5x01. The Tomb of the Cybermen
Writers: Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis
Director: Morris Barry
Script Editor: Victor Pemberton
Producer: Peter Bryant
Synopsis: The TARDIS arrives
on the planet Telos just as an expedition from Earth is about to enter the
tomb of the long-dormant Cybermen. The Doctor, Jamie, and new companion Victoria
Waterfield join them, and soon they discover that the financiers of the
expedition, Klieg and Kaftan, hope to revive the Cybermen (whose "logic"
they admire and consider equivalent to their own intelligence) and use them
to establish their own power back on Earth.
Review: Following the success
of "The Tenth Planet," the Cybermen quickly became the signature villains
of the Troughton era, returning first in "The Moonbase" and again in "The
Tomb of the Cybermen." As in "The Tenth Planet," the writers touch upon the
Cybermen's lack of emotion and the different ways in which the human characters
react to the threat they pose, but this time they don't pull it off as well.
After a promising beginning and middle, the script delivers a disappointingly
hasty ending as the characterization becomes increasingly simplistic, illogical,
and, in one case, racist.
For example, at the beginning of Episode 3, the Cybermen reveal that the
elaborate system of traps and puzzles that the characters had to navigate
in order to reach their underground tomb was a deliberate setup: they wanted
only those of the most sophisticated intelligence to find them. While one
might observe that they left themselves rather vulnerable, this still has
the makings of an interesting concept. The problem is that it's never taken
any further: we never learn what they actually planned to do with their
discoverers. I hate to keep returning to Cybermen/Borg comparisons, but
if the Cybermen were using some sort of "assimilation" technique, this might
make sense, but there's no indication that those who are turned into Cybermen
retain any of their original characteristics, or that these characteristics
are incorporated by other Cybermen. In fact, the Doctor's eventual victory
in this serial would seem to illustrate that this was a very bad idea: since
they don't seem to be too picky about whom they make into Cybermen, they
should have devised a trap that would lure people who aren't
particularly bright and wouldn't be likely to outmaneuver them.
The same goes for the characters of Klieg and Kaftan, who are members of
an organization called the Brotherhood of Logicians. The two of them are
drawn to the Cybermen's pure rationality and expect to be greeted as kindred
spirits when they revive the Cybermen from their long slumber. The unemotional
Cybermen worked well as points of contrast for the various human characters
in "The Tenth Planet," and the idea of humans actually seeking to emulate
the Cybermen could have been promising, especially since they initially seem
to believe that they can establish some sort of rationalist utopia on Earth.
But Klieg turns out not to be a misguided rationalist after all: at the end,
egged on by the Doctor, he reveals himself as little more than an egomaniacal
nutcase, and as such he carries no interest except as a one-dimensional threat.
The Cybermen, meanwhile, are surprisingly ineffectual, as almost every scheme
they hatch to gain control of the situation is fairly easily foiled, and
without Klieg and Kaftan present, the rest of the crew probably would have
just left them frozen in the first place. "The Tomb of the Cybermen" has
the trappings, and the potential, of a Doctor Who "event," but at
the end it devolves into boilerplate material revolving around a standard-issue
lunatic with a standard-issue ridiculous plan to take over the world.
Most troubling of all is the Doctor's solution at the end and Toberman's
role in it. Already stereotyped as a physically imposing but mentally deficient
black man, Toberman is told by the Doctor that he must help them defeat the
remaining Cybermen because they're evil and "evil must be destroyed" and that
he might otherwise end up as a "slave" to the Cybermen. Perhaps Pedler and
Davis thought they were promoting a message of liberation with this dialogue,
but all I saw was Toberman switching from total subservience to Kaftan and
Klieg to total subservience to the Doctor. The Doctor then re-electrifies
the outer doors to keep further visitors away from the Cybermen's tomb, and
Toberman, making a final effort to seal the Cybermen inside, is electrocuted
as he closes them. Professor Parry laments that "another life" has been lost,
but this attempt at tragedy comes off as phony and superficial. For no clear
reason other than that the fourth episode was almost over and an ending was
needed, the Doctor resorts to indiscriminate violence: the next visitors could
be just as innocent as Parry and most of his crew -- and besides, who's to
say that the discovery of electrified doors wouldn't make them more curious
and intent on getting inside?
I don't expect '60s Doctor Who to adhere to modern standards of political
correctness, but surely it could have occurred to someone that it they were
not exactly promoting healthy racial attitudes by portraying the serial's
sole black character as having the mind of a three-year-old and contributing
to the Cybermen's defeat only by sacrificing himself in a feat of brute strength.
over at Kaldor City
speculates that some of the serial's flaws result from an ill-conceived
transfer of conventions of the "Edwardian explorer" genre, and I'm not saying
that I think Pedler and Davis are or were themselves racists. In fact, as
I said, it's even possible that they believed that Toberman's arc was about
his achieving freedom, but if so, they've failed. Nowhere does he display
the capacity for any independent thought of his own, and neither the Klieg/Kaftan
duo nor the Cybermen themselves can really be seen as symbols of racial oppression
-- unlike, to name an easy example, the Daleks, whose plan to "exterminate"
the Thals carried obvious Nazi echoes.
I've focused on the negative thus far, and particularly on the negative
in the fourth episode, so I should hasten to add that, for the most
part, "The Tomb of the Cybermen" is a reasonably engaging
adventure. Until the nonsense with the doors at the end, the Second
Doctor is in fine form, displaying his slightly whimsical approach to
threats, such as when he asks one of the Cybermen a question and then
quickly adds "You don't have to answer that" when it looms over him,
and Jamie proves to be an entertaining companion. The Cybermen
themselves are a bit more menacing in this installment -- their voices
have a more metallic edge, and they openly acknowledge that they see
nothing wrong with making false promises -- though they're also more
conventional as villains, and I think I actually prefer their more
ambiguous and at times even slightly sympathetic portrayal in "The
Tenth Planet." Still, the way in which they manipulate Klieg and turn
on him despite his claims to be their "savior" makes them formidable
adversaries, and the conflict among the human characters is interesting
up until the end when Klieg finally loses it. But without a strong
ending, a lot of the more promising material falls flat, and "The Tomb
of the Cybermen" amounts to nothing more than the sum of a decidedly
mixed bag of parts.
- I believe we have the first preserved mention of the Doctor's age in this serial: he says he's 450, if I remember correctly.
Rating: **1/2 (out of four)
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