Doctor Who – “The Tomb of the Cybermen”

The once-feared Cybermen have disappeared from the universe without a trace. On Telos, a lost colony of the extinct silver giants, a secret expedition arrives from Earth on a quest to find their last remains.

Having blasted through a mountainside to a pair of doors, the archaeological party suffers their first casualty as the TARDIS materializes. As usual, the Doctor and his companions, Jamie and Victoria, have turned up at the worst moment, but the Doctor’s ready knowledge of the Cybermen soon wins them a begrudging respect.

Despite regular warnings from the Doctor, the expedition probes deeper and deeper into the site, whose Cyberman artifacts seem to have a life of their own…

Patrick Troughton is the Doctor in The Tomb of the Cybermen.

X X X X X

Cast
Dr Who – Patrick Troughton
Jamie McCrimmon – Frazer Hines
Victoria Waterfield – Deborah Watling
Toberman – Roy Stewart
Professor Parry – Aubrey Richards
John Viner – Cyril Shaps
Jim Callum – Clive Merrison
Kaftan – Shirley Cooklin
Captain Hopper – George Roubicek
Eric Klieg – George Pastell
Ted Rogers – Alan Johns
Peter Haydon – Bernard Holley
Crewman – Ray Grover
Cyberman Controller – Michael Kilgarriff
Cybermen – Hans de Vries, Tony Harwood, John Hogan, Richard Kerley, RonaldLee, Charles Pemberton,Kenneth Seeger, Reg Whitehead
Cybermen Voices – Peter Hawkins

Producer: Peter Bryant
Writer: Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis
Director: Morris Barry
Original broadcast: 2 September – 23 September 1967

Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaMmBui6SUg

X X X X X

Confession – Until Friday, 18 March 2016, I had never seen a Patrick Troughton story.

Oh, I’d seen him as the Doctor in The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors, but those stories saw him as part of an ensamble of Time Lords.  I had never sat down and watched the Second Doctor and a 15th century Highlander wander the universe fighting evil alongside either a proper 19th century Englishwoman and an astrophysicist from the 21st century.  Troughton’s turn as the Doctor was a key moment that ensured the continuation of Doctor Who after the departure of William Hartnell, as the gruff old grandfather regenerated into the wandering cosmic hobo and millions of viewers chose to follow him on his travels across the galaxy.  Sadly, a good bit of Patrick Troughton’s time as the Doctor has been lost due to BBC’s policy at the time to erase master tapes of older shows in order to use for new programs.   Out of the twenty-one serials that Troughton starred in, only SIX of them exist in their completed format.  The rest of his adventures are either missing several episodes or have been lost all together.

This is what made the return of The Tomb of the Cybermen by a Hong Kong production company a huge deal back in 1991.  It’s the earliest story from the Patrick Troughton era to survive in completed form (for reference, it’s Troughton’s EIGHTH story!), and at the time of its broadcast was highly praised (by none other than Sydney Newman himself!) and sharply criticized for its violence (by none other than Mary Whitehouse herself).  Matt Smith himself has stated that Tomb was the episode he watched to familiarize himself with the Doctor and that some of Eleven’s mannerisms were based on the Second Doctor.

Of course, 20/20 vision, rose-colored glasses, the hint of nostalgia, and all that jazz.  With the passage of time, the big question must be asked – is The Tomb of the Cybermen a good story?

Well…yes and no.

There’s plenty of things to praise about The Tomb of the Cybermen.  The acting is solid throughout, especially with the trio of Troughton, Frazer Hines, and Deborah Watling.  The serial’s first two episodes drip with atmosphere, with the second episode cliffhanger as the Cybermen emerge from their tombs one of the show’s most iconic moments.  And for being metal monsters dressed in rubber suits with spare appliance parts attached to their costumes, the Cybermen are absolutely chilling.  On the other hand, the motivations of the Cybermen, of the central villains, and especially the Doctor makes little narrative sense other than to push the plot along, and there are several…unfortunate colonial era implications that are glaringly apparent in hindsight.

Leaving behind her father’s death at the hands of the Daleks, Victoria Waterfield eagerly accepts the Doctor’s offer to travel with him and Jamie in the TARDIS.  Their first trip takes them to the planet of Telos where they cross paths with an archaeological team who are searching for a lost tomb.  The team seeks nothing more than knowledge…or so they say…but the once the crypt is cracked open, the Doctor realizes just who lies in repose deep inside.  A race he’s fought before on the lunar surface and whose motif adorns the walls.  The Cybermen.

