The first half of the episode is set-up and exposition, starting with the weapons testing room which serves the purposes of reminding us what the Cybermen are (not robots, like the empty shell in the firing range, but people in metal suits: making a plot point of the fact that they’re literally men in monster costumes), explaining the Cybermats, and placing a Chekhov’s cyber-gun in plain view. It also establishes why the archaeologists don’t just leave: someone has sabotaged Captain Hopper’s rocked (Toberman smirking in the background of the scene is a lovely acting choice by Roy Stewart).
The Doctor is, again, quite shady: engineering the opening of the Ice Tombs and allowing Klieg to defrost the Cybermen so he could find out what he’s up to and bring the evil into the open, where it can be fought. In this, he’s like Patrick Wymark’s Judge in Blood on Satan’s Claw: ‘You must have patience, even while people die. Only thus can the whole evil be destroyed. You must let it grow.’ There’s a hint that he knows even more than he admits – after all, he’s come prepared with a warm cloak to venture into the Ice Tombs, which prompts Jamie to comment, ‘You obviously knew what to expect.’
It turns out that Klieg has been manipulating Parry all along, taking advantage of his ‘complete lack of administration’ to hijack the mission. And so the truth is revealed: poor admin is the root of all evil. It’s poor admin that has allowed the Cybermen to rise from the grave. It’s poor admin that has enabled the resurrection of the impressively statuesque Cyber Controller. And it’s poor admin that has condemned the expedition to join the ranks of the Living Dead.
I suppose this is what you get when you leave men in charge. I can’t imagine Kaftan failing to account for each and every fifty pounds spent. That said, the women are pretty hard done to in this episode, off-handedly condemned to sit about in the Cyber-breakout area while the boys play downstairs. Victoria at least gets to pluckily declare she’s staying put when the Doctor (in a good bit of continuity, given his promise to her father) offers her the chance to go back to the TARDIS, and although she’s fairly useless when she’s confronted with Kaftan, proves to be a crack shot when she takes out a revived Cybermat with a single bullet.
So while the plot isn’t exactly rich with thematic depth or character work, it moves forward with momentum. And it takes place in some of the best sets to date. The ice tombs of Telos are a particularly impressive model and matching set. Barry’s direction of the Cybermen stirring in their honeycomb cells, before tearing their way through plastic film (presumably the sci-fi equivalent of cobwebs), all set to the stirring Space Adventure music, is very memorable – it’s no surprise this one made such an impact on the contemporary viewers.
Next episode: The Tomb of the Cybermen – Episode 3