|Despite the phallic design, the Cyber Controller adds an|
interesting face to the Cybermen.
Written between 27th and 28th September 2015
A question often arises when discussing The Tomb of the Cybermen - what makes this story so special? There are some who believe that the story's recovery in 1991 in its entirety was the miraculous reappearance of a bona fide classic, while others say that its reappearance is the only reason why people focus on it, and it's no different to any other Cyberman story from this era. There are elements of truth in both camps, as is often the case, and the reality is somewhere in the middle. It's true that Tomb has a great deal of similarities to the other Base-Under-Siege staples, but it also has a number of moments which raise it to another level.
|Kit Pedler's last story had a black astronaut, so this comes|
a little out of left-field.
The Cybermen here retain their design from The Moonbase, with a few extra additions made to their general lore. The Cybermen's use of refrigeration devices and their second home on Telos went on to become a key part of their mythology, as was the existence of the Cybermats (retired in Revenge and brought back in Closing Time), cute little creatures apparently capable of killing. Their threat here feels a lot more tangible than in the Moonbase, as they're present as a great evil locked away than as an outside invader. The harsh, cold architecture of the Tomb, coupled with the death traps and puzzles, do a lot to beef up the Cyber threat, and their desire to convert people is specifically pushed and discussed as the danger behind them. (Even if we won't see the Conversion process until the 1980s.)
Most episode guides classify this as a Base-Under-Siege story, and it's not hard to see why. The character archetypes of the tough leader, the voice-of-reason scientist and the traitor are all there, as is the claustrophobia that comes with fighting the Cybermen in such a small, inescapable space. However, I think that there is a major difference - whose base is under siege, here? Usually the Base-Under-Siege story features a group of humans minding their own business before being attacked, and yet this time these explorers have sought the Cybermen out to their base. The Control Rooms of the Snowcap and The Moonbase were fairly mix and match, but the central vestibule in this serial is cramped and metallic and more innately inhospitable than simply bland.
|There are some sweet moments with Victoria, and her|
screaming isn't grating... yet.
So, to answer my original question - what makes Tomb so memorable? It's certainly not some narrative masterpiece, and it's not very progressive with its characters, most of whom are either vaguely racist or are taken from previous Base-Under-Siege stories. But the story's setting, mythology, and expert sense of tension helps to sell a setup which without that would be rather menial. It is true that a lot of the focus on this story comes from its status as one of the seven complete Second Doctor stories, and one whose appearance seemed to arrive most miraculously, but that's almost incidental when you actually compare this episode to the stories that came before and after in this era. It doesn't just stand out, it shines. And that's why it's so cherished.
NEXT WEEK: A serial which now exists as 1/3rd actual episode and 2/3rds static images and dodgy CGI from 2010. It's The Wheel In Space.