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The Tomb of the Cybermen

Review by Graham Howard

A story touted as being the classic Cyber-story. A story I never thought I'd see. Even six months ago I would never have believed that I would now have all four episodes of this story in my collection! So did it live up to the incredibly high expectations? In many ways, yes. But I don't believe The Tomb of the Cybermen could ever totally live up to hype that had surrounded it, and of course a 1990s audience will inevitably view it differently to a 1960s audience. That aside, since we've had to be content with only the audio until now, it was great - at last - to be able to see what was happening on screen!

I confess I have always found the premise of the story to be somewhat weak: the Cybermen, threatened with extinction, freeze themselves in their tombs until such time as some greedy or curious group of humans come along, who happen to be clever enough to find the tombs and overcome the various obstacles to their entry, and restore the Cybermen to life. With the addition of these humans into the Cyber race, the Cybermen will then be ready to embark on new conquests. I'm possibly missing something here, but the freezing process seemed to leave the Cybermen in almost exactly the same position as when they were frozen (and their technology is presumably hundreds of years out of date now). But in the end, who cares? As pure adventure The Tomb of the Cybermen worked, and I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable four episodes.

A real sense of ominousness can be felt throughout the first two episodes as gradually the secrets of the tombs are unlocked - and the number of deaths increases. The viewer is carried along inexorably towards the climax of the first half of the story: confrontation with the awakened Cybermen. I thought this build-up was executed most effectively, and knowing the plot quite well didn't seem to lessen the impact. The exploits of the archaeological group prior to this point seemed designed not only to frighten but also to build the suspense and prepare the viewer for the 'behind the sofa' fear they should feel when the Cybermen finally appear. (Earthshock is really the only recent Cyber story to attempt this 'build-up'.) The incidental music (albeit stock recordings) complemented all of this brilliantly.

It is also at this point in the story that Klieg and Kaftan's true motives in financing the expedition are revealed. They are members of the Earth based Brotherhood of Logicians who have aspirations of world domination. The Cybermen, who were perhaps expected to be sympathetic to their objective because of their logic driven nature, were seen as providing a means to this end ("the power"). As the Cybermen's resurrector, Klieg assumed they would automatically follow him and work with the Brotherhood to achieve their ambitions. Klieg, whose madness becomes more pronounced as the story progresses, and Kaftan believe they will be able to force the Cybermen to help them with the use of a Cyber-gun that the Cybermen (foolishly) left in the weapons testing room prior to freezing themselves.

In the second half of the story the focus changes. The group of humans (and the Doctor) who are being held prisoner by the Cybermen are to be converted into Cybermen ('you belong to us, you will be like us'), so as to become the first of a new race of Cybermen who will ultimately take control of Earth. Although it seems clear the tomb's puzzles were designed specifically to target human beings, it is still not obvious to me what use a small handful of converted humans would be to the Cybermen's invasion plans (and do Cybermen actually need human tissue to create new Cybermen?). I suspect the real reason was that the writer wished maintain and deepen the fear or suspense that viewers should already have felt in relation to the Cybermen over the preceding episodes, by introducing the frightening idea of Cyber-conversion. Although it is not spelt out, presumably there are a great many other Cybermen frozen elsewhere in the tombs and elsewhere on Telos who will also participate in this invasion, as it is a little hard to accept that such a comparatively small handful of Cybermen could constitute a threat to Earth.

With the help of Captain Hopper and Victoria, the captives, except Toberman, escape the tombs. Meanwhile the Cybermen, who seem unable to open the hatch from below, retaliate by sending Cybermats, presumably to kill some of the group and force those remaining to surrender.

Once the Cybermats are destroyed, the focus of the story changes again. In episode four, the emphasis shifts to the Cybermen's need to be revitalised. The need for revitalisation seemed a little contrived to me as there was no real hint of it in the previous episodes. It seemed quite illogical too, not only that they would need to be revitalised, but if they did, why couldn't they have done it before they froze themselves? And even more puzzling, if they were going to need revitalising, why wasn't the revitalising machine located below with the tombs? For this reason I thought the fourth episode was weaker than it should have been and to an extent did not really deliver what was promised in the earlier episodes. Nevertheless there are some very good scenes - the Cybercontroller breaking free of the revitalising machine, the realisation by Toberman at what the Cybermen had done to him, Klieg still thinking he can control the Cybermen ('you may use the Cybermen, but you'll never control them! '), and the confrontations with the Cybercontroller...

