CLASSIC WHO IN REVIEW: “The Tomb of the Cybermen” (1967)

Patrick Troughton assumes the TARDIS controls as our Doctor Who preamble continues…

Being a fan of The Doctor who was born too late to remember the first seven years of the programme, it soon became clear to me that watching every episode was an impossibility. Until 1978, the BBC usually wiped the tapes of Doctor Who that had been broadcast for economic and space-saving reasons, meaning there are 97 episodes that are missing from the archive. That is rather frustrating since Patrick Troughton’s tenure as the Second Doctor is the worst affected by this practice. With 53 of his episodes missing, and only seven serials available in full, his era is certainly one modern viewers can only glimpse at, which is sad considering it’s one of the most important in the show’s history…

Why do I say that? Well, when William Hartnell announced his intention to leave the show because of deteriorating health in 1966, the series was in jeopardy. However, it was then that script editor Gerry Davis came up with the idea that, since The Doctor is an alien, he could die and move on to a new body. Producer Innes Lloyd then took the idea further with this “renewal” process invented as a regular crux when the lead actor needed changing. The process itself was modelled on LSD trips (yes, kids, it’s true, don’t try it at home!) with the “hell and dank horror” of taking the drug being a key influence. With this idea of “regeneration” firmly in place, the longevity of the show was established.

Troughton was taking on a role that had been played rather well by Hartnell who was quite popular with audiences. His performance as The Doctor proved that new actors could play the part in what has become somewhat of a sci-fi Hamlet. Quickly, he became just as popular as his predecessor. He played the part as a bit of clown at times, but this was just a disguise for his real personality, which made him one of the more cunning of the Doctors (something that you can see in Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor who was heavily influenced by Troughton).

It is not until the first serial of series five that one, in 2013, can actually see the earliest surviving adventure in full. Thankfully, it is one that was worth saving. The four-part story “The Tomb of The Cybermen” sees The Doctor and his companions, Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victoria (Deborah Watling), land on Telos where a small expedition led by Professor Parry (Aubrey Richards) is trying to find the final remnants of the Cybermen, who had seemingly died centuries earlier.

The plot itself takes on the basic expedition formula where they discover what they are looking for with a few rogue elements in the crew. The latter are Eric Klieg (George Pastell), his assistant Kaftan (Shirley Cooklin), and her manservant Toberman (Roy Stewart) who has superhuman strength exhibited throughout the story. They represent the Brotherhood of Logicians who want to use the Cybermen to create a regime of logic on Earth. Of course, it is the Cybermen who had out-thought the humans, knowing that such an expedition would arrive on the planet to wake them up.

As the first two episodes go on, it is revealed that the expedition would have failed were it not for The Doctor’s arrival. The slow progression through the tombs builds suspense, and The Doctor has fun with Klieg and his supposed logic. This cheeky Doctor is also rather interested in what is found on Telos, with curiosity being the only reason he stays to help the crew. This curiosity would be played up in future regenerations as a key trait of the character.

The build-up is nicely paced with action-adventure being the centre of all Second Doctor stories, which the writers had planned on with the signing of a younger actor to do all the running around that Doctor Who is now known for. The cliffhangers in the first two episodes were perfect in getting people hiding behind the sofa, especially at the end of number two when the Cybermen break out of their tombs. This scene is one of the most well-known and iconic moments in the history of the series and one every Whovian must watch.

Being only the third Cybermen story in the show up to that point, the villains here are still in their early design stages. There’s no light on the mouth, just a slot that opens when they talk with a voice that sounds like the actor talking through a fan. To me, the vocals are a lot creepier than the digital version we have now. I also love that the brain of the Controller (making his début in this story) is emblazoned on his helmet, something that would become a regular feature with each Cybermen story. The Cybermats also make their first appearance, with them doing most of the Cybermen’s work due to their limited energy after being woken up.

The guest characters are mostly forgettable on the whole, but Toberman, when under Cyber control, is quite frightening, especially when he is able to throw the Cyber Controller across the room. Elsewhere, new companion Victoria (from the Victorian era, naturally) is rather inconsistently written. First off, she joined the TARDIS crew after her father was killed by the Daleks. In this story, she is asked if she is happy being there despite the deaths occurring around them. For the most part, she is written as a stereotypically pretty idiot, but then she is also shown to be brave enough to shoot a Cybermat. I guess writers Davis and Kit Pedler were not given a full outline of her character. There is a nice scene between her and The Doctor, however, with them talking about family; his warmth and caring nature now fully integrated into the character.

One should highlight Hines who plays Jamie McCrimmon. He joined Troughton in only his second story, “The Highlanders” (1966), and would remain with the show until the Second Doctor’s final story, “The War Games”in 1969. He would also return in three anniversary specials: “The Three Doctors” (1972-73), “The Five Doctors” (1983), and “The Two Doctors” (1985). As one of the longest-serving companions, the Scottish assistant is synonymous with the Second Doctor era. Always brave and fiercely loyal to The Doctor, he also flirted and even kissed a few of the female companions despite his initial shyness towards them (well, wouldn’t you?). In this story, he is the typical Jamie but with a less-involved role as lines were spread around the large cast.

“The Tomb of the Cybermen” is a simple yet great example of British science fiction on television, and certainly one of the best in early Doctor Who. It is one of the few surviving peeks into the second era of the show, and a glimpse that one can savour with every viewing. With five episodes of “The Web of Fear” and the complete “The Enemy of the World” being found in Nigeria this year, I sincerely hope that more of the Second Doctor’s adventures will be found. It would be a tragedy if those missing were lost forever.

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