13 December 2021: not really a review of Flux added.
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THE TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN
"Some things are better left undone."
Buy this Dr Who video: UK: no video available US
The Prodigal Video! Lost for decades, and the only surviving complete story from the Second Doctor's first two seasons. No wonder Tomb Of The Cybermen occupies a special place in Doctor Who fans' hearts. Cheer, rejoice, kill the fatted calf, etc etc.
Is it any good, though? Ah. That's another matter entirely.
There are certainly lots of good things about it. For its time, it looks amazing. The yet-another-quarry exterior scenes of Telos are impressively and convincingly alien: just the kind of place we'd pick to go into cold storage if we were Cybermen. The scenes of the Cybermen coming back to life and breaking through their clingwrap are nothing short of spectacular. (Don't worry if you were out making a cup of tea during the first one, because they give you plenty of chances to marvel at them again.) And in the first two episodes, as our heroes make their way deeper into the Cybertomb, the sense of dread and anticipation builds beautifully: you really get a feeling for just how scary these metal dudes are.
The trouble is, though, that all this good stuff is buried in a plot that makes no sense whatsoever. C'mon, admit it: it's rubbish. The most incompetent archeologists ever, plus assorted hangers-on, land on Telos intent on finding the Cybermen's tomb. Wait a minute. Stop right there. What are the Cybermen doing putting themselves in storage anyway? And how come everybody knows where to find them? And if the Cybermen are asleep, who the hell would want to wake them up?
Well, anyway. That's how it is, so on we go. After blowing up half the planet seemingly at random (a lunatic way of sniffing out an archeological site, if you ask us), they miraculously manage to uncover the tomb without damaging it and so cleanly that not a single pebble is left behind. OK, boys, out with the notebooks and the tiny brushes, yes? Um, no. Despite the lecture later on about not touching anything until it's all recorded, all our intrepid heroes want to do is get those pesky doors open. Now these are Cybermen, right? Therefore not nice people? Therefore you'd think anyone getting near them would exercise some caution? Never mind. Lured by the princely reward of £50, a minion strides fearlessly up and gets himself barbecued for his trouble.
Cue arrival of Doctor, who while spreading doom and woe about getting into the tomb makes it possible. And that's how he acts all the way through until they get in amongst the Cybermen. Now there are some who say that this is evidence of the Doctor's subtle and manipulative nature and of his alien and therefore ultimately unknowable motivation. We say that's a load of cobblers. It's blindingly obvious that the writers didn't give a stuff about motivation: all they cared about was shifting the plot forward. That this made the whole thing totally nonsensical didn't seem to worry them at all. After all, it's only a kids' programme. Sigh.
Meanwhile, back in the tomb: completely unfazed by the whiff of fried minion drifting in through the open doors, our scientists set about enthusiastically pressing every button in sight. Hence the death of Minion Two, shot while insisting on playing about with some obviously dangerous equipment. This, however, merely spurs on the others, who with the Doctor's help break into Cyberman Central and gleefully start warming them up. The surprise and fear the archaeologists show when the Cybermen come back to life and start throwing their weight around baffle us. These are Cybermen, for heaven's sake. What were they expecting? Kittens?
It's become clear by this point that, as we naturally have suspected all along, the foreigners are bad guys who are conspiring with each other to use the Cybermen's power for the purposes of ruling the world, becoming masters of the universe and all the other usual bad guy stuff. It's never clear, though, what relationship they have to each other: Klieg, the chief baddy, is a logician but if Kaftan (Kaftan!) is as well they never say so. Anyway, Klieg, with his magnificent powers of logic, suggests to the Cybermen that since he freed them they owe him one and should now help him rule the world, etc. Yeah, that's gonna work.
The Cybermen are unimpressed by Klieg's proposition. Instead, they taunt him, in a mechanical unemotional way of course, saying that in fact he's fallen into their clever trap. They'd designed their tomb so that only intelligent people would be able to break in and wake them up, after which the Cybermen would use the intelligent people for, er, something. We dread to think what it says about the human race if this lot are considered intelligent, but hey, they're geniuses compared to the Cybermen. After inexplicably burying themselves, they're relying on somebody finding them and reanimating them? Without a guard to make sure their visitors don't instead run them through the crusher? Without a way of getting out from the inside? Without an alarm clock? Dear oh dear.
Mucho panic and alarm as the Cybermen then bumble menacingly about, attempting in an exceedingly ham-fisted way to subdue their guests. But they're no match for the Power Of Running Away, and our dauntless crew manage to slam the hatch closed on their tin pals with a mere two of their number missing in action, something that takes them an unfeasibly long time to realise. (We love the way they ask "Is anyone missing?" after the hatch is closed.) You'd think that after going to so much trouble, the Cybermen would be pretty set on their plan to use the humans for whatever it was. But no. Deciding the humans must be destroyed, the Cybermen set Cybermats on them by remote control. Even more panic and alarm as the humans run about bouncing off the walls in terror, despite the fact that the Cybermats move at the speed of treacle and the humans could in any case just have run outside and shut the door. At this point, the chief archaeologist concludes that digging up Cybermen without sufficient reinforcements was a bad idea. Well, we could have told him that at the beginning. He wants to call the whole thing off, and by now we were with him all the way.