Interestingly at the end of the story, the Doctor doesn't destroy the tombs but merely makes entry into them lethal.

It is evident even in the opening scene in which Victoria is introduced to the TARDIS - her new home - that there appears to be already a great deal of chemistry between Troughton, Watling and Hines; this perception is reinforced throughout the rest of the story. Having just lost her family Victoria gives the impression of being vulnerable and in need of protection, although at times she demonstrates that she is more than capable of looking after herself. She appears to accept that Jamie and the Doctor are her family now and effortlessly rouses the Doctor's paternal and Jamie's brotherly instincts. It seemed to me even from this one story that Jamie and the Doctor are closer to Victoria than they were to Polly or even Zoe. I particularly like the quiet scene where the Doctor asks Victoria if she is happy travelling with him and Jamie.

Patrick Troughton gives a superb performance as the Doctor. His ability to inject small amounts of humour (or at least light-heartedness) in the middle of some deadly serious scene nicely balanced the deadly serious side to the story. At no time did this ever compromise the dramatic tension of the plot, nor did one feel he was sending it up. Probably my favourite example of this is when the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria are about to enter the tomb's outer door. Knowing Victoria to be a little apprehensive about going in, the Doctor reaches for Victoria's hand, only to grab Jamie's! Troughton's Doctor seems to treat his companions more as equals and as friends than other Doctors, while always retaining those essential character traits that distinguish him as "the Doctor". In this story the Doctor always seems two steps ahead of the other members of the expedition and he seems to be the only one capable of solving the Cybermen's puzzles in the first two episodes. Clearly, if it hadn't been for the Doctor's involvement no one else in the expedition would have been able to access the tombs. Why did he help them? Perhaps the Doctor thought it was better to deal with the 'evil' now - once it was known the tombs had been found it would only be a matter of time until other expeditions would follow. ('I'm afraid [leaving] became impossible the moment that name [Cybermen] was mentioned.'). The result of the Doctor's assistance is that it makes him instrumental to the advancement of a good deal of the plot.

George Pastell as Klieg was probably the pick of the guest actors. I found his ability to portray a combination of madness and obsession to be very convincing. Unfortunately, I felt Shirley Cooklin's Kaftan was less so, and it was a pity the characterisation didn't more closely resemble that from the novelisation. Aubrey Richards (Professor Parry), Cyril Shaps (Viner) and Bernard Holley (Haydon) also delivered good performances.

What about the Cybermen themselves? Readers of Who View may recall my disdain for 1980s Cybermen. If anything my views on this have been strengthened by The Tomb of the Cybermen. In Tomb we have, in my view, the real thing. These are Cybermen as Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis intended them to be: huge, emotionless, ruthless and not easy to destroy. I believe their helmets, looking like some grotesque parody of the human face, totally impassive, to be much more striking than 1980s versions. And there is no sign of gold coins/arrows or lethal bullets ('that gun will not harm me'). I also much prefer the metallic voices as used in this story (and in The Moonbase and then as modified in The Wheel in Space). Their complete lack of emotion in my view makes them much more threatening and alien.

In all, not a faultless story, but nonetheless very good Doctor Who. Although some of the plot was a bit shaky (and repeated viewing will probably make this even more apparent!) I suspect the main priority was to scare the viewer at every opportunity, such that at times plot logic was the casualty. And of course it would not have been foreseen at the time Tomb was made that over 20 years later it would be ruthlessly analyzed and dissected! I can only hope that more Troughton episodes are eventually recovered.

Reviewed by Matthew Morris

I intend to be blatantly unoriginal in my review of The Tomb of the Cybermen: it was brilliant. Short review, huh? But accurate. There is no other existing Patrick Troughton story that rivals it. Tomb has that same eerie quality that I love about The Daleks. I still haven't seen the story in its entirety, but what I have seen leaves me doubtless. One only has to see the excellent 'Cybermen breaking out of tombs' scene to come to the popular conclusion of 'masterpiece'. The direction is incredible, as is the music. Acting is a downer but nevertheless the other elements support the script with unbelievable strength.

