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Defining the Doctor: The Tomb of the Cybermen

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Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull continues his series looking at one key story from each Doctor.

A new companion is welcomed into the crew; the gates to an ancient civilization are revealed; a mixed-nationality Earth expedition contains traitors hell-bent on freeing their true masters; deadly Cybermats stalk the newcomers from the shadowy corners, and former enemies of the Doctor’s make their grande comeback.

The Tomb of the Cybermen is a jewel in the Doctor Who crown: a white diamond that nestles in the headpiece. It is one of the most popular Patrick Troughton stories, and has been occasionally dubbed, one of the most influential episodes ever. Throughout this article I hope to convey my thoughts on the character of the Second Doctor, the supporting cast, and the returning menace, the titular Cybermen. So here we are, at…

The Tomb of the Cybermen (1967)

I love the Second Doctor; I love his kookiness, his attire, his speech (Troughton always received brilliant scripts – his era contained some of the most creative screenplays in all of Doctor Who) and his friends. The strange thing is, I have only watched – prior to researching this series – about four stories of his. This may seem a bit odd acknowledging my adoration for this incarnation but before, I used to avoid the late sixties in Who. The Defining the Doctor series, I predict will widen my understanding of every Doctor and by November, I will possibly have a new favourite.

The Tomb of the Cybermen is renowned for being one of Troughton’s best stories. The concept verges on genius, the supporting characters are devilishly nasty, each in their own way and the lead villains, the Cybermen are nasally impaired (their monotone electrical hiss is terrifying even in 2013) monsters. When I sat down to watch it, I was mesmerized from the chilling opening. Now allow me to expatiate on with my analysis of the story and the Doctor.

The ragtag bunch of weirdly-spoken Earth archaeologists is one of the highlights. They are a potpourri of hope, deceit, love, intellect and curiosity: each with their own flaws. Firstly is the main humanoid malfeasant of the piece, Eric Klieg, a man fixated upon freeing the Cybermen and becoming their leader. He slowly, as the story progresses, becomes more and more power-hungry. Even when the Cybermen reject his proposal of an alliance he just persists and eventually this perseverance leads to his downfall. Klieg was a member of the Brotherhood of Logicians – an idea I consider worthy of a new series reappearance – a group of human brains that thought they stood out amongst others. Klieg’s wealthy accomplice, Kaftan assisted him in the physical requirements on Telos and also in the financing of the expedition. She was a wicked crook that abetted Klieg in all his endeavours, and you rarely saw her without a gun in her hand.

The leader of the odyssey, Professor Parry was equally keen on rediscovering the Cybermen and it took a murder to convince him to cancel the trip. He was a brave man and took a no-nonsense approach to the other team members, usually asserting his role as headman of the expedition (Klieg would often challenge this).

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The Tomb of the Cybermen isn’t always remembered for being Victoria’s first trip in the TARDIS and this factor is retained throughout the whole story. There is one surprisingly well-scripted scene in which Victoria sadly remembers her deceased father in the central control room. The Doctor comes over and consoles her:

Victoria: You probably can’t remember your family.
The Doctor: Oh yes, I can when I want to. And that’s the point, really. I have to really want to, to bring them back in front of my eyes. The rest of the time they… they sleep in my mind and I forget. And so will you. Oh yes, you will. You’ll find there’s so much else to think about. To remember. Our lives are different to anybody else’s. That’s the exciting thing, that nobody in the universe can do what we’re doing.

It’s is one of the few times the Doctor talks of his background and his family: this being an especially touching and poignant occasion.

The Doctor here is portrayed as a man of remembrance and sadness, this all being masked by a whimsical attitude. Matt Smith often notes how The Tomb of the Cybermen inspired his costume and personality as the Doctor. The similarities are blatant and Matt’s Doctor often shields his dark side with overly cheerfulness. He starts off as your typical madman in a box, venturing with his companions (he was being especially pretentious in order to impress newcomer Victoria) to a new world. Tomb is a scary, thrilling rollercoaster into the deep, dark world of the Doctor and absolutely perfect for Victoria’s first story – she gets an early insight into the madcap but scary adventures the Doctor and Jamie get up to.

Patrick Troughton, sporting a lovely black cape (if Matt was influenced by Troughton’s garb, why hasn’t he got a cape yet?) gives a stellar performance, putting emphasis on the Doctor’s emotional state of mind.

Frazer Hines is a tad underused as the quintessentially comical Highlandman, Jamie. This was probably down to the large supporting cast and the immense amount of drama there was. Deborah Watling is wonderful as novice traveler Victoria, her performance has even persuaded me to name her as my favourite Second Doctor companion.

The Cybermen are at their best in The Tomb of the Cybermen and wonderfully utilized, giving them a lot more to do. Their plan is annoyingly clever (hibernate until superior minds come along and free them, then they can convert these intelligent people) and although all the actors look uncomfortable in their silly silver Lycra suits there is still a threatening air about them, especially in the facemasks.

Tall, grey and menacing, the Cybermen tomb in which they have cryogenically frozen themselves into is a masterful set design. The scene where they peel open their chambers and advance on the humanoids is both iconic and scary, and that tinny shrill they call a voice is laughable yet creepy and sinister.

As Klieg, in a desperate last resort, attempts to release the Cybermen once more the Doctor gives the man a speech of epic proportions but Klieg is gripped by megalomania and ignores him. Even if the intended recipient disregards him, this speech is still powerful to those around the Doctor.

To conclude, The Tomb of the Cybermen is one of the reasons fans like me live for the series. It is tense, exciting, tragic, compelling and terrifying: all of the appropriate elements that make up a good episode of Doctor Who. Each member of the supporting cast are well deployed with Deborah Watling and Patrick Troughton giving superb performances. The Tomb of the Cybermen is an eloquent example of science-fiction, and Doctor Who for that matter: if you haven’t seen it, I beg you to do so.

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