Season Five. Some people call it the Monster Season. Some people call it the Base Under Siege Season. I call it the Make Or Break Season.
You’ll be pleased to hear that we didn’t watch any Doctor Who during our 12th wedding anniversary celebrations. Of course we didn’t. No, we watched an episode of Torchwood instead.
As Captain Jack Harness takes a break from saving the world to have a quick shag.
Sue: From the same franchise that brought you The Faceless Ones…
But that’s enough Torchwood. The very next day, I had something even more exciting to share with her.
Me: Look! A complete story! On DVD and everything! Our first complete adventure with Patrick Troughton! How exciting is that?
Sue: The last time I was this excited about an episode of Doctor Who was when you showed me that Matt Smith trailer just a few minutes ago.
Me: I’ll tell you a story about Matt Smith and The Tomb of the Cybermen a little later. I don’t want to prejudice you before we begin. Although having said that, many fans didn’t see this story until 1992 when the common consensus was -
Sue: I don’t care. This is going to be heaven compared to watching a bloody recon. And it’s only four parts as well. It doesn’t get any better than this. Hurry up and stick in on.
Sue: Look at all those massive knobs! It’s turned into Carry On… Doctor Who.
When we encounter an unlikely looking party of intrepid explorers stumbling around the planet Telos, Sue is immediately flummoxed.
Sue: They look like a bunch of beatniks. Are they on holiday or a team-building exercise? This one could be David Brent’s dad.
As soon as she claps eyes on Toberman, Sue lets out the type of sigh she usually reserves for casual racism and me not emptying the dishwasher.
Sue: It’s going to be Kemel all over again, isn’t it?
When the expedition detonates some impressive looking explosives, they reveal a large and mysterious structure in the cliff-face.
Sue: Oh look, they’ve discovered a bus shelter.
The doors to the tombs are electrified, as a poor grey-shirt discovers to his cost, and it’s left to the Doctor to disable the deadly booby-trap.
Sue: Hang on a minute. Why would the Doctor want to open the doors? They would probably give up and sod-off if he left them to it; it’s not as if he doesn’t know what’s in there. He’s practically encouraging them to enter a tomb full of Cybermen. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Hartnell would be halfway back the TARDIS by now.
She enjoys the lovely bit of business between Frazer and Patrick as they enter the tomb, but it’s slim pickings, as she continues to ruthlessly pick apart the episode’s premise.
Sue: I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark here and I’m going to guess that the two foreigners are the baddies. They may as well be carrying white cats under their arms. And they have a slave as well. In the future. How progressive.
As the explorers venture further into the Cyber-base, Victoria and Kaftan come across a huge machine that is pointed towards a Cyberman-shaped sarcophagus.
Sue: Is this the machine where the Cybermen spray themselves silver?
But it’s the decor of the tombs themselves that inevitably catch Sue’s eye.
Sue: The Cybermen are like Banksy – they just can’t stop tagging themselves. If it’s nailed down, they have to stencil it. These Cybermen have a bit of an ego, if you ask me.
Me: And a brilliant graphic designer.
Sue: I just don’t understand this at all. Why is the Doctor leading everyone to their doom? He should be warning them off, not encouraging them. There had better be a good explanation for his shiftiness in this story. Come to think of it, he was a bit of a sneaky bastard in the last story as well.
When Kaftan traps Victoria in the Cyber-sarcophagus (“Maybe it’s a tanning booth?”), we are treated to a walking nervous-wreck called Viner declaring that logic is the only answer to her predicament.
Sue: I don’t see anything logical about banging on the door and crying like a baby!
Meanwhile, Jamie and Haydon are fiddling with a giant screen saver, a magic eye paining and something out of The Ipcress File.
Sue: This is like The Prisoner. Brainwashing was very trendy in the 1960s, wasn’t it?
Sadly, the cliffhanger doesn’t elicit much joy either.
Sue: Oh, look – an anorexic Cyberman. What’s that all about?top
Haydon is dead (“That’s a shame. He was the only one I liked”), shot in the back by a huge gun that appeared when a Cyberman model slammed into view. And yet no one saw a damn thing.
Sue: Are they blind? They were looking straight at it at the end of the last episode! What is it with people’s peripheral vision in this programme? There were five people in that room, not counting the dead bloke. Someone must have seen something. I’m starting to lose my patience now.
And if that wasn’t bad enough…
Sue: Where the hell did they get this bloke from? He’s acting – if you can call it acting – in a completely different show. He’s more Ham Solo than Han Solo.
