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26 June 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 177: The Tomb of the Cybermen, Episode One

Dear diary,

This is it! This is the big one! For the best part of the last decade, I've always cited The Tomb of the Cybermen as being my absolute favourite TV Doctor Who story. I credit this serial with making the Cybermen my favourite monsters, and Patrick Troughton my favourite Doctor. It's almost the template I have in mind for what Doctor Who is supposed to be. The bad thing about all this is that I've been dreading hitting it in The 50 Year Diary. It's always been my favourite when I'm comparing it to odd stories here and there, but how's it going to stand up in context? What am I going to make of it, now that I've discovered other gems like The War Machines and The Macra Terror? Essentially, is The Tomb of the Cybermen going to turn out to be really a little bit rubbish?

Thankfully, the answer to that question is no. Of course it's not going to all fall apart now that I've watched 160-something other episodes that immediately preceded it. The Tomb of the Cybermen is my favourite story for a reason, and it's holding its own very nicely here. You'll forgive me if I'm a little more forgiving of the story than I might otherwise be, but there's not an awful lot that needs to be overlooked - the full-body versions of the Cyberman image don't look half as good as the head-and-shoulders version that we're all far more familiar with, it's true, and it seems silly that there's a table and chairs waiting handily in the lobby to their tomb, yes. But you know what? Everything else here is fantastic, so I don't care!

I think it's probably telling that I've written more notes about this episode than I think I have about any other in the marathon so far. I usually get about six episodes on a single sheet of paper, but I've used a side and a half for this one. There's just so much that I wanted to note down, and so much that I could talk about that it felt silly not to. It probably helps that this is the first full Troughton story that I'll be able to watch (indeed, it's the only full Troughton story from his first two seasons in the role), which means that there's little visual things I can pick up on more than I've been able to lately.

So where to start? The introduction of a new companion has often been used as a way to reintroduce the concept of Doctor Who to an audience who may be joining for the first time, and it's strange to note that this is the first time that the re-establishment happens in the first story of the season - we pan into the image of the Police Box, and then cut to inside (the first time we've seen it since The Moonbase, which feels like an absolute age ago), where the Doctor explains that it's his home, and has been for some time. Victoria is then introduced to the concept of time travel, and the idea that they can travel anywhere in time and space. The aspect of not being able to control where they go gets glossed over on this occasion, though Jamie does ask the Doctor for a smooth landing.

It's another one of those moments that shows how much the Doctor and Jamie have become best friends since they first met, and even aside from the argument they had during the last story, they really are becoming inseparable. There's little wonder that they travel together until someone else forces them apart - I imagine the pair would still be out there somewhere if they could be. Troughton and Hines simply bounce from each other, from the way the hold hands (and then quickly stop) as they enter the tomb, to the Doctor's tease that the Highlander's skirt is a bit short. It makes this phase of the programme so much fun, and I really can't get enough of the pair.

Victoria, it has to be said, still isn't really giving me much to love, though. Deborah Watling is doing a good job, and again it has to be said how beautiful she looks as she stands in the TARDIS at the beginning, but the character is a bit of a generic Doctor Who girl. She wanders into the Cybermen's 'revitalising' machine, where the bad guy locks her in, and then she's flustered when she gets out. There's a moan to the Doctor about wanting to just leave, and a constant feeling of unease. I get that it's her very first TARDIS trip, but this is the side of the character we saw plenty of in The Evil of the Daleks, and the fact that I can't remember much about what else she does in my favourite story probably speaks absolute volumes.

Although I've only got tele-snaps to compare it to for the most part of the last season, this story seems to be set on a far vaster scale than I'm used to from the series. I seem to find myself saying this a lot every time we get to a surviving episode (it was true of The War Machines, and The Faceless Ones, and the tele-snaps for The Smugglers made it look pretty large scale, too), but we really are on a new level here. There's a shot early on as we look down past Toberman's legs to the rest of the archeological expedition below, and it makes the place look so grand that it almost throws you. It does have to be said that I'm not sure it always works as an alien world (there's another shot which makes it look like a group of people inappropriately dressed for a day that the beach), but it sets the story apart and really gives the start of the new season a glossy feel.

I could just go on and on about this episode and all the things that are right with it, but I'd start to bore you before too long, and there's another three episodes to fill with praise yet, so I think I'll call it a day here. Suffice to say that my favourite story hasn't let me down, and I'm tremendously pleased by that.

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