DoctorDoctor Who Guide

Season 5 (1967-1968)


The Tomb of the Cybermen


Reviews


List:
14 Jun 2003The Tomb of the Cybermen, by Paul Clarke
04 Jan 2004The Tomb of the Cybermen, by Jim Fanning
19 Feb 2006The Tomb of the Cybermen, by Scott Moore
07 Aug 2012The Tomb of the Cybermen, by Chuck Foster

14 Jun 2003

The Tomb of the Cybermen, by Paul Clarke

The Tomb of the Cybermen’ occupies a unique place in the affections of fandom; whilst missing, it was considered a classic, the Cybermen’s equivalent of ‘The Evil of the Daleks’ and an unqualified success. Then it was rediscovered, released on video, and whilst still regarded as a classic by many, also came under fire from others, with allegations of racism and a convoluted, illogical plot. Personally, having only seen it for the first time when it was recovered, I consider it to be an excellent story, well directed and produced and the best Cybermen television story in Doctor Who’s history. Before I sing its praises in greater detail however, I’ll address its flaws. 

Firstly, the cod American accents adopted by Clive Merrison as Jim Callum and George Roubicek as Captain Hopper are very nearly as bad as those of the Clanton brothers in ‘The Gunfighters’. I can’t really say anything in defense of this; they are thoroughly appalling. Fortunately, both actors are clearly trying very hard in every other respect of their performances, which goes some way towards compensating. Secondly, and most notoriously, there is the racist aspect. Toberman it is often noted, is the only black character, and he is a servant. In addition, Kleig and Kaftan, the other human villains, have Middle Eastern accents, whilst all the other humans are either British or American. Whilst I can’t really deny this, I remain unconvinced that either Pedler or Davis were in some way hate-mongering with this aspect of their script; during the previous two Cybermen stories, an attempt was made to show multinational cooperation in both the Snowcap base and the Moonbase, and whilst most of the actors were white, this is probably due more to the scarcity of black actors in Britain at the time than any ulterior motive on the part of the writers. The fact that Toberman is black and a servant does unfortunately stand out, but it is worth noting that he is a servant and not a slave; unless one assumes that all servants are black at the time in which ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ is set, this need not be interpreted as Pedler and Davis’ vision of the future. At worst, it is a sign of the times in which the story was made and whilst unfortunate, it does not distract from my overall enjoyment of the story. Likewise, Kleig and Kaftan are clearly not British, but then neither was Professor Zaroff; whilst Josef Furst’s accent stood out amongst the English accents of the actors playing the Atlanteans, allegations of racism are seldom leveled against ‘The Underwater Menace’. General Cutler’s instability in ‘The Tenth Planet’ does not generally cause fandom to suggest that Pedler and Davis were suggesting that all Americans are unstable or egomaniacal. In short, the decision to make Kleig and Kaftan accented villains in a British and American party was unwise, but I suggest that it stems from Pedler and Davis’ continuing desire to show multicultural societies in the future rather than any more sinister reasoning. Of course on the other hand, I could be wrong, and this could all just be unreasonable justification on my part of the flaws of a story that I otherwise happen to enjoy. 

In all other respects, ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ has aged well. The acting is generally superb, with all of the human characters far better characterised than the largely forgettable characters of ‘The Tenth Planet’ and ‘The Moonbase’. The addition of a party of traitors to the human group is largely responsible for this, and adds an extra level of danger to the plot. Kleig in particular is an excellent villain, brilliantly portrayed by George Pastell. Initially, he is merely ruthless and short-tempered, so eager to gain access to the Cybermen that he frequently lets his impatience get the better of him and has to be brought up short by Kaftan, icily portrayed by Shirley Cooklin. Just as in ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ Karlton occasionally appears to be guiding Mavic Chen, here Kaftan is often seen to direct the more impulsive Klieg, smoothly interceding when he argues with Professor Parry in episode one, and sternly ordering him not to raise his voice in episode two. It is Kaftan also who orders Toberman to wreck the spaceship and thus give Kleig the extra time he needs to access the tombs; when she tells Kleig that he has all the time he requires, he doesn’t know what she is talking about until Hopper enters. As the story progresses, Kleig displays other emotions; it is quickly made clear to him when he first meets the Controller that he has hugely underestimated the Cybermen and he is clearly terrified; when he emerges from the hatch in episode three he is almost on the verge of panic. It is not until Kaftan makes him aware of the potential of the Cybergun however, that he really shows his true colours; having gained some measure of the power he seeks, both over his fellow humans and over the Cybermen, he gives in to megalomania and also starts to demonstrate sadism. Ruthless and greedy though he was from the start, he is visibly corrupted by power and when a Cyberman in the tombs finally kills him, he is literally ranting like a madman. As with Chen however, his earlier doubts and fears mean that he is not just a two-dimensional lunatic, but a more fully realized character. Kaftan exhibits similar flaws, for all that she is more restrained; having been attacked once by a Cybermat, she is easily frightened by the sight of the dead creature in episode three, allowing Hopper and Callum to disarm her. Later, when she discovers what the Cybermen have done to Toberman, she panics and repeatedly fires her gun at the Controller despite the obvious lack of any effect, which results in the Controller killing her. Like her fellow Logician, she gives in to emotion under pressure and it proves to be her undoing. Even Toberman plays a important role; he is clearly very devoted to Kaftan, since his anger at her death allows him to resist the Cybermen’s conditioning, allowing him to first attack the Controller and finally seal the doors of the tombs, trapping the Cybermen within at the cost of his own life. 

