One of the most popular Patrick Troughton stories is 1967’s The Tomb of the Cybermen, which is the earliest story of his era to exist in its entirety. Although many fantastic Second Doctor episodes that are lost have been reconstructed or partially reconstructed using animation, such as the Power of the Daleks recreation that I have previously reviewed as well as animated episodes in partially complete stories such as The Moonbase and The Invasion, nothing really compares to the genuine article. But is The Tomb of the Cybermen only as popular as it is because it is one of the few complete episodes of Troughton’s era? Well, the short answer is no. Tomb stands on its own as a classic Cyberman story, often cited as among the earliest memories of Doctor Who that a lot of veteran Doctor Who fans have, and makes good use of its four-episode run time so as to not feel drawn out like other Cyberman stories of its era. In fact, Tomb is considered by some to be the last Cyberman story that actually does the concept of the Cybermen justice in the classic era, although the topic is debated.
As always, Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines perform in their roles spectacularly – Now educated on the nature of the Cybermen from the events of The Moonbase, Jamie is a great asset to the Doctor whose motives initially seem quite clear – he wants to keep the humans as far away from the Cyberman Tombs as possible, and yet as the episode goes on he deliberately gives the archaeologists more and more information about how to operate the Tomb’s controls, almost as if he is just as curious as they are to see how the Cybermen have managed to survive. The Second Doctor is credited by many, including no less than 4 later Doctor actors, as their favourite Doctor and is probably the most popular Classic Doctor after Tom Baker. It would seem obvious then that The Tomb of the Cybermen ranks highly among Classic episode polls, since it is a standout episode of the Troughton era, but oddly enough the Second Doctor is actually sidelined in this story compared to other episodes of his era as the narrative focuses more on the team of archaeologists and how they interact with the Doctor and his companions. Both Jamie and Victoria are separated from the Doctor at various points throughout the episode, and prove their ability to stand out as characters in their own right. The archaeologists themselves, particularly the skittish and paranoid John Viner and the cunning logician Eric Klieg, form a diverse and interesting array of characters, although the episode’s handling of the large and largely mute Toberman, who eventually becomes quite the hero at the end, is an interesting dichotomy.
This episode also serves as the official introduction of new companion Victoria Waterfield, played by the late Deborah Watling. She appeared in the previous episode, The Evil of the Daleks, but since that episode almost entirely lost and considering the fact that she was not an official member of the TARDIS team until now, her official ‘induction’ into the pantheon of companions begins here. Victoria makes a good first impression in this episode, alternating between damsel-in-distress to confident heroine – she does get into trouble occasionally, such as being trapped inside the Cyberman recharge pod early in the story, but also shows her strong will by insisting to volunteer as a member of an exploration party and successfully deceiving Kaftan. Victoria’s courage would shine more prominently in later stories, but the general image of her character begins to take shape right from the get-go. Sadly, most of Victoria’s episodes are either incomplete or totally missing – in fact, until the recovery of The Enemy of the World in Nigeria in 2013, this episode was the only complete episode featuring Victoria, making it one of the few remaining opportunities to see what her character was really like.
The Cybermen themselves appear as sinister as ever, with this marking the first instance of an appearance of the Cybermen in which their general design did not change from the previous appearance, establishing a sense of continuity and the assertion that these are definitely the same Cybermen that were seen in The Moonbase, and although the design would change again after this, the idea of standardising the design of the Cybermen did finally take hold following Earthshock in 1982 and again in 2006. Their goal in this episode is simple – they want to survive. Putting the Cybermen in a more vulnerable position helps this episode immensely, particularly since they do so without damaging the character of the Cybermen – they are still shown to be strong, cunning and insidious, but there are simply not enough of them to immediately take over the base. In fact, the Cybermen themselves don’t do very much in this episode – mostly just milling around their tombs and occasionally engaging various characters in hand-to-hand combat – their sinister leader, the Cyber-Controller, fills most of their screentime. His electronic voice and visible brain help portray him as a sinister character, and the parallels between the Cybermen and the human Logicians is clear in this story – Eric Klieg wishes to use the Cybermen for their strength, although he severely underestimates them. Like the Cybermen, however, he remains persistent to the end, and at certain points in the episode you wonder if he is the true villain, since he displays his utter lack of conscience and commits acts of murder and betrayal that the Cybermen would be impressed with.
Another aspect of this episode that shines is the set design. There is something about the black-and-white era of Doctor Who that almost made the sets appear more convincing, and in The Tomb of the Cybermen this was always an important factor. An essential part of the episode is convincing the audience that the environment of Telos, as well as the underground Cyberman structure, is a real place and the threat of the Cybermen is very real. A hard task for Classic Who to achieve, but in cases like this it does so spectacularly. A particularly impressive sequence is the blending of model shots with actual-size footage as the Cyber-tomb begins to unfreeze, and the Cybermen inside begin to wake up. In fact, the cliffhangar sequence of Part 2 in which the Cybermen emerge from their tombs has been listed by some as the greatest cliffhanger in the history of the show, and is certainly cited as a classic ‘scary moment’. It seems odd today that the Cybermen could be that scary, in fact I have previous analysed the subject of whether or not the Cybermen can be scary today, but in the late 1960s they were about as scary as it gets, and an element of that can still be detected today, even if this episode won’t have kids hiding behind the back of the sofa.
So that’s my review of The Tomb of the Cybermen, leave a Like if you enjoyed and be sure to follow us either here or on Facebook for more content like this!