Doctor Who – The Tomb of the Cybermen

So here we are at the start of season five. It’s hard not to feel a mild sense of achievement now that season four has been put to bed – with only ten surviving episodes from a run of nine serials (the last complete story was The War Machines way back at the end of season three) it’s fair to say that things were a little hard going at times.

But now we’ve hit S5, surviving episodes are the rule rather than the exception. Although it wasn’t always like that ….

Gnarled old Doctor Who fans will no doubt recall the excitement generated when Tomb was recovered in 1992. Personally I didn’t quite see what all the fuss was about. It was good news of course, but at that point in time I was only just beginning to build up my collection of DW VHSs. So the fact that Tomb had been unavailable before 1992 didn’t mean a great deal to me (after all, I’d only seen The War Games for the first time in 1990).

The later recoveries of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear were totally different of course. By 2013 I’d lived with the audios and telesnaps of those stories for decades, so finally getting the chance to see them was (dare I say it) just a little bit emotional.

Older fans than I had built an impressive mythology around Tomb. Jeremy Bentham, writing in DWB back in 1992, declared that Tomb was the pinnacle of missing stories (a viewpoint that seems odd now). But for me, not having to approach the story with any particular baggage meant I could simply enjoy it (or not).

Things begin promisingly enough. We’re introduced to an archeological group comprised of a number of wildly different characters. George Pastell made a career out of playing swarthy untrustworthy foreigners – today he’s cast as Eric Klieg (who’s a swarthy untrustworthy foreigner). He’s accompanied by Kaftan (Shirley Cooklin) who is content to play the Lady Macbeth role whilst her servant Toberman (Roy Stewart) lurks in the background, strong and mostly silent.

Kaftan, like Klieg, has a foreign accent which instantly marks them both down as villains while Professor Parry (Aubrey Richards), with his reassuring Welsh tones, is clearly on the side of the angels. Then there’s Cyril Shaps as John Viner and Bernard Holley as Peter Haydon. Both are destined not to see the story out – Holley cops it at the end of the first episode whilst Shaps meets his end in the following one.

That’s a double pity as both were the sort of actors who enlivened any production they appeared in. Holley had less to work with (Haydon was simply a cheerful type with no particular axe to grind) whilst Shaps played his trademark role – the little man seemingly always at the edge of a nervous breakdown.

The Doctor clashes entertainingly with Klieg in the first few episodes. Klieg’s overweening arrogance and belief in his own abilities contrasts sharply with the Doctor’s modest playfulness. It’s the Doctor, of course, who’s able to unlock the secrets of the Cybermen’s tomb – although given that he’s well aware how dangerous they are, why he should want to do so is anyone’s guess.

Without the Doctor’s help, would Klieg have continued to flounder? Maybe, or maybe not – so perhaps the Doctor felt that it was better to draw Klieg’s sting as quickly as possible.

The production centres around two key sets – the tomb entrance and the tombs themselves. Given that this story was recorded in Lime Grove (a studio not known for its size) this was a wise move, plus, as with The Moonbase, if you restrict the number of sets then you can spend more money on them – which doesn’t hurt.

There’s no doubt that several sequences – remembered by those who watched the story on its original transmission in 1967 – helped to bolster Tomb‘s reputation in the twenty five years that followed. The end of episode two – the defrosted Cybermen emerge from their tombs and the imposing figure of their Controller (Michael Kilgarriff) utters his first words – is an obvious one.

Once the Cybermen have warmed up a little, they reveal their master plan. Having taken a long nap in their tombs they decided to wait for someone to find and unfreeze them (those lucky people would then be the first in a new race of Cybermen). Given that Professor Parry’s party is on the small side, there’s a slight flaw here …

Whilst the Cybermen are still physically imposing (is it just me, or are they taller than before?) in other respects they’re slightly disappointing. Like all modern electronic devices they can’t last long without recharging – which means that most of the Cybermen are forced back into their tombs for forty winks long before the end of the story although the Controller does venture upstairs to use the revitalising machine.

