Friday, 10 May 2013

The Tomb of the Cybermen written by Kit Pedlar & Gerry Davies and directed by Morris Barry


This story in a nutshell: ‘Frozen forever. All their evil locked away with them and so it must remain…’

Cheeky Chappie: Troughton owns the role at this point. He might be the actor that took the longest time to define his interpretation of the Doctor but once he did (around The Macra Terror) he never looked back and it was one flawless, funny, moody performance after another. Every time I head back to the Troughton era I am reminded that not only was he perfect for the role but also his effortless switch from comedy to drama proves he was one of, if not the finest actor in the role. The Doctor is brilliant from the first scene, beaming with pride as he shows off the TARDIS to Victoria, dismissing the implausibilities of their lifestyle and acting gruffly insulted at Jamie’s suggestion of giving Victoria a safe landing the first time round. He’s got archaeology written all over him. He refuses to leave and let this mismatched archaeological team stumble on the secrets of the Cybermen and in his own way he is quite secretive about his identity and purpose. The Doctor’s own special method is keeping his eyes open and his mouth shut – a magical scene that sees him insult the easily mocked Klieg with real style. He’s a devious little imp, he manipulates Klieg into successfully opening the hatch but we never learn if it was just because he was curious or because he wanted to see them reveal their true motives. There’s a wonderful image of the Controller looming over the tiny Doctor when they discuss the Doctor’s previous encounters with the Mondasian meanies. He can remember his family but he has to really want to see them to bring them in front of his eyes and the rest of the time they sleep in his mind and he forgets. Look at Troughton’s face when that Cybermat bumps his foot – priceless, looks like he’s chewing on a caramel toffee! He manipulates Toberman into tossing the Controller about, this little imp is a dangerous fellow because he evaluate you psychologically in an instant and immediately set about manipulating you. How wonderful is the Doctor trying to convince Klieg that he has been bewitched by his twisted way of thinking, as I said before he manages the switch from comedy to drama in a heartbeat. ‘Alright, if you’re going to kill us get on with it’ the Doctor says with absolute seriousness. That's what I love about the creation of this outwardly funny character, when the the chips are done and he is done with all the farce he gets to the dramatic core of each and every story with real gravity. It is the same feeling I get with Tom Baker's portrayal during the Williams produced seasons, that he is inherently a silly, ludicrous man but he can snap out of that mood in an instant if the situation warrants it. Troughton is sublime in this story, his naughty twinkling eyes working wonders. How lucky we were to have this story returned just to see this actor at his height.

Sexy Scot: Frazer Hines looks practically edible in the first scene, he’s gorgeous. There’s some wonderful Troughton/Hines horseplay in this story – I love it when they hold hands walking into the building together and the faux insult at Jamie’s skirt. Jamie is such a hilarious wimp too, the Doctor asks if anybody wants to leave because what he is about try is very risky and Jamie is the first one out the door (or at least tries). His rope tying skills have much to be desired although he thinks the King of the Beasties himself would have trouble escaping from them when that is clearly not the case. With Victoria along for the ride the interplay has shifted once again, Jamie started off as a bit of a spare part amongst the Doctor/Ben/Polly triumvirate, then transformed into quite an agressive counterpoint to the Doctor in Evil of the Daleks but now he is cast more in the role of a protector of the Victorian priss that has fallen into their care.  It's pretty much his role for the rest of the season, arsing about with Troughton and bravely stepping between Watling and any dangers but it plays to Hines' strengths superbly.

Screaming Violet: I was genuinely surprised by Victoria in this story. She has never been a favourite of mine, not because she doesn’t have chemistry with her fellow regulars (because there are so many moments of charm with the three of them together) but because her character spec seems to literally be a screaming violet and very writers bothered to get under her skin beyond having her remind us that the monsters are scary. She was a bit of a walking cliche if I'm honest, shrinking into the shadows and exercising her lungs, right up until her last story. However Tomb of the Cybermen might just be her best story, she gets to show plenty of initiative and gumption and wont be pushed around by anybody. She doesn’t even scream that much. Victoria is pretty brave considering her origins, shrugging off Kaftan’s protection and ready to go off exploring. I enjoyed her culture shock when she was offered a food cube equivalent of roast chicken. It is a nice attempt to suggest she is from the past, something that they have all but forgotten to do with Jamie of late. Victoria is pretty feisty, grabbing Kaftan’s gun and blasting away at the Cybermat (although how she is a pot shot despite having never fired one before is best skipped over in order to enjoy the scene). She chews out those two American twits more than once and I really laughed at the ‘Who’d be a woman?’ ‘How would you know honey?’ exchange. In a very sweet scene, Victoria lets the Doctor sleep because he is so old and clearly needs as much rest as possible. She is happy with the Doctor and Jamie but she misses her father who she considered a kind man and wonders if she will ever forget his awful death. She sees her father when she shuts her eyes. Victoria teases Hopper about his superior strength – why couldn’t she always be this fun? Perhaps it is the influence of Victor Pemberton (script editor) because the only other time I find Victoria memorable as a character in her own right is her finale, Fury from the Deep.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You belong, to us. You will be like us’ – a genuinely chilling statement.
‘So remember, our lives are different from anybody else’s. That’s the exciting thing, nobody in the universe can do what we’re doing.’

