Doctor Who episode 170: The Tomb of the Cybermen – Episode 1 (2/9/1967)
After the two-month season break, Doctor Who returns with a pre-titles sequence (well, sort of: a pre-episode-title sequence anyway) that restates the basics of the show and introduces the idea of Victoria as a new companion – which was barely hinted at in The Evil of the Daleks. As well as explaining the function of all his knobs, the Doctor reveals that the TARDIS allows him to travel through the universe of time, and – after some clumsy set up – reveals he’s 450 years old. Again, there’s a greater emphasis on his alienness than has previously been the norm.
After this, the episode proper begins on location with a ragtag crew of archaeologists and space pilots searching for the entrance to the tombs of the Cybermen. It’s established history that the Cybermen ‘died out many centuries ago’, just as The Moonbase established they were ‘all destroyed ages ago’. At this point, the Cybermen are invariably a spent force making a last-ditch attempt at survival rather than all-conquering Space Nazis like the Daleks. This feels like an essential part of their mythology: individually and as a species they are desperately clinging to life, replacing their flesh with machinery, and piloting their dying home planet through space to feast like vampires on the vitality of Earth. Which makes a tomb almost the most obvious place to find them.
The horror film overtones of this are pretty clear. It starts like a Hammer movie, with the rational scientific expedition heading into the Valley of Kings, and only gradually realising that it has walked willingly into the monsters’ lair. As always, Jamie intuitively senses that the evil is only dormant – while everyone else is cheering, he’s obviously disquieted about the Doctor opening the tombs, and later sensing that the dead Cybermat is twitching back to life.
Pedler and Davis do a really good job of making this first episode both an exciting, pacey adventure while building the atmosphere of menace and unease, both through the obvious villainy of Kaftan and Klieg, and in the exploration of the monumental remains of the Cyberman city. Martin Johnson’s design lives up to the script: arcane logic diagrams like hieroglyphics, a vast sarcophagus, huge sealed doors all reinforcing the sense that this is a futuristic horror story.
The script also makes some efforts at transforming Victoria from the weepy captive of The Evil of the Daleks into a character who’s actually able to contribute to the TARDIS adventures. There’s a sweet moment when she worries about her indecently short dress (by her own standards), and needs to be coaxed across the threshold, like a maiden at the gates of Castle Dracula. But she can’t wring her hands querulously forever, and by the second half of the episode she’s shrugging off Kaftan’s grip, and being quite cheeky to fussy old Viner – ‘Oh fiddle!’. True enough, she’s then immediately locked in the revivification machine, but she’s not the first female companion who stumbles Perils of Pauline style from one crisis to the next.
Although this was held back to open the fifth series, The Tomb of the Cybermen was produced as part of the fourth, following directly on from The Evil of the Daleks. As such, Troughton is in full swing, and his Doctor is at his most enjoyably capricious, one moment showing off his knowledge, then immediately backtracking and issuing dire warnings. It’s impossible to know if he’s manipulating Klieg to open the tombs, to uncover the buried evil so it can be fought and destroyed, or whether he’s just showing off and then regretting it. Regardless, it’s easy to see why Matt Smith raved about this one, and why he incorporated so much of it into his own Doctor.
Next episode: The Tomb of the Cybermen – Episode 2