The other human characters all serve fulfill their own roles adequately, with Cyril Shaps’ paranoid Viner standing out; he is characterised by his almost constant terror from the moment Hopper’s crewman dies opening the doors to the tombs, and ironically his death results from the fact that his fear of the awakening Cybermen is far greater than his fear of the gun-toting Kleig, who promptly shoots him. Of the regulars, Jamie gets very little to do, but Victoria gets a far more significant role than she did in her début story. Whilst this sadly results in a truly dire piece of acting from Watling as Victoria passes out from Kaftan’s drugged coffee, she is generally as likeable as she was in ‘The Evil of the Daleks’, and once more demonstrates resolve and courage in the face of being trapped in the revitalization chamber and later threatened by Kaftan. It is Victoria of course who saves her friends from the Cybermen by fetching help from the spaceship and persuading Hopper and Callum to open the hatch. Once more however, it is Troughton who really impresses. In addition to the charming scene in which he talks to Victoria about his family, the Doctor is memorable here for being at his most manipulative. I have noted previously how the Second Doctor likes to immerse himself in events, as typified by his refusal to leave the Moon in ‘The Moonbase’ whilst evil remains to be fought; this continues here, as he actually helps Kleig open the tombs (unbeknown to the Logician) apparently because, as he tells Jamie, he wanted to see what Klieg was up to. Curiosity is a well-established characteristic of the Doctor’s right from episode one of ‘The Mutants’ when he employs his gambit with the fluid link to force his companions to let him explore the Dalek city; by this point however, I think that his motives are not limited to satisfying his curiosity. In episode one, he tells Jamie and Victoria that leaving Telos became impossible as soon as the Cybermen were mentioned; I believe that he stays and actively helps Kleig to revive the Cybermen because he knows that they will probably succeed without him and he believes that he is the best hope they have of stopping the Cybermen once they are released. The Doctor is undoubtedly crucial to the defeat of the Cybermen; it is he who destroys the attacking Cybermats, persuades Toberman to attack the revitalized Controller, and eventually seals the tombs once more, more effectively than they originally were. 

Finally, there are the Cybermen themselves. I criticized ‘The Moonbase’ because aspects of the script and plot, coupled with the redesign of the Cybermen since ‘The Tenth Planet’, robbed them of some of their menace; here, it is fully restored. The Cybermen are actually frightening here, advancing remorselessly and with unstoppable strength towards their human victims. Their weird electronic warbling as they attack is strangely sinister, and the scenes of them striding rapidly through the tombs in pursuit of Jamie and the others in episode three are highly effective. Equally notable is the scene in which the Cybermen repeatedly punches the closed hatch from beneath, denting the massive metal lid, and reminding us just how powerful they are; the Cyber Controller’s demolition of the door of the revitalization chamber in episode four is another reminder. The scenes during episode two in which the Cybermen emerge from their tombs accompanied by their familiar and dramatic incidental theme music is one of Doctor Who’s classic moments. The Cyber Controller is an effective addition to the Cybermen’s ranks, and although not quite having the same impact as the Emperor Dalek in ‘The Evil of the Daleks’ it is nevertheless visually impressive. The Cybermats are also memorable, although they never actually seem very dangerous. The Controller’s pronouncement to the horrified Kleig that he will be “altered” and subsequent announcement that the humans will be frozen once more recaptures the horror of dehumanization represented by the Cybermen and largely glossed over during ‘The Moonbase’.