This is an enjoyable scene, although the Controller bursting through the very flimsy door of the revitalising machine is one of those moments that would have worked better in audio (ditto, the damage the Cybermen do to the main hatch – at one point I thought they were going to stick their fist right through it).

And while we’re on the subject of the Cybermen, they do an awful lot of rhubarbing which also helps to slightly deflate their imposing aura.

Having been fairly passive throughout Evil of the Daleks, it’s good to see that Victoria was given more to do in this one. She spends some time in the villainous clutches of Kaftan, which allows Deborah Watling to tease out a little of Victoria’s pluck and bravery.  Sadly, Shirley Cooklin never really impresses, so these scenes don’t carry that much of a punch.

Strong female guest star roles were a rarity in this era (strong female guest star villains even rarer) so it’s a pity that Cooklin didn’t do more with the role of Kaftan. The potential was there – the script tells us on more than one occasion that Kaftan is the power behind the throne and she’s more than able to manipulate Klieg – but it all rather falls flat on screen.

Later, the Doctor and Victoria share a much quoted ‘moment of charm’. It’s mainly Troughton’s scene (“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”) but it also serves another purpose – reminding the audience where Victoria had come from.

Klieg’s come-uppance in the final episode is long overdue. It’s preceded by a lovely Troughton/Pastell two-hander in which the Doctor tests the limits of Klieg’s insanity.

DOCTOR: Don’t you see what this is going to all mean to all the people who come to serve Klieg the All Powerful? Why, no country, no person would dare to have a single thought that was not your own. Eric Klieg’s own conception of the, of the way of life!
KLIEG: Brilliant! Yes, yes, you’re right. Master of the world.
DOCTOR: Well now I know you’re mad. I just wanted to make sure.

Apparently Vladek Sheybal was the first choice for Klieg, but I’ve no complaints with Pastell’s turn. It’s not a subtle performance, but then neither was the character.

Before I wrap up, there’s just a few more things I need to get off my chest. Why did the Cybermen seemingly have no way to open their tombs once they were down below? Surely it’s not logical for the only opening switch to be above ground (where the Cybermen no longer are?)

And did Parry and Hopper really leave poor Toberman lying dead on the ground outside the tomb? After he sacrifices his life to save them, it looks for all the world like Parry and Hopper blithely toddle off to their ship whilst the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria stroll back to the TARDIS. I hope that someone came back and gave the chap a decent burial.

So Tomb of the Cybermen doesn’t quite live up to the mythic status it enjoyed prior to 1992, but then no story really could. It’s still a very competent production, although some of the flimsier sets are a bit distracting. The performances are good, but not great (none of the guest cast are given multi-layered characters and the likes of Clive Merrison do rather struggle with their American accents).

But on the plus side it zips by very agreeably, so it’s certainly worth 3.5 TARDISes out of 5.

Time to hit pause on this rewatch for a few weeks. All being well I should pick things up in mid July.

4 thoughts on “Doctor Who – The Tomb of the Cybermen

  1. At last a Troughton story that exists in its entirety! And one of the better surviving stories from the Patrick Troughton era.

    From a story of more than four episodes featuring the Daleks to a four part story without the Daleks. (But the resst of the second Patrick Troughton series would consist of six parters.)

    I first saw this story on a big screen Tombwatch at the BAFTA Centre, and since acquired a copy on video.

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  2. The one thing that irks me about this is Kliegs assumption while addressing the reawakened Cybermen is that The Cyberman have heard of him while in hibernation (This may be from the Target novelisaton only).

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  3. This story has another great example of the Troughton Doctor’s wonderfully manipulative personality. He is obviously eager for the Tomb to be opened, egging Klieg on to use binary logic, whilst at the same time ostensibly warning him against the dangers of doing so!

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