Doctor Who #172: The Tomb of the Cybermen Part 1

"You look very nice in that dress, Victoria." "Thank you. Don't you think it's a bit... , uh?" "A bit short? Oh, I shouldn't worry about that. Look at Jamie's."TECHNICAL SPECS: This story exists on DVD (though it has more extras and a better restoration job, there is no difference between the Special Edition and the original release). First aired Sep.2 1967.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDISeers join an expedition uncovering a Cyberman tomb.

REVIEW: After a true-blue season finale, we get a true-blue season opener. As the civil war continues to rage out of shot, we enter the TARDIS, and for the first time, we're on film in there. It makes the TARDIS look much bigger than before, as does the cavernous echo. Don't call it a production problem, call it Victoria's point of view. The scene is meant to explain the premise of the show to new viewers, and it's nice to see Doctor Who acknowledging that its target demographic gets new members each year. The sweet scene between the regulars has since been made famous thanks to samples used by Orbital's version of the Doctor Who theme, and I can't watch without hearing it in my head. The scene also reveals the Doctor's age for the first time, and he's about 450 years old (doesn't look to sure). He also claims to have built, or at least refined, the TARDIS, so maybe we shouldn't take too much at face value.

And then we're in a quarry - I mean, the planet Telos - and it too, looks huge. There's a fine use of forced perspective models played live with the actors, and angles that turn the gravel pits into large mountains. The lack of color surely helps sell the illusion. This is another of Kit Pedler's Cyberman scripts (nonsense science incoming!), so of course we meet an international group of people, not base personnel this time, but members of an archaeological expedition. There's Professor Parry the leader, Viner the nervous rat, Hopper and Jim the macho Americans, Toberman the second simple-minded black strongman in as many stories (sigh), Kaftan the crafty financier, and Klieg the arrogant mathematician the Doctor will take pleasure in disrespecting. Tomb appears to be of its time, as the casual racism - not just in Toberman, but the general swarthiness and accents of the villains - is supplemented by casual sexism. The women are told to stay behind even though they both appear better capable of handling themselves than the likes of Viner.

At least the script defies the expectations of these future chauvinists. Kaftan is clearly the leader of the villains (though Klieg no doubt believes it's him), and Victoria, after some little whimpering (she's a fish out of a Victorian dress), faces the situation with a British upper lip and an unwillingness to be manhandled. This is very much her episode. Even the way she is shot hanging back before finally entering the tomb is a way to visually ease her into the role of companion. Once inside, she gets much braver. Though she gets in about the same amount of jeopardy, she consequently makes out better than Jamie. The Scots underestimates some all-too-cute Cybermats (it's the googly eyes!) and gets hypnotized by a groovy spinning wall. And then there's the Doctor, who's excellent at becoming an authority even as he bursts every other authority figure's balloon, but though the Doctor gets some good lines in, I'm afraid the script reveals Peddler's usual lack of logic (if indeed, those problems weren't co-writer Gerry Davis' fault). The Doctor doesn't want the expedition to open the tomb, but keeps giving them the means to do so! And the illogic gets into dialog as well. When the Doctor says he travels through time, Victoria jumps to the conclusion that he must be really old (what). The TARDIS is seen landing like a ship as opposed to the usual materialization. The Doctor's line about keeping his mind open and his mouth shut also rings false because the Doctor can't stop blabbing. I don't even know how Pedler can justify switching Mondas and Telos as the Cyber home world (it's just the expedition's notion that's wrong, we'll see in future episodes).

Still, the Cybermen did need a new launching pad if they weren't to become the homeless thugs of the universe (alas, that's still what what they became), and it's interesting that the serial uses them as Gothic horror monsters here, specifically mummies. It's an idea that would become par for the course in the mid-70s and the kind of juxtaposition Who excels at. The Cybermen are treated as an ancient civilization, whose crude artwork decorated their temples and tombs. It's an oddness that works for the show, but don't fixate on the logic of it all. If, as the Doctor claims, it's all too easy, then they might just have built these things so they could be found and awakened. Yet there are enough death traps to kill two people in the space of 20 minutes. Who's gonna wake them if everyone's dead? I can't stay frustrated at Tomb because hey, it's the second Doctor's first complete story! I'm enjoying it while it lasts!

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A good introduction for Victoria, some cool visuals, and a story that promises a return in force for the Cybermen. So the script's a little dodgy, so what?


Anonymous said...

I was really, really into Doctor Who back in the early 90s when this story was found. Back then, I heard about it when I got home from the comic store after buying the latest Doctor Who magazine which carried the news. These days, the whole world would know within minutes.

20 years ago and I can remember the whole sequence of thoughts and feelings, the solitary euphoria, like it just happened.


CiB said...

I don't think it really is a case of the Doctor not wanting to go into the Tomb, and then telling everyone how to do so. I think it's more he wants to look like he doesn't want to go in (thus being underestimated as it looks like he was tricjked into revealing what insites he has) but actually he does want to go in. Why? Because he recognises the Tomb is a threat and wants to Deal With It (TM). In that sense, in this story we see a ruthless and manipulative side to the Doctor that would become quite prominent when Sylvestor McCoy becomes the Doctor (such as in Rememberence of the Daleks)

It's just at this stage, The Doctor wants Klieg to think it was his genius that got them into the tomb. The biggest hints to this interpretation though are in the next episode, when they open the hatch.

Siskoid said...

I think we can make a case for a manipulative Doctor in hindsight, but I'm not sure it was written that way. The Doctor looks genuinely surprised that Klieg awakens the Cybermen and there are enough plot holes throughout that it's more likely messy writing.

But I'll certainly try to track the Doctor's motivations under Theories in Part 4.


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