Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The Tomb of the Cybermen

16 Jun 2004, 11:40 pm

The Tomb of the Cybermen 1:

It's one of the set rules of reviewing Tomb that you have to talk about it being the lost masterpiece that was found again. There's a particularly engaging piece in this style in the I Luv Dr Who special from last year (where it talks about how it's reputation has diminished and it's mocked... which seems to miss the point that the article's only there because the story's been voted one of the top ten of all time...) I suppose I'm going to have to cover that to some degree, because Tomb is one of the few stories it's impossible to view out of context. It isn't just a regular story and it's impossible to pretend that it is. Any viewing is coloured by the thoughts of how much this whole thing mattered a decade or so ago. It was, lest we forget, the first 'new' story in three years. It was complete, it was out instantly, it was the one we'd always really wanted etc. etc.

And that's one of the oddities of the story. For years with all the missing stories their individual quality has masked by the nostalgia factor. It doesn't take a genius to see that the stories best regarded from this era are the ones that the kids would like (hence the lack of interest in the historicals for example, and the romp of Evil regarded higher than the drama of Power...) Tomb's place in the legend was based on the nostalgia, and the context, on top of the individual script. And this is the funny thing. It still is. Much as the older fans probably couldn't seperate their appreciation of it from their experience as kids, we can't disassociate our feelings for it from the context of its return (would those who dislike it find it all that bad without the weight of crushing expectation? Those who love it feel the same without the joyous miraculous nature of its return?).

What this means, ultimately, is that Tomb, unlike any other story, is impossible to watch totally objectively. It means more to us all (eventually, any new fans brought in by the new series won't be able to grasp this, but it is nonetheless true).

I'd heard the soundtrack and loved it. I recall going into the Bishop's Stortford WHSmith's and discovering the news in DWM (not, ironically, by noticing the main banner headline, but by reading down the VHS schedule...) And then buying the video, and for some reason failing to watch it for over a day (other comittments I think, but I do recall glancing at the start of part one the next morning with breakfast... I think I wanted to savour it).

All this is a roundabout way of getting to the actual review - I'm one of the one's who love this story. I think it's simple, economic, and it does what it wants efficiently and well. How much of that comes from the context I first saw it I can't tell. Even now, I can predict whole line deliveries from listening to the soundtrack (something I didn't do all that often I promise). I really can't see what it's detractors are on about, and certainly in context it stands up rather well. OK, Victoria seems a little jolly given that she's just had her father and a good friend killed, but apart from that, we have a lovely low key follow up to Evil. (And she has a bad time of it straight off, doesn't she - Kaftan looking her into the revitilization wotsit for barely any reason at all, like she's a threat).

This first episode might be a reason for people to dislike it, as it doesn't have anything happening really - but that's it's whole point. It's one of the best build ups of tension the series has had. The Cybermen loom over the story, but they constantly refuse to appear. And slowly, people get killed, there are various threats. The suspense builds... yes, the Cyberman that appears at the cliffhanger is obviously ropey, and the trick that shouldn't be revealed til part two is made explicit (and is still probably the greatest proof that the memory does cheat, and that a lot of the imagery we believe some stories to feature, and their suggested classic status may be in doubt - this single image remains so wildly at variance with the descriptions given to it by faulty memoried elder-statesmen, as a glance at the script book should attest). But this doesn't affect the slow build of menace that swamps the production. The script is serious, occasionally dry, but there's always the sense of a sword of Damocles waiting to fall. The lack of action could have been a problem, but it suceeds through the fact we understand the threat the Cybermen pose instantly. They cast a pall over proceedings, and their delayed appearance provides the central tension, the air of potential disaster kickstarted by the early death (which has already prompted us to realise that death could lurk anywhere, providing further tension)

Character's are instantly well defined (I'm particularly fond of the surly Viner, a good character made surly and a little dislikeable, quite a nice touch and rare). OK, some American accents are weak (but considering how bad US versions of UK accents are, it's live and let live), and one of the mining crew is clearly straight out of drama school and in his first job, and rubbish. But these are minor quibbles, and can't detract from the clear truth. That this is a classy straightforward bit of writing, a sensible straight drama. After the dumb romp of Evil, it's nice to have something a little more cereberal and, yes, slow (and it's worth pointing out that that is all it is - slow, never padded). The script takes time to get to know the characters and the situation, meaning that it's one of the most distinct casts in a Who story ever.