The production values of ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ are generally very high, with superb set designs; the tomb buildings are highly effective, especially the main room with its massive hatch and huge control panel, and also the revitalization chamber. The location filming in episode one is also effective, even if it does look suspiciously like a quarry… ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ succeeds admirably and is a strong start to Season Five.

 
04 Jan 2004

The Tomb of the Cybermen, by Jim Fanning

It has to be said, Patrick Troughton was the best actor to play the Doctor. Not my favourite (that's Tom Baker), but when Tom got a average script, he just hammed it up. The Tomb of the Cybermen, with it's maze of contradictions, caricatures, silliness and slight racism is not a masterpiece of writing, and is only saved by the Trout's masterful performance. He never seems in the least bit tired by the clichés he is presented with.

Actually, that's maybe a harsh assessment of the script (by Pedler and Davis, for what it's worth), as they succeed in holding our attention despite the limited array of locations. And they probably wrote better for the Cybermen than anyone else. The metal giants aren't plotting to blow up the Earth here, they're doing what they do best (or worst, depending on your stance)- converting hapless humans into new recruits for their fearsome army. 

They are brilliantly executed on screen too. As much as I like the Cybermen in Earthshock, it's hard to believe they are emotionless, unlike the ones who appear here. Costume design plays it's part, but the hollow, electronic tones used for their voices are most successful at doing this. The CyberMats are OK too, I suppose, even if they don't transcend the fact that they are essentially a marketing opportunity.

Performance-wise we have a very mixed story. The worst turns are from Shirley Cooklin, who is nothing more than a panto dame twenty years early for the Sylvester McCoy era, and George Roubicek, not bothering in a part he probably acknowledged was 1-D. But when Patrick Troughton is the Doctor, you tend to focus less on those around him. The high point of his performance here is the scene where he recalls his family. When reviewing Tomb, almost everyone mentions it, and who am I to break with tradition? New companion Victoria isn't that great but Deborah Watling is at least better looking than *shudders* Jamie. The rest of the cast seem to have been recruited from Bond films. There are four of the blighters, by my count...

Earthshock is still the best Cybermen story, as Tomb, despite promise, lacks that story's brilliant direction. But it comes so agonisingly close, thanks to Mr Troughton.

 
19 Feb 2006

The Tomb of the Cybermen, by Scott Moore

Perhaps because it is be regarded by many fans as a Doctor Who classic, I was disappointed by 'The Tomb of the Cybermen'. A fine performance from Patrick Troughton, an interesting basic plot idea, and the excellent realisation of the cybermen themselves are let down by a flawed script and just a little too much (yes, even for Doctor Who!) poor acting from the supporting cast.

The basic premise of the story is sound enough and the setting of the "tomb" allowed plenty of scope for the BBC designers to create an atmospheric set. However, the script suffers from three main failings: clunky plot devices, crude characterisation and poor attention to detail. The worst of the plot devices is the use of the sabotaged spacecraft to force the characters to remain in the tomb throughout the story. The idea of sabotage is perfectly reasonable, but the fact that the archaeological team are banned from the spacecraft for the duration of repairs (despite an escalating rate of fatalities) stretches the audience's credulity too far. It is not easy to separate the poor characterisation from the poor acting, but the character of Captain Hopper is little more than a cardboard cutout (indeed, his only raison d'etre seems to be to support the above-mentioned plot device), while poor Toberman seems to have been plucked from among the ranks of Cleopatra's slaves (in the Cecil B. DeMille film). As for the problem of attention to detail, this manifests itself right at the beginning of the first episode. We are led to believe that Professor Parry heads up an archaeological expedition at some point in the future, yet his team's methods would shame even a Victorian grave robber; they use explosives to expose the entrance to the tomb and once inside the only hint that they are making any attempt to catalogue their discovery is Viner taking down a few notes.

The quality of the acting is mixed, to say the least. Aubrey Richards is credible as Parry and Shirley Cooklin is suitably villainous (despite her character being burdened by the silly name of Kaftan). However, Cyril Shaps is over-the-top as Viner while George Pastell's initially promising Klieg eventually borders on the pantomimesque. Given the lines he is saddled with, George Roubicek can perhaps be forgiven for playing a spaghetti western cowboy. I can't yet compare Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling's performances here to their other stories. They both do a reasonable enough job of portraying the standard-issue young companion, but their characters are devoid of any convincing background. At no point does Jamie seem like an 18th century highlander, while Victoria's accent is too "BBC" and she is remarkably handy with a pistol for a sheltered young woman from Victorian England. Of course, Patrick Troughton's performance carries the story and almost justifies on its own watching 'The Tomb of the Cyberman'.

