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.

Tomb of the Cybermen – Opening Shots

The Cybermen are also good at branding.

Possibly the most interesting aspect from the production side of Tomb of the Cybermen is that the story was incomplete until 1992.  Before that magical day, episode three existed as audio, and what an audio it seemed to be.  A Cyberman manhandled Toberman like a rag doll.  An army of Cybermats attacked the archaeological crew.  There was a daring escape from the catacombs of the Cyber city.  With only the audio and the imagination, this episode seemed the crowning jewel on the best Cyberman story Doctor Who had ever done.  That was the fan opinion, at any rate.  Imagine the excitement when episode three was found in a shed in Hong Kong.

Unfortunately, the production quality was about the same as the other three episodes in the serial.  Imagine that.  In addition, the Cybermats seemed to have extreme difficulty moving at times.  The wires on Toberman were grossly visible, and the direction the action scenes in particular seemed less effective than the dialogue heavy scenes.  Tomb of the Cybermen became the model of high expectation meeting extreme disappointment.  Even today, when a story is considered high quality based on nothing more than the audio and a few stills, the disappointment of Tomb is invoked as the bitter point where imagination meets reality.  Which is a bit unfair, as I think Tomb is still a good story.  But then, I don’t have the baggage that many fans do.  I didn’t see Tomb until 200-whatever, so I didn’t have my expectations dashed.  Sure, I would love to see more menacing Cybermats, but the story largely worked for me.  Okay, I guess I’m giving my opinions away too soon.  Full review will be up Thursday.