Doctor Who (Classic): S05E01 “The Tomb of the Cybermen”

Season 5
Directed by Morris Barry
Written by Kid Pedler and Gerry Davis

For the third time in the span of less than year, the Cybermen return to Doctor Who. After their last appearance in “The Moonbase” I talked about how they were the Second Doctor’s definitive foes and especially after waving goodbye to the Daleks in “The Evil of the Daleks”. That leaves this serial in the unenviable position of trying to justify the heavy use of an alien race as well as starting off a new season, something Doctor Who has never been particularly great at especially since they tend to be produced at the back end of the production cycles of the prior year. In fact, as we will later see, the Cybermen form a nice sort of bookend for this season showing up again in the final serial. The quality of the episode is aided by the fact that it is the final Kit Pedler/Gerry Davis written Cybermen episode. The collaborated for their introduction in “The Tenth Planet” while Pedler wrote “The Moonbase” himself making them the Cybermen counterpart to the Daleks’ Terry Nation.

“The Tomb of the Cybermen” is one of only two complete serials from Season 5 along with the fairly recently rediscovered (well four years ago now and my does time fly) “The Enemy of the World” but after a season of 33 out of 43 episodes missing, only having 18 out of 40 missing is looking great right now. It is also the shortest serial of the season at four episodes which is a nice compromise to how heavily used they are and a nice break for me since we will not be getting another four episode serial until mid-Season 6’s “The Krotons”.

An expedition to discover what happened to the Cybermen on their homeworld, the planet Telos, uncovers a set of doors (using explosions like any good archaeologist) with images of the Cybermen adorning either side. These doors are to the titular tomb seen above. The first man who attempts to enter is electrocuted to death and it is only thank to the Doctor, who just happens to bumble in (the way we is wont to do) and have an electrical doodad on him capable of disabling the doors’ defenses. The Doctor is also the only one able to decipher the symbolic logic of the Cyberman tomb and therefore the only one who is able to help them start the machinery inside. I really do question the Doctor’s motivations here. I know he is a curious man and this is as much his undoing as it is others, but he explicitly says that he only goes along with all this to see everyone else’s plans, plans they wouldn’t have been able to implement without him showing off his knowledge and unwittingly giving away the answer to starting up the Cybermen technology.

It turns out that the Cybermen who disappeared hundreds of years ago are shockingly merely dormant and it takes this expedition to revive them. I’ll get to that in a second, but even without the villainous plot mentioned below, there’s an awful lot of people on this expedition throwing random levers. Victoria herself is a bit too dumb to live climbing into a chamber after being warned not to and unsurprisingly being locked in. After seeing Jamie hypnotized by something, another member of the crew of course thinks it logical to do turn that machine on again but this time only one person looks since that will make all the difference. After he is inevitably killed by their curiosity, the expedition wisely makes the decision to leave though not before their rocket has been disabled and the villainous plot comes to bare.

This brief burst of intelligence doesn’t last long when, in an attempt to open the doors to the tomb, the Cybermen are accidentally activated. This wouldn’t be so bad since they are immediately, and smartly shut down, but since this is Doctor Who we are talking about and scientists have nonexistant preservation instincts, one of them must inevitably shoot the person deactivating it and bring back the Cybermen. When I mentioned Victoria getting locked it, while it just as easily could have been from someone messing around, it turns out to be the work of one of two members of the party who belong to a group called the Logicians.

While I was about to criticize the series for a big old Idiot Plot, I had forgotten that the entire mission for two of them (the woman who trapped and later drugged Victoria and the killer) was to bring back the Cybermen since the Cybermen’s main pursuit of logic neatly mirrors their own and they desire their power. As with all such attempts by humans to harness the power of an alien race, this backfires as humanity always thinks it can reason with anything especially when they armed. It’s simultaneously a depressing inevitability and yet something optimistic in Doctor Who’s belief that those who think they can hold power by gun are doomed to defeat. Heck, even the hubris of the Doctor backfires when he accidently recharges the Cyber-Controller not to mention all his mistakes getting them to this point.

The Cybermen plot is pretty genius in that they reasoned that the only people able to reactivate them would be some of the most intelligent humans and would make perfect targets for conversion. Granted, they mostly got idiots with the Doctor being the one with any intelligence but it is a sound idea in theory. It’s just a shame that once actually freed they seem lost as to how to actually go about converting everyone, managing merely one partial and ultimately failed conversion.

The day is saved by the aforemention partially converted servant being reasoned with through his programming (the equivalent of “I know you’re in there somewhere”) and being the one strong enough to fight back. Of course this just drives in the unfortunate implications of him being the only black character as we watch the Doctor speak in a patronizing tone not to mention the fact that he is a massive, strong, “dumb” type who sacrifices himself for all the white people.

The Logicians plot is pretty damn repetitive though even over only four episodes. The episode repeats the same plot of, Logician takes control, monologues about logic and power while holding people hostage, gets knocked out, and then somehow comes back to start the process over again. It’s a shame too because they weaken what is otherwise a great serial and I wish the Cybermen plot had actually been the prime focus since as I said before, it really is quite intelligent. The Logician plot isn’t even really needed since the story already has a natural The Mummy type plot built in where archaeologists stumble into a tomb against a warning (talk of a curse then, the electrified door here) and accidently awaken something they don’t truly understand. Heck even the Logician plot would be redone better (at least in concept) with the idea that those valuing logic would want to become Cybermen, not that they just want to use them as glorified weapons. It’s one of the few episodes so far which hasn’t held up as well upon a rewatch but there is still a lot to like over the four episodes and its intact nature still makes it an easy recommend.

Grade: B

Stray Observations
– Sorry for the unexpected few weeks off but things (being busy and more significantly the internet finally getting coy about making it available) got in the way of completing it and frankly end of season was the perfect time for a break regardless.
– Gerry Davis would return to write the first post-Second Doctor era Cybermen serial “Revenge of the Cybermen” in Season 12.
– Kit Pedler however would only provide the story for the next two Cybermen serials in “The Wheel in Space” and “The Invasion”
– The icy feel of this serial is appropriate since as I write this, my area is about to get buried under a foot or two of snow.
– The Doctor reveals himself to be about 450 years old not that it matters since the show seems to have a hard time keeping track.
– It’s Victoria’s turn to not believe the TARDIS can travel through time and space though considering her father was working on similar technology, it’s not surprising her disbelief is relatively short lived for this era of the show.
– Of course the one black man is the servant here and of course he’s the nearly mute (originally intended to be deaf with elements of that remaining in the script) muscle.
– This serial is the debut of the insect like Cybermats which look very much like toys as well as the debut of the Cyber-Controller.
– The Doctor speaks of remembering his family when he wants to. He clearly doesn’t want to very often.
– I spent far too long giggling at the Doctor’s “You can almost say they had a complete metal breakdown”.
– Maybe don’t hype up how impossible something is to escape only to seconds later show that the prop was made of some thin drywall like thing.
– I know the final shots of the Cybermen being locked back up were just reversed from before but I still liked the effect.
– I wanted to include the above shot as the header, but it would be remiss of me not to at least include part of the most famous shot of the serial.
The Tomb of the Cybermen 2.JPG
– This Week in Cliffhangers: The tomb has been closed up but despite the apparent defeat of the Cybermen, the Doctor refuses to believe this is the last time we will see them which is certainly confirmed by a shot of a Cybermat on the loose outside the tomb.

Next Up: Star Trek: TOS continues with “The Galileo Seven” and “Court Martial” on Friday while Doctor Who returns next Monday to debut the Yeti and the Great Intelligence in the six-episode “The Abominable Snowmen”.