Sunday, 7 June 2009

Doctor Who: Tomb of the Cybermen

Part One

"Perhaps we don't want your help."

"That's just it- you so obviously do."

Good Lord- a story that exists in its entirety, the first since The War Machines- such luxury! And probably the first story for ages I've encountered in the marathon that I know very well indeed. That means I'm thinking about what I'm seeing, not absorbing new info, so this review might go on a bit more than usual! Although the fact we get 100% footage may have something to do with it too.

It's such a difference watching this story in context. We start on Skaro, of course, and Victoria is introduced to the TARDIS in a scene I once considered throwaway but is a wonderful little character scene after seeing The Evil of the Daleks- Victoria's father and Maxtible get a nice mention, and the Doctor compares his time machine to Maxtible's.

So, the Doctor's 450 years old. This is our first inkling that he's of any great age, and after the last story only the second confirmation that he's an alien.

We're just bombarded with goodness- Cyril Shaps, some awesome incidental music, and a particularly well-sketched group of characters, nicely introduced. The structure of the story is great from the start, and there's something cinematic about both the look and the style of storytelling.

The one thing that bothers me about this story is there pretty much from the start though; the big, strong, practically mute servant type, always spoken about and seldom spoken to even in front of him, played by a black actor. This is an archetype from an earlier, less enlightened age.

In a story with few laughs, I had to chuckle at the revelation that the Cybermen have "dynasties". And also raise an eyebrow that, in the 25th (?) century, the women have to stay behind while the men explore!

Jamie states of the dormant Cybermat that "It's as dead as a stone". In no way is it going to prove a threat later then...

There's a lot to praise in this episode, but I'm particularly enjoying the verbal sparring between the Doctor and Klieg, well scripted and well acted by both troughton and George Pastell. And the Doctor's manipulating Klieg even from the first episode, of which more later.

Part Two

"You belong to us. You shall be like us."

I love Viner, both the character and Cyril Shaps' general magnificence. A minor character plot-wise but he adds so much to the story by voicing the audience's fears. And whilst ostensibly a comic character in some ways you never actually laugh at him; you know his tragic fate is inevitable and you sense that so does he.

Parry is in no way the leader of this expedition- it's the Doctor and Klieg who are competing for the alpha male slot here and the winner's never in any doubt. The character dynamics are very well developed as the plot progresses.

Kit Pedler's influence is clear in the technical stuff on symbolic logic and general lack of howlers, but rather surprising the excellence in plot and characterisation must presumably come from Gerry Davis, who's not previously impressed me much.

Oh look, food pills! I love these charmingly 60s sci-fi tropes. And the Cybermen's awakening scene, again to that music, is one of my favourite dramatic telly moments ever. It's awesome.

Up until the last story, it seemed as though character development had been a thing of the past, of the days of David Whitaker and Dennis Spooner. And yet, for the second story in succession, the Doctor continues his development into a more manipulative figure. The Doctor admits he allowed Klieg leeway with the controls just to see what he would do- and as a result Viner is killed! Surely the Doctor is partly to blame for this? In fact, surely Jamie should be pulling him up on this, especially after what happened last story?

It's interesting seeing the ritual by which the Cybermen awaken their Controller. They may have no emotions, but they seem to have cultural practices of a sort.

Part Three

"We're not like you!"

"You will be."

Interestingly, this story is a battle between three manipulators: Klieg, the Cybermen and the Doctor (in ascending order). Klieg's own serious pretensions to control of the situation are punctured at the very start of the story, while the Cybermen reveal their motivation more fully than before: they attacked the moonbase as their machines had failed and their extinction was nearing. Desperate to survive, they fled to the tombs.

Once again the terrifying prospect of Cybernisation is raised, and once again a first wave of Cybermen is beaten back halfway through the story. For the first time in a Cyber story, though, we're not blatantly being fed the same plot as The Tenth Planet, or at least it's being done sufficiently differently. I won't be marking the story down for excessive similarity to The Tenth Planet as I did The Moonbase.

The Cybermats are actually quite scary, although why they're called that I have no idea.

George Pastell shows what a fantastic actor he is, convincingly looking scared as Klieg knocks for the others to open the hatch and let him out. At this point Klieg is no longer at all in control, being manipulated by Kaftan. But even she is worried by his erratic behaviour,

The chat about bereavement between the Doctor and Victoria is a wonderful little scene, once again all the more so for seeing the story in context.

Part Four

"Well, now I know you're mad. I just wanted to make sure."

The final cliffhanger, with Klieg the threat, is appropriate as by this point, with the Cybermen safely below, he's the only potential cause of further danger. The threats posed by the Cybermen throughout this episode are all caused by him. This episode centres around the psychological battle for dominance between the Doctor and Klieg, but not without some other nice touches. Victoria is clever to feed the paranoia of Kaftan and Klieg with talk of "the other weapon". And I notice in the Doctor's scene with Toberman he tells him the Cybermen want to control him and make him their slave; this Doctor's dislike of slavery and control is becoming a definite character trait by now, as much as his interventionism and the hiding of his razor-sharp intellect behind the clownish exterior.

The Doctor's never been so manipulative, though, and this is a fascinating trait to behold. Al throughout the final scene with Klieg, with a gun being pointed at him, the Doctor is always in full control as he goads Klieg for just long enough for the Cyberman to sneak up behind him.

Overall, superb. The pacing was masterful, with every scene having its part to play, as was the characterisation of both regulars and guest characters. And the Cybermen have never seemed so threatening. And most of all I'm fascinated by the development to the Doctor's character, played awesomely by Troughton. Best season opener since An Unearthly Child?

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