As the Doctor frets about the explorers gaining even more access to the tombs, as he surreptitiously helps them to do just that, Sue can’t contain her frustration any longer.
Sue: WHY DID YOU OPEN THE ****ING DOORS IN THE FIRST PLACE?
When we eventually reach the honeycombed vault that houses the inert Cybermen, Sue isn’t impressed.
Sue: There aren’t very many of them, are there? Six or seven, maybe? I was expecting hundreds, if not thousands.
Me: In 1967?
Sue: Fair enough. But seven?
Me: Just imagine this is one chamber and there are thousands of these hives just down that corridor over there.
Sue: OK. I can do that. Thanks.
When the Cybermen begin stirring to the unmistakable strains of their theme tune, the glorious ‘Space Adventures’, Sue is fascinated, impressed, and, finally, a bit bored.
Sue: This is quite good, I suppose, but it’s very slow. Has the director never heard of editing?
Meanwhile, upstairs, Victoria shoots down a cybermat with the precision and cool of Dirty Harry.
Sue: I like Victoria. She’s not half as soft as I thought she was going to be.
And then we reach the big reveal. But as the Cybermen release their leader, Sue just can’t help herself.
Sue: Is he sitting on the loo?
The Controller strides menacingly towards the humans.
Sue: What a dick head. He literally has a dick for a head. And why hasn’t he got an accordion?
This is one of my all-time favourite cliffhangers, and I am relieved when Sue finally stows away her sarcasm long enough to appreciate the power of those last few seconds.
Sue: That’s a nice cliffhanger. I didn’t understand half of what he just said, but the close-up was pretty scary.top
Sue: The Cybermens’ plan is a bit mad, isn’t it? Are they too ashamed to be rescued by idiots or something?
Me: They are out of luck if they are.
Sue: Or are they just really, really patient?
It’s not all bad news, though. Sue can’t get enough of Victoria, especially when she’s standing her ground.
Sue: I’m really starting to warm to Victoria. She’s very proactive. I like her nurse’s watch, too. It’s cute.
As the Controller threatens to turn his human captives into Cybermen, Sue feels compelled to have a pop at Star Trek.
Sue: You can see where the Borg get it from, can’t you? What a total rip-off.`
I’ll let somebody else handle that bit of trivia for me in the comments section below.
Sue: Why do Cybermen have wah-wah pedals installed in their throats? Seriously, what is that dreadful noise? What are they supposed to be saying as they waddle around the corridors? It’s bizarre. They sound like demented Donald Ducks.
When we reach the scene where the rope holding Toberman up manages to exude more screen presence than the actor it’s supposed to be supporting, Sue is damning.
Sue: Oh. My. God. That’s the worst effect in Doctor Who so far. Why did they keep that shot in the transmitted version? Surely they could have edited that better. That’s just incompetent.
Sue’s patience is pushed even further when Hopper returns with the news that their spaceship is the complete opposite of a deux ex machina.
Sue: I can’t take much more of this guy. He’s a bad actor with a bad accent in a bad part. Please tell me he dies horribly. Or at least let Jamie punch him in the face. He has a very punchable face.
She still doesn’t warm to him, even when he’s lobbing smoke grenades around.
Sue: It’s the direction that lets this down. The dialogue heavy scenes are fine – there are some nice touches here and there but it’s all very basic multi-camera stuff – but when it comes to the action sequences it’s a case of “let’s film the mayhem and hope for the best”. It doesn’t cut together at all.
Just as I’m starting to agree with her, the scene where the Cyberman pursues the Doctor out of the hatchway shuts the pair of us up.
Sue: And yet that was genuinely exciting. If you removed the ridiculous wah-wah effect.
The Cybermen respond by unleashing their secret weapon – the dreaded cybermats.
Sue: They look like those cuttlefish you feed to budgies. Either that or a dust-pan brush with fish-eyes stuck on the top, finished off with a nice felt fringe. It’s a bit freaky.
The Cybermen line up the cybermats, ready to unleash hell.
Sue: Are they going to have a race with their new toys?
Me: The build-up to getting these things started is almost as long as your average F1 Grand Prix race.
Sue: How long is it going to take these things to get up that ramp? We could be here for months.
When the Doctor and Victoria manage to share an intimate moment together in the calm before the storm, Sue is enthralled. When the scene finishes she quickly turns to me and smiles.
Sue: Awwwww. That was really sweet. Troughton’s great. I loved that.
But when a phalanx of cybermats move in for the kill, Sue struggles to take them seriously.
Sue: They’re not exactly facehuggers, are they? Although the principle is pretty much the same, I suppose, so maybe this was more influential than I originally gave it credit for. Oh, for pity’s sake – just kick them! A good hard kick into a wall should sort them out.
