Uncrypting 'Tomb of the Cybermen' starring Patrick Troughton as Doctor Who
by Tom Beck
Doctor Who fans around the world were
thrilled last winter by the news that the long-lost episode "Tomb of the
Cybermen" had been found in Hong Kong! CBS-Fox Video, the BBC's American
distributor, will release this classic episode in the United States on October 10 
along with several other interesting Doctor Who tapes. Starring Patrick Troughton as the
Second Doctor, "Tomb of the Cybermen" is a superior example of an early,
black-and-white Doctor Who story, though not quite deserving its classic
"Tomb" marked the third Dr. Who story to feature the Cybermen. Introduced in
the 1966 episode "The Tenth Planet," the Cybermen were at first lumbering,
cloth-swathed villains, inhabitants of a planetary twin to Earth. Long ago these creatures
had been like us; but through eons of replacing their failing organs with
electromechanical "cyber" analogs, they had become alien, without emotion, and
unable to reproduce. They possessed only the need to dominate and to make others like
themselves. In foiling their dastardly plot to conquer Earth, the Doctor so exhausted
himself that he triggered a "regeneration" (allowing Patrick Troughton to take
over the role of the Doctor from departing actor William Hartnell).
Having created a newly popular set of baddies, the BBC producers wasted no time in
bringing back the Cybermen. Troughton (as the second Doctor) faced them in his fourth full
story, "The Moonbase," which aired in March 1967. But instead of lumbering,
cloth-swathed villains, this time the Cybermen were lumbering, metal-clad villains.
Despite such changes, the Doctor still managed to defeat them. The following September,
the BBC premiered the fifth season of Doctor Who with "Tomb of the
Doctor Who has always had a substantial affection for its own mythology. More
than once, the producers have attempted to create a sense the Doctor Who is more
than just a series. Although implemented haphazardly, the cumulative effect of their
efforts over 26 years os stories has yielded a "universal history" a
timeline binding together diverse events over the entire existence of time. "Tomb of
the Cybermen" is part of that mythos.
Set centuries after the Cybermen have disappeared from human history, "Tomb"
opens in an isolated valley on a desolate planet. An archaeological expedition is seeking
the fabled final resting place of the former enemies of mankind, the Cybermen. In this
era, the Cybermen are beings of legend, larger than life (both in metaphor and actuality).
What follows, unfortunately, is a stock adventure. Once the expedition leaves the
expanses of the barren valley and breaks into the Cybermen's mountain crypt, the story
becomes limited and claustrophobic. The characters are figures of cliche: the upright
leader, the mad scientist, the enigmatic and evil Arab, her gigantic, almost speechless
black servant, the dashing American pilot ... you've seen them in a dozen B movies. Only
the Doctor and companions (Jamie and Victoria) are novel additions ... along with the
Tall, ruthless and clever, the Cybermen have an insatiable drive to conquer. They are
emotionless. They have no strengths beyond their physicality, no natural allies, no call
on our pity, nothing to stand for but their own needs and will. In the end, they defeat
The Cybermen were created by Doctor Who script editor Gerry Davis and his
scientific consultant Dr. Kit Pedler. Pedler, an eye surgeon, was interested in exploring
what might happen to humans if they developed artificial body parts: at what point, having
replaced your natural organs, do you cease being human? The Cybermen were his cautionary
tale, in one of the best traditions of science fiction: If this goes on ...
Unfortunately, Gerry Davis died on August 31, 1991, before hearing of the rediscovery
of his work. The release of "Tomb of the Cybermen" is a fitting tribute to his
I enjoyed "Tomb of the Cybermen" for its archival value, for its contribution
to the Cybermyth and for Patrick Troughton's performance. But it is not a classic
"Who" episode, not compared to "The Mind Robber" or "The
Invasion." The philosophy presented in "Tomb of the Cybermen" is standard Doctor
Who fare: the mad scientist hoist on his own petard. It is rather sexist in parts,
especially the way the American pilot treats Victoria (the Doctor's companion). The
episode's claustrophobic atmosphere is probably due to budget constraints. This is a
constant problem with Doctor Who, and one most fans will gladly forgive. But I
still wish for more scenes like the evocative opening. A more serious problem is with the
Cybermen themselves. Fans who have seen only later episodes will find these early Cybermen
almost impossible to understand.
Fans should not expect to see a perfect episode. However, they will doscover in the
"lost" episode a most enjoyable show.
A few points for video collectors unsure whether to invest in "Tomb of the
Cybermen." It is oneof only six complete surviving Patrick Troughton episodes. It is
also the only full episode with companion Victoria Waterfield; all her others are lost.
Finally, "Tomb of the Cybermen" is an important part of "Doctor
Who" history, making a powerful contribution to the Cybermyth. Plus, "Tomb"
contains the famous scene (much repeated in later episodes) of the Cybermen breaking out
of their frozen catacombs.
CBS-Fox Video is also releasing "Shada," [available in VHS] the never-complete episode
scripted by Douglas Adams (author of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book). This
episode of the fourth Doctor was to have completed Season 17 back in 1979-80, but a BBC
strike halted production.
For Cybermen fans, another "lost" episode, "The Invasion," [availabe
in VHS] is due out in
Britain next February. Parts one and four of this eight-part episode are missing, but BBC
Video plans to have veteran "Who" actor Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier
Lethbridge-Stewart) narrate the missing action.
Additional "Who" tapes being released in October are "The Caves of Andrazoni," the final
episode of Peter davison as the Fifth Doctor; and "The Pertwee Years," [available
in VHS] a compilation of
episodes of the Third Doctor.