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25 April 2018 @ 07:59 pm
The Randomiser: The Tomb of the Cybermen  
Tomb of the Cybermen comes with a wealth of baggage of fan lore and memory. It was one of the first really high profile discoveries of "missing episodes" and for a while was at the centre of many discussions about whether the memory really did cheat when it came to the quality of old episodes.

I think, on the whole, the memory didn't cheat for those who remembered it fondly from their childhoods. It shares many flaws with the stories that surround it (though it is worth remembering that this was a strong Doctor Who season), but once you accept that its a piece of largely ephemeral TV made in the mid-1960s on a comparatively small budget then it has a lot going for it. It looks good; it has a range of characters whose agendas are variously at odds with each other; it has a strong sense of atmosphere; and while its plot isn't really all that strong (consisting mostly of puzzle solving initially, followed by what is more-or-less a variation on base-under-siege thereafter) it moves along at a fair old speed by 1960s standards.

The design is very striking, particularly the cyberman reliefs that decorate the eponymous tomb. Tame layman was very impressed by these and commented on them several times. The cybermats also look surprisingly good and come in two sizes (which I had not recalled), the first being sufficiently cute looking that Victoria's decision to pick one up and put it in her handbag seems less idiotic than it did in synopsis. The opening sequences, filmed one assumes in a quarry somewhere, as the archeologists attempt to blast their way into the tomb are full of a sense of excitement. They felt oddly Star Trek-like to me, though I couldn't quite put my finger on why, possibly it was the sense of a team working together on something, possibly it was something to do with the incidental music which was a bit less avant garde in that sequence than it is elsewhere.

While, as in a lot of Doctor Who, characterisations are broad brush and a bit sketchy, the archeologists are all distinct and we get a good idea of what motivates them. Kleig and Kaftan make a good villainous double-act though, from a modern viewpoint, one does rather wonder what Kaftan needed Kleig for since she appears to have both the money and the brains necessary for the plan. Viewing this so soon after Evil of the Daleks, it is rather obvious that someone in the production crew obviously liked the trope of the big silent black servant. One wonders vaguely if it was a misguided attempt to diversify the cast - in both cases the big silent black servant starts out working for the villains only to ultimately side with the Doctor (and then get killed) so at some level one could see this as a sympathetic portrayal. However using it for two stories in a row just highlights the racism to modern eyes. In the novelisation I was always quite fond of Hopper, the ship captain, liking the contrast of his practicality, the rapport he built up with Victoria and the fact that he solves the "logic problem" using electronic knowledge. It was a bit disappointing here to find him a somewhat stilted actor, sporting an american accent of dubious veracity, and his interactions with Victoria coming across as more condescending than anything else.

Victoria's conversation with the Doctor about grieving for one's family is much lauded in fan circles. I was interested to note this passed by Tame Layman entirely without comment or reaction.

The plot is, well, the best you can probably say for it, is that it is carried by a strong central image, of the entombed and frozen cybermen waking up to reconquer the galaxy. It's the kind of plot that works well enough to keep events moving from one crisis to the next, but doesn't stand up to much close inspection. The whole set up of the tomb, with three rooms up top, two of which seem to have no reason to be there, and no way to open the hatch from below seems nonsensical. The fact that the humans can't actually puzzle their way into the tomb on their own, but need the Doctor to give them a hint (even as he warns them not to make the attempt) is sort of disappointing although one can kind of hand wave it by observing that the Doctor doesn't really like to leave mysteries like the tomb lying around even when he knows meddling won't end well. The last two episodes consist primarily of people trying to get through the hatch either from above or from below and is mostly a ruse to keep the story going until the inevitable denoument.

But it is a strong central image, that is well realised on the screen, and the plot does keep things moving and the characters are interesting and distinct enough to generate watchable tension and interaction. At four episodes, only two of which are pure base-under the siege, the repetitive nature of the format isn't as obvious as it is in either Moonbase or The Ice Warriors. It's easy, as a result, to see how Tomb of the Cybermen stood out in people's memories even given the several strong and fondly remembered stories that surround it. On the whole, I would say, the memory has cheated a lot less here than it has with some other tales.

This entry was originally posted at https://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/497454.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on April 27th, 2018 12:30 pm (UTC)
This is a weird one for me, because I discovered the programme around the time this was found, so it was never missing for me. I think that gives me a different perspective. I remember getting the novelisation (the reprint with the video cover) for Chanukah (I think) and not thinking it was that great, although I don't remember what I disliked about it at that stage (I much preferred The Wheel in Space, which seems perverse now). Likewise when I actually saw it, at the Doctor Who Society at Oxford, I thought it was badly structured, poorly characterised (why does the Doctor help defrost the Cybermen? It's been suggested he thinks Klieg will do it anyway and wants to be around when it happens, but some confirmation would be nice) racist and sexist. That said, the last couple of viewings have seen it improve in my estimation. Perhaps it's lower expectations, or the fact that these days I can enjoy most TV Who on some level, but not hoping for much more than a slice of sixties sci fi, it is fun and has some good 'do you remember the one where... ?' moments. And Troughton is always worth watching. My favourite season five story is probably The Web of Fear, though, which hasn't disappointed since its return.
louisedennis: Who:Twolouisedennis on April 29th, 2018 10:48 am (UTC)
The plot definitely isn't much to write home about. I think what people remember about the plot is mostly the visual of the Cybermen waking up. But I think a lot of the base-under-siege stories have similar structural problems (endless the-base-is-captured/freed cycles) and this one benefits from only being 4 episodes.

I also think it looks good for what it is. Obviously it is impossible to really see it from contemporary eyes, but I have a hunch it looked good by the standards of the time.

Over on Dreamwidth, londonkds feels that there is also anti-semitism present in the the presentation of Kaftan and Klieg - while they are coded as middle-eastern/arab rather than Jewish, the idea that they have the money and represent a faction of intellectuals trying to overthrow society seem quite telling. I don't know if it struck you the same way at all?
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on April 29th, 2018 12:16 pm (UTC)
Yes, the Cybermen wake up... and then there's another two episodes to fill! Agreed that this benefits from being only four episodes long. And the sets certainly look impressive in comparison with some similar stories from this era, e.g. what survives of The Moonbase and The Wheel in Space.

Hmm, I saw that comment on Dreamwidth (I often read the comments there too) and it's not a reading that has ever suggested itself to me, I have to say. I don't know how much is being told by countless DWM articles that this is racist/anti-Arab and that George Pastel as Kleig had made a career playing evil Arabs (that would probably have been more obvious at the time). It doesn't really feel like a Jewish conspiracy vibe to me, although it's hard to say why I feel that way.