All this, tempered with some nice lashes of humour (Jamie and the Doctor holding hands for example), and you have a good solid, simple but effective episode.


#48 17 Jun 2004, 6:49 am
Carlos R


Hey Dorney,

Good to see you back! Got to agree with you about your analysis of the difficulty in viewing this story objectively.
I remember hearing the soundtrack, and wishing desperately that the story still existed. About a week later, my local ABC shop had the video in, and I got it as an early birthday present.
Four of my friends and I sat down to watch it - and really enjoyed it a lot. The story IS economical, but builds really well. It's not trying to be an epic - and we did not know enough about fan opinion to have really high expectations of it. Chronologically it's the first complete Troughton you can view, and by this stage Troughton was well and truly firing as the Doctor. I'm definitely in the camp that loves the story to bits - there's a lot I can take the piss out of, but that isn't a bad thing. And I far prefer this to some of the other "classics"


#49 17 Jun 2004, 11:15 pm
Time Lord


The Tomb of the Cybermen 2:

I think you've hit the nail on the head there, Tipsy G. Tomb isn't an epic, it's about claustrophobia. It's about honing everything down.

That's why it's more succesful than it's season 5 brethren. Claustrophobia is about being enclosed, being trapped. A free wheeling six parter is inherently less dense than a tight four parter. So it's noticeable how pared down the story is - it really only involves two basic sets, it's got very little incidental music, there's the bare minimum of characters, and it's pretty much in real time for the majority of the story (I can't quite remember where there are other breaks, but we've only had one so far, making it pretty much a three act stage play real time type thing) ... we are as trapped are the characters, we're trapped with them. There's nowhere to break off to. All the tensions develop in front of our eyes, we see it all. It's quite a theatrical piece in that sense. And this is true of the scripting itself - it's a story that deals with the personal, not the epic, by focusing on the minutiae. Each character is detailed and layered. The script deals in subtext more than most others (to give a slightly blatant example - it's never explicitly stated what caused the malfunction of the spaceship - ok, it's obviously Toberman, but it's nice to see that the story doesn't treat us like idiots and feel the need to make this explicit. We combine inferences from here there and everywhere to figure it out - it's obvious, but we aren't told).

For a cyberman story, it's not really about them. I think I've said that the best monster stories are those that are about how the humans react to the monsters, rather than about the monsters themselves. That's true here. The villains of the story aren't the cybermen, they're just doing what they do. It's Klieg and Kaftan. Klieg's murder of Viner is the stories nastiest moment, because it's a rejection of morality rather than an act born out of pure bred amorality. Klieg knows the difference, he just considers it unimportant.

Generally, it's a slow episode, but that's not a problem. It's thoughtful, and as I've said elsewhere, purely about building tension and claustrophobia, which I'd rather have over soul-less action for the sake of it. It adds realism to the script, as the whole thing feels like it's a straightforward drama in space, rather than fantasy adventure. It's played utterly straight too, which lends gravitas. It's ordinary, but serious. It's non-fantastical, therefore it connects and scares more. Even the seemingly irrelevant side steps to the revitilization chamber and the weapons room (both swiftly dismissed and ignored this week, though I seem to recall they both play an important part) are more about adding an air of threat and menace, hence more claustrophobia, yadda yadda yadda (I wish there was a synonym for claustrophobia - I feel I've overused it somewhat).

There are weaknesses in the episode. It's unclear what's scary about the cybermat, or why Victoria feels the need to shoot it (and since when is she such a good shot?). But generally, it's ok.

