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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Doctor Who: Tomb of the Cybermen

Serial Title: Tomb of the Cybermen
Series: 5
Episodes: 4
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling)

A 26th-century expedition to the planet Telos is interrupted- though not before one of its party members can die from electrocution at a pair of giant double-doors- by the arrival of the TARDIS, whose crew (including the first-time-out Victoria Waterfield, who takes all of this future stuff rather nonchalantly… though I suppose having just come from Skarro, one would take any change of scenery well!) is hostilely taken as members of a rogue expedition. Nonetheless, they join forces to enter the doors to the etched and hieroglyph-ed Tomb of the Cybermen, the last remnants of the cyborgs who once rampaged the galaxy… now only a memory and a story from the ancient past to men and women like Eric Klieg and Ms. Kaftan, financiers of the expedition. These two, as well as Kaftan’s mute bodyguard Toberman (foreshadowing: Replace the TO with a CY!), allow the Doctor to stay when he proves useful, and soon the entire expedition has entered the tombs.

Here, they find that the Tombs have more life than previously expected, as remnants of the past- such as an automated shooting gallery/firing range- are brought to life inopportunely, to lethal effect. Party members are killed, Victoria is trapped in a chamber and nearly cyber-converted (by Kaftan, in a sinister and quite intentional moment) and the Tomb is seen as cursed. However, no one can leave… as someone in the party has sabotaged the expedition’s ship. As the captain leaves to crew it, Klieg gets to work on opening a giant sealed hatch in the main chamber, one operated by complex mathematical equation controls. Despite the Doctor’s warning (and subtle interference) he manages to open it, and an exploratory party descends into an icy cavern. There, built into the wall, is a monstrous tower of niches and chambers- the true tomb of the Cybermen. (Note from Sarah: This was truly an amazing moment for me personally...I felt so amazed by that tomb scene and the way it looked when the Cybermen started reviving...for some reason I suddenly felt like a little kid again, watching something with rapt attention with eyes wide and mouth open.) But the beings entombed within their icy confines are merely in stasis, and Klieg revives them- killing another party member and holding the rest at gunpoint as he does so. He and Kaftan are members of a hyper-intelligent sect called the Brotherhood of Logicians, a sort of Militant MENSA, who hold that their advanced intelligence makes them the rightful rulers of the world. Their intent all along was to revive and control the Cybermen with their vast intelligence, making them into an army so that might may match mentality, making the militants mighty men and mortals’ masters. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

The Cybermen, on the other hand, decided that they wanted only the best and brightest to be assimilated as Cybermen- so, with extreme patience, they designed tombs throughout the galaxy that only fiercely intelligent beings could open- thus ensuring anyone that came to them and revived them would be prime recruits. They immediately begin preparations to Cyber-convert the party.
Kaftan...wearing...well...a Caftan.

Meanwhile, Kaftan and Victoria have remained above. When Victoria attempts to free the now-shut-in party, Kaftan holds her at gunpoint… but a Cybermat- a small cyber-converted rodent that the Cybermen use as scouts- found in the wreckage and stored in Victoria’s purse, revives and attacks Kaftan, disabling her. Victoria takes the gun and destroys the Cybermat (Maybe I’ll like this girl! (Note from Andrew of the Future: No, you won’t.)), and fetches the crew repairing the spacecraft. The captain, Hopper, descends into the tombs, and when he discerns the situation, he uses smoke grenades to create a diversion, and the party escapes- all save Toberman, who holds off the Cybermen with his impressive physical strength. The Doctor is dragged back down the ladder by a Cyberman- barely escaping to safety just as the hatch slams shut.

"Probably best not to touch the...uh...cybermat."

Klieg and Kaftan are locked in the firing-range room to keep them out of trouble, while the Cybermen send an army of Cybermats up through the ducts to invade the control room. Surrounded and under attack, the Doctor improvises an electrified cable perimeter around the survivors that generates a magnetic field and destroys all of the Cybermats. However, by this time, Klieg and Kaftan, LOCKED IN THE ROOM CONTAINING THE SPACE-AGE SUPER-GUN, have engineered an escape. Klieg, outperforming Mavic Chen’s stupidity by believing that he can control the cybernetic villains AFTER THEY HAVE ALREADY TRIED TO KILL HIM, re-opens the hatch. He calls up the Cybercontroller, the leader of the Cybermen- who is accompanied by a partially converted Toberman.