In fact, the cybermats are so ineffective, they don’t even figure in the cliffhanger. That honour goes to Klieg who supposedly shoots the Doctor dead with his cyber-gun.
Sue stifles a yawn.
Sue: So what’s this Matt Smith connection you alluded to earlier?
Me: Well, the story goes that Matt Smith was watching some old episodes before he started playing the Doctor, and when he was in the middle of this story he called Steven Moffat up in the middle of the night -
Sue: Was it to make sure that the people who wrote this story weren’t still involved with the programme?
Me: No, he loved it. He raved about it, I believe.
Sue: Well, nobody’s perfect. He should have watched The Faceless Ones instead.top
As Klieg makes his pact with the Cybermen, Sue can’t believe that he would trust them as far as Toberman could throw them.
Sue: I’d ask for something in writing, if I were him. Good grief, now he’s talking about arousing the Cybermen. How do you arouse a Cyberman? Oh, that reminds me, if they remade this story today, Krieg should be played by Armando Iannucci. I just thought I’d throw that in.
They even manage to spoil one of the few cathartic moments in the story, when Toberman throws what is clearly an empty suit around.
Sue: It’s like when The Goodies used to throw dummies of themselves off rooftops. Or was that Monty Python? Or maybe it was Benny Hill? It doesn’t matter. The director is out of his depth. There are lots of striking images in this story but it doesn’t hang together. I haven’t got a clue what the Cybermen are up to any more. It’s a bit of a mess, plot-wise.
But what really winds Sue up is the way the Doctor provokes Toberman into switching sides.
Sue: So it’s not OK to be a slave unless you’re a white man’s slave? I’m getting a bit irritated now.
But even when she’s at her lowest ebb, Sue can still be swept up by the occasional flash of brilliance. The scene where the Doctor sycophantly fawns over Krieg, just to confirm his insanity, is rightly singled out for praise.
Sue: It’s moments like that keep me going. I can definitely imagine Matt Smith doing something like that.
When Toberman finally reverts to doing what he does best – protecting the white man – Sue is too distracted by the Cyberman’s innards to kick up a fuss.
Sue: I didn’t know that the Cybermen were made of marshmallow.
And then the remaining Cybermen are sent back to their tombs to be frozen once again. In short, we are back where we started.
Sue: I can’t stop thinking about how it’s the Doctor who caused all this grief. It he hadn’t opened those doors in the first place, those people would still be alive. Especially the one who was quite nice in episode one. Is this a deliberate decision to make the character more dangerous and unpredictable, or are the writers just oblivious to the consequences of his actions?
As the Doctor blithely rigs the door to deliver a deadly electric shock to anybody who comes knocking, she believes she has her answer.
Sue: They should put a warning sign on the door at the very least. The next bunch of clueless beatniks will end up losing a crew member as well, now. He’s just not thinking this through. I am very disappointed with the Doctor in this one. He’s better than this.
There is one small crumb of satisfaction, though.
Sue: “When I say run, run” is a very funny catchphrase; I’ve noticed that he says it a lot. It’s a very odd thing for a hero to say, it’s the sort of thing you’d expect a coward to say. It’s very Doctor Who.
Before you can say ‘noble sacrifice’, it’s all over. Victoria finds some time to wind up Hopper, which Sue appreciates, and then it’s back to the TARDIS for tea and cakes. Probably.
Sue: I hope the Doctor can live with himself after all the misery he’s caused. Does Toberman come back as a Cybermen to take his revenge in another story? Does he team-up with the Cyber-rat and come after the Doctor? He bloody better had.top
The Final Score
Sue: I am really disappointed with that. It just didn’t do it for me. It was great to see it a moving story all the way through but the plot was terrible. Troughton was excellent, though. He’s making the whole thing worthwhile, even if I don’t approve of the way his character is being written. I can’t really fault him though, especially given the rubbish he’s given to work with.
Sue: It could have been a lot worse. It could have been six episodes. So what’s next?
Me: I won’t lie to you, Season Five is going to be tough. The toughest. Trust me, Season Six will be a walk in the park after this. Coming up next we have six six-part stories…
Sue: Oh, wonderful!
Me: And 27 of those 36 episodes don’t exist.
Sue: You’re joking?
Me: I only wish I was.
Sue: Remember when you climbed Mount Kilimanjaro? You did it in the dark because if you could see how high it really was you would give up before you even started? Well, you just turned on the lights for me. Thanks for that.
The experiment continues. Pray for us.top
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