Victoria and Jamie are developing a nice rapport. He obviously feels protective, and honourbound to her, despite being naturally inclined to running away (there's at least twice in this episode alone where he clearly wants to nip off). She's all pluck and bravery. The irony is that their both faking it. Jamie is incredibly brave when he needs to be (his 'cowardice' is more about being pragmatic than actually afraid). Of course, the bravest people have to be the ones who feel fear (otherwise what's brave about facing something you're not scared of). And Victoria for all her 'I'm being brave, me' posturing, breaks down every time.

The Doctor gets more of his most interesting material here in his undercover aiding of Klieg - it's engaging to see that he's something of an upset child at times, unable to let his intelligence over-ride his curiosity. It's becoming clear that this is his most defining factor. The Doctor is a boy in a sweet shop, all joy and enthusiasm, and he enjoys playing games of monsters. That's not to say he can't be grown up, but he's a man in touch with his inner child.

The defrosting is fab, natch, even if you can't help but wish that there was a little less of the cyber-close ups (each of which goes on a mite too long) and a bit more of the long shot. But with the Cybermarch (and that much forgotten but bittersweet and haunting melody that plays elsewhere in the story) it all combines in a terrific moment. Suddenly, we remember what the Moonbase made us forget - that these are cold scary creatures (their impassive silence and sheer size against the small humans is menacing in the extreme) And the arrival of the Cybercontroller is superb too, his immediately different appearance signalling a change in direction. The last line, simple and to the point, utterly unemotional, chills to the bone.


#50 20 Jun 2004, 11:21 pm

The Tomb of the Cybermen 3:

I must say I'm getting terribly slack in writing these up (and in deed in watching them). No proper excuses, like last time, sad to say. I'm just being a bit lazy. And of course, Tomb is one of those stories I've seen so often it's hard to come fresh to.

That's not to say it's impossible. The 'in-context' viewing always makes them feel new to a degree. For example, I'd never really cottoned on to the way that the first three stories really connect. It's clear, if you pay attention, that these aren't just some members of the Cyber-race. These are distinctly the final drabs of the Mondasian Cybermen (as were those of Moonbase). They're Cybermen who escaped the purge, and have been trying to survive since. They're not hidden away survivors of a great army - and it seems that conversion is pretty much a new idea too (the offer of conversion in the 10th planet is a well meaning, logical one. This is subjugation, pure and simple).

It's not a bad episode, but it's slightly reliant on filler. You can tell there's going to be some padding from the moment Kaftan has her sudden burst of life in a pointless little diversion for a minute. But, as with all padding, the difference between a good story and a bad one, is whether or not the padding is entertaining. And in Tomb it demonstrably is.

The Cybermats for example. Just something to fill in time (they're given a hell of a build up, then get dispatched in about a minute flat). But despite the fact we're never really told why anyone should be scared of them, and why they can't just be stamped on, we still get caught up in the the tension, mainly through the actors completely commiting themselves to the script. We believe these creatures are dangerous and scary, because the characters in the story do too. And with the constant buzz, there's a remarkable translation of something that should be a bit crap (there are too few cybermats and they're impossible to control) into something really quite exciting. Likewise the various chase/escape routines which go on a little longer than they need to but are nonetheless quite cool.

The Cybermen are terrific here, imposing and huge. The sequence where one clambers up onto the Doctor as he tries to get through the hatch is genuinely scary (it made me jump a touch, I can say). And once more they seem passionless and cold. They seem dangerous, but not psychotic (they don't bother attacking anyone who isn't a threat, which is very striking). And that's creepy. These Cybermen are indifferent to us... we're simply not worth caring about.

There really isn't that much more to this episode than that. Obviously we have the lovely exchange between Victoria and the Doctor, which goes some way to dealing with the many rather ignored emotions left hanging since Evil, and instantly establishes a warmth and a connection between the Doctor and Victoria. It's interesting to see that this relationship is very different from the usual one the Doctor has with his companions. He clearly takes his responsibility to Waterfield, and will always protect Victoria. She's not a colleague, or a friend, particularly. More a beloved charge, if you like. And Victoria's quite personably sweet too... not quite as wet as her period upbringing would suggest. She isn't quite as dignified as a Vicki or Polly yet, but it's horses for courses. Victoria is sort of their period equivalent so far.