Reviewed by Matthew Nagel

The Tomb of the Cybermen is a great video with great actors. Frazer Hines in particular is excellent in the role of Jamie. This story is also a great introduction to the Cybermats. Would Klieg ever negotiate with the Cybermen and rule the universe? You never knew until the very end. Patrick Troughton was his usual brilliant self and George Pastell (Klieg) was also great. I think he would make an excellent Cyberman! Overall I think Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis have created a wonderful story. After seeing Tomb you realise how brilliant Gerry Davis really was.

Reviewed by Terry Shore

Tomb was ten thousand times brilliant!!! I nearly fell asleep with Morris Barry's introduction and with the first episode where the expedition crew explore the tombs. But later on I was on the edge of my seat with the rest of this utterly classic tale...

Patrick Troughton was at his clownish best and I liked the part where he tells Klieg 'I just wanted to make sure, now I know you're mad!' I found Klieg to be an absolute nut because he is power crazy enough to reactivate the Cybermen.

The Cybermen gave an historic performance, especially with the nostalgic scene where they emerge from their icy tombs. I was disappointed with their voices though because in some ways I couldn't understand what they were saying! I thought the Cybermats were cute. They very much reminded me of silverfish and I said to myself 'Ooh, I'd love one for a pet!'

But the best part I would say was where myself and every single Wellington Chapter member cheered for Toberman as he lifted the Cyber Controller and threw him against the control panels just like a rag doll in Episode 4! Tomb was an utter classic and it should be highly recommended by all fans who have seen it.

Reviewed by Jeff Stone

It is true that the memory does cheat, but not with Tomb - from the lead in prologue following Evil of the Daleks to the genuinely moving end, Tomb of the Cybermen was one hundred minutes of sheer magic. It might just be the fact that I was watching it with rose-tinted glasses (available from K-tel for only $19.95!) but the story was totally unlike any other in feel. There was a delightful fifties B-grade SF movie feel to those opening scenes on Telos that I found just brilliant.

Acting-wise the cast was excellent. Troughton was at his hyperactive best, setting a lively tone, while Watling's Victoria and Hines' Jamie made good companions. Of the supporting cast, George Pastell was best as the wonderfully maniacal Kleig - a classic villain. Only Shirley Cooklin's Kaftan was in any way disappointing - her occasional bouts of line over-emphasis and overacting tended to be annoying. Roy Stewart, as Toberman, cut an imposing figure, despite only having about five lines!

The Cybermen - magic. At last, we have a record of the sixties Cybermen at their invincible best. No eighties pseudo- emotion here; just brute force and genuinely spooky voices. As expected the Cybercontroller stole the show with the sheer awe it (he?) inspired - quite a contrast to the 'lumbering fat git' performance we saw in Attack.

Pages could be, and certainly will be, devoted to the brilliance of this story, but a few gems can be singled out - the startling first glimpse of the Cybermen at the end of Episode 1, likewise, the cliffhanger to Episode 2, the numerous delightful little sight gags pulled off by Troughton (I loved the 'Let's hold hands' one in Episode 1!), the touching chat between the Doctor and Victoria in Episode 3, and the symbolic opening/closing of the tomb doors by Toberman. Apart from one corny effect (Kirby wires for ever!) and the rather annoying sexism shown towards the female members of the cast ('Oh no, the women must stay up here of course.') I'd challenge anyone to find one fault with the tale. Four episodes of truly exciting adventure, set in brilliantly claustrophobic sets, featuring superb villains and monsters. A fitting tribute to Davis and Pedler indeed.

Reviewed by Graham Muir

The Tomb of the Cybermen is as good as they say it is. I thoroughly enjoyed it! Especially the scene where Klieg shoots Viner... I didn't know bullets could turn in mid-air! And when Captain Hopper goes down into the tomb with two smoke bombs yet there's four explosions!? Classic stuff! I love the sixties Cybermen ten times better than the fat old gits of the eighties, even if their helmets do come apart!