With the success of The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase, the producers of Doctor Who were eager to being production on a third serial involving the Cybermen.  Kit Pedler, co-creator of the Cybermen, worked with script editor Gerry Davis to add some dimension to the race of metal monsters.  To get around the destruction of their home planet of Mondas, the writers created the planet of Telos as a colony of the Cybermen.  They gave the Cybermen a leader in the form of the Cyber Controller, a hulking cyborg who loomed over the humans who had invaded his home.  And to add extra menace, there were the Cybermats, silverfish-like robots who stealthily hunted down their enmies.   During the filming block that would conclude with the production of (the soon to be renamed story) The Cybermen Planet, producer Innes Lloyd decided to step down as showrunner.  Davis was offered the position, but turned it down due to his desire to move away from the show as well.  In the interim, the position fell temporarly to Davis’ assistant, Peter Bryant.  The Tomb of the Cybermen was seen by the BBC brass as a test to see if Bryant could handle the complexities of being the head of a science fiction program Who.  Bryant and director Morris Barry asked the actors who played the Cybermen in The Moonbase to be prepared to come back in a few months, and the rest was Doctor Who history.

There’s no denying that The Tomb of the Cybermen contains many of the best elements of a good Doctor Who story.  In an effort to move away from the “base under siege” stories that peppered Troughton’s first season, Davis and Pedler instead borrowed from the “tomb robber” genre of films such as The Mummy where a team of adventurers break into an ancient crypt only to find more than they bargained for inside, usually in the form of traps and the reanimated corpse of whatever embalmed creature lay inside.  There are a variety of characters who make up the secondary cast, starting with a redshirt whose sole purpose is to die trying to open the tomb at the hands of the very first trap.  There’s the character (Haydon) who dies in the first act while trying to figure out the purpose of a mechanism.  There’s the brash pilot oozing machoism and 1960’s sci-fi sexism (Captain Hopper) and his more likeable-but-still-chauvinist co-pilot (Callum).  There’s the leader of the expedition who is in it for the knowledge but knows that it’s time to go when people start dying  (Professor Perry, played by Aubrey Richards) and his colleague who is more concerned with looking smart and sharing none of the credit (Viner, played by Cyril Shaps who would also play in Planet of the Spiders and The Ambassadors of Death) and wants to flee Telos out of fear once expedition members start dying.

And then there are the “vaguely Continental European” Kaftan (Shirley Cooklin, the wife of Peter Bryant who was cast as a dark-haired villain to contrast her series of roles ad a blonde-haired type, to the point where Frazer Hines spent some time hitting on her because he didn’t know who she was!) and the “possibly North African” Klieg (George Pastell), the financers for Professor Perry’s expedition to find the Cybermen.  Cooklin and Pastell play the financiers with just the right amount of charm and smugness, but with a little bit of panto as well as they exaggerate their accents and shout about their evil actions with the utmost glee. It’s obvious from the very beginning, as Kaftan (who constantly rolls her “R’s”) “accidentally” locks Victoria in some sort of chamber/coffin, that there’s more to the pair that meets the eye.  Indeed, they’re members of the Brotherhood of Logicians who have come to Telos in order to bargain with the Cybermen, a logical order requesting the aid of a logical race in order to control the Earth.  Kaftan is the more sly of the pair, pretending to be unconscious to lure Captain Hopper into a false sense of security while Klieg is more concerned with his sense of intellectual superiority, which he shows by figuring out how to break out of the room he and Kaftan have been locked in.  Also, he constantly compares himself to the Doctor, rubbing it in his face when he’s right and storming off in a huff when he’s wrong.  When he finally thinks he’s one, that’s when Kleig reveals his true colors in true over-the-top fashion…and of course, the Doctor calls him out on it.

DOCTOR: Don’t you see what this is going to all mean to all the people who come to serve Klieg the All Powerful? Why, no country, no person would dare to have a single thought that was not your own. Eric Klieg’s own conception of the, of the way of life!

KLIEG: Brilliant! Yes, yes, you’re right. Master of the world.

DOCTOR: Well now I know you’re mad. I just wanted to make sure.

The atmosphere and tension are also very well done.  The motif of the Cybermen adorn every possible surface, and the various buttons and switches that sit upon every control panel may bring salvation or death.  The tunnels are claustrophobic with only the entrance room leading down into the tombs of a normal size, the other rooms packed with equipment and consoles.  The Cybermen themselves…ok, let’s be honest, they look a little silly.  In the early years of their time on the show the only metal on their costumes were the various oversized bits and pieces that made them look like the inside of a toaster.

It wasn’t until The Invasion that viewers would see the sleeker costumes that would come to define the Cybermen.  It’s their movements, their unerring drive, their slow-but-determined motions, that bring about fear and terror.  The scene where the Cybermen emerge from their tombs, forcing their way through the plastic doors, is one of the most famous shots in the history of Doctor Who.  Slowly, relentlessly, they crawl forth to meet those who stirred them from their chambers, a four-level structure that seems to never empty of the metal monsters.

