Doctor Who Story 37 – Tomb of the Cybermen

Written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis
Directed by Morris Barry

With Victoria joining them on their adventures in time and space, The Doctor and Jamie join an archaeological expedition that has found a lost city of The Cybermen.

Just in time for Christmas circa 1967

 “Try to give us a smooth take-off, Doctor.  We don’t want to frighten her.”

For some reason, I love space archaeology.  This is a natural extension of my interest in history and archaeology in general, but I think space archaeology gives me the impression of a fully-formed civilization.  It gives the image of a universe that progresses as our world does and that nothing stays static.  Honestly, this is one thing that I feel Doctor Who has done well, off and on.  So the concept of an ancient civilization of Cybermen is wonderful to me.  One point of confusion, however, is the origin of the Cybermen.  In The Tenth Planet, they were said to have evolved on Mondas.  Here, the indication is that they originated on Telos.  One fan theory, and I believe this is the primary theory, is that Mondas traveled the universe and seeded Cybermen on different planets.  The Tenth Planet supports the traveling Mondas idea.  It works well enough, I suppose.  I can’t help but wonder if Pedler and Davis had an explanation, or if it was just oversight on their part.  But this inconsistency in no way diminishes the story.  Not for me, at any rate.

There are base under siege elements to this story, only the base is the Cyberman city, and the crew is trapped due to internal sabotage.  Our characters are trapped in hostile and unfamiliar territory, and the financiers of the dig, one Klieg and Kaftan (with her bodyguard Toberman), are not to be trusted.  This story is filled with tension from all areas.  Thus, a great beginning.  I’m also happy that this is a shorter story from the last few.  In addition, I can actually watch this story.  As the opening titles were playing, I kept waiting for a voice to come on and say “Doctor Who.  The Tomb of the Cybermen by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis.  Part one.”

“I think perhaps your logic is wearing a little thin.”
Klieg and Kaftan enact their plan.  They are part of a group called The Brotherhood of Logicians, and they wish to form an alliance with the Cybermen.  Naturally, the Logicians wish to control the alliance, using the power of the Cybermen.  Klieg spent much of these two episodes attempting to decode the symbolic logic that would open the hatch to the lower part of the city.  He threw some levers and pressed some switches, but he still didn’t have the correct combination.  Unbeknownst to him, The Doctor already knew how to open the hatch, and covertly helped Klieg.  The Doctor is quite conniving in this story.  On the one hand, it looks as if he is aiding Klieg and Kaftan while pretending to oppose them.  But in reality, I think he realizes Klieg and Kaftan must be thwarted outright.  If they are merely dissuaded from acting now, they may return later.  The Doctor seems to think he must take them to the brink of success, then defeat them.  Unfortunately, this means thawing the frozen Cybermen and seeing the body count rise.  I can’t help but wonder how moral this is.  Perhaps it is all part of giving Klieg and Kaftan the chance to change their minds.  I suppose it worked with the Chameleons, so I guess there is always a chance.

The Cybermats were introduced in this episode, rather fitting that I just finished Closing Time, which had the 2011 re-envisioning of the creatures.  In both versions, they are rather cute and seem safe enough.  I’m actually quite surprised at how fast the 1960s versions can move.  I wonder how they did it.  I’m not sure if The Cybermats have any other purpose beyond jumping and attacking, something Kaftan found out the hard way.

Having thawed the Cybermen, Klieg attempts to make a deal with them.  He is quickly put in his place as the Cyber Controller subdues him and tells Klieg and the others that they “shall be like us.”  I love the cliffhanger for episode two as it is probably the creepiest the Cybermen have been since The Tenth Planet.

“You scream real good, Vic.  Thanks a lot.”

It's always a bit unnerving when you step out of the bathroom and see a line has formed.