Reviewed by Murray Jackson

Ever get the feeling that something that was best left alone has been unearthed? That's my impression of The Tomb of the Cybermen.

After all the hype surrounding its discovery and release on video and even before that, the whispers and rumours regarding its supposed god-like status in the world of Doctor Who, the genuine article was going to have a hell of a time living up to its reputation.

Sad to say folks but a lot of you will feel gipped. What we have here is, on the whole, a fairly standard sixties Doctor Who story. And I know some of you who saw it as kids are disappointed with their second viewing.

So I'll tell you what I liked about it, where I think it failed and how I think it should be viewed.

Firstly, Episode 1 is truly a classic. The direction, camera work, acting and music are all top-notch and you really get the feeling you're watching something special and hey, we haven't even seen any real Cybermen yet.

But that's the point. We build up slowly to the thawing of the Cybermen and then, then, then NOTHING HAPPENS!! They run around a bit, kill a few hapless people, release some Cybermats, get refrozen, THE END.

WHO CARES?? I may have missed something but I didn't really spot much of a plot unless you swallow that crap Klieg was spouting about using the Cybermen to rule the world. Cybermen? Ciphermen more like it.

The Seeds of Death may be tedious to watch but at least the Ice Warriors were doing something i.e. invading Earth. The Dominators may be an absolute crock but at least the Dominators were kicking bottom from time to time.

Let's face it. The Cybermen minus the Cybercontroller had very little to do other then stand around looking lost. You could substitute the Cybermen for, say, the Daleks and still have Klieg rush about doing his mad scientist 'Hah-hah I shall rule ze verld' party piece. The Cybermen are, at the end of the day, incidental.

My feeling is that it was remembered as a classic because: 1) Tomb has great atmosphere. It has a gothic feel about it similar to that infused in many of the stories of the Phillip Hinchcliffe era. 2) The Cybermen would be genuinely scary for kiddies growing up in the more conservative sixties. 3) Lost Troughton stories (especially Cybermen ones) are automatically given a degree of reverence. 4) Anything from Season Five is spoken of in glowing terms - until it is found, that is.

Now I'll tell you why I really got a kick out of watching it. I viewed it without prejudice trying to keep in mind that it was made in the less televisually advanced sixties, that Doctor Who at the time was essentially (let's face it) made with young kids in mind and that plot is secondary in their minds to action. Keep all that mind and now watch it. See, it works, instant classic.

You can't watch sixties/seventies cult TV with a nineties mind or you'll be disappointed nine times out of ten. Suddenly The Avengers looks dated, The Prisoner looks like a load of fantastic tosh and the less said about The Tomorrow People the better. You're missing the point if you view these programmes so objectively. They were made at a time when TV was a lot simpler, less violent and generally more entertaining.

For those of you who saw Tomb as kids or even those watching it for the first time and are disappointed, The Tomb of the Cybermen hasn't changed - you have, or at least your attitude to what you watch. As I said, maybe it would've been better left lost; at least in your minds it would have stayed a classic.

Reviewed by Jon Preddle

For the last 22 years I have remembered The Tomb of the Cybermen as being a truly horrifying story. For a young lad of only six, TV was real, and Tomb was pretty scary stuff then!

Now, with the Tomb having been uncovered (to coin a phrase), and being 22 years older, JNT's catch phrase 'the memory cheats' instantly springs to mind.

I have vivid recollections of the opening of the tomb doors, the man being electrocuted and the Doctor using his little box to test the circuit. I also remember the Cybermen waking but for some reason I don't recall the Cybermats at all, maybe I missed Episode 3?

The story of Tomb became familiar again in 1978 when Gerry Davis' superb novelisation came out, and since then I've read the Titan script book and heard a very poor-quality audio recording.

But one very important factor was still missing: the visuals. As I read and heard my favourite scenes again and again, my childhood memories would spring to mind. But now I've finally seen the story once more, I'm somewhat disappointed.

Don't get me wrong, Tomb is a marvellous story, but only in the tradition of 1960s Doctor Who. The first time I saw the video I sat in awe as I remembered watching this from the kitchen doorway. But on the second viewing a week later, the thrill had gone, and the story just looked like another product of 1960's television, with its wooden sets and wooden acting. It seems to me that the script writers had trouble writing the last episode. The story builds up to a dramatic climax in Episode 1 to 3 with the reawakening of the Cybermen but in Episode 4 nothing happens!

