Racist Space-archeologists unearth a fortune in Cyber-stencils in this legendary serial.
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The Doctor and his companions, Victoria and Jamie, go to the planet Telos for no conceivable reason, and there do their best to help a group of human archeologists gain entrance to the heavily fortified and titular Tomb of the Cybermen – all the while telling them they really ought not to.
Obviously, there are still dangers lurking in the cyber catacombs, and all of the human explorers aren’t quite what they seem.
Despite some rather racist elements, and a plot that at times makes little sense, The Tomb of The Cybermen is a marvellous piece of TV history. The first fully intact Patrick Troughton serial, ‘Tomb’ flaunts beautiful sets and tonnes of – now classic – Sci-Fi tropes. It also sees the introduction of both the Cybermats and the Cyber-Controller, the latter of whom we previously encountered on Who Back When in the NewWho episode The Age of Steel with David Tennant.
Have a listen to our review as we discuss, among other things:
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Hello once more, Podcastland. Welcome to this review of “The Tomb of the Cybermen”. Now, as always, here’s a fact file for this serial:
~ This story had the working titles of The Ice Tombs of Telos and The Cybermen Planet.
~This serial was believed lost in 1978 (when the BBC’s film archive was first properly audited, although it is absent on earlier 1976 listings) until film telerecordings of all four episodes were returned to the BBC by the Hong Kong television company ATV (formerly called RTV) in late 1991. The serial was released, to much fan excitement and with a specially recorded introduction by director Morris Barry, on VHS in May 1992.
~Following the story’s recovery in 1991 and return early in 1992 after decades of being presumed wiped, the episode was screened to a packed audience at BAFTA in Piccadilly on 26 April 1992, along with guests including director Morris Barry, producer Peter Bryant, story editor Victor Pemberton and actors Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, Shirley Cooklin, Clive Merrison, George Roubicek and Michael Kilgarriff. Tony Clark, one of the audience members, recalled huge rounds of applause and thought that “everyone did love it”. The broad verdict of a group of reviewers in DWB issue 101 agreed that the long-missing episode lived up to hype of its reputation of existing “at the very apex of Doctor Who’s pyramid of masterpiece stories” when it was originally released on VHS. Gary Russell, reviewing the story in DWM 187, gave a “largely positive” review and said he “could go on forever about what’s good in The Tomb of the Cybermen”.
~Eleventh Doctor actor Matt Smith cited The Tomb of the Cybermen as one of his favourite Doctor Who stories.
~Up until “The Enemy of the World” was found and recovered, this serial was the only complete story from Season 5 of the Classic Series. It is also the only complete Cyberman story from Troughton’s run on Doctor Who.
Now that the fact file is out of the way, let’s get on with the review.
In my review of “The Moonbase”, I intended to say it was one of if not the best Troughton serial of all time. “The Tomb of the Cybermen”, however, is the best Cybermen serial of the Troughton Era, maybe even the best Cybermen serial of all time.
At this point Patrick Troughton was building up a head of steam as Doctor Two now, and his relationship with Jamie was well cemented. There’s plenty of humour between them: the scene where the Doctor realises he’s holding Jamie’s hand and tosses it aside in annoyance is redolent of Oliver Hardy himself. There’s a softer side, too. Much has already been written in books and on fansites, not surprisingly, about the moment the Doctor counsels Victoria on the grieving process. It’s tenderly acted and unfussily written, but credit should also go to director Morris Barry for his expressive use of close-up. It was rarely more appropriate than here.