Their leader, played by Michael Kilgarriff (who would also play the Cyber-Controller in Attack of the Cybermen as well as the K1 Robot in Robot) towers over the others, his helmet extended like a bullet to hold his expanded intellect.  The other Cybermen are under his control, and soon the humans will be as well, whether it be by brute force…or by conversion into the next generation of Cybermen.

You belong to us. You shall be like us.

Now, for the bad, and I kind of hate writing this section because when the good works, IT WORKS. But there’s no doubt that there are some unfortunate colonial and racial overtones that permeate The Tomb of the Cybermen. Even if you’d overlook the “European” and “North African” villains and the plundering of an ancient tomb for modern edification, there’s the matter of Kaftan’s black manservant, a hulking and silent brute named Toberman…seriously, why not just chance “T” to a “D” and go all the way with it? Toberman is the muscle for the villains, existing only to serve them through physical strength, become a victim of the “native” Cybermen, and to “honorably” redeem himself by sacrificing himself to lock the Cybermen away once again. It’s just very, very uncomfortable to watch in the modern era, especially since the writers, producers, and viewers didn’t see anything wrong with the portrayal, it being par for the course in those days (indeed, we’re still a year out from the character of Ben in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead to begin to bring down those barriers in America). That said, Roy Stewart is fantastic IN the part of the big hulking brute who tosses around the Cyber-Controller (or specifically a ragdoll of it) with ease, letting his facial expressions and body language do most of the acting. The cast had nothing but praise for him and his turn during the behind-the-scenes vignettes and Stewart would make a return appearance in Terror of the Autons.

It also doesn’t help that the master plans of the two villains are a bit dodgy. Klieg, being so smart and logical, shouldn’t be surprised when his offer for the Cybermen to work under him is rejected. Not only had humanity fought the Cybermen before, but the Cybermen was upgraded human-like creatures. Why would they “lower” themselves to work alongside humanity when their goal has been to conquer and convert Earth? Likewise, the Cybermen didn’t so much build themselves a tomb so much as a puzzle, to ensure that whoever freed them from their energy-conserving hiatus is clever and logical enough to defeat their traps and figure out the controls to ressurrect them…and the only person they manage to convert is Toberman, the Braun Strowman of the bunch. And they don’t have any other type of back security system just in case people say “let’s see what’s inside this…HOLY CRAP CYBERMEN, GET THE PLASMA PISTOLS AND SHOOT THEM BEFORE THEY WAKE UP?!?”

And there are some dodgy special effects as well. Aside from the scene where the Cybermen do some kind of spinning ballet dance to showcase the effects of Captain Hopper’s smoke grenades, there are the Cybermats. In theory, they’re supposed to be terrifying, silverfish-like monsters with sharp teeth. In reality…well, they look like the Scrubbing Bubbles mascots. Future stories would improve upon their look somewhat, but for now…they’re just very hard to take seriously.

However, they do lead to one of the best damn puns ever put on television.

So there’s the good, there’s the bad, and then there’s the Doctor and his companions. This time out, it’s the Second Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, and Victoria Waterfield. This is Deborah Watling’s second story (after making her debut in the previous story The Evil of the Daleks) and her first as an official companion. I’d never seen Victoria in a story before, so I have to say I was pleasantly surprised that the character wasn’t portrayed as the shrieking wallflower some 1960’s sci-fi heroines were (although she did have set of lungs on her as heard a few times during this story). Even though the two pilots treat her as such and keep calling her “Vic” as she insists otherwise (and several times she’s the victim of the “and of course the women will stay behind” card at the hands of Viner), Victoria has no qualms grabbing a gun and shooting a Cybermat, insists on going into the tombs with the Doctor and Jamie and chafes at being left behind, and even takes a shift at the night watch. It’s very refreshing to see a female character from this age being portrayed as a (relative being the key word) equal with her fears and actions being based upon the situation they find themselves in and the fact that’s she’s a new hand at the whole “time and space” bit an d NOT because she’s a woman. She falls into an alcove because of Kaftan’s actions and falls for the old “drugged coffee” trick, but these could have happened to any of the other characters. Victoria just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time for those events.

It also helps that Watling has no problems keeping up with Troughton and Frazer Hines as their characters treat her with the utmost respect. In terms of number of episodes, I believe Jamie McCrimmon is the “longest running” companions with many of his stories comprised of six, seven, even eight parts! What wowed me from the very beginning is the relationship between the Doctor and Jamie, and it’s reall because of how well Hines plays the part. As he shows Victoria around the TARDIS for the first time, Jamie needles the Doctor about “making sure the TARDIS has a smooth takeoff causing the Doctor to grouse under his breath. Or when the Doctor tells people to leave the room if they value their own safety only to stop Jamie when he tries to step out! When the Doctor is in danger, it’s Jamie who slips back into the vaults in an effort to free him. It’s not quite a “teacher/student” or “mentor/apprentice” relationship between the Doctor and Jamie. It’s two blokes traveling across the cosmos conquering evil whether they want to or not, and willing to poke fun at each other when the situation calls for it without descending into jerkdom. When people talk about Doctor/companion pairings, Two/Jamie is always near the top of the list, and this serial definitely shows why.

