Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 179: The Tomb of the Cybermen, Episode Three
Simply because The Tomb of the Cybermen was my first exposure to the creatures, I’ve always thought of these as being the ‘default’ model. It’s this design that I think of when people talk about Cybermen, and the style of speaking here is the one I most readily associate with them, too. It’s pleasing, then, to be enjoying them so much again now. There’s something about the voices especially that really is creepier than we’ve had before (as much as I loved the ones in The Tenth Planet), and it helps that some of their dialogue is so blunt.
Yesterday’s episode ends with the Cybercontroller telling the archaeological party ‘You belong to us. You will be like us’, and there’s a moment here when Jamie tells a Cyberman that he’s a human – he’s not the same as them, and the reply is simply ‘You will be’. The idea of being converted into a Cyberman has been present ever since their first appearance, but this is the first time it’s really being played as a threat. In The Tenth Planet, it’s almost an offer, but here it’s a terrifying experience, and something that you really don’t want to happen. In promoting Nightmare in Silver, Neil Gaiman commented that he’d been watching the 1960s stories and wanted to make the Cybermen scary again – it’s hard not to see what he means about the terror.
This episode, perhaps more than any we’ve had for a while, relies on a number of big special effects. I remember back during The Ark, I commented that the effects were just being dropped in easily, wheres before they’d have been the showpiece for the entire 25 minutes. Here, they’re just part of the routine, and the programme thinks nothing of showing the effect of a Cyber-gun against a wall (the awesome power of which lends weight to the cliff-hanger, when the same gun is fired in the Doctor’s direction).
Perhaps the biggest effects surprise for me, though, is the Cybermats. I have to admit, as much as I love The Tomb of the Cybermen, I’ve never been all that fond of the Cybermen’s pets. I’ve seen this story several times over the years, but in mind mind the Cybermats didn’t work and looked rubbish… but they’re great! I’d not remembered that the tails wag, which really helps to sell the effect, and I was surprised just how similar this version is to the ones who appear in Closing Time - I’d not seen this story since that one aired.
Just because I love the story doesn’t mean I’m completely blind to some of its faults, though. While there’s plenty of great effects in here, and the Cybermen get used in a way that makes them look great (there’s a show of one trying to hold the hatch to their tomb open, and you really get a sense of the strength involved), I’m willing to admit that it doesn’t all work. Just like the previous two episode of this story, I’ve written absolutely loads of notes, but this time around there are several about things that aren’t great.
There’s a fight early on between the archaeologists and the Cybermen which becomes a bit of a muddle, and it’s home to the shot of Toberman being hurled through the air by a Cyberman. It’s a lovely idea, but sadly the kirby wires are just far too visible, which somewhat lessens the effect. Similarly, a later shot of the Cybermen stumbling around in the aftermath of some smoke bombs doesn’t look all that spectacular.
All of that can be forgotten, though, because this episode is home to one of my favourite scenes in all of Doctor Who, when the Doctor and Victoria share a conversation in the dead of night, as everyone sleeps huddled in corners of the tomb’s lobby. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve not been all that impressed with Victoria so far on the whole, but these few minutes, shot in close-ups of Patrick Troughton and Deborah Watling as they just get the chance to act together really sells me on her. It’s a beautiful moment, and another one of those scenes that shows emotion didn’t creep in with the advent of 21st century Doctor Who.
I hate quoting long passages from the episode when I’m writing about them, but the Doctor’s words about remembering his lost family are so emotive, that I just have to post them again here;
Oh yes, I can when I want to. And that's the point, really.
I have to really want to, to bring them back in front of my eyes. The
rest of the time they… they sleep in my mind and I forget. And so will
you. Oh yes, you will. You'll find there's so much else to think about.
To remember. Our lives are different to anybody else's. That's the
exciting thing, that nobody in the universe can do what we're doing.
I’d not be surprised if that’s another one of those moments that really sold me on the idea of Patrick Troughton as being the Doctor – it’s simply wonderful