March 28: The Tomb of the Cybermen Episodes 3 & 4

The Doctor is confronted by the Cyber Controller. (The Tomb of
the Cybermen
Episode 3) ©BBC
Having announced at the end of the last episode that "you belong to us", the Cybermen appear ready to make good on their proclamation.  They tell the expedition that the surface rooms were designed so that only intelligent people could come down into the tombs and thus become Cybermen -- hence all the logic puzzles and such.  Then the Cyber Controller explicitly marks Klieg and Parry as the first and second people to be turned into Cybermen. We're sort of used to the idea of people being turned into Cybermen now, but this is the first time it's made explicit; yes, there's that moment in The Tenth Planet where the Cybermen announce that the crew of Snowcap Base will be converted into Cybermen, but that never feels like a legitimate threat.  But here, the idea of being turned into a Cyberman is a very real threat, and it's only the intervention of Captain Hopper and his smoke grenades which saves them from this fate.

The rest of the episode is a tense waiting game, as Parry's expedition is only sticking around while the rocket crew repairs the damage done by Toberman in episode 1.  The Cybermen are trapped down in the tombs, unable to open the hatch (um, bit of a design flaw there, not having an opening lever down in the tombs), so they send Cybermats, little metallic "caterpillars" (to use Jamie's description), up small ramps to terrorize the people above.  But before this we get a nice little scene between the Doctor and Victoria, where they talk about the Doctor's family and Victoria's father.  And the Doctor reassures her and tell her, "So remember, our lives are different to anybody else's.  That's the exciting thing.  There's nobody in the universe can do what we're doing."  It's nice to have a quiet little scene like this in the midst of all the action.  But then the Cybermats attack (well, scuttle about), but the Doctor's quick thinking saves them.  "You might almost say they've had a complete metal breakdown," the Doctor puns, to which Jamie groans -- massively out of character for an 18th-century Highlander, but still entertaining.  And then Klieg emerges from the testing room in which he's been kept prisoner by the others, holding an x-ray laser.  Nice work, guys, locking him in a room with working weapons.

Episode 4 isn't quite as entertaining as the others, since it's concerned more with finishing up the story rather than maintaining the mood like the other three have been.  The Cyber Controller orders the other Cybermen back into the tombs "to conserve energy" -- a move which seems to come out of nowhere (Cybermen need to regularly recharge?) but which means that our heroes only have to deal with a couple of Cybermen, rather than a city's worth.  The Cyber Controller arrives to talk terms with Klieg, but he's clearly weakened too, so they lock him inside a cabinet with a revitalizing machine and then tie down the door.  "Jamie, I hope you made those ropes secure," the Doctor says.  "Och, the King of the Beasties couldnae get out of that one," Jamie replies, right before the Controller smashes through the door, the ropes easily falling away.  Another fun moment.  Then the Controller reenters the main room upstairs, ordering Kaftan to open the hatch to the tombs.  When she refuses, he kills her with the x-ray laser, leading to possibly the least convincing death fall in all of Doctor Who, as Shirley Cooklin gingerly lets herself down onto the floor, rather than just falling down dead.  This upsets Toberman, so he kills the Cyber Controller (or, at least, a dummy version of him) by throwing him against the control banks.37  The Doctor then goes down into the tombs to freeze the Cybermen forever.

Toberman attacks the Cyber Controller. (The Tomb of the
Episode 4) ©BBC
But Klieg, clearly off his rocker by this point, insists that the Cybermen will work for him, first via strength (because of the x-ray laser) and then because their Controller is killed by Toberman (who's been half-cybernized by this point -- a stark reminder of the fate that awaits the others should the Cybermen succeed).  Still, this does lead to the wonderful "now I know you're mad" moment from the Doctor.  Then Klieg is killed by a Cyberman, who is then himself killed by Toberman (with, it must be said, a really gruesome death, as a huge amount of foam spills from its chest unit -- was this what the deaths in The Moonbase were like?  It is the same director...), and so the Doctor can finally seal up the tombs.  He then reelectrifies everything, but the Controller, it turns out, isn't quite dead, so Toberman sacrifices himself by closing the doors and taking a massive electrical shock in the process.  But the Cybermen are sealed inside their tomb once again.  "Now, that really is the end of the Cybermen, isn't it?" Jamie says.  "Yes, Jamie.  On the other hand, I never like to make predictions," says the man who declared "the final end" of the Daleks last story.

When The Tomb of the Cybermen was recovered in 1991, there was a sense of letdown once people could actually see the thing again, and they noted things like the ropey special effects (dummy Controller, obvious Kirby wires on Toberman, the polystyrene door the Controller bursts through) and the rather variable performances from the guest cast.  Prior to 1991, Tomb had been hailed as a perfect classic, so you can see how people were a bit disappointed when they could watch it themselves.  But the thing about The Tomb of the Cybermen is that it still hangs together quite well.  There are some moments of lesser quality, certainly, but no more than in any other Doctor Who story.  The lapses in story logic are a bit less forgivable, but again, no worse than, say, The Evil of the Daleks and its "mirrors + static electricity = working time machine" stuff.  The sense of dread and tension that pervades the serial makes this quite a standout story, and you can definitely see why it made such an impact on children at the time (these were, after all, the people who later enhanced Tomb's reputation to such a high degree).  Only in the last episode, where we're denied a climactic battle between the humans and all the Cybermen and have to be content with fighting off merely two of them, do things start to really disappoint.  Everything before is marvelously entertaining.

37 Toberman's upset by Kaftan's death, I mean, not her lousy acting -- although I guess we can't rule out the possibility that Roy Stewart is channeling his rage at her performance in his attack on the Cyber Controller.