DVD REVIEW: Doctor Who – Tomb of the Cybermen Special Edition

If you ask someone who watched Doctor Who in the sixties, their reply would be a vivid description of metal men freeing themselves from catacombs where they slept. They will all say that this terrified them and this a scene from Tomb of the Cybermen, a story that has built quite a reputation.

With the episodes lost until the early nineties, their legacy seemed to grow among Whovians as they listened to the recordings and let their minds fill in the blanks. When recovered,many people believed that they had aged, losing some of their original spectacle. Had age and folklore weakened this once classic series?

The Tomb of the Cybermen Special Edition is just as much a classic as people have told you it is. This is an awesome serial from the Patrick Troughton era, cementing the Cybermen as his greatest foe. At the crux of this story it is a blend: a haunted house mixed with a zombie film.

The plot follows a band of archaeologists who have come to Telos (the Cybermen’s adopted home) to find the Cybermen. They have become an old wives tale and are presumed to be wiped out. They discover the Cybermen’s tomb and try to work out how to get in and before long The Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Frazer Hines) and new companion Victoria (Deborah Watling) arrive minutes after they have found it. When the team enters, things are not as dead as they first thought.

There is something truly special about the Classic series Cybermen that I think the new series has missed out on. The Cybermen are meant to be people that have slowly swapped their body parts for machine until finally they have become Cybermen. The beauty of the classic series Cybermen is actually how much they look like humans. Some might argue that this is down to the cost of the classic series and they did not have the money to make the machine like bodies that they inhabit now but even if this was the case it added something extra.

The fact that we can see that these Cybermen were once humans makes them that bit more terrifying. We can see that our society could move to such a thing and to see what our horrific future could be is more startling as they blankly look back at us with no emotions. In Tomb, the Cybermen are at their most deadly. With their claw like hands and electronic voices, they capture many of the same ideas that make the Daleks so scary.

Further another more nuanced element of the classic Cybermen is their mythology that once again the new series lacks. Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis (creators of the Cybermen) were heavily influenced by Egyptian mythology linking it to their creation. The Cybermen show a different kind of folklore where they have become a myth, a tale to tell your kids before you go to bed. The tomb itself resembles a pyramid and in fact if you watch the latest film in the Alien franchise, Prometheus there seems to be almost a homage to this great story.

The first episode is built all around the tomb where we have hieroglyphics and the like surrounding it. We have seen much detail added to the Daleks and other monsters but I would argue there has been nothing like what we see in Tomb of the Cybermen. The Cybermen are brutal killers yet their tomb shows that in a they are also a highly intellectual race. Again the Egyptian influence can be seen as deadly traps are placed all around the tomb. The suspense in these episodes are brilliant as they build slowly, adding shock after shock until we finally discover the Cybermen.

Watching the Cybermen reanimate from their catacombs was a slight disappointment as the effects do seem to have aged slightly. Yet there is still an awe to it, a chill and you get the impression that if you were watching this in the sixties you would have been terrified. This is where we get the two horror styles meshing perfectly: we have had the slow building dread of the haunted house unleashing us into the Cybermen awaking just like zombies rising from the dead.

Patrick Troughton (in my opinion the best classic doctor) puts in a sterling performance as The Second Doctor. We see Troughton’s Doctor at his best here with comical lines between himself and Jamie. The Doctor goes to take new companion Victoria’s hand and instead starts to walk hand in hand with Jamie. This tongue in cheek joke still lives up today as anyone that has watched any of the Second Doctor’s adventures is aware that Jamie is by far The Doctor’s best friend. Further this was an incredibly brave thing to do at a time when such jokes were still frowned upon and it is to their credit that Troughton and Hines decided to ad-lib.

The chemistry between Troughon and Hines is as usual phenomenal. You can tell that these men loved playing these parts and loved working together. It is as if they have created a sixth sense where they both know what the other is thinking and what to do next. In the world of live television and where you only had one take you can really see this shining through the Troughton episodes of Doctor Who as it adds something really quite special to these quality episodes. But it is not just comical lines that Troughton hits so wonderfully.

We see true compassion between him and Victoria as she feels shell-shocked due to the loss of her family. The Doctor explains that he too has lost his family and how he likes to remember them. This one speech really for the first time implants in the viewer how lonely The Doctor is and even before The Time War he feels like he has lost everything that he held dear. Further we see The Doctor at his most cunning. The Second Doctor is known to be the first doctor who appears in a situation and acts like a bumbling idiot. The viewer knows differently but the people around him do not realise that The Doctor is in fact a genius and knows exactly what he is doing: by acting the fool they are more willing to tell him things that he might not have been told otherwise. We see this when he helps one of the team work out an equation.

They never even realise that The Doctor has placed the buttons in the right place. We also see Troughton stand up to The Cybercontroller yet at the same time there is a humility to his performance. Troughton was brilliant at portraying that he too was petrified and I think this is why often the sixties episodes ironically have survived the test of time better than others. Even if Troughton was facing off against washing up liquid bubbles his performance rang so true, his terror was so believable that you are brought along for the ride. We also see Troughton managing to get the best out of the people around him. For example when he explains to Toberman how much more he could be.

As well as Trroughton’s superb performance as The Doctor both the writing and the score cannot be forgotten. The script flows nicely building up to a sense of impending doom before the final episode. Further the score of any sixties episode adds great depth and horror to what you are watching. There is a grandness that we are watching a spectacle when The Cybercontroller emerges from his catacomb yet at the same extent there is a darkness towards those beats. The thundering bass line adds so much as the Controller staggers to his feet. What is more whenever we see the Cybermen begin to emerge from their catacombs there is an eerie noise that sounds like nothing else. We feel like we are watching something that is strange and out of this world. We feel like we are watching a terrible danger re-emerge.

The direction by Morris Barry is top-notch.  At the moment, Doctor Who head writer Steve Moffat is stating that every episode should feel like a mini movie. Well Tomb of the Cybermen is exactly that. The opening sprawling shots of Telos are like nothing we had seen in the show before. As well as this he must be credited with filming one of the most terrifying scenes in Doctor Who history: the re-emergence of the Cybermen. With age some shots you can see the wires where Cybermen have been held in order to lift them up or the fact that no-one is in the suit as they are getting thrown around but these things should be put to one side and forgotten about as it still has a really lasting impression on the viewer.

When Tomb of the Cybermen was found in 1992 it was hurried to a video release where many said that the quality of the film was not very good and it had lost much of what made it a classic. 2Entertain released it again with it being remastered onto DVD. A friend has said that it looked terrifying and was everything they wanted. They again re-released it on DVD as a special edition with an even better picture (the one I have seen and I am reviewing) and the work they have done is tremendous. Tomb of the Cybermen now looks like it could have been filmed yesterday apart from the fact that it is in black and white. It is crisp, sharp, and the sound is brilliant. Additionally the special features are fantastic with a huge documentary on the Cybermen and how the show was put together.

Tomb of the Cybermen was thought of as a brilliant, horrific story that everyone remembered. It had become as much a folklore as the Cybermen were in the story and when it was first found people had felt it had lost something. I am pleased to announce that thanks to the good work from 2Entertain, Tomb of the Cybermen is every bit the classic horror story we had always heard about making it one of the best Doctor Who stories to ever.

Rating: 4/5
Reporter: Luke Halsall

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