  I had no idea about its history as the last lost Doctor Who story found in its entirety (until the more recent discovery of “The Enemy of the World,” that is), but I loved it instantly.  I loved Patrick Troughton as the Doctor and his companions, Jamie and Victoria.  But what surprised me the most was the fact that I loved the Cybermen.  I had never been terribly impressed with the Cybermen in their later adventures; they seemed to me like a less effective variation of a Dalek.  This story, however, showed me what had made the Cybermen into such popular villains and how effective they could be when used well.

The Cybermen emerge from their "tombs."

The Cybermen emerge from their “tombs.”

Basically, the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria land on the planet Telos, just as an archeological expedition is uncovering the tomb of the Cybermen (who have supposedly been dead for the past 500 years).  The expedition is ostensibly being lead by Professor Parry, but the backers of the expedition, Kaftan and Kleig, seem to really be pulling the strings.  The Doctor joins the expedition, and helps the group make their way into the tombs.

Once inside, however, it becomes apparent that these Cybermen are far from dead, and Klieg and Kaftan’s plan is revealed.  Klieg is a member of the Brotherhood of Logicians and believes that he can make a deal with the Cybermen.  He thinks that they will appreciate his logic and agree to lend their strength to help the brotherhood take over the world, and from there, the universe.  Of course, his plans don’t work out quite the way he hoped they would…

I know the story doesn’t completely make sense, but the story is enjoyable anyway.  Basically, the Cybermen’s plan boils down to this: they decided to lay dormant in booby-trapped “tombs,” until someone is clever enough to survive all of the traps and awaken them from their dormancy.  It’s a convoluted way to find intelligent people that they can then convert into Cybermen, but I really don’t care.  I get invested in the story and, since I’m engaged, I don’t spend my time nitpicking every aspect of the story, as I do when the story doesn’t completely hold my interest.  The plot is continually moving forward and the entire story is steeped in a great atmosphere.

Unfortunately, in “The Tomb of the Cybermen” the racism that was still fairly explicit in the 1960’s does rear its ugly head.  For the second story in a row, we have a mute or almost mute black man (in the original story Toberman was to have a hearing aid to foreshadow his transformation by the Cybermen) with almost superhuman strength.  Poor Toberman is not given much intelligence, he is just there to follow Kaftan’s orders and do all of the heavy lifting.  Additionally, it is typical of the era that the villains are given foreign (i.e. non- British) accents.  Quite often in this period of the show the human adversary of the Doctor is a foreigner which is another problematic aspect.  Still, I feel that is possible to enjoy the story.  Obviously, the viewer needs to remember the time period in which the story was created, even though this does not excuse the racism.  I also feel that the character of Toberman is ultimately responsible for stopping the Cybermen, which helps to redeem the story. He is wiling to sacrifice his own life to stop the Cybermen from leaving the tomb, something that no other character is willing to do.

Besides the eerie atmosphere and the entertaining story, there are also a lot of nice comedic moments.  An example is the moment when the group is entering the tomb and the Doctor and Jamie enter holding hands, each thinking that he is really holding Victoria’s hand.  This is a moment that Frazer Hines and Patrick Troughton improvised on the set (which is why they are holding their hands so high; they didn’t know where the bottom of the frame was), but it is a great comedic beat at that moment in the story.

The Doctor, Kaftan, and Toberman outside of the tomb.

The Doctor, Kaftan, and Toberman outside of the tomb.

This story also makes excellent use of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor.  He gets to display his trademark mixture of curiosity, impulsiveness, and intelligence. He also relies on his favorite trick: getting people to underestimate him. It is thanks to the Doctor that the expedition is able to enter the tombs at all.  He is responsible for de-electrifying the doors, and he figures out the logic sequence that opens the hatch to the tomb (although he lets Klieg think that he figured it out). The Doctor’s motivations for helping aren’t completely clear, since without his help, Klieg would not have reached the Cybermen, but I believe that the Doctor helps out of his desire to know if the Cybermen still pose a threat and to make sure that he is there to stop any trouble that might arise.

