Every Doctor Who fan – or fan of the ‘Classic’ serial at least – will no doubt remember the day that they realised that so many of the early episodes were missing. For me, it was when I was about 8 years old, courtesy of the ’25 Glorious Years’ hardback book released in the late 80s.
I was gutted to discover so many episodes were missing, and though it turned out that some of the information was
wrong (the book listed every Pertwee story that was only available in Black & White as completely missing) it was still a crushing blow. My brother made it worse when he declared with some authority that some might turn up, but the one that never would was Tomb of the Cybermen.
Reading the 25th Anniversary book as well as the Cybermen book that came out around the same time, I had become fascinated with the imposing figure of the Cyber Controller (although I thought he was called Toberman). I was gutted that I’d never get to see this story.
Naturally then, I was delighted to hear that the complete story had been rediscovered in Hong Kong in late 1991. Note that I say delighted – I can’t imagine what level of excitement/partying went on in the houses of the likes of Ian Levine and Jeremy Bentham when they found out.
When I first saw the story it immediately became my favourite. Maybe it was because it seemed like we shouldn’t get to see a story like this, surviving intact among a series of stories that were generally missing or maybe it was because it had the really cool Cyber Controller. Whatever it was, I thought Tomb of the Cybermen was brilliant.
Of course, I’ve watched it a fair few times since then, so the question is, how does a man of 29 look at it compared to a 9-year-old boy?
Doctor Who – Tomb of the Cybermen Review: What’s This One About?
The Cybermen have been hiding out in an ice tomb on the planet Telos waiting for smart humans to bypass a series of intelligence testing challenges and wake them from their deep freeze.
As it happens, a group of archaeologists from Earth are trying to do just that when the TARDIS lands on the planet.
The result? The Doctor knowingly leads many of them to their deaths, and the Cybermen realise that while it’s good that intelligent humans have managed to defeat all the challenges set before them. they’d rather turn big muscle-bound morons into Cybermen instead.
Oh, and the big muscle-bound moron who can barely speak just so happens to be black, so three cheers for sixties
racial stereotypes as well \o/
Thoughts – The Good
Before I start tearing this story apart, I’d like to assure you that I still enjoy it. There’s a whole load about this story that is good, including the sets, the music, the general characterisation, the cliffhangers and the Cybermen.
The acting is of a good standard as well, with the likes of Cyril Shaps and George Pastell bringing their A Game to the show. In fact, everyone gets at least pass marks for this one. Yes, most characters including Klieg, Kaftan, Toberman and Captain Hopper come straight out of The Big British Book of Racial Stereotypes, but we can forgive that and enjoy it.
It also has one of the most iconic scenes in the whole history of Doctor Who, towards the end of Episode Two, when the Cybermen wake up from their sleep and emerge from the impressive Tomb set.
The sight of the Cybermen coming down the ladders (which these days would be banned for Health & Safety reasons)
before releasing their Controller is terrific. And it builds up to one of the great cliffhangers, with the Controller – ice still attached to his vacant metal face – declaring ‘You belong to us; you will be like us’.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
The Doctor – Leading People To Their Deaths For Shits & Giggles
Right, so we’ve established that the story is good, but I want to focus more on the incredible behaviour displayed by the Doctor.
He’s usually such a nice guy who gets dragged into situations that he is forced to resolve to stop villainy and save people’s’ lives.
Not in this story though. In Tomb of the Cybermen he actively puts people in danger. Let’s go through it…
- On arrival he finds the archaeological party lamenting the death of one of their number who has been electrocuted by the doors of the building’s entrance. While the party are no doubt thinking about turning around and going home, the Doctor – knowing this is a Cyberman Tomb and knowing the dangers involved – gleefully informs them all that the electrical charge is gone and they can go in.
- When they are inside he takes great pleasure in informing the stumped scientists that there is more than one room and hatch, and then opens the two doors for them (leading to the death of another person and to Victoria’s attempted murder)
- While Kaftan has Victoria trapped inside the Revitalisation Chamber, The Doctor watches on for a while to see what she plans on doing next before intervening.
- Knowing that either Toberman or a Cyberman has wrecked the rocket, the Doctor knowingly keeps this news to himself.
- On two occasions, obvious-mad-scientist-with-evil-intentions Eric Klieg is stumped and cannot get any further with the controls in the main control room. On both those occasions the Doctor decides to give Klieg the answers he’s looking for to bring power back to the control room and then open the hatch the Tomb.
- Once down in the Tombs, the Doctor willingly lets Klieg activate the heating, knowing that it will wake up the Cybermen, yet says nothing.
- When Kaftan and Klieg are revealed as being completely insane, the Doctor suggests they be locked up in a room that he knows fine contains a gun. He knew what he was doing there.
- When the Cyber Controller is running out of energy, the Doctor decides the sensible thing to do is to revitalise him, rather than just letting him collapse or even just locking him in the revitalisation chamber without putting it on. Again, he knew what he was doing.
- He encourages Toberman to be the sacrificial muscle, knowing how mentally unstable he must have been by that point.
- He decides to electrify the doors, controls and hatch at the end of the story – or in other words he sets a trap to murder three people, one of which turns out to be Toberman.
