Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen Review

First broadcast in September 1967, The Tomb of the Cybermen kicked off the fifth season of Doctor Who. As the Doctor (Patrick Troughton) had a new companion, Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling), this story begins straight after the end of the previous season’s closing story, The Evil of the Daleks. In a short scene, the Doctor and Jamie (Frazer Hines) show Victoria – whose inventor father had died in the previous story – around the TARDIS’s control room.

The story proper begins on the planet Telos. A team of Earth archaeologists are trying to locate the lost tombs of the Cybermen. With the help of the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria, they succeed. However, two of the party, Klieg (George Pastell) and Kaftan (Shirley Cooklin) have other plans: they intend to revive the Cybermen and use them as an invincible fighting force…but the Cybermen have ideas of their own.

In the early 1970s, with colour TV then firmly established, the BBC wiped a lot of its old black and white material, short-sightedly considering that there’d be no market for it. Many classic programmes were lost, individual episodes and entire stories of Doctor Who among them. The Troughton era suffered particularly badly: as I write (July 2002) only six stories out of twenty-one are held by the BBC in a complete form. For many years one such casualty was The Tomb of the Cybermen. It had a high reputation, while being impossible to see, until 1992 when a complete 16mm film copy was returned to the BBC by a TV station in Hong Kong. Finally, this story was available again…but did it live up to its reputation?

On the whole, yes. The story does have its share of creaky moments (and a couple of really dubious special effects) but it still holds the attention. It’s well directed by Morris Barry, who keeps up a good pace.The Cybermen, blank-faced and imposingly tall with voices (provided by Peter Hawkins) reminiscent of a speak-your-weight machine, still have the power to unnerve. Mary Whitehouse apparently complained about the fight between Toberman (Roy Stewart) and a Cyberman, which ends with a dismembered Cyberman spraying foam from its chest, though there’s little that will disturb children nowadays – or even then. There’s a lovely scene where the Doctor comforts Victoria, still mourning for her father, by telling her about his own family and how they live inside his mind. He can recall them when he wants to. This is a very early hint at the Doctor’s backstory, which would come much to the fore later on. (This scene, processed using the Restoration Team’s VidFIRE technique – which restores a “video look” to material like this, shot on video but restored from a film copy – appears as an Easter Egg, though if you didn’t know the above, you’d wonder what it was doing there. To find it, move your cursor along the row of pictures at the top of the main menu then back to the Doctor: a green circle should appear. The recent VHS release of Planet of Giants and the forthcoming DVD of The Aztecs, both featuring William Hartnell as the Doctor, have been fully VidFIREd.)

The Tomb of the Cybermen was shot in black and white, in a mixture of 16mm film and 405-line videotape. You’d never expect state of the art visual quality but thanks to some digital restoration (removing an apparent 16000 faults from the all-film copy that had been returned to the BBC) this DVD looks as good as it is ever likely to, given the limitations of the original material. The video-shot material (most of the interiors) inevitably looks a little fuzzy; the film material (the opening sequence and the exteriors) is more contrasty and not without grain. There are some dust specks and aliasing problems here and there, and a few scratches that were probably impossible to eradicate completely. But considering what it might have looked like (check out the restoration demonstration) it’s quite acceptable. As this was a TV programme from 1967, it was shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio, and that is the way it’s shown on this DVD.

The sound is the original mono, and as you’d expect, perfectly serviceable without being anything like reference quality. There are no difficulties hearing any of the dialogue. There are twenty-four chapter stops, six per episode with two being the credits sequences. Via the menu, you have a choice of watching this story in one go, or episode by episode. As usual for a BBC DVD, this disc is encoded for both Regions 2 and 4.

As we have come to expect from a Doctor Who DVD, this disc has a well thought out collection of extras, though not all of them will bear repeated viewing or listening. Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling provide the audio commentary. This, frankly, is a single-listen affair. There’s an obvious rapport – and much banter – between the two, but this is very anecdotal. If you’re expecting a more informative talk, which usually happens when the producer or director takes part, you won’t get it, but the information subtitle (why don’t more DVDs do this?) make up for this. Incidentally, on several occasions Hines chides Watling for giving away story details, so don’t listen to this commentary until after you’ve watched the story. There are also hard-of-hearing English subtitles for both the main feature and the commentary.

Other extras include a 3:05 introduction by the late Morris Barry, recorded for the 1992 video release, in which he talks about the casting of the Cybermen and the public reaction at the time. Barry also takes part in “Tombwatch”, a video recording of the panel discussion that took place at BAFTA after the showing of the newly-recovered film copy. This extra runs 28:43 and is a little self-congratulatory as you might expect, though it’s pleasant to watch the panel of cast and crew members looking back at the programme they’d made a quarter century before. There’s also a hint of sadness at those who were no longer alive, notably Troughton and writers Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis.

There are 3:25 of title sequence tests, which don’t seem especially different to the one finally used. (Another unused title sequence appears as an Easter Egg: highlight the Doctor Who logo on the main menu.) Late Night Line Up was a popular TV magazine show of the late 1960s: in this extract from 1967, which runs 2:52 and is in colour, Joan Bakewell talks to Jack Kine of the BBC’s Visual Effects Department. “The Final End” reconstructs the ending of (the lost) Episode 7 The Evil of the Daleks by means of extracts from “The Last Dalek”, an 8mm film shot on set, and the surviving soundtrack of the TV broadcast. This 1:19 scene, showing the destruction of the Daleks, is likely to make any Who fan wish for a TARDIS to take them back to 1967 so that they can watch the programme as it was broadcast – there’s a strong likelihood that we will never get to see it any other way. I’ve already mentioned the restoration demonstration, which runs 5:16 and compares scenes from the 1992 video master and the restored 2002 DVD master. The final extras are a stills gallery and another Easter Egg: go to the audio options menu and highlight the logo at the top. This is a 52-second audio-only trailer for the story which followed The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Abominable Snowmen. It seems like a radio spot, but it’s actually an off-air audio recording of a TV trailer.

When it’s more and more hard to find black and white material on mainstream TV channels – even UK Gold’s cycle of Doctor Who omnibus repeats starts with the Pertwee era – then DVD releases such as this, and similar enterprises such as the BFI’s Classic Television range, should be supported. Despite some dated aspects, The Tomb of the Cybermen is an adventure that’s certainly worthy of your attention, and the BBC have provided some worthwhile extras too.

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