The Good Stuff: The TARDIS looks and sounds immense on film – why didn’t they try this sort of thing more often? The console room feels like a huge, cavernous space, genuinely bigger on the inside than the out. That’s some mighty fine location work, the surface of Telos looks barren and vast and there is a wonderful POV tracking shot over a precipice that lands on the archaeological team. It’s the first of season fives claustrophobic all-in-one-location stories and it looks like it is a good approach to budgeting a Doctor Who story because the sets are detail, fulls of nooks and crannies to explore and the Cybermen to emerge from and it is dramatically and stylishly lit. Those people who felt disappointed with the look of this story when it returned must have been on crack, the show rarely has this much polish. It feels like some money has been spent on this story. Kaftan is such a hopelessly exhibitionistic character I cannot fail to love every overblown line that comes out of her mouth – she made me howl when she started coming on to Viner like a hammer house of horrors vamp. When Klieg manages to activate the building the lighting is superb, it feels like the building's heart has begin beating, like it is coming to life. The end of episode one is one of my favourites, the hideous smoking corpse falling to the ground amd the cut to the pulsating Cyberman face fading away into the credits like a grinning skull – what a cracking cliffhanger. I love the slow fade into the credits that some of the sixties cliffhangers deployed, if they can fix on a chilling image like this it is a very effective way to hold onto the edge of the cliffhanger for as long as possible. After all these murders you would not catch me going down that hatch, it opens like a mouth ready for them to climb down into the pits of hell. It make me chuckle to think of Doctor Who handling the idea of sinister hatch leading down into God-knows-where decades before Lost, and probable generating as much tension and answers in four half hour episodes as that show managed in several seasons. The Tomb model is terrific but what impressed me was the full size set that manages to match its scale and opulence. It's something they couldn't achieve in the eighties but they mange to suggest a sense of majesty and opulence to the tomb design, a real sense that this is a stronghold of many thousands of Cybermen. There is something very disturbing about the embryonic Cybermen coming to life, its one of Doctor Who’s best ever set pieces because it is visually exciting and scary at the same time and it promises more shocks to come. The Cybermen stalk towards the camera when they wake as if to stare at the kids who are watching directly and really give them nightmares. Once we're finished with this lot we're coming after you kiddos. Devious sods, the Cybermen have made the traps deliberately complicated so only superior brains could crack the code and be converted. It's almost as if they are enjoying taunting them as the Cybermen decide who will be converted first, another example of the apparently emotionless creatures indulging in a little psychology. The Cybermen look great emerging from the smoke with their arms outstretched (although I could have done without the overly dramatic music and Donald Duck noises - imagine how much creepier this would be in silence). There's another great set piece as a Cyberman tries to drag the Doctor back down the hatch as Victoria smacks it in the face repeatedly to try and get it to release it's grip on him; they really feel like a formidable force as it beats down on the closing hatch. The X Ray laser gun is awesome; it blows a bloody great flaming hole in the wall! Oh for the days of physical effects like this, come the 70s and 80s all the futuristic weaponry does is go blam or have some dodgy electronic effect dubbed on. There is a lovely pause in the action for a moment of sweetness and pathos between the Doctor and Victoria as everybody else sleeps. You would think that it would be the remaining stories of season five that would have the time to pause and reflect being two episodes longer each but this is really the only time this season that the regulars get some time out to talk about their feelings. Shame about the fuzzy felt teeth but the Cybermat crawling over Callum is really effectively done, capturing that fear we have of creepy crawlies dancing across our skin. The Doctor protects everybody inside a big smoking circle whilst the Cybermats have a complete metal breakdown (sorry) and it is the seriousness that Morris Barry brings to this scene that really impresses me. It baffles me that come The Dominators he seems to have forgotten how to stage a scene like this anymore. You feel really sorry for the Controller as he burbles ‘the energy levels…are looooow’ lulling you into a false sense of security that he might actually be out of action for good before he tears free of the revitaliser in a right hump! The smoke pouring from the Cyberman's mouth is an awesome effect and Jamie wastes no time in tossing the bugger down the hatch. It might be obvious that Toberman is tossing a dummy about but I do appreciate the attempt to show how indestructible he is now that he has been enhanced by Cyber-technology. It is a marvellous set piece, Toberman and a Cyberman fighting to the death with the Tombs behinds as a dramatic backdrop and resulting in the pulsing, oozing, death of the Cyberman. It is spectacularly nasty as the creature breathes it's last with the visual metaphor of its guts spilling out. You just can’t keep the Controller down, he wakes up for a last minute burst of action as they battle for the Tomb doors and he is finally electrocuted, beaten by his own trap. One Cybermat escapes offering hope for more Cyber adventures in the future…