There is also a wonderful moment, one of my favorites in all Doctor Who, that occurs between the Doctor and Victoria.  The Doctor and Victoria share a quiet moment in which they discuss the loss of her father (who sacrificed himself for the Doctor in the previous story), and the Doctor tries to comfort her.  He tells her that he knows from experience that it won’t hurt so much in the future to think of her father.  He mentions that he can now only see his own family when he wants to see them; they are not always in front of his eyes.  It’s the first time that the Doctor seems to acknowledge that he has suffered a loss, and it’s something that I can’t picture his predecessor (or his successor for that matter) taking the time to do.  It’s a touching moment that the two characters share, and you can see it here:

Speaking of Victoria, she seems to adapt to her new role quite well.  She has great chemistry with her new traveling companions, and she is more than a damsel in distress in this story.  Yes, she still screams several times and she gets drugged by Kaftan and held as a hostage by Klieg, but she also is very brave and clever in this story.  She manages to fool Kaftan, help the Doctor break free of a Cyberman, and hold her own with the rather condescending pilot.  At one point, he makes a crack about Victoria being a girl, not a woman, but she gets back on equal footing when she points out  his cowardice later in the story.  She also, quite surprisingly, is a crack shot; it only takes her one shot to destroy the advancing Cybermat, which is a pretty small target.

One of the strengths of this story are its human adversaries.  Klieg and Kaftan are memorable and are excellent villains.  While Kaftan (played by the producer’s wife, Shirley Cooklin, in a role written expressly for her) realizes too late that the Cybermen must be stopped, Klieg never does.  He is such a megalomaniac that he cannot see that his great plan to unite his intelligence with the Cybermen’s strength has failed.  Up until the end, when the Cybermen finally attack him, he keeps believing that his intelligence is enough to bring the Cybermen under his control.  George Pastell does a great job of showing how Klieg gradually becomes consumed by his desire for control and eventually loses all touch with reality.  Klieg is such an effective villain because he does not come across as a madman from the start; his descent into complete madness makes him a far more disturbing character.

There are a few new twists added to the Cybermen in this story.  This is the first story to feature the Cyber Controller and the Cybermats.  The Cybermats are not particularly scary looking, which makes it hard to feel too frightened when the Cybermats surround the expedition party in the cliffhanger at the end of episode three, but they are an interesting idea.  It’s a bit hard for a Cyberman to sneak up on you or advance too quickly, but the Cybermats can.  An even better addition is the Cyber Controller; he makes the Cybermen a bit more cunning than they had been previously.  I also like the design of these Cybermen, as they are robotic looking, but they haven’t completely lost their human form.  My only complaint is with the voices of the Cybermen.  They alter the voice of the Cyber Controller too much in this story, making him difficult to understand.

Klieg tries to reason with the Cyber Controller (he's clearly the leader because he has a taller head than the others).

Klieg tries to reason with the Cyber Controller (he’s clearly the leader because he has a taller head than the others).

Overall, “The Tomb of the Cybermen” is an excellent story.  It’s an entertaining story, populated with some memorable characters.  It’s also a good showcase for the regulars, allowing Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines to display their excellent chemistry and providing a chance for Deborah Watling’s Victoria to establish herself with her new companions.  Perhaps most of all, however, this story uses the Cybermen effectively.  They are fighting for the survival of their race, as they were in “The Tenth Planet,” and the Cyber Controller will do whatever it takes to ensure the survival of his race.   The Doctor and his companions are continually facing danger from both Kaftan and Klieg and the Cybermen, which makes the story fly by.  If only the Cybermen were always used this well…

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3 responses to “The Tomb of the Cybermen

  1. I also love this story, in spite of the obvious flaws. Gerry Davis’ novelization, which I came across in the mid-’80s, is extremely atmospheric, and makes the Tombs a much larger, complex and more menacing environment than could have been fit into the small studio space (I think it was little Lime Grove D?). Apart from George Roubicek as the American space captain, the acting is pretty compelling (Cyril Shaps kept coming back to the series over & over again to play nervous fussy litlte men, a role at which he excelled). When I got the VHS tape in ’93 I was a little disappointed that the effects didn’t match the ones in my head, but… it’s still a better story than some of the New Series Cybermen adventures! Thanks for your review.

    (Oh, and David Banks in the New Adventure “Iceberg” had a pretty funny riff on the unintelligibility of these buzzy Cybermen voices…)

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    • I think this story is one that defies logic. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, but somehow it all just gels together perfectly. I agree about the acting. Everyone does a great job, but the “American” space captain sticks out like a sore thumb. His performance is just…flat, but I don’t think it’s solely George Roubicek’s fault; he’s given some awkwardly written lines to deliver. I guess that was how someone thought Americans spoke, but his dialogue just isn’t natural, making his character even less believable.

  2. Aaron ⋅

    This one deserves to be listed among the best of the best. Great fun, as you say, even if it is a bit convoluted at times.

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