Doctor Who Sunday: Tomb of the Cybermen
Due to the fact we can’t physically watch and review every classic Doctor Who story before the 50th Anniversary, we have decided to check out two episodes in each Doctor’s era every week until the 50th. This week is the Second Doctor’s week, featuring Tomb of the Cybermen and The Mind Robber. For those looking for another good episode to understand the Second Doctor, also look at the War Games.
The Tomb of the Cybermen is the first story of Season 5 of classic Doctor Who. It introduced the first Cyber-Controller and the Cybermats. It is the earliest Second Doctor serial to survive in its entirety.
Tomb of the Cybermen is one of those fortunate Second Doctor stories still surviving in its entirety, and it’s a good one. The Cybermen in these early stories are far more creepy than they became in later series, and they don’t appear at all until the end of the second episode (although a dummy does make an appearance at the end of the first episode). As well as the Cybermen, there are also human bad guys, although they do fall into some unfortunate racial stereotypes. The story is still quite strong, despite these problems, with intrigue and treachery all-round, as well as some amusing antics on the Doctor’s half.
In this story, it seems as if the budget has been increased, at least compared to the early First Doctor stories. The graphics are much better, as are the costumes, even though everything still is pitiful compared to modern graphics. The tombs themselves are quite well constructed sets, with numerous halls and rooms, while the BBC quarry makes an appearance, which is always comforting. The Cybermats are also pretty cool, crawling around like it’s nobody’s business. Also, there’s enough phony science to make most people cringe, but it’s still fun. The only problem production wise are the Cybermen’s voices – they are high pitched and very difficult to understand, which is annoying when they carry the plot in their dialogue. Fortunately, they don’t appear very often and haven’t got too much to say, with most of the action being centred on the humans (and of course, the Time Lord).
In regards to characters, things are very different to the First Doctor’s era. The Second Doctor has two companions now, a young Jacobite called Jamie McCrimmon and a Victorian girl, Victoria. Evidently Victoria is a recent addition to the team, as she keeps asking questions about the Doctor and the TARDIS. It is through her we learn some interesting facts about the Doctor himself, such as the fact he has a family but has chosen to leave their memories “sleeping in his mind”, as well as the fact he’s quite young at 400 years old. The other major change from the First Doctor’s era of course is the Doctor himself. Whereas the First Doctor was a stern, grandfatherly figure, much more reliant on words and insults to get his own way, the Second Doctor seems much more childlike. Events have a habit of seeming to fall out of his control, and he gets easily flustered, yelling and waving his arms around wildly. He’s also quite short and buffoon-like, adding certain comic elements to the character that weren’t present before, despite the occasional humour of the First Doctor series.
Overall, Tomb of the Cybermen is a good episode to start with the Second Doctor. It’s complete, which is a plus. It’s also rather creepy, with the Cybermen sneaking around and trying to take over. The graphics have shown a great improvement on the First Doctor series, and the appearance of the good old BBC quarry is always great fun. The story is also interesting and rather dark, with some bad racial stereotypes, but the villains still have depth and motives aside from “destroy humanity”. Overall, for those wishing to simply have a taste of each Doctor, Tomb of the Cybermen is a good start to understanding his character and his style of stories.
To be honest, I much prefer the First Doctor over the Second. Aidan tells me that Steven Moffat based a lot of the Eleventh Doctor on Two, which may be why. Still, Tomb of the Cybermen is a decent episode, even if I also found Vicky and Jamie kind of annoying too. (Vicky seems much too uptight to be adventuring, and neither of them seem very capable compared to the original companions, which may be because they’re still quite new.)
Anyway, this episode takes place during an archaeological dig. The expedition is looking for the tomb of the Cybermen, an enemy the Doctor has faced before, and will face again. These Cybermen are a far cry from the unstoppable metal machines we see in the new series, particularly in comparison with those from Neil Gaiman’s Cyberman episode Nightmare in Silver. They’re simply guys in jumpsuits wearing cardboard headgear with eye-holes cut out, but provided you can suspend your disbelief, they’re actually pretty scary. Apart from their incredibly annoying voices, they’re great villains, even if at this point there’s no real explanation of how they are created. (I’m not sure if it’s addressed in an earlier Cyberman story.)
Skip to 1:45 to hear the Cyber Controller speak:
This episode also has a black man, much to my surprise, because the last time they tried to do diversity in Doctor Who, it was just awkwardly bad pretend Chinese people with even worse “Chinese” accents. So how does the BBC’s latest attempt at diversity panned out? Plus: there’s a non-white actor playing him. He ends up not being too bad a guy. Minus: he slides straight into that “strong black man” stereotype, rarely speaks and works for the bad guys. So…we’ll call it even?
Anyway, this story is not really about the Cybermen, but about humans. Humans who are power hungry, possibly a little bit mad, and who are willing to kill. The Cybermen are of course, bad guys, but without the blind ambition of the humans, they would never have been released. Pseudo-mathematics, a logic-obsessed baddie, a flustered Doctor and Cybermen – what else do you need in a Doctor Who episode, really? The real letdown of this episode was its disappointing portrayal of the companions. Of course, the human companions don’t have to be perfect, but they seemed especially incompetent in this episode. Vicky is tricked several times, even when warned by the Doctor, and Jamie doesn’t seem especially useful either. In fact, the humans on the actual archaeological dig seemed much more capable than the two companions.
Stay tuned for next week’s instalment of Doctor Who Sunday – we’re looking at Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) episodes Spearhead From Space and Sea Devils.