Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 180: The Tomb of the Cybermen, Episode Four
It seems strange, standing at this end of the story and looking back, that I ever considered it may not hold up. I’d worried that having found a fondness for other stories which I’d never really considered before, The Tomb of the Cybermen - ostensibly my ‘favourite’ Doctor Who tale - and suddenly find it underwhelming. Almost ten years of it being my favourite could be washed away in these four days.
What’s actually happened is quite the opposite – I’ve completely rediscovered my love for the story as though seeing it again for the very first time. It possibly helps that this is the first time since The War Machines, way back at the end of Season Three, that I’ve actually had a full story to watch. It could help that I’m already looking more favourably on this one than some of the stories I’ve never seen but haven’t heard great things about. Or it could be that, quite simply, The Tomb of the Cybermen is one of the all-time greats. Certainly, I’ve met a number of people over the years who have either cited it as their favourite, too, or at least considered that it’s a good contender for a favourite story to have.
Right the way through, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how much I’ve been loving this one – by the time Episode One had finished, any worries I had were gone, and I was left just enjoying things. Each episode has given me something new to love, and the fourth is no exception to this – I’d always thought of Toberman’s partial-conversion into Cyberman as having no real merit, but it works really well and is key to the story. His fight with the Cybercontroller here is much better than any of the fights in the last episode, and the final shot of him, staring down against the Controller as they each push on opposite sides of the door is fantastic. Are they just planning to leave the body there, though? I realise it must be a pretty long trip back to Earth, but surely they must be able to take him home? At least throw a sheet over the corpse or something!
I’ve focussed so much in this story on the developing relationship between the Doctor and Victoria (though it feels like they’ve been travelling for a while now. The About Time series speculates that there could be unseen adventures between her entrance to the TARDIS in Episode One and the arrival on Telos – and there’s plenty in the story which I think can support that), but I’ve barely mentioned Jamie’s role in events.
It’s far from being a secret that I love the pairing of the Doctor and his Highland friend, and there’s so much of a spark between them in this story that I can’t let it pass without mention. The ‘hand holding’ in Episode One is always singled out for praise, but brilliant as it is, there’s a number of other moments in The Tomb of the Cybermen that I think showcase the pair better. Episode Three sees the Doctor making a pun about the Cybermat’s metal brains being overloaded (‘You could say they’ve had a total metal breakdown’) and Jamie's reaction to his terrible pun. Today we get Jamie tying the door of the revitaliser machine, before the Cybercontroller breaks through the door (‘Jamie, remind me to give you a lesson in tying knots sometimes…’), and his realisation of what’s happened to Toberman: the boy is learning from his travels.
Something that often gets talked about in this story is the death of a Cyberman here, where the chest unit bubbles as foam rises up and overflows. It’s cited as an example of Doctor Who going too far and being too violent, and I can almost see that. It’s certainly more horrific than we might usually get at this time. For me, though, what made it scary was the way the Cyberman grabs at his chest throughout, almost as though trying to force his circuitry back inside. That’s the really gruesome part, but it works. Equally, there’s a scene where Jamie fires a gun point blank into a Cyberman’s face as it climbs from the hatch. Smoke comes pouring out of the mouth as it stumbles back down into the tomb. It’s a striking image.
For a long, long time, The Tomb of the Cybermen was the fabled ‘Holy Grail’ of missing Doctor Who tales, and the general consensus is that when it showed up in 1992, it wasn’t as good as everyone hoped it might be. For me, though, it’s damn near perfect, and I’m pleased to say that it’s still coming out top for me.
I’m hoping that it might be a good sign – I’ve been slightly dreading Season Five. It’s mostly missing, and it relies heavily on the Base-Under-Siege and Monster-of-the-Week formats, I’d been fearing that I might find it repetitive. Hopefully, though, if things continue to live up to the quality of The Tomb of the Cybermen, we could be on to a real winner…