The rest of that justification are the cybermen. Given the limitations of time and budget inherent in 1960's Doctor Who, the designers and the director have done a convincing job of portraying the cybermen and injecting both them and their tomb with an air of menace. The scene where they emerge from their hibernation is justifiably iconic. The only point when the representation utterly fails are the close-up shots of the cybermats, which are truly hilarious. But then, every Doctor Who story requires such a comic low-budget production moment!

 
07 Aug 2012

The Tomb of the Cybermen, by Chuck Foster

>‎"50 pounds to the first person to open those doors"

Those who remember the days of video-craving that the documentary "Cheque Lies and Videotape" depicts would probably not be surprised to be offered £50 back then if they could open their door and produce "Tomb of the Cybermen". The 1980s were rife with rumours about this particular story still existing, fuelled by the audio soundtrack doing the fan rounds that sounded like it was off a badly tracked video recording! Enter 1991 and some naughty fans (ahem) tried a social experiment about how a rumour of how Season Five had been recovered and would be released one story at a time starting off with Tomb the following year ... only to have it announced that Tomb had been recovered and would be out that following year ...

I think one of the problems with Tomb was that is ended up being an extremely hyped story. Those who had been fortunate to see it on broadcast raved about how great it was, the novelisation was a reasonable effort by Davis, and the soundtrack was atmospheric so we were all geared up for it's release when announced. I remember sitting there at the Tombwatch premiere (now sadly removed from the Special Edition version) and still wondering if this was really real until after those titles ended and the action began (curiously I don't remember the opening scene with Victoria's introduction only from the Telos landscape but it must have been shown!). The anticipation of the audience was electric and it was great to watch ...

That first time. When I came to rewatch it on the video it seemed more lacking in some ways. Suddenly scenes seemed to be much slower, and the Cybermen didn't really seem to actually do anything. Quite boring really, in comparison to The Moonbase before it, and certainly not as good as Evil of the Daleks and The Web Of Fear looked. Fan attitudes were variable too, and of course emphasis shifted to wanting another "undoubted classic" to be recovered - Fury From The Deep. [this has of course not occured - yet - but would we lose our reverence for that too if seen again in all it's onscreen 'glory'?]

But that was the 20th Century. It's now some two decades since those heady days and we have a new fresh remastered DVD version to enjoy. And, as with many of the earlier stories (The Web Planet excepted), these adventures have a lot going for them. The atmosphere perceived on the old soundtrack *is* there on screen, the Cybermen *are* menacing even in their minimal participation in the tale, and the acting is very competent. I still wouldn't rate it a "classic", but it is a strong tale.

"I love to see the experts at work, don't you?"

The Doctor of Production Block Four is witty, intelligent, perceptive, and at times downright dangerous. This had been highlighted in the previous serial Evil of the Daleks as he manipulates his companion to achieve his (benevolent of course) aims [long before the 7th Doctor did so to some fan complaints!], and continues here as he deftly manipulates Parry's team into, well, doing his dirty work for him! A little hint here, a flick of a switch there, and they all progress further into the Tomb's mysterious depths. As he says, they couldn't leave as soon as "Cybermen" are mentioned, but then again if he hadn't have surrepticiously assisted then would there ever have been a threat (or indeed the death of most of the team by the end).

Similarly, the Block Four Jamie is still an intelligent of out-of-his-league Scots lad, perceptive enough to realise the Doctor's line about skirt lengths to reassure Victoria. Victoria herself demonstrates her own strengths: a particular exchange comes to mind when, as Hopper head into the caverns she remarks "Who'd be a woman?" and he responds "How would you know?", but later she gets to give him a cutting response in ""its comforting to know they we've got your superior stength to call on should we need it"!

The main cast excel throughout. Even though she's the new girl, Debbie Watling seems to settle in with the Pat'n'Frazer duo quickly, and they display a genuine affection to each other throughout the serial. As for the supporting cast, generally the acting is okay, if the accents are a little 'eccentric' at times. Also, a little consistency in pronunciation would be handy, e.g. Telos and Teelos, CYBERman and CyberMAN! (Ah well, Matthew Sweet doesn't do much better in the Cybermen documentary on disk two so should we worry?!).

Of particular note is Roy Stewart, who does wonders with Toberman considering the character is mainly treated as "the heavy" and gets about three lines in the entire story(!) - it seems at times that the Doctor is using subtle manipulation upon him (opening the Tomb doors, the Kaftan death aftermath), but there's a certain nuance that suggests there's more to him than meets the eye - quite literally later on with his cyber-arm! And let's not forget it's his sacrifice that wins the day (even if it was him opening the doors that caused the kerfuffle in the first place!).