Of the surviving complete Patrick Troughton stories, Tomb is by far the best, but only because the competition is hardly inspiring. Tomb is still very much classic Doctor Who, but not quite what I was expecting.

Ye, gads - maybe JNT is right after all...!

Reviewed by Cameron Pritchard

I really enjoyed this story. I think it had all the ingredients of a classic. The little Cybermats are so different from the ones in Revenge of the Cybermen.

Reviewed by Adam Moffitt

If you like a plot that's about as fast as a snail, with acting as bad as, if not worse than that on New Zealand's hottest new soap Shortland Street then Tomb of the Cybermen is for you.

It was with both anxiety and anticipation that I sat down to watch the much acclaimed Tomb. Sadly it failed to meet my expectations.

First and foremost the plot: there wasn't one. This story seemed to be in a state of limbo, a static pool of verbal diarrhoea. Secondly, acting; the only good thing I have to say about this is that Patrick Troughton's performance was as brilliant as ever. There's something about his Doctor that makes you want to ask him to join you behind the sofa so you can tremble in fear together. But that's as good as it gets, the rest of the cast - bar Jamie - show little if any attempt at trying to make themselves convincing. For example the pilot Hopper would have to have the worst American accent I have ever heard. Victoria 'fiddlesticks' Waterfield brought stereotyped companions to new lows. Her portrayal of a nineteenth-century woman whose father has just been bumped off by a couple of angry Daleks made even me want to cry. Klieg and Kaftan represented yet another cliché. It seems every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to take over the world and these two were no exception.

What about the special effects? Surely they deserve some merit? Actually no. I would feel pretty embarrassed showing this story to a friend. There's just something about little Cybermats being pulled along by a rope that makes you want to press stop. But the 'Most Ridiculous Thing That I Have Seen In My Life' award goes to the scene where Toberman is picked up by a Cyberman with the aid of a rope and then thrown majestically to the floor.

However Tomb is not all bad. The sets are breath taking and the location shots are OK. The background music is well ahead of its time with a moody theme being played throughout all four episodes. Tomb is just not what I imagined it to be.

Reviewed by Aden Shillito

Isn't it bloody brilliant! What an excellent story, it's so atmospheric and full of memorable images. The Cybermen are cold and robotic, not false and David Banks-ish. Tomb shows us how the Cybermen were meant to be - calculating logic machines, intent on survival at all cost. Amazing story! We screened it at the Christchurch Doctor Who day and the response was great.

Reviewed by Stewart Willy

Many of the people at the Auckland Tomb video day may have noticed how the funniest and most enjoyable part of The Tomb of the Cybermen was Victoria saying to the Doctor something to the effect of 'Look at all these knobs, Doctor...'

Reviewed by Warwick Gray

May the fifth was the first day I had to go for a wander around the shops here in England. By coincidence and unbeknownst to me May the fifth was also Cyberman day for London! The Tomb of the Cybermen went on sale here and every HMV, Virgin, EMI and assorted video and record store had big Cyberman displays in the windows. Everywhere I looked, there they were. Tower Records topped the lot with a display of Who props including a full Silver Nemesis Cybersuit all set up. Twenty three years after The Invasion THEY'RE BACK...

I saw Tomb at about two AM in a slightly altered state of consciousness lying on the floor in the dark - and if that's not the perfect way to watch this video I'll eat my T-square. I loved it - a genuine classic, a gift from the gods, a karmic reward for all those Who fans who are getting a bit depressed over the state (or non-state) of the show. So nice to see a genuine Patrick Troughton classic back in the archives, eh? The thing that struck me was the sneaking similarity between Tomb and another cracker The Curse of Fenric. We have a crazed, blinkered scientist trying to decipher some logic codes and in doing so unlocking dormant evil again. The Doctor knows what's going on and isn't telling anyone. Tomb could easily have been a Sylvester McCoy story, I thought.

This item appeared in TSV 29 (July 1992).

Index nodes: The Tomb of the Cybermen