Oh, what a joyous couple of weeks it’s been. Every episode has made me want to watch the next one immediately after. Only the fact that I’d seen this serial a couple of times before allowed me to keep my discipline here. For me, the gold standard for Cybermen has always been the “we-a will-a survive-a” versions from this story, and seeing it in context has made me appreciate what a significant step up in their mythology these episodes represent. It’s certainly a smart move to beef up the show’s second biggest villains, having just portrayed “the final end” of its first biggest villains.
It has a similar type of ensemble cast to The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase, even sharing many of the same stock tropes. It’s weird that all the Cyberman stories so far are all so similar. Where this one differs, however, is by replacing the base-under-siege set-up of the previous stories with a plot that’s all together more pacey and thrilling, with ever-increasing stakes.
The guest cast themselves are a mixed bunch. The hamminess worked for the villainous Krieg, but less so for Captain Wow, or whatever the American rocket ship pilot was called. I’d always remembered Toberman as being a godawful racial stereotype, but after Kemel last time, well… at least they let him talk occasionally. It’s worth pointing out that the overall portrayal of both of these characters is broadly positive – they’re heroic and noble, particularly with Toberman’s eventual supreme sacrifice here. It’s just that their mannerisms and the way they’re treated by the other characters only served to reinforce the contemporary audience’s prejudices, and that’s regrettable.
Back to the numerous plus points. Tomb’s reputation as a classic hangs on several stand-out moments, all of which are utterly fantastic. It starts with the very first scene, as The Doctor gives Victoria a brief intro to himself and the TARDIS. The most famous is the cliffhanger to episode two, which has the Cybermen heroically yet tentatively breaking out of their cling-film tombs. The downbeat ending to the overall story is another highlight – very bold and affecting. There are real consequences to the events we’ve just witnessed.
But my absolute favourite moment is a scene in episode three, which took me by surprise with its tenderness and emotional edge. The Doctor talks to Victoria about her recently deceased father, and shares his feelings regarding his own family. We learn so much about his outlook on life, and it’s quite frankly one of the best Doctor speeches of all time.
However, for a story with this good a reputation, I was surprised to note that it’s not without its production problems. At one point a Cyberman hoists Toberman up with the aid of a large wire, and later Toberman throws a hollow, lifeless dummy of the Cyber Controller through the air. Not quite sure what to make of the Cybermats – love the concept, but the execution varied. Overall, there was an off-putting lack of cohesion between the pre-filmed inserts and the studio footage, resulting in a slightly disjointed and confusing sense of geography – not ideal when a large chunk of the plot concerns the navigation and exploration of the setting.
These are quibbles, though. The script, the performances of the regulars and the continuing brilliance of the Cybermen make this serial one of the all-time greatest. I note that this was the first story helmed by a new producer, Peter Bryant, so perhaps the issues were just teething troubles. I’ve very little notion of the specific details of stories from the rest of this season, but I do know that I’ll be seeing Ice Warriors, Yetis and UNIT before it’s out. Bring it on.