Often regarded as the greatest Cyberman story. For many decades Tomb of the Cybermen earned a further notoriety for being a lost classic, until it was rediscovered in Hong Kong in the 1990s.
Tomb of the Cybermen was also the last Doctor Who story to be written by their creators Kit Pedler and Gerry Davies (though both would contribute scripts and story ideas on their own afterwards.)
On Skaro, the Doctor introduces Victoria to the TARDIS as she joins him and Jamie on their travels.
On Telos meanwhile a group of archaeologists are exploring the legendary lost city of the Cybermen. Whilst trying to break their way in, one of the team is electrocuted by a booby trapped door.
The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria soon arrive and the Doctor quickly disables the booby trapped door.
The Doctor is interested not only in whether any Cybermen may have survived, but also what one member of the team, Klieg is up to. After encountering more booby traps the Doctor and the rest of the team are able to make their way to the lower levels of the city where they discover massive tombs containing hundreds of Cybermen.
Klieg starts to revive them, and even kills a member of the team who attempts to stop him in the process. Klieg reveals that he, and another member of the expedition, Kaftan are part of a terrorist organisation known as the brotherhood of Logicians, who hope to use the Cybermen to conquer humanity.
Once they are freed however the Cybermen quickly overpower Klieg and the others. The Cyber Controller reveals to the Doctor that after their planet was destroyed, and their attempts to destroy the earth via the Moonbase were foiled, the Cybermen fled to Telos and built a city here.
The monsters were low on power however and froze themselves to reserve energy. They also set up a series of booby traps to defend themselves. The traps were also a series of intelligence tests however, with those who past them being preserved so that they could then be converted into Cybermen.
Fortunately the Doctor and the others are able to escape, except for Toberman, Klieg’s body guard who is partially converted and placed under their control.
The Doctor locks the Cybermen in their tombs, but the monsters soon send Cybermats to attack the Doctor and the archaeologists above. During the Cybermat attack Klieg and Kaftan are able to escape and find a spare weapon left over on one of the booby traps.
Klieg attempts to coerce the Cyber Controller into helping them, but the Controller is able to outwit him by taking control of the partially converted Toberman who overpowers Kleig and steals the weapon. The Controller kills Kaftan, but fortunately, on the Doctors urging. Toberman is able to break free from the Cybermen’s control and seemingly kills the Controller.
The Doctor then attempts to freeze the Cybermen in their tombs, but again he is stopped by Klieg. Klieg however is beaten to death by a Cybermen left to guard the tombs, who Toberman subsequently kills in a vicious confrontation.
The Doctor then freezes the Cybermen declaring “last time they were frozen for 5 centuries. This time it must be forever!”
As they prepare to leave however the Cyber Controller attempts to attack the Doctor and his companions. The Doctor is able to destroy the Controller by using its own booby trapped doors against it, though sadly Toberman is also killed in the process. As the few surviving archaeologists prepare to leave, Jamie muses that they have seen the last of the Cybermen, but the Doctor states that he never likes to make predictions.
The Tomb of the Cybermen is definitely deserving of its reputation as one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of all time.
It works on almost every level, from a tight, action packed script, to memorable performances from the leads, to a claustrophobic and atmospheric direction, to some of the most spectacular sets ever devised for the series, such as the Cybermen’s tombs.
Tomb of the Cybermen in many respects marks arguably the shows first foray into gothic horror territory. Doctor Who I feel in many ways is as much a horror series as it is a sci fi programme.
Whilst it may have been conceived as sci fi, ultimately the show really took off and became a sensation for scaring people with the Daleks. In the 60s Doctor Who was seen as show children “hide behind the sofa.” when watching, rather than as a fun, jolly, little series for the whole family.
The same would be true throughout the rest of the classic era’s run. People expected to be scared when watching Doctor Who. It was a series that through the originals history pushed the boundaries in terms of violent and frightening content, from Yetis in the underground, to Auton policemen, to Chase grinding up UNIT soldiers into mush, to Colin giving two mercenaries an acid bath, to Light casually dismembering a maid.
Tomb of the Cybermen therefore in my opinion is Doctor Who at its very best, as it sees the show merge both the horror and sci fi genres together superbly.
In many respects Tomb of the Cybermen plays out like an old Mummy movie. We have the arrogant archaeologists who stumble into an ancient tomb and awaken an evil, long thought to be dead, we have one of the team become possessed, another who stupidly thinks he can use the monster for his own profit etc.
The Cybermen themselves are almost like Zombies the way they hardly say anything, turn other people into members of their own kind, and seemingly rise from the dead!
The horror is also a lot more visceral in this story too, such as in the memorable scene where Toberman literally rips a Cyberman’s guts out (which is one of the most effective special effects shots in all of 60s Who.) The way the Cybermen shoot people is also somewhat more explicit than in other stories. Whenever the Cybermen or the Daleks or the Ice Warriors zap people, the room normally just lights up, or the picture goes wonky, before the victim falls over. Here however we see their bodies actually catch fire and the victims writhe in agony for a few moments first.
In spite of the horror elements however, the story still works as a sci fi adventure too, as it merely brings the classic horror tropes into a sci fi environment.
In this respect I think Tomb serves as something of a precursor to the Hinchcliff era which would similarly bring classic horror tropes into sci fi environments such as Pyramids of Mars (which was a similar, haunted house/classic Mummy movie from a sci fi perspective, with robots and aliens instead of supernatural creatures.)
The Cybermen are at their absolute best here. Tomb seems to combine what worked from their previous two adventures together. Just as in The Moonbase the Cybermen are towering mountains of steel that you can’t possibly hope to stand against. One of my favourite moments is when Jamie tries to escape up a small corridor only to be cornered by one of the monsters. Its a wonderfully tight claustrophobic moment that really uses the monsters to their strengths.
Much like The Moonbase the Cybermen are also given a more manipulative, sneaky edge too.
I loved watching Klieg and Kaftan’s interactions with the Cyber Controller. Its obvious from the start that they are out of their depth against the Cyber Controller, who gets the better of them every step of the way. I also thought it was a nice touch that when the Cyber Controller betrays her, Kaftan, a member of the brotherhood of logicians has an emotional outburst that ultimately costs her her life.
At the same time Tomb of the Cybermen much like The Tenth Planet also plays up the body horror aspects of the Cybermen to a terrific effect. Though the Cybermen have the more mechanical design from The Moonbase, the story tends to blur the line between man and machine more. We see Toberman, half way to being a Cyberman, whilst similarly we also see a Cyberman actually bleed when it dies, which leaves the viewer to wonder how much of the people they once were is left in there.
The Cyber conversion is also more effective in this adventure too as here there is no reset button, unlike in many revival era stories such as Doomsday, or Death in Heaven. Once Toberman is only partially converted, he constantly struggles to fight it, and in the end is forced to kill himself before he is completely taken over by the monsters. Its not like Danny Pink who is able to just stop being a Cyberman because he wants too.
The Cyber Controller also makes an effective single adversary for the Doctor and his companions to play off of, and thankfully unlike later Cyber leaders he isn’t given too much of a personality.
The three leading cast members are also arguably at their strongest in this adventure too. Frazer Hines gets plenty of dashing heroic moments such as when he blasts several Cybermen, but he’s also able to work in a lot humour, such as when he accidentally holds Jamies hands, or his pitiful attempts to restrain the Cyber Controller with a rope!
Deborah Watling makes a strong debut as the new companion too. Though she was introduced in the previous story, here we get to see her in more proactive roles such as when she shoots the Cyber mat, and we also get to explore her relationship with the Doctor, and budding romance with Jamie a lot more too.
The scene where the Doctor comforts Victoria over the loss of her parents is one of the most moving and poignant moments in the entire history of the series.
This sequence sums up why I loved the character of the Doctor from the original series so much as a child. He was unlike a lot of other heroes, like Buffy, Spider-Man etc, in that he was someone who had already lived a full life when we first meet him.
The Hartnell Doctor has already been married, had children, grand children, and has clearly lost his family, (apart from Susan) before the events of the series. He has already lived through the worst loss a person can go through, and seen all of life’s ups and downs.
The Doctor therefore was more of a grandfather figure that children loved because they felt safe with. In spite of how reckless he could be, you got the impression that he was a safe pair of hands who could help you through any of life’s problems because he had already lived through them.
I think this scene also sums up why the Doctor does what he does too. He just enjoys it. He’s not on a mission to rid the universe of evil, nor is he a tortured, angst ridden character who just wants a normal life. He is a scientist who wants to discover the wonders of the universe, and feels lucky to have the life he does.
Patrick Troughton probably gives his best performance in this story. Everything that made his Doctor so wonderful is on display here. He is a sweet, caring father figure to Victoria, a master manipulator in his dealings with Klieg, somewhat more vulnerable and scared against the Cybermen, yet utterly ruthless in dispatching them at the end.
Troughton much like Hines is also able to inject a lot of great moments of humour into the story such as in his interactions with Jamie, or his marvellous trolling of Klieg. “Now I know you’re made I was just making sure” might be my favourite Troughton scene!
Of course whilst Tomb of the Cybermen is a classic, its not a completely perfect story. The main villains of the story, Klieg and Kaftan are somewhat laughably incompetent. They both attempted to awaken the Cybermen with no weapons or method of forcing them to do their bidding?
Still George Pastel who plays Klieg is able to overcome these shortcomings in Klieg’s “logic” by giving a wonderfully charismatic and over the top, performance.
Another draw back to the story is the Cybernauts. Making their first appearance in this sadventure, the Cybernauts are a good idea, but the props are let down by the ridiculous googly eyes they are given. The creatures end up looking more cute than terrifying, (and the little squeaky sounds they make don’t help either.) They’d be much more effective in Revenge of the Cybermen when they aren’t given a proper face.
Still despite these shortcomings, Tomb of the Cybermen is definitely deserving of its status as a classic story and is probably the best Cyberman story, as well as one of the finest examples of 60s Who.
Notes and Trivia
- Much like the previous two stories, Tomb of the Cybermen was inspired closely by Dan Dare. The Cyber Controller was based on the Mekon, the leader of a similar race of cold, logical antagonists for the main hero. Originally the Cyber Controller was to have been a small creature who flew around, just like the Mekon. Ultimately the budget didn’t allow this however, though the Controllers, dome shaped head was still taken from the Mekon. Davies and Pedler hoped that the Cyber Controller would become the Doctors archenemy, like the Mekon was for Dan Dare. Sadly however the character only appeared in one more story, twenty years later. The Daleks however would later gain their own Mekon figure in the form of Davros in 1975.
- The Cyber Controller and the Doctor mention the destruction of Mondas from the Tenth Planet, and the botched invasion of the Moonbase from their previous appearance. The Controller states that after the foiled invasion of the Moonbase, the monsters retreated to Telos and built a city there. The Cyber Controller also recognises the Doctor from both encounters and blames him for their predicament. The next Cyber story The Wheel in Space features the monsters from a much earlier point in time, though after the destruction of Mondas. The Invasion features a group of Cyber colonists from Planet 14. Attack of the Cybermen would later resolve these discrepancies, by showing the various Cyber groups who intially split up after Mondas’ destruction uniting on Telos to create a new Cyber race.
- Matt Smith named this as his favourite story. After winning the role of the Doctor, he went back and watched the original series to get a feel for the character. Apparently he based his performance largely on Troughton’s Doctor, and even borrowed the bowtie from Troughton as part of his costume.
- Sydney Newman, the co-creator of Doctor Who named this adventure as one of his favourites.
- The iconic sequence of the Cybermen bursting out of their tombs would be replicated in later adventures such as Earthshock, Attack of the Cybermen, and Dark Water.
- Gerry Davies and Kit Pedler’s last writing collaboration for Doctor Who. The two would however later go onto create another iconic British science fiction series, Doomwatch together.
- The start of this adventure takes place on Skaro, the setting of the previous serial, The Evil of the Daleks.
- Along with The Five Doctors to Attack of the Cybermen, this marked the only time that the Cyber costumes were the same as those from the previous story in the original series.