A few illogical bits - all the logic stuff seems to be bluster in this episode, where Clive Merrison figures out which switch to use by looking at the wires (even if this is a more practical way of getting the same information, it would suggest that the ludicrous hopping up and down game the Doctor and Klieg played was window dressing - it clearly only requires one lever to open the hatch in this episode).

And Klieg and Kaftan getting stashed with a gun is bad enough - but without the door even being locked, it would seem insane (having said that, if you can ignore the rather camp series of 'Oh's, the cliffhanger is beautifully staged and excecuted...).


Last edited by Dorney; 20 Jun 2004 at 11:37 pm.

#51 21 Jun 2004, 12:20 am
Benjamin Adams
Rubber Sole


Dorney! PLEASE repost these in the Tomb of the Cybermen forum!!!


#52 21 Jun 2004, 9:09 am


Will do, when I've finished part four...


#53 21 Jun 2004, 7:10 pm

The Tomb of the Cybermen 4:

It's hard not to feel that the last couple of episodes of this story sort of lose direction a bit, and become a succession of set pieces rather than an actual plot. The story mainly fills in this episode with a series of little vignettes, but ultimately pretty much any of them could be dropped without really affecting the overall story. But, as my general tone remains, they're GOOD vignettes, interesting and exciting in themselves, nicely written and performed.

The biggest problem with the episode is that the Cybermen defeat themselves by retreating into their Tomb (and by failing to ensure that the revitaliser is in the vicinity, not on a different floor), and this does rather castrate them as serious plausible foes, and make the Doctor's task a little easier. Having said that, it remains my contention that the Cybermen aren't the villains of this story, it's Klieg and Kaftan. The Cybermen are merely a force of nature (or what passes for nature), and this ties in with their effective impotence in the story. They are a threat more in terms of what they represent and their actual presence than by actually doing anything (that might sound like damning with faint praise, but compare the story to the Moonbase - there's something undignified about the Cybermen attacking like they're any other monster. They need to be cold and indifferent).

Klieg and Kaftan - well, I'm bemused why everyone says they're so over the top. They're not. Klieg is SUPPOSED to be barking mad. (Why is it, that the moment anyone has an accent they're over the top? I don't get it). They're both fun villains to my eyes (little touches of humour surround them - Kaftan's ducking the gun, and the general sense that they're actually not quite as bright as they think. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Brotherhood of Logicians was Klieg's actual creation as an act of hubris, rather than his membership meaning anything. He smacks of a mensa member with no actual practical experience). Both get suitably satisfying sticky ends. (Troughton's pretend agreement speech, with its sublime punchline, is probably my favourite moment in the story, btw.) Having said all that, Kaftan's shooting of the Cybercontroller (not quite aiming where she's looking) is rubbish.

Toberman suddenly gets a rather nice personality in this episode. His redemption is genuinely quite touching, and in particular the self sacrifice at the end seems such a vital part of the story - it can come across as a bit of a cliched way to end a story, but here it seems the natural conclusion, the Cybermen being hoist on their own petard in many ways. It's also surprisingly touching and downbeat, as we really feel for this character, now realising the error of his ways. It's honourable, noble and rather sad. Shame no one seems interested in moving the body at the end though. He's just left there, seemingly.

A lot of the special effects fail in this episode - the cardboard box lid for the revitalising chamber, the dummy controller clearly losing his head - and yes, it does take you out of the story for a bit. It's good though, that the story remains such properly entertaining drama that you don't mind for more time than it's actually on screen. (A few oddities though - why does the Doctor switch on the machine to help the controller? - mind you, we've been asking that question since part one - and two, why doesn't Klieg just shoot the Doctor again at the start of the episode - did I miss something?)

So there we go. A rather slight tale, more about characterisation than the monsters, which is a good thing, but nonetheless with several good dramatic setpieces. That goes towards what I've said elsewhere about the story being good for different reasons than those that fandom had remembered. It isn't an especially scary monster story, but it's a good examination of how those monsters affect us. It's a thoroughly enjoyable piece, well made, paced and performed. Worthy of its reputation, taut solid drama.


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