The Cybermen are the same as seen in “The Moonbase”, Maybe even part of the same batch of Cybermen, seeing that they are the same as they looked last time. You could say the “Moonbase” Cybermen originated on Telos. The Telos terrors have been bolstered by a Controller, with his veined cranium denoting extra intelligence, and also by the scuttling Cybermats. The idea of the latter is definitely scarier than the actuality: their ping-pong eyes and felt teeth are very Blue Peter, while the story doesn’t make clear what threat they actually pose. Sometimes they are hard to understand. It has to be dead quiet to hear them clearly. You can try to tell what they are saying, but sometimes it’s hard to do. Many say the “electrolarynx” Cyber-voice was an improvement on the singsong whine adopted by actors in The Tenth Planet. I’m not so sure. The earlier method, with its haphazard emphases, was somehow weirder and more alien-sounding, while the new Cybermen add rogue vowels on the end of sentences (“You will remain still-a”; “We must survive-a”). It’s not irritating, but it can be problematic when you can’t tell what they’re saying.
Jamie and Victoria were very good alongside the Doctor. It’s also notable that Klieg, who counts as the secondary villain, was brilliant. He wanted the Cybermen for their logic, as he was a logical man himself. I also like how logical the villains/Cybermen went about things. I mean, the way the tombs were set up and how to access them the way you needed to. It was brilliant.
I am so glad this story exists in it’s entirety, because if not then you couldn’t admire the sets and props. It’s interesting what you can do with a budget, Styrofoam and tin foil. It’s also a great story and it’s perfect for Victoria’s first outing in the TARDIS.
Overall, I love this story. This was my introduction to Troughton. Though it’s not my favorite Troughton serial, it’s my favorite Cybermen serial by far. Not only that, but this serial is the only Cyberman story from the 60’s that exists in it’s entirety! So, I’m giving this story a 4.5/5. It’s just that good. I have nothing but praise for this story.
Awesome Mini (*ahem*, I mean Maxie), amigo! ;-) Thanks for sending it in! Sorry we didn’t get around to reading it out in full on the show. (spoilers)
Here’s another fun fact:
Toberman was originally going to be deaf, and when the Cybermen upgraded him, they would’ve given him a hearing aid. That’s why Toberman has little to no lines because they changed this plot point last minute. However, this plot point was retained for the Target novelization for the story.
The latest @whobackwhen podcast delves into the Second Doctor classic, “The Tomb of the Cybermen”. https://t.co/LJefO66Zv4
I submitted this too, but I guess the email didn’t go through:
I’m going to split my review into three different areas: Victoria, Main Plot, and Fun Facts.
First off is Victoria and more specifically how she measures up as a companion. In Evil of the Daleks she was a damsel in distress and fairly useless and I remember entering this serial for the first time thinking that we had Vikki 2 on board. Especially with her logical leaps upon entering the Tardis in the first episode. On discovering that the Doctor travels in time & space she of course assumes that he’s really old. (I don’t get it.) The next bit we get of Victoria is the one-off that she’s a little prude about her dress length, and soon after gets into the equipment that she doesn’t know anything about. Between episodes two and three Victoria asserts herself to disarm Kaftan and get the hatch opened. Her reaction to being called “honey” or “vic” mirrors Susan’s annoyance with being spoken down to, but without the need for an irritation index. Her conversation with doctor during her night watch is one of my favorite Troughton moments. A heart to heart that shows both of them as deeper characters than they appear. “You’ll find there is so much else for us to remember. Our lives are different than anybody else’s. That’s the exciting thing. Cause nobody in the universe can do what we’re doing.” (Ponken I’m sure you read that just fine, but Troughton saying it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.) For the rest of the serial Victoria doesn’t play any major part, but she’s not just standing around screaming either. By the end Victoria is a full companion in my eyes.
The main plot is original and gives us a good chunk of Doctor Who lore. From what is going on in the Cybermen chronology to doctor and companion bonding moments. I particularly love that Jaime calls the Doc out on the poor pun, despite Jamie coming from a time before the term “mental breakdown” would mean anything. The plot is strong, despite some small illogical logic leaps and loop holes. (If the ship will take 3 days to repair and only about a day is passed, how do they take off in the end.) It was thoroughly entertaining and well paced throughout. I love that Toberman is able to break through his conditioning. This also leads perfectly into the Fun Facts.