The Cyber Controller reveals that this entire city was a trap.  The Cybermen created a series of puzzles knowing that curious humanoids would one day come to Telos and free them.  Thankfully, The Doctor probes further as this doesn’t make much sense.  It seems that after the destruction of Mondas, The Cybermen started to run out of supplies.  They attacked the base on the moon to reacquire supplies (whatever those may be), but The Doctor thwarted that as well.  With resources running out, The Cybermen froze themselves for survival, but they made their city into a trap to lure others to rescue them.  So, that is where we are now.  Okay, I’m not sure I entirely buy it, especially as these stories seem to take place at different periods in time, but I’ll go with it for now.

Captain Hopper, having been summoned by Victoria, proceeds to engage in some dodgy acting.  This doesn’t prevent him from rescuing The Doctor, Jamie, and the others.  Well, everyone but Toberman.  The Cybermen begin his conversion and ready a small army of Cybermats who will attack the humans, should they be able to make it up the ramps to the upper level of the city.  Klieg laments not being able to negotiate from a position of power.  He is still convinced he can make his plan happen.  Ah, the arrogance of intelligencia.  However, it is up to Kaftan to help him find such power by taking a gun from the city’s weapon testing room.

This episode has the wonderful scene between The Doctor and Victoria where they discuss family and memory.  It is one of those surprising scenes in Classic Who where we have character moments.  It is a lovely scene, and The Doctor gives some motivation to his actions as well.  “No one else in the universe can do what we are doing.”

“Well now I know you’re mad.  I just wanted to make sure.”
Klieg, armed with cybernetic technology, thinks he has the Cybermen at a disadvantage.  To a degree, he is correct.  The Cyber Controller is losing energy fast and must be revitalized.  Throughout the story, the Cyberman mantra has been “We Shall Survive.”  In the end, that is what this episode is about, a powerful race faced with extinction.  In the end, Klieg and Kaftan are killed and The Cybermen return to hibernation.  Technically, they do survive, but they have gained nothing.  Toberman even sacrifices his life to re-seal the city.  The final shot of a Cybermat hints that we The Doctor may yet see these creatures again.

In all, a good story, an excellent script.  The weaknesses, I think, lie primarily with Captain Hopper’s acting and the direction.  Morris Barry does well enough in dialogue heavy scenes, but when it comes to action, he doesn’t seem to know where to place his cameras, nor how to choreograph the action in such a way to make movements clear.  But I don’t believe these flaws take too much away from the story.   Troughton is brilliant and has some great material to work with.  Jamie has some good lines and, as always, works wonderfully with Troughton.  Even Victoria gets a few scenes to establish her character now that she is out of Dalek imprisonment.  She also has to find a way to cope with the loss of her father, a particularly painful plot point.  But in the end, she finds her place with The Doctor and Jamie, and even gets to rile Captain Hopper up once or twice.  It may not be the masterpiece fandom once believed it to be, but Tomb of the Cybermen is still a solid story and one I constantly enjoy.

Up next in the Classic Era journey, The Abominable Snowmen.  And I have a confession.  This will be the first time I have viewed/listened to this story.  Beyond the involvement of a character named Professor Travers and The Yeti, I have no idea what happens in this story.  New territory, my friends.

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9 thoughts on “Doctor Who Story 37 – Tomb of the Cybermen

  1. I’m always changing my mind about this story. The review of it I wrote on my blog was a bit too positive, I think now. There are plenty of good bits in this serial, but it all feels a bit sloppy.

  2. I’m glad I just saw this episode a mere 6 or so years ago, I didn’t have any preconceptions about it. some of the scenes weren’t as good as they could have been, but I recall it holding my interest. I may have to watch it again 😛

    • I think I had the same reaction as you when I first saw it. I think I was still getting used to black and white Doctor Who and found myself wanting to like it more than I did. It really grew on me each time I watched it. It was also my first Troughton story, and I immediately warmed to him.

  3. […] Invasion of the Dinosaurs (an elite group wanting to rule the world, which was also an element of Tomb of the Cybermen). The execution is uneven. And let’s face it, the robot itself is impractical. I both love the […]

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