And the Doctor himself? I was a little taken aback by how the Doctor, who encountered the Cybermen twice before now and could indirectly blame them for being the cause of his first regeneration, insists that the expedition be careful, and perhaps even leave once people start dying…but he’s also slyly helping them figure out how to open up the tombs, suggesting “the addition of integers” and flipping switches when no one is looking, as was as pleading “oh, no, don’t” to manipulate Klieg into thawing out the Cybermen. When called out on this by Jamie, the Doctor waves it off by stating “I wanted to see what Klieg was up to.” Since this is the first Second Doctor story I’ve seen, I have to wonder…was this just the writers’ way of advancing the plot with a few handwaves? Or is this Doctor one who sees the larger picture, the fate of the universe, and will manipulate people into putting themselves into harm’s way in order to stop a bigger evil? It’s a question that I guess can only be answered by watching more Troughton stories.

Oh. Dear. What a pity.

With this being my first real glimpse of the Second Doctor, I was amazed with how effortlessly Troughton mixed humor and determination in his performance, with his willingness to play the fool covering up for a keen and cunning mind. He demands the Cyber-Controller give him answers, but quickly backs off when the Cyber-Controller confronts him and states that he doesn’t have to answer now if he doesn’t want to. He puts himself in harm’s way to seal the tombs of the Cybermen one more time before escaping their clutches, and he’s willing to call out everyone, from Klieg to the Cybermen, on the futility of their mad schemes. Perhaps the defining moment for the Second Doctor however comes from a quiet scene between him and Victoria while the pair are standing watch in the third episode.

There is just so much wisdom in this conversation. A man who has seen so much and perhaps forgotten more, who knows what fears and terrors are out there among the stars, providing comfort to someone who just lost their father, telling her that the sad times will be forgotten and only the good times will remains when she thinks of her father. One of the few times the Doctor’s family is ever mentioned in the show’s history, Troughton delivers this speech with the authority of experience and the gentleness of compassion. It’s just an amazing moment and one of the best pieces of dialogue in the show’s history.

Cygnia – I remember watching this story when I was an emotionally immature adult…

Seriously, the first time I saw this story was when BBC America ran this during their retrospective on the Second Doctor a couple of years ago. This is an episode you kinda need to watch with the closed captioning/subtitles on as the Cybermen are a wee bit difficult to hear with all that distortion going on.

And yes, the Cybermats totally look like Scrubbing Bubble mascots.

It’s obvious the chemistry Two and Jamie have, hence why there’s so much slashfic out there of the two of them. And Victoria holds her own as well. A story like this really hammers home the point that since the reboot, the current series of Who is missing something by always having a 21st Century contemporary U.K. Companion. We have a time machine! Let’s get someone from the past tagging along again!

So did The Tomb of the Cybermen live up to the hype. Yes, it did. I noticed its flaws and unfortunate implications during my viewing, but they were quickly forgotten by the atmosphere of menace provided by the Cybermen and the acting by Watling, Hines, and Troughton. In recent years, the Cybermen have become less of a threat to the Doctor, with Nightmare in Silver a wasted opportunity. But it’s this story that shows, once upon a time, that the Cybermen were not to be taken lightly. While it’s far from a perfect episode, I can definitely say it deserves the title of “classic.”

Random Thoughts
– For years, Tomb of the Cybermen was the only complete serial from Season 5 until the 2012 discovery of the missing episodes for The Enemy of the World.
– Two more sub-par special effects stood out to me during this episode. At one point, you could see the wires holding Toberman in the air as the Cyberman pressed him over his head, and at another point it’s incredibly obvious that Toberman is throwing a dummy Cyber-Controller into a control panel. Nothing you could do about it back then, but they’re still moments that risk taking a viewer out of the scene.
– The scene where the Doctor accidentally grabs Jamie’s hand wasn’t in the script. It was planned in advance by Troughton and Hines who believed that director Morris Barry wouldn’t allow them to do it. So they did it anyway, believing that Barry wouldn’t call for a re-shoot because of budgetary concerns!

Cobi’s Synopsis – The flaws may have become more glaring at the years passed, but there’s no doubt Tomb of the Cybermen is one of Doctor Who’s all-time classic episodes, featuring several iconic moments and the chilling introduction of the Cyber-Controller.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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