The Bad Stuff: Hopper is clearly supposed to be a ridiculously butch Yankie jock type but when played by a weedy, middle class British guy putting on an overdone accent it lacks any kind of convction. The opening sequences are as B movie as Doctor Who ever got – ‘fifty pounds for the first man to open those doors’ –and the dramatic music that accompanies the terrible electrifying death is straight out of Original Series Star Trek (although it hadn't even come along yet). I wont pretend it isn't deliriously enjoyable as such but for those who enjoy their Doctor Who a little less melodramatic (really?) it might be a bit much. Imagine how long a search through the universe for the Cybermen would take! Toberman is such a racist stereotype, a muscled, grunting beast of a black man and naturally the first one into the lions den. 'Go down Toberman!' - Kaftan even talks to him like he's an ape. There is some really hammy dialogue (my favourite examples are ‘It's practically wrecked our chances of getting off this crummy planet!’‘Especially with you insisting all over the place!’ and ‘Everything yields to logic, our basic assumption, Doctor!’). Is the Cyber Controller the most phallic thing ever seen in Doctor Who? That is a hotly contested prize but I think he might just deserve the trophy, leaving the Typhonian Ambassador and Alpha Centuri weeping in the corner. What a giant veiny dickhead! There is one exquisite sequence where the Cybermen are talking and all the second one keeps saying is 'yezzzz...' in a flat monotone - I can remember being friends with a couple that used to sound just like this when they were chatting and this scene used to instantly leap into my head whenever I was around them. Why do they lock Klieg in the gunroom? Lock him up, sure, but in the room with all the weapons? Hasn't he already proven to be as nutty as squirrel shit? He and Kaftan really are irredeemable, aren’t they? There is no depth to them beyond their irresponsible, demented villainy. Shirley Cooklin can barely control her laughter as she closes the hatch on the Controller, forgetting any pretense of fear and scurrying about chucklesomely like the panto villainess that she is. The Doctor announces 'KLIEG!' very dramatically in the final episode, when he is barely two feet away from them. Clearly it isn't only the seventh Doctor who is afflicted by this melodramatic urge ('Haaaaace!'). Anybody would think that Grotbags had just walked in.

Result: I have spent the last decade ridiculing this story so imagine my surprise when I was left spellbound on this watch. It isn't a perfect Doctor Who story and anybody who is expecting as much is always going to be sorely disappointed (every 'classic' story has narrative or production flaws of their own, their perfection comes from how we as a viewer see past them to all the other goodies on display) but it has a great deal going for it and as an example of the less sophisticated but more exciting storytelling favoured by the latest production team it is practically in a league of its own. At a blissful four parts the pace is relentless and something memorable or gripping crops up every couple of minutes to keep you on your toes. The Tomb of the Cybermen looks really expensive with great sets, moody lighting and some simple but striking effects work. No it isn't an intellectual treat but sometimes Doctor Who has to step away from it's roots as an intelligent drama and produce something blockbusting, moody and heart-stopping. As a montage of iconic imagery, an exciting adventure story, a chance to see Troughton at his dazzling best and the Cybermen at their most menacing it is absolutely unmissable. The clincher is that even Victoria gets some great material. Despite a few bumpy moments, this is as blockbusting and as magical as classic Who comes and more than lives up to its mighty reputation. Don't go into it expect something miraculous but do approach it expecting a compelling action adventure tale with more than enough spectacle and chills to keep you sated: 9/10

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi
Will you be reviewing Drestiny of the Doctor audios?

Joe Ford said...

Hi there,

I have already reviewed the first four - if you type the titles in the search engine and they should pop up. I'm planning on getting around to Smoke and Mirrors in the next week or so.

JT said...

I'm still not sure why Toberman is considered a racist character. It's clear that Roy Stewart was hired for his physique, not his acting ability (which doesn't seem to be all that strong, to be honest). Toberman is a large, strong, muscular man and Stewart fit the bill perfectly. If the character was written and performed exactly the same, only played by a white actor, I doubt anyone would think anything of it.

Otherwise, nice review. I love this story too, and I'm delighted that we now have Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear to accompany it and to give us a much better picture of season five.

Joe Ford said...

My problem with Toberman is more his treatment, and how he is portrayed as somebody who is practically illiterate. I forget the astronauts name in The Tenth Planet, but he was a much better statement for the rights of black people (something that was very much in the air at the time) than Toberman.