This serial is the 1st to feature the Cybermen attempting to control a human, which eventually will become the conversion process. It also provides us with a number of other firsts. It is the 1st serial to reference Telos; it is the 1st to involve archaeologists who stumble upon/create trouble; it is the 1st to feature Cybermats (the effects of which are better than in some later episodes, in my opinion); it is the 1st to feature a Cyber-Controller; it is the 1st to give an age to The Doctor (450); it is the first to feature what TV Tropes calls “Sealed Evil in a Can” where something bad is let out of its prison/cage during the course of the story; and lastly, it is the 1st of 5 completely available 2nd Doctor serials.
I absolutely love this serial! I could watch it again and again and again. I actually did that to write this review. This is my first 5.0 and I’d give it higher if I could, but alas my understanding of symbolic logic does not allow for it.
What-ho, Chrismeister! Really sorry we missed your mini-review. It arrived without a hitch, just dropped of our radar that day. Wish it hadn’t so I could have tried to do your Troughton-quote some justice. Please don’t let this deter you from sending us more minis. We’ll be more vigilant in future…
Anyway, thanks for sending in your review of ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’. It’s awesome! While I wouldn’t go so far as giving it a 5.0+ myself, I get why you do and love how passionate you are about this serial. And I’ll be watching it again and again myself. You’re right – this represents so many firsts in Doctor Who and in doing so laid the groundwork for the following half century of Doctor Who. No wonder it has attained such a legendary status. Rock on! /Ponks
Hey Ponken, This is what the novelization says about the book that Doc uses to find out about the Cyerbermat:
“He hesitated, trying to remember a small fact from the recesses of his mind, then took his dog-eared diary out of his pocket and looked up something. under the ‘C’s. ‘Here we are—a Cybermat!'”
Gerry Davis (1978-01-01T10:00:00+00:00). Doctor Who: Tomb of the Cybermen (Kindle Locations 745-746). Target Books. Kindle Edition.
Just downloading and really looking forward to listening to this straight away. But again I think you mark too harshly – especially you, Niculele.
I give it a 4.9. I am taking a 10th of a mark off because the cybermen run out of batteries a little too quickly – they were so good when firing on all cylinders.
This is one of the greatest ever Who adventures. And the first one I ever saw when it was first broadcast. Life changing experience. 2.5/5 indeed…pffft!
Hi guys, I’m straight back after listening to your review. I give this podcast a firm 4.5/5 – WBW is definitely a favourite of mine and I have sampled many of the Who podcasts available over the past 5 or so years. In fact, WBW is right up there with the Krynoids, 42 to Doomsday and Zeuspod as the small group of Who podcasts among the many that I actually eagerly await new releases of.
That said, I would like to take up a point about the interpretation of Doberman, sorry Toberman. I think that far from being racist writing, the casting of an actor with a prima facie African ethnic heritage in the role is artistically successful and introduces a sincerely held anti-racism theme into the story. Toberman, as an “African heritage servant” symbolically communicates to the viewer immediately that he is fundamentally a good person, noble but exploited by the forces of evil. It establishes in an instant with the viewer that Kaftan, the financier, is an evil person who will cause trouble. It thus creates a plot tension that helps to propel tremendous interest in the unfolding of the story and the fates of the protagonists and antagonists portrayed. Will each get his or her just deserts? Toberman does wrong in the story but his servitude mitigates his culpability, his loyalty is misplaced but understandable. The question is posed, can he break free of his chains? His exploitation reaches its nadir when he becomes in turn a slave to the cybermen. The satisfaction the viewer feels with the denouement arises largely from his escape, redemption and the vindication of Humanity through his heroism in confronting evil and defeating it.
The viewpoint you express on the Toberman character as cast is similar to the stance taken in other contemporary reviews of Tomb I have encountered (e.g., Krynoid Podcast) and I think reflects a current hypersensitivity to an enduring issue that, in my opinion, is ironically reductive of people’s intrinsic humanity. The symbol of the slave, here instantiated as a sci-fi version of a plantation era African slave, is a powerful metaphor for suffering, injustice, the inherent evil of exploitation and the immutability of the primacy of human rights. The Toberman literary creation is inextricably central to the greatness of Tomb as a work of science fiction and raises it to the status of possessing considerable artistic merit.