Of the others, Shirley Cooklin and George Pastell play the Logician fanatics Kaftan and Klieg well, though their character's motivations seems a little woolly at times (why does Kaftan play with the cyberchamber controls, and why is Klieg's logic over the Cybermen's intentions so completely flawed?!?!). The others are unfortunately less memorable, though they have their moments.

"Symbolic logic"

Logic, in theory, is a matter of taking a particular pattern of event and being able to realiably predict what will occur next in that sequence, A will go to B will go to C etc. Here, we have the interesting discourse between the Doctor and the Cybercontroller over the latter knowing all about the former, and then he deducing what the latter was up to. It's quite a revelation to find out that the trap was for him, with the Cyber race logically concluding he'd eventually come to Telos and release them. Was the Doctor really so unwitting? If this was the 7th Doctor, of course, then we'd know it was all a collosal "chess game" of manipulation to achieve the desired result - but here it seems the 2nd was just as good at the game ... or was he? Things could have gone badly wrong if it hadn't been for his companions ... or did he know they would pull through for him? A debate for another time, perhaps!

In principle logic should have no alignment, but Tomb's event do suggest that it is more likely to lead you down the dark path than stay neutral. Being the opener for this series, it's quite poignant that the subject of logic returns in the finale with Zoe's slavish consideration of it in The Wheel in Space - and of course the Doctor's gentle mockery of her over that - how to be wrong with authority indeed!

But where does logic state you should let your enemy get into a recharger, activate it yourself and then wonder why a fully fit version then proceeds to trample over your apparent plan ...

"Now I know you are mad, I just wanted to make sure"

Of course in a production made "as-live" a number of mistakes can creep through. There are lines that would make the First Doctor proud: "curiously lacking in curiousity" and "open that opening mechanism" come to mind. The usual array of boom mike shadows and inadvertent crew in shot crop up (you can see someone inside the closed hatch at one point, though the production notes pointed that out to me!).

The "cyber-chatter" could be a little grating at times, too, making it difficult to understand what they are saying at times.

"Keeping my eyes open and my mouth shut"

It seems sometimes characters can hear the TARDIS arriving and other times they can't - guess it depends on what serves the story best!

The Cybermen look great in the story, even towering above the massive Toberman. I guess casting shorter actors/actresses helped immensely with that, but it is still awe-inspiring, especially with some of the camera angles employed by Morris Barry.

I don't know about you, but I feel the old classic Cybermen used to have some great quotable lines; you could imagine the chants around playgrounds as kids try out their monotone reproductions of "Now You Belong To Us", "We Will Survive" and "You Will Be Like Us" - no namby pamby "DELETE" going on here!

Why was the Cybercontroller doing a Brucie pose when his tomb was opened. And just what was the pow-wow between Parry and the other Cybermen about before they went to release the Controller?

What do sleeping Cybermen dream about? Would they be able to?

It's interesting that the Doctor has an entry on cybermats in his 500 Year Diary - when did he find that out being he only encountered them in The Tenth Planet (or did he? The First Doctor did know that the mysterious planet was Mondas ...). It's also a shame that the diary didn't continue beyond this block ... but then it won't be long before the sonic screwdriver arrived and things wouldn't be the same again!

"Archaeologist written all over him"

To conclude, overall the story does stand up well, more so to me now than it did upon it's recovery. Maybe that's because I'm 20 years older and appreciate the subtleties and nuances more than I did back then.

The story has some eminently quotable lines, too; as well as the ones mentioned throughout the review, there are also the lovely moments between the Doctor and Victoria to enjoy, too The bit when they talk about family memories is wonderful: "I have to really want to to bring them back in front of my eyes. the rest of the time they sleep in my mind and I forget". Similarly, when talking about their adventure: "our lives are different to anybody else's - that's the exciting thing, nobody in the universe can do what we're doing".

The Doctor's final comments are interesting, too; when asked about if this is the end of the Cybermen he cautiously adds: "on the other hand, I never like to make predictions" - but didn't he state that it was the final end of the Daleks just a story before? Considering their return later on perhaps he should have considered what he would say about the metal giants a little later (grin).

The final scene was cut, of course: as the TARDIS dematerialises and the lonely cybermat makes its way across the rocky surface, it is suddenly picked up, examined, and commented upon: "hello, sweetie ..."


NB: Reviews submitted before July 2009 were originally published on the Outpost Gallifrey website, edited by Shaun Lyon. Reproduced with permission.




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