- At no point when all of this is going on does he offer any of them refuge in the TARDIS.
I doubt that Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis intended for it to happen when they wrote it, but the Doctor just comes across as a bastard. I’m imagine the angle they were going for was that Doctor was just trying to get Klieg to reveal his true intentions, but as it unfolds, he instead wilfully puts people in danger, actively encourages Klieg and in the end causes the deaths of five people. And all the while he takes the time to crack terrible jokes.
Not one of the Doctor’s finest hours at all; in many ways this is one Doctor Who story where the villain of the piece is the Doctor himself.
Victoria – Get Over It Girl, It’s Been About Eight Hours
There’s a very nice scene in episode three of the story where the Doctor and Victoria have a chat. It reveals a lot about the Doctor’s past, it presents itself as an entry point for new viewers and it’s acted very well.
But it doesn’t make sense at all.
The nature of the scene is that the Doctor is asking Victoria how she feels about joining them in their travels, and she
talks about how she’s happy with them but misses her father. The Doctor – in a comforting way – says that she’ll get over his death and that it won’t be a painful memory forever.
My problem with it is that in real-time, Victoria’s father was killed earlier that day. And yes I know that it wouldn’t exactly make for good television if Victoria spent the story (and indeed the next couple as well) emotionally destroyed by the death of her father, but it still jarred a bit.
Oh and I could also mention the fact that what she’s wearing is incredibly revealing for a Victorian girl, but everyone brings that up…
- In the Evil of the Daleks review, I criticised the way most Dalek stories finish the first episode with a cliffhanger that is simply an appearance by a Dalek. One could argue then that I have no place liking the cliffhangers to the first two parts of this story, but I do. From the point of view of both the viewer and the characters, the way the dummy Cyberman appears in episode 1 is a shock, while the cliffhanger to episode 2 is just classic story telling. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it Terry Nation.
- When you watch old 60s science fiction, you look at some of the technology and methodology on display and think it’s ridiculous, but you can accept it because it’s ‘of the time’. But that doesn’t explain why nobody has thought to bring a camera with them to Telos. Instead, Viner (the only one who actively appears to be interested in the archaeological survey that they are there to carry out) is solely interested in writing things down with pencil and paper, and most likely making drawings of things.
- The Tombs are supposed to be so cold that they have to resort to wearing anoraks (yes, I could make light of this but I won’t). Yet Jamie still wears a kilt? Ok then.
- While the controls to the hatch completely stump Master Logician Eric Klieg, two members of the rocket crew are able to work out how to open it in about 5 minutes. No wonder Klieg decides to shoot Jim Callum at close range while ‘aiming’ for the Doctor,
- As mentioned above, what’s the point of the whole intelligence test when they decide to convert Toberman,
the big thick black guy, instead?
- Also, when he emerges from the hatch alongside the Controller, with new metal three-fingered hands and an even more vacant expression, they must have detected something wasn’t quite right with him. And if that hadn’t sparked their curiosity, surely the bit where he and the Cyber Controller turn to face each other and communicate telepathically must have given the game away? Apparently not.
- And yes, Toberman is completely racist if you ask me. There’s no good reason for why he can barely speak and is spoken to like a child by the Doctor.
- But at least he gets a noble death, and – for someone who is written to have pretty limited intelligence – he manages to come away with some wonderfully profound final words.
- For some reason, the TARDIS is shot on film in this story, and as a result comes across as a large echoey room.
- Every time I watch it, the scene where the Doctor and Jamie accidentally hold hands walking into the building amuses me. Jamie has come along way since the blandness of his part in the Macra Terror.
- While the sets are good, the Cyberman outfits (not the masks) are poor and the Cybermats just made the friends I was watching it with laugh.
- Looking at the Tomb, by my reckoning there are only 12 Cybermen and one Controller left in existence. No wonder they are so concerned with survival.
Doctor Who – The Tomb of the Cybermen Review: Final Thoughts
The thing about the Tomb of the Cybermen is that it probably appeals to children more than it does adults. Before it was found it had a reputation that it was never going to live up to. The whole mood of the piece is amazing for a child to watch – it certainly was for me.
But when you watch it as an adult, you look at it a bit differently. Adults won’t – or at least shouldn’t – be captivated by the appearance of the Cyber Controller, and while the claustrophobic atmosphere is still appealing, more attention goes on the script.
The script is good, but it’s not great. The Doctor inadvertently is the villain of the piece and the plot has as many holes in it as a good piece of Swiss Cheese.
The other important factor about Tomb of the Cybermen is that it stands alone as the only complete story since season three and until season six. The fact that all the stories around it are either nearly or completely missing from the archives means that it becomes incredibly significant. It’s the earliest complete Troughton story, it’s the only complete black & white Cyberman story and it’s also the only complete story to have Victoria in it.
So people give it more credit than it probably deserves.
If every Doctor Who story survived in full, I doubt this story would be considered as fondly as it is. Probably in absolute fairness the Patrick Troughton era as a whole wouldn’t be remembered as fondly as it is.
Nevertheless, for all it’s faults it’s still ‘cool’ and has one of the best and most iconic scenes in the history of the show, so I’ve got no problem in recommending it to you.