Whatever. Keep up your entertaining and thought-provoking work. cheers.
Hey Scorby, first off, thanks so much for your praise! Really glad you’re enjoying the show!
Okidoki, let’s get down to business. Your interpretation of the character of Toberman is really compelling, and once again I feel that perhaps I’ve been a little too harsh in my rating. I agree to a point with what you’ve said. Toberman, much like Kemel in ‘The Evil of the Daleks’, is only acting on behalf of another, and in the end proves that he is morally superior to his masters, his altruism literally culminating in self-sacrifice. You’re totes-malotes right! We should probably have given greater emphasis to that.
His human masters are foreigners as well, though, (in fact the only other foreigners on the cast) as opposed to the good guys who are all English or (fake) American.
I think we’ve addressed on the podcast before that the mere presence of a minority on the cast is already a step in the right direction. What still bothers me a little with regard to Toberman, though, and what I imagine you’ve heard in other reviews, is that when we get a minority representative in Classic Who, so far, they’ve not been given proper speaking parts or any degree of intellectual agency, unless it’s acted out with malice, e.g. Kaftan. Toberman proves himself to be a good guy in the end, but I’m still looking forward to seeing an ethnic minority represented with both EQ and IQ.
You’ve provided a total eye-opener! Thank you! Next time we encounter this phenomenon in a classic serial – I’m assuming there’ll be a next time – I will bear your comment in mind.
Long may you keep provoking thoughts. Excelsior!
…oh, and it is a fair point you make in response! cheers again.
This is a brilliant story that sees the “base under assault” theme approached from the opposite point of view. The Doctor is written brilliantly here, almost foreshadowing Sylvester McCoy’s Dr. in that he’s always one step ahead of everyone else.
As I’ve just listened to [most of] the podcast, I’d like to comment on 3 points: 1) the Dr opens the doors because first, he knows that one way or the other, sooner or later, the humans will get in. He would rather it happen while he is there than when he is not. Second, he also does it to deflect the accusations that he was involved in the death at the front door. Third, he just can’t help himself. He’s curious and adventurous, that’s all there is to it. 2) The Dr knows Kaftan is playing everyone for a fool. He’s just not going to show his hand too early. He also knows he came down on the other scientist hard. To pick him back up he triggers the one button that will finish the sequence to make him feel better about…himself. Like I said, he’s always one step ahead of everyone else. 3) there is a tremendous amount of time passage here that is not seen on screen. Remember them sleeping and scenes like it? Maybe it didn’t take 72 hours to fix the ship, but it didn’t take 3 hours either.
Victoria is interesting here. She definitely plays the damsel. However she’s an intelligent and resourceful one. Remember this is her first adventure and she’s in way over her head. The fact that she’s not going “what’s [insert everything invented after the Victorian era here]” is an astounding leap of faith and trust in Jamie and the Dr. She should be cowering in the corner and/or examining every last pencil in the room as if it’s a wonder of technology.
Jamie is both humbled and shining in this series. Not much to say as he is just brilliant in most episodes of every series.
There are some very beautiful quotes in this episode, including D n V talking about families. A little icon heavy but the set is brilliant. I agree though that a huge sense of dread is lost because we only hear discussions of how big the tombs are, we never see the long shot of them. That’s a shame. Remember that shot from “The Daleks”? Still the cybermen are ominous here (if not a little inept at times).
