BBC Video // 1967 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // March 13th, 2012
"Perhaps the Cybermen aren't quite as dormant as you imagine." -- The Doctor
In 1967, there weren't endless reruns, DVD box sets, or Hulu catch-ups. The production team on Doctor Who decided they had to reintroduce Deborah Watling's character of Victoria, who'd hopped on the TARDIS late in the previous season, for the first episode back in September. It's a good thing, too. Until someone actually invents a TARDIS, you won't be able to see any other complete Doctor Who serials with Watling. Full Patrick Troughton serials are rare as well.
Thus, the discovery of "The Tomb of the Cybermen" in 1992 could rank up there with the uncovering of King Tut's tomb, a story which inspired this Doctor Who adventure. In the commentary, it's proudly noted that Matt Smith, who sampled the classic Doctors to prep for the role, called this story arc his favorite.
Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen (Special Edition) isn't on DVD for the first time. However, it's been spruced up with something called VIDfire, which makes it look more like the original video broadcast (with less snow, of course).
The Doctor (Patrick Troughton, Edward and Mrs. Simpson) and his companions, Victoria (Deborah Watling, Invisible Man) and Jamie (Frazer Hines, X: The Unknown), land on Telos just as an expedition is failing to open a strange door. The Doctor helps, which puts everyone in danger, since they've now entered...the Tomb of the Cybermen. The frozen Cybermen thaw out and want the humans to join them in cyberness.
One of the things I've noticed about the earlier Doctor Who episodes on DVD is that the actors seem to consider their episodes rather scary. Frazer Hines asserts that black-and-white video is more effective than later episodes. I'd agree, but that's because the production aims for an eerie mood, using lots of shadows -- even those accidental microphone shadows look planned here -- and sinister music. The production team went to an extra effort on one big effect: the emergence of the Cybermen from their frozen Tomb; it's not perfect -- I didn't need commentaries and featurettes to point out that the monsters are escaping "cling wrap" -- but I could see they were trying. The picture is occasionally grainy, but it's mostly clear and sharp; I didn't see the earlier release, but there's probably an improvement.
Patrick Troughton's performance is fairly straightforward as the Doctor walks into a strange situation and takes command. The Doctor himself points out that he's quiet and observant, and he is, for the most part; there's little of the banter that his counterparts deliver on Doctor Who today. When he does make a sarcastic remark, it sounds more like a Ben Franklin maxim than a gag line. "The Tomb of the Cybermen", like many Doctor Who serials, concentrates on the story, so you don't see as much of Troughton's personality in the role, but one of the more interesting scenes has the Doctor describing to Victoria how his 450-year-old's memory works. Troughton softens as the Doctor offers a glimpse of himself to his companion. With his voice and expression, he shows hints of the solitary being that viewers of the current Doctor Who know.
As with other Doctor Who releases, there are a lot of extras. Two commentaries are featured: the Frazer Hines/Deborah Watling conversation from the first release, and a mass discussion which brings in story editor Victor Pembleton, and actors Bernard Holley, Shirley Cooklin, and Reg Whitehead (the first Cyberman) to join Hines and Watling. They're all happily surprised by the revived interest in their version of Doctor Who as they cheerfully discuss the phenomenon. The later commentary includes more fun tidbits, such as the story of the Cyberman, Hans de Vries, who could have been James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
The info text gives details on just about all aspects of "The Tomb of the Cybermen," including the original TV listings lines and ratings. My favorite part was a listing of the stock music used. A few weeks ago, I listened to a BBC radio documentary on light music, a genre which was disappearing fast in 1967; this story offers some fine examples, and you can learn about "Space Adventure," "Panic in the Streets," and "Telergic," among others. Another goodie notes that the Doctor's notebook (paper, not i- or e-) is called a "500-year diary" elsewhere in early Doctor Who.
Strangest among the extras is the Sky Ray frozen treat ad campaign. There's a TV spot on the DVD, and you can pop it into your DVD-ROM drive to find more Sky Ray goodies, including a Dalek attack story featured on thirty-six collectible cards. Since Sky Ray ads had their own characters and mythology, it's an odd sort of crossover that doesn't really feel like the TV series. I'd rather Sky Ray had gone more intensely into Doctor Who, maybe even with a TARDIS-shaped frozen treat. Still, it's an interesting bonus.
Other features include an intro by director Morris Barry; some alternate versions from the vault of the Patrick Troughton titles (so you can quibble about whether the show would have made it to the States with a better typeface); a Late Night Line-Up segment on visual effects which includes some whimsical footage of Cybermats; "The Final End," which approximates the battle scene in the lost "The Evil of the Daleks"; "The Lost Giants: The Making of Tomb of the Cybermen"; "The Curse of the Cybermen's Tomb," which includes the real history of King Tut's tomb; "Cybermen Extended Edition," Matthew Sweet's comic look at Cybermen history, which shows how the monsters evolved through their first few appearances and points out that the current Doctor Who has revised these monsters' background; a look at VIDfire, and a photo gallery. This time around, I found the Easter Egg, a CGI tour of the Tomb of the Cybermen; the button is on the top left on the first special features screen on Disc 2.
While much of Doctor Who's early years are lost, what I've seen of the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton eras suggests that the show was gradually evolving. Some viewers will want to snap it up to see Troughton in action, while others will want to hunt down favorites or serials they missed from the later Doctors. That's up to you; there's a lot of Doctor Who available on DVD. I'd also caution that, while "The Tomb of the Cybermen" wouldn't scare anyone over the age of ten, the eerieness might be a little much for some kids, and there's not as much humor to lighten things up; this might not be the one to introduce classic Doctor Who to your little ones with.
Doctor Who was a cheap show in 1967. The budget for "The Tomb of the Cybermen" was cited as 22,536 pounds. I did some math based on a currency conversion elsewhere in the info text; the roughly equivalent task today would be filming a feature-length science-fiction movie for a little under $500,000. The wires that pop up in a fight scene aren't that surprising if you consider that.
If you're a fan of both Doctor Who and The Avengers (at least enough to catch the implied analogy when the Doctor calls his companion "Mrs. Pond"), you may be interested in a TV history quirk pointed out in the info text: this Doctor Who Cybermen adventure and "Return of the Cybernauts" on The Avengers hit British screens fairly close together in 1967. There's another accidental tie-in: Peter Cushing, the "Cybernauts" villain, played the time traveler in two movies. Of course, if you're a fan of both shows, that analogy and TV trivia bit might inspire a hope that when Matt Smith and Karen Gillan move on, it's to battle Cybernauts.
As with other BBC releases of classic serials, Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen (Special Edition) is a strong release, with loving episode preservation, and lots of goodies for fans of the series. It's also a rare peek at a Doctor whose adventures are almost lost. I invariably dread upgrades, but if you have an earlier release and you're already considering one, I don't see any red flags. If you're not a Doctor Who fan, consider how you'd feel about a Saturday matinee cliffhanger.
Not guilty. Mark it in your 500-year diary.
Review content copyright © 2012 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery
* Easter Egg
* Official Site