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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. Alan Stevens 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.

Other notes:

- 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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