Doctor Who episode 173: The Tomb of the Cybermen – Episode 4 (23/9/1967)
It’s a bit of a mess, but the pace doesn’t let up in this final episode, and while it lacks the grandiose climax of the Dalek civil war, there’s still a lot to like about this. Not least of which is Toberman. Again, acknowledging the problematic elements of the character, his is the most prominent role for a black actor to date, and his ability to battle through Cyber control to reassert his humanity and save the day with his own ‘hold the door’ moment is rewarded by one of the more downbeat endings of the era, with Troughton playing the Doctor’s silent grief against Parry’s grim self-recrimination.
The other most impressive element is the Cyber Controller. Its pathetic, weak repetition of ‘We will survive’ as its power fails and the Doctor has to help it into its sarcophagus is oddly moving, and only makes the moment when it violently bursts through the sarcophagus lid, fully revivified, even more impactful. We could probably have done without the sad quacking noise as it dies, though.
It’s a less ignominious end than Klieg gets though – in a nod back to the testing of Professor Zaroff, the Doctor winds up Klieg enough to get him to articulate his dreams of global conquest, and his nonplussed expression when the Doctor (in a supremely Doctorish moment) points out he’s mad is lovely. Second later, though, he’s beaten quite brutally to death by a Cybermen. It’s one in a string of quite egregiously violent deaths in the episode, which also includes Kaftan’s smouldering corpse, and Toberman ripping a Cyberman’s chest open and watching it writhe as its guts explode in Season Five foam.
That said, the story doesn’t really climax as much as stop. Reversing the film to show the Cybermen going back in the tombs is rubbish, and while it’s suitably sequel hunting to show a lone Cybermat heading back towards the tombs (just as we’ve latterly seen Dalek eyestalks twitch to indicate that they’ll be back) it’s surprisingly merciful for a Doctor who drowned Atlantis, blew up the Macra and engineered the final end of the Daleks to just slip away leaving a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the doors.
Still, even if it’s lacking the sense of finality of The Evil of the Daleks, I still think those fans of the 1980s probably got it right. We always want what we can’t have, and while it would be wonderful to get Power or Evil back, Tomb – a leaner piece of work with Troughton absolutely at the top of his game – was understandably the Holy Grail of lost stories. With none of the middle-episode noodling of the Dalek stories, this, like the Cybermen it features, is brutally fast moving and efficient. It sets out to scare children and entertain adults, and I think it achieves that brilliantly.
Next episode: The Abominable Snowmen