Doctor Who - Tomb of the Cybermen

Tomb of the Cybermen

Steve Hendry is using the time before Capaldi fires up his TARDIS again to review the classics. Today is Tomb of the Cybermen...

Hide the cling film from the kids - it’s Tomb of the Cybermen!

The first thing that enters my mind when anyone mentions Tomb of the Cybermen is the excitement I felt when it was discovered in the far east, then released onto VHS in 1992. I was there, at the door of WH Smith on release day, to get my copy of something all Who fans of my age never thought they would see. Prior to its discovery in Hong Kong, fanzine and Doctor Who Magazine articles spoke in reverent tones about this long lost relic of the show’s monochrome era; those who could remember it pretty much lorded it over us youngsters, and held Tomb up as the holy grail of television. It is difficult for the modern viewer to imagine how impressive it was to fans of the show when originally broadcast, television has changed so much that it is an entirely different frame of reference. But 22 years later, and with more missing stories found since, its production quality is vastly superior to the majority of the 1960s Who I’ve seen, with the exception of The Invasion and The War Games.

There is one major fault with Tomb though, so let’s get the racism out of the way first, as it’s completely unsettling. Quite what possessed Kit Pedlar and Gerry Davis to imagine that, in the 25th century, black people would be working as “manservants” to wealthy megalomaniacs, is anyone’s guess. It is without doubt the most hideously shameful element of any script in Doctor Who’s history. It goes against the grain of the show’s progressive slant that had been evident from November 1963 onward, and it is easy to be left with the feeling that this wouldn’t have happened on Verity Lambert’s watch.

Following the final part of Evil of the Daleks, Jamie and Doctor introduce Victoria to the TARDIS in the opening scene, and she surely possesses the biggest, prettiest pair of eyes to stare in awe at the time rotor until Clara Oswald (any of the Claras). Deborah Watling’s character is far out of her time as Jamie McCrimmon, and not until Peter Davison’s TARDIS crew would there be such a mixed bag in the lead cast. On Telos, one of the galactic archaeologists bites the dust trying to open the electrified doors to the tombs’ main entrance, and Kaftan’s £50 bonus remains unclaimed. It soon becomes clear Kaftan is about as trustworthy as a fake Rolex, her sly antics with the levers and switches when Victoria is trapped being spotted, then thwarted by The Doctor. The final scene is brilliant, with the audience getting what it paid to see, a Cyberman lurching out of the shadows.

Kaftan’s sabotage of the spacecraft, lacing Victoria’s tea with knockout drops and sealing the hatch to the frozen underbelly of the base with everyone down there establishes her as the moneyed lunatic of the piece. Viner is a whinging irritant and I’m not distressed at all when Klieg shoots him shortly before THAT scene. It’s the bit everyone remembers from Tomb, with the defrosted Cybermen making their way out from years of hibernation. It is followed by another classic, with the Cybermat going for Kaftan’s neck, yet how Victoria has become such a crack shot with a pistol in 1800s London beats me, maybe she had some training with Jenny and Vastra. I bet they’d have really liked Victoria. Three genuinely iconic Who scenes in a row is surely unique to episode two of this story, the hat trick ball being delivered from around the wicket by the freshly released Cyber Controller and he takes the stumps clean out of the ground with his chilling line- “You belong to us, you shall be like us”.

Tomb of the Cybermen

The Cyber Controller somehow recognises The Doctor from The Moonbase and lines everyone up for conversion, Kaftan gets even more bonkers before Hopper opens the hatch and disorientates the Cybermen with smoke bombs. It is this sequence of scenes that show how challenging to director Morris Barry the small amount of studio floor space must have been. The long model shots of the defrosting Cyber tombs are superb though.

Patrick Troughton never gave a duff performance as The Doctor, at least if he did the tapes must still be missing. Matt Smith watched Tomb of the Cybermen when researching the lead role, and was so in thrall to Troughton that he decided The Doctor’s eleventh incarnation would borrow strongly from his second, praise indeed. A rare sight of our hero getting some kip comes just before his reassuring chat with Victoria, and he tells her something I like to think he tells everyone who travels with him- “Our lives are different to anybody else’s, that’s the exciting thing. Nobody in the universe can do what we’re doing”. Then we get the classic “metal breakdown” quip, before he is apparently shot by Klieg, who along with Kaftan still seeks a deal with the Cybermen.

Of course, like Tobias Vaughan, Kellman, Lytton et al, their alliance with the silver baddies only lasts as long as the Cybermen require. By the end, The Doctor is so keen that no-one ever enters the tombs again he booby traps the doors and control panel so that any future archaeological team would be fatally electrocuted. Is that a bit un-Doctor like? Even at this relatively early stage of the show’s history, the audience was being shown a different, alien morality and they would have to get used to it.

Tomb of the Cybermen is probably not the perfect specimen it was lauded as when it was missing from the BBC archives, but it is excellent nonetheless, particularly for a show that was in production virtually year-round at the time. It’s been back in circulation for as long as it was missing now, and as we know, you can never have enough of Patrick Troughton.

Image - BBC.