Klieg escapes the Cybermen by the skin of his teeth. Wouldn't you think he'd be put off? No chance. Despite this obviously being the stupidest plan ever, Mr Logical has not one but two more goes at bending the Cybermen to his will, with predictable results. After most of the Cybermen deciding to go back to bed, a lot of faffing about with guns and the death of the bad guys, eventually our heroes triumph. So they destroy all the dormant Cybermen to make sure none of this horror can ever happen again. Ha ha! Kidding! Nope, they just leave 'em there, snoozing like babies. Instead, in an amazingly unDoctorly act, the Doctor decides to wire the whole building so that anybody trying to get in will get terminally fried. Well, excuse us! Wasn't it the Cybermen who were supposed to be the evil ones?
And that, as Cartman would say, is why it's lame. None of the good parts can hope to stand up against the sheer weight of pointlessness that is the plot. It rips out the tension, it makes a mockery of character development and it renders what was a promising beginning irritating and dull.
What else? Well, there isn't much. We're not even going to mention the racism, because that's so self-evident it needs no comment. Ditto the sexism. Ditto the awful effects with the harness and the empty Cyberleader suit. Jamie's good, Victoria's utterly horrible, and the Doctor, while it's a nice performance from Pat Troughton, is struggling to make any sense against the plot. The supporting characters are a collection of some of the worst cliches ever, from ranting villain to evil temptress to panicked sidekick ("You'll kill us all!) to well 'ard rocket captain. On the other hand, we do quite like the Cybermen, who are so much more impressive here in their genuine lack of emotion than they became later.
Points for trying. But it could have been so much better.
MORAL: Let sleeping droids lie.
A HUSHED PAUSE
It's a very nice touch when the background music is abruptly turned off as the detonator knob is twisted.
HE CAN KICK SAND IN OUR FACES ANYTIME
That Toberman is some serious eye candy. Just thought we'd point that out.
NOT THAT THERE'S ANYTHING WRONG WITH IT
There's a lovely moment as the Doctor takes Jamie's hand to lead him into the tomb and Jamie indignantly flings it away.
AN ADOORING AUDIENCE
The others are overcome with admiration when the Doctor points out the two doors. Why didn't they see them? They're pretty bloody obvious!
I'M A DOCTOR, NOT A MATHEMATICIAN
When talking about his formula, the Doctor says "the sum of the integrers".
WHERE AM I SUPPOSED TO BE FROM AGAIN?
The Captain is in general hilariously unconvincing, but we do like his line "... especially with you insisting all over the place".
SEE HOW WE'RE NOT COMMENTING ON THE ANORAKS
"In case it gets cold at night, I brought these anoraks and some food." Huh? Are they going to smear it all over themselves as insulation?
THE POWER OF SUGGESTION
As Victoria goes for the hatch control, Kaftan pulls out a gun and tells her to stand back. Victoria stops immediately. Yet she didn't see the gun, and Kaftan barely, if at all, touches her back with it. Why does she stop?
YOU SURE DO SCREAM GOOD, VIC
Why in God's name does Victoria get back into the Cyberman-recharging thing just after she's been told not to? Why in God's name does she get the rocket crew when she doesn't know how to open the hatch, even though they're as clueless as her, instead of having a shot herself? Why in God's name does she keep telling the baddies useful information? Why in God's name does she leave the gun after subduing Kaftan? We hate this character.
QUIET. GENIUS AT WORK
"Why'd you close the hatch?" "Klieg must remain undisturbed." What? Why?
THE BOTTOM LINE
After the Cyberleader commands that the Cybermats be released, isn't it hilarious the way the camera zooms inexorably in on the Cyberarses? Or is that just us?
ON TO PLAN D
Klieg thinks he can subdue all those Cybermen with just one gun? Oh, please.
How come nobody seems to notice the Cybermats until they're right on them? They're squeaking like a flock of demented bats!
Why do the Cybermen have a weapon around that can destroy them?
THE STRONG SILENT TYPE
Why don't Kaftan et al notice when Toberman is returned to them that he's been taken over? It's not exactly subtle.
DAMN THESE CYBERSTEPS
When getting out of the hatch for the final time, Jamie slips and has to be caught.
GO FORWARD IN ALL YOUR BELIEFS
Victoria's Dead Dad scene with the Doctor is beautifully written and very touching. It's about the only time we liked her.
CAN'T CATCH ME
The Cybermen are supposed to be all scary and invincible, right? Well, they're not very invincible here. Toberman doesn't have much trouble with them. And the Cyberleader stumbles pathetically after the humans as if he's playing Blind Man's Buff.
WOULDN'T YOU LIKE TO KNOW
We know the Cybermen can't get out from the inside. So when the Cybermen were first buried, who shut the hatch and the doors?
Buy this Dr Who video: UK: no video available US