The cybermats didn’t really do anything in this episode, although I love the concept of them. Because they are living metal, we see the tiny “baby” cybermat (Cybermite?) which foreshadows the larger one’s later. Perhaps the little ones grow up. However the little one presumably bites the Kaftan and nothing at all comes of it. Sad. What happened to that virus from “The Moonbase”? Not at all what we see them do in later series. Thus this series script revisions would be to take out the “cybermats aren’t working” scene and replace with a scene of them injecting Toberman with the cybervirus (or at least stunning him and the Kaftan). Play up the low power aspect of the cybermen a little more so it accounts for their inability to do much here, and show that long shot of the thousands of tombs…and lose the reverse shots for going back into stasis.
Some great writing and acting (though admittedly a little stereotypical at times) along with some great sets makes this a wonderful series. The image restoration is beautiful and as such I’ll watch this story any day. 4.3
The Doctor wearing a cloak which the podcast refers to as a cape demonstrates how prepared he was during this serial, in which his curiosity consigns most of this expedition on an alien world to heinous death. Jamie, or someone, in fact, remarks upon his preparedness. Anyway, the podcsast remarks on the cape asking when the Doctor had a cape before. William Hartnell’s doctor wore it on occasion. In fact, you have a picture captioned ‘Badass Doctor stares down a War Machine in the podcast about, you guessed it, “The War Machines”.
The Doctor and Jamie welcomed Victoria aboard the TARDIS and arrived on the planet Telos as an explosion revealed a pair of enormous double doors. The first person to try opening them died. Despite the archaeologists’ unwelcoming, suspicious reception, the revelation they had come to study Cybermen compelled the time travelers to stay . The Doctor determined the charge electrifying the doors had dissipated and maneuvered Toberman, a servant of the expedition’s financiers, Kleig and Kaftan, into opening them. Beyond the doors, the archaeologists overlooked two separate doors the Doctor pointed out and explained how to open. After the explorers split up, Kaftan trapped Victoria in a large cabinet where projectors could revitalize a single Cyberman. The Doctor freed and calmed her before hurrying to Jamie. He was operating a hypnotic device as a Cyberman entered and the archaeologist with him was shot.
The Doctor noted the dead man was shot in the back and discovered the emerging Cyberman was a mock up target for testing weapons as he safely recreated the incident. Jamie found a Cybermat Victoria put it in her handbag after the Doctor used his 500 year diary to identify it. In the central chamber, Toberman told Kaftan he had completed a task before the lead archaeologist announced his decision to return to Earth. Their pilot, though, revealed the rocket had been sabotaged, necessitating extensive repairs. The Doctor prompted the Captain to reveal he would keep his passengers off the rocket, in part, because he didn’t know who caused the damage before helping Klieg, both openly and surreptitiously, to raise the hatch dominating one wall of the central chamber. All the men not repairing the rocket explored the Cybermen’s frozen tombs. Kaftan drugged Victoria’s coffee and lowered the hatch as her victim slept. Below, Klieg raised the temperature and shot an archaeologist, who panicked as reviving Cybermen began moving. When Victoria recovered, Kaftan covered her with a gun until the Cybermat in her handbag emerged and attacked Kaftan. Victoria snatched the gun and shot the Cybermat. Fully revived, Cybermen retrieved their Cybercontroller, who announced humans belonged to Cybermen and would be like them.
Victoria hurried to bring the Captain and a crewman into the central chamber in order to raise the hatch. Both men went down with smoke bombs and rescued everyone except Toberman. The inevitable Scooby Dooing ended as the Cyberman pursued the Doctor couldn’t both grasp him and hold up the hatch and retreated. Kaftan and Klieg were locked in the test range and acquired the Cybergun. Meanwhile, Cybermen attacked with Cybermats and the Doctor defeated them with an electric cable. Subsequently, the prisoners emerged from their prison and Klieg shot at the Doctor.
