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27 June 2013

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

Day 178: The Tomb of the Cybermen, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I can distinctly recall purchasing The Tomb of the Cybermen on DVD for the very first time. I'd been something of a Doctor Who fan since the autumn of 2003, but only dipping in and out, picking up one or two titles on VHS from the library as and when I felt compelled to. Then, one day in the summer of 2004, in what was then the BBC Shop in Norwich, I purchased my first two Doctor Who DVDs. There was this one, and Resurrection of the Daleks. None of the stories I'd rented had featured either of the programme's top two monsters, so I thought that it would be a pretty good place to start.

And you know what? I loved them. I'm sure I'll talk more about Resurrection next year sometime, when we reach the right placement for the tale, but I can recall just being blown away by Tomb, right from the off.

Looking at this episode today, and viewing it for the first time in the context of all the stories that have gone before it, I don't think it's impossible to see just why this one is so loved by fans. In several ways, it's the perfect representation of the Second Doctor's era, and I think it's fair to say that Troughton is on the absolute top of his game. Everything his Doctor does so well is showcased in these 24 minutes, from letting slip that he knows more than people realise ('Your colleague has very strong hands,' he tells Kaftan, shortly after they discover that the fuel pumps on the rocket have been tampered with. He continues: 'Enough to do a great deal of damage if let loose in the wrong place…'), to subtly controlling the room (switching levers to make sure that the hatch to the tomb will open), and making quips when the bad guys get it wrong.

There's something about his look here, too - the way his hair sits, and the way his costume looks underneath his recently-added cape - that just screams 'Second Doctor' to me. The Tomb of the Cybermen was recorded at the very end of Doctor Who's fourth production block, and it's clear that by this stage, both Troughton and the programme makers have settled on exactly what this new version of the character should be. Placed in the surroundings of such a fantastic story, it's no wonder that I took the Second Doctor to heart and made him my favourite.

That said, you do have to wonder why the Doctor does some of the things that he does in this story. During The Evil of the Daleks, I mentioned that we were seeing the first real attempts of the Doctor to manipulate the people around him (the First Doctor did this too, especially in the early days, but this is the first time we see him doing it with just the right word or action here or there, as opposed to actively misleading people into doing what he wants, as we see in stories like The Daleks), and he seems to be doing the same kind of thing here… but then almost instantly wishing that he hadn't.

In yesterday's episode, he discovers that the Cybermen are buried somewhere inside this cliff-face, and that the archaeological team can't get the door open… so he shows them how to get in. They then can't figure out how to get the machinery working… so he gives them the answer, before adding that they really shouldn't. Today, he helps them open the hatch, before spending plenty of time talking about it being a bad idea, and hoping that nothing will go wrong. Is he just a bit confused? Maybe it's the low temperatures?

It's good to see Victoria being given a bit more of a personality here, too. There's a moment early on when the Cybermen's gun trap fires and she lets out a little scream, but after that she's a much more assertive person than we've seen before. When the professor advises the women to stay behind, she actively tells him that she's coming along wether he likes it or not, and she's not afraid to step in and deal with Kaftan once the Doctor has highlighted her as a threat, even going as far as to hold the woman at gunpoint. This is much more like it, and I think I can go along with a version of Victoria that behaves more like this.

Elsewhere, I feel as though I need to praise the set design a little bit more today. The design of the tombs is simply stunning, and one of my favourite sets from Doctor Who's long history. You should have heard my cry of joy when the design cropped up again for Nightmare in Silver a couple of months ago. Everything about the tomb itself, especially the scale - which I think is best captured by an on-set photograph of director Morris Barry stood in front of the construction - is simply gorgeous, and I love it.

Back in 2005, with the programme back on TV and my friends suddenly deciding to take an interest, they asked to watch one of the old ones so they could see what it was like. Of course I plumped for showing them this! It’s my favourite story. Having sat through half the first episode with one friend complaining about the lack of colour (I shouldn't have been surprised - a few years earlier he'd walked out of a cinema screening of Van Helsing, because the first few minutes are black and white) and the other about the slow pace, I skipped ahead to show them the final few scenes of this episode, with the Cybermen being unfrozen from their winter sleep.

And they couldn't stop laughing. They thought it was hilarious. I was mortified - one of my favourite moments of Doctor Who and my friends couldn't stop talking about how rubbish it looked. I've always secretly thought that they were wrong (I say secretly, I tell them they're wrong, every time I visit home), but you know what? Watching it again now in the context of all these other episodes? I know they're wrong! Because it does look bloody fantastic!

The ice 'melting' from the tomb, the blurry shapes moving around inside before splitting open the casing and climbing down the ladders at the sides… it is a great moment, and it's an example of the show pulling off an effect pretty well. I'll admit, I don't like the way they start to break out of the tomb, and then are instantly frozen again (complete with a thick layer of ice - get your money's worth from the visual effects department) only to re-emerge, but everything else here is great. There's not all that many Cybermen, but when they're swarming around the cave it looks like masses of them. It's a great bit of directing from Barry.

Although, I will concede that the About Time book for this era is right - it would seem that the Cybercontroller has spent the last five centuries squatting in a cupboard. Ah.

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