Aired 2 – 23 September 1967
Originally thought to be another unfortunate victim of the BBC archives purge, ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ was miraculously found fully intact in Hong Kong in 1992. Facing the daunting task of following the truly epic and climactic ‘The Evil of the Daleks,’ ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ manages to continue the strong run, offering arguably the strongest Cybermen story of the classic era.
Weakened after the events of ‘The Tenth Planet’ and ‘The Moonbase,’ the Cybermen presented here are initially in a state of hibernation, having walled themselves away from the rest of the universe. The fascinating approach of bringing this iconic race back in such a critical condition, the Cyberleader’s claims changing from a statement of assured survival to a plea for continued survival, lends a true sense of despair to the Cybermen’s condition as they are so clearly on the brink of total extinction. Even their decision to return to the titular tombs to conserve energy is a harrowing final act on their part here that, despite their continued plans to dominate the galaxy, is tonally and visually completely different from the way any other villain has been presented up to this point.
Just as the Doctor crossed lines that took his character into a more morally ambiguous area in the previous serial, he continues his more manipulative means here as he steers events to culminate in another confrontation with the Cybermen. He knows from the beginning that there is danger and suggests that his companions return to the TARDIS to stay safe, but the Doctor subtly coerces Klieg by pleading for Klieg not to use the pertinent information he has just supplied him while otherwise silently observing and waiting for the most opportune moment to strike. Troughton never willingly draws attention to the character of the Doctor, but he imbues a sense of shrewd cunningness to the role that gives the impression that he is never out of his depth, and he proves once again that he is willing and able to take more dramatic steps to assure victory as he creates a sort of fatal trap for the Cybermen here.
Even though there are only small scenes in which this is brought to prominence, Troughton’s Doctor also displays a very compassionate and humane side as well that helps ground the otherwise rather fantastic events. The best example of this is, of course, when he simply asks Victoria if she is happy traveling with him, a poignant question