The Tomb of the CybermenBookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 February 2006 - Reviewed by Scott Moore

Perhaps because it is be regarded by many fans as a Doctor Who classic, I was disappointed by 'The Tomb of the Cybermen'. A fine performance from Patrick Troughton, an interesting basic plot idea, and the excellent realisation of the cybermen themselves are let down by a flawed script and just a little too much (yes, even for Doctor Who!) poor acting from the supporting cast.

The basic premise of the story is sound enough and the setting of the "tomb" allowed plenty of scope for the BBC designers to create an atmospheric set. However, the script suffers from three main failings: clunky plot devices, crude characterisation and poor attention to detail. The worst of the plot devices is the use of the sabotaged spacecraft to force the characters to remain in the tomb throughout the story. The idea of sabotage is perfectly reasonable, but the fact that the archaeological team are banned from the spacecraft for the duration of repairs (despite an escalating rate of fatalities) stretches the audience's credulity too far. It is not easy to separate the poor characterisation from the poor acting, but the character of Captain Hopper is little more than a cardboard cutout (indeed, his only raison d'etre seems to be to support the above-mentioned plot device), while poor Toberman seems to have been plucked from among the ranks of Cleopatra's slaves (in the Cecil B. DeMille film). As for the problem of attention to detail, this manifests itself right at the beginning of the first episode. We are led to believe that Professor Parry heads up an archaeological expedition at some point in the future, yet his team's methods would shame even a Victorian grave robber; they use explosives to expose the entrance to the tomb and once inside the only hint that they are making any attempt to catalogue their discovery is Viner taking down a few notes.

The quality of the acting is mixed, to say the least. Aubrey Richards is credible as Parry and Shirley Cooklin is suitably villainous (despite her character being burdened by the silly name of Kaftan). However, Cyril Shaps is over-the-top as Viner while George Pastell's initially promising Klieg eventually borders on the pantomimesque. Given the lines he is saddled with, George Roubicek can perhaps be forgiven for playing a spaghetti western cowboy. I can't yet compare Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling's performances here to their other stories. They both do a reasonable enough job of portraying the standard-issue young companion, but their characters are devoid of any convincing background. At no point does Jamie seem like an 18th century highlander, while Victoria's accent is too "BBC" and she is remarkably handy with a pistol for a sheltered young woman from Victorian England. Of course, Patrick Troughton's performance carries the story and almost justifies on its own watching 'The Tomb of the Cyberman'.

The rest of that justification are the cybermen. Given the limitations of time and budget inherent in 1960's Doctor Who, the designers and the director have done a convincing job of portraying the cybermen and injecting both them and their tomb with an air of menace. The scene where they emerge from their hibernation is justifiably iconic. The only point when the representation utterly fails are the close-up shots of the cybermats, which are truly hilarious. But then, every Doctor Who story requires such a comic low-budget production moment!

FILTER: - Television - Second Doctor - Series 5