The group has the advantage in that the Cybermen, drained after centuries of sleep, are low on power- most Cybermen are back in their tombs to conserve energy. The Cybercontroller negotiates servitude to Klieg for being allowed to enter the recharge station where Victoria was nearly cyber-converted earlier. This is, of course, a lie- which the logical and emotionless Cybermen have no compunction about employing to get what they need- and once the Cybercontroller is restored, the enthralled Toberman is made to attack Klieg and take the gun; the freed Cybercontroller then kills Kaftan when she tries to stop him. This breaks Toberman out of his trance-like control-state, and at the Doctor’s urging, he attacks the Cybercontroller, hurling it into the control-panel and short-circuiting both.

The Doctor re-renters the tomb with Toberman and Jamie to put the Cybermen back into stasis, but Klieg revives, acquires a gun, and holds them off, unfreezing the Cybermen once again- however, the leaderless Cybermen act in defense mode, seeing his weapon, and kill him on sight. Tobermen fights this one off, and the Doctor re-freezes the rest, still in their tombs, resuming their long- perhaps now eternal- slumber.

They return to find out that Hopper and his crew have repaired the ship- they and Tobermen, the only survivors of the expedition, can now leave. The Doctor re-enables the lethal electrical circuit on the doors, re-wiring it to make it un-disable-able, sealing the tomb for good.

Suddenly, the Cybercontroller revives, lurching towards them and freedom. The doors cannot be closed without completing the circuit and making them instantly lethal, and the Doctor and Jamie, using wooden poles, are losing the tug-of-war against the Cybercontroller’s greater strength. Toberman pushes them aside and closes the doors with his great strength, dying as they close and the circuit activates- the final jolt also destroying the Cybercontroller inside once and for all… as the Tomb of the Cybermen is closed for good. (Note from Sarah: That kind of sucks cause Toberman is COOL man!)

Save for a lone Cybermat which made it outside…

Second Doctor fans, rejoice! For here, at long last, is the first Second Doctor story complete in its entirety- and presented in a crystal clarity, to boot! The Cybermen begin their iconic rise to top-tier status, filling the void left by the now-absent Daleks, who won’t be seen again for another five series. This serial is a classic and iconic exploration of the Cybermen which sets the tone for many of their stories to come (the iconography of the Cybermen emerging from the plastic, for instance- used as recently as the new series’ Army Of Ghosts, with Cybermen bursting through plastic-wrapping walls in the under-renovation Torchwood Institute).

While the cybermen still use the very difficult to understand modulated-tone voice from The Moonbase (the original Tenth Planet voice is much better, and closer to the modern cybermen voice- hopefully they will switch back soon!) but remain implacable and spooky- the oncoming juggernaut of the Cyberleader, who just can’t be stopped, is effectively creepy.

The storyline is, actually, pretty simplistic- it’s more of a locked-room-with-a-killer suspense story than anything, but it works. The Cybermen have lain in wait for someone smart enough to revive them to serve as new recruits- and the super-smart MENSA-with-a-chip-on-their-shoulder society, a super-smart group that thinks that they should be ruling the world, has come to wake them to use them as an army to accomplish that end, making the classic Dalek mistake- once you unleash them, you can’t control them, you fools! Why will they never learn?!