The shot missed the Doctor, but killed someone else before Klieg armed Kaftan, opening the hatch, and summoning the Cybercontroller. Believing the Cybergun, gave him bargaining power, Klieg revealed he represented logicians and offered the Cybercontroller an alliance as well as the chance to revitalize in exchange for Toberman, whom the Cyberman controlled, and the promise of technology. The Doctor imprisoned the Cybercontroller in the revitalization machine, and convinced Toberman to fight the metal monster after it literally broke out. Kaftan died before their battle began because Cybermen don’t honor bargains, but Jamie fought the Cybermen back, making them retreat to their tombs. The battle ended when the big man lifted the Cybercontroller overhead and hurled him into the hatch controls. The Doctor decided to take Toberman to help seal the Cybermen in their tombs. Jamie trailed Klieg, who followed them and objected to the Doctor freezing the Cybermen into their tombs forever. The Doctor extolled the virtues of an alliance between Klieg and the Cybermen. Klieg decided he would leave the Doctor, despite his understanding of the logicians’ objectives; his companions; and the archaeologists to the Cybermen instead of killing them. Before a Cyberman killed Klieg, the Doctor said he was undoubtedly mad. Toberman attacked and destroyed Klieg’s killer as the remaining Cybermen were frozen in their tombs. Above them, the rocket was ready and the Doctor electrified the controls and the hatch as well as the doors to prevent anyone else from walking into the Cybermen’s trap. Closing the doors would complete the circuit, but the Cybercontroller returned to life. Separating, the Doctor and Jamie ran outside, where the Doctor realized an insulator would be needed to safely close the doors. Toberman, though, refused to allow the Cybercontroller to pass and died closing the doors. The group, except perhaps the Doctor, felt they wouldn’t see Cybermen again, but there was a Cybermat outside the tomb.
DOCTOR WHO put “Revenge of the Cybermen” out when they did because no episodes from the classic “The Tomb of the Cyberman,” which fans selected for their first videocassette release, where then in BBC archives. When all four of the missing story’s episodes were returned from Hong Kong in 1992, they comprised the only story from the show’s fifth season featuring companion Victoria Waterfield to be intact until “Enemy of the World” was recovered in 2013. This third Cybermen story was a variation of the base under siege plot the first two employed. The Cybermen’s creator, Kit Pedler, and Writer Gerry Davis let their monsters set a clever trap for intelligent people on the planet Telos, which Cybermen adopted after their home planet, Mondas, “The Tenth Planet,” and Earth’s twin, was destroyed. Cybermen used Cybermats for the first time here, though the Doctor looked them up in his 500 year diary, suggesting he had encountered them before. His research was useful, enabling him to describe and defeat the creatures later in the story. Once again, as in the Cybermen’s last appearance, the Doctor decided to stay and combat his enemies, who remembered him from both their previous confrontations, at the Moonbase and on Earth, when Mondas was destroyed. Upon learning of the archaeological expedition’s purpose, the Doctor’s curiosity was insatiable. Deterred by neither the archaeologist who perished as he arrived nor the professional expedition’s ineptness, he pointed out and opened two doors the searchers didn’t realize existed and surreptitiously threw a switch to help them raise the hatch and admit them to the tombs. Thus, the Doctor is at least partially responsible for the deaths of Klieg, Kaften, Toberman and a archaeologists. Victoria, the Doctor’s newest companion, was curious and a deadly shot with a pistol, but evidently knew her limitations. She screamed at Cybermen and knew to fetch the rocket crew to help raise the hatch after Kaften lowered it and held a gun on her. Jamie played his usual role as the Doctor’s loyal protector, which amounted to little more than tagging along. Actors Patrick Troughton and Frazier Hines, portraying the Doctor and Jamie respectively, deliberately and covertly slipped humor into the serials of their era. For example, flanking Victoria, each reached for her hands in the initial scene, but gripped one another instead. Their antics likely didn’t please Director Morris Barry, who famously had the entire, impressive tomb set moved to align properly with the cameras he believed were set up correctly. Gerry Davis novelized his story for Target Books and actor Michael Kilgarriff, the Cybercontroller, read it for audio. It’s script appeared as a separate volume from Titan Books and the soundtrack exists with narration around the dialogue provided by Frazier Hines on CDs and Jon Pertwee on a previously released cassette.