Of course, most interesting of the characters was Toberman, the strong, silent type- originally intended to be deaf with a hearing aid, foreshadowing his further cyberneticism coming- who kicks some cyber-tail and takes some Cyber-names (even though, post-Tenth Planet, they don’t have any), gets converted, breaks free of his programming, and sacrifices himself to defeat the Cyberleader once and for all. (Actually, the overriding thought when watching his character was “Have I ever told you about the Umbaka?” from the Prince of Persia.) The character arc of a super-strong, tall, dark, and silent henchman who reforms and joins the side of the heroes, eventually sacrificing himself to atone for his prior evilness, was first commissioned by Pharaoh Akmun-Ra of Egypt (an historical personage strangely under-covered in the history books- with any luck, his recent appearance in the Night At The Museum series will re-ignite interest and more of his history will come to light for the general public) sometime around skjvna^&>[Connection Lost – Abort, Retry, Fail?] B.C., in between the reign of Pharaohs sjfis<382yun#^^>[ Connection Lost – Abort, Retry, Fail?] prior to the Israelite captivity. However, while this is yet another sci-fi cliché older than dust (Darth Vader, anyone?), the application in this case produces a character who is uniquely likable from the start, and his arc- his struggle to break free, and his final sacrifice, are nonetheless compelling- though the notion may nag at the back of your mind, you won’t be consciously thinking “I’ve seen this story before.

The Lord and Lady of the conspiracy, Klieg and Kaftan, are simple, naïve, and foolish characters, who meet their justly deserved fates- the outwitting of Kaftan several times, especially by Victoria, is quite enjoyable and makes these otherwise cardboard and foolhardy stock-villains watchable.

Victoria is indeed very strong here, having a sweet conversation with the Doctor while the others try to sleep, several action moments, and a commanding, level-headed presence when dealing with her own challenges in the hijackers. Her character is strong here, and though we don’t get much depth or character from her (can’t say that her personality really showed through in this one- that will happen next serial, much to her detriment) her role was a very strong one, competent and likable, and she acquitted herself well of the challenges. Well, save for the getting locked in the recharging station- that was just idiotic, and made her look stupid. At least it afforded a great interplay moment between the Doctor and the villainess as he ‘casually’ prevents her from doing harm to Victoria.

Jamie… was here, wasn’t he? He didn’t do much of import that I can recall, sadly.

The Doctor, on the other hand, is very mysterious here- a master manipulator foreshadowing, say, his seventh incarnation… but it is difficult to tell in what way he is manipulating things. To open the tomb, successfully? To prevent it’s opening, unsuccessfully? He’s almost inscrutable in this- though he does have a very gentle, sweet moment with Victoria, talking about family.

The Cybermen are straightforward and guileless as usual, single-minded and forward moving- a nice implacable foe. Their Cybermat creatures, on the other hand… a little too goofy, shades of The Web Planet- but the scene in which they surround the group does have an appropriately menacing feel. (NFS: I really liked the Cybermats and they did genuinely creep me out! I think the juxtaposition of them LOOKING a little silly but being really menacing is what did it. Like I kept imagining one biting my neck....)

The cyber-tomb itself is impressive- the miniature and set versions, the thawing and freezing, and the emergence of the Cybermen- it’s no wonder this has become classic Cyberman imagery (and 11th Doctor Matt Smith’s favorite serial). Sure, there are some VERY visible wires and obvious dummies for hoisted Cybermen, but the high production values of the miniature- and the sets of the complex above- make up for them in spades. The Cybermen are perhaps strangely narcissistic here, though… why do they have Cybermen symbols stenciled on EVERYTHING?! Did they think that even the smart-enough-to-open-the-tomb humans they were seeking were still dumb enough that they would need every little thing spelled out for them, and over-decorated their elaborate trap as an attempt to bait such witless prey as they assumed they’d face? With Cyberman-superiority being what it is, that wouldn’t surprise me.

The doors to the tomb also have a nicely appropriate appearance of weight to them, in design and when being opened… save for the somewhat silly “Pretend to tug on it but hold it closed with my foot” miming that Jamie and the Doctor pull to try and convey the “They’re stuck shut!” attempts. You couldn’t have just had stagehands holding them closed from the other side so that your actors had real force to tug against?

Lastly, the weapons testing chamber left a strong impression- with its creepy hypnotic powers, groovy wall of lights, and deadly weapons (why did no one think that locking the villains in there with them would be a bad idea?), it was very atmospheric.

Great moments:
The emergence. Toberman’s sacrifice.

Final rating for the Tomb of the Cybermen is 4.5 out of 5 Electrified Cybermats- being just a little too slow to earn a perfect 5, but full of moody, creepy, trapped-with-the-monster suspense, and highly recommended viewing… and not just because it’s the first Second Doctor serial that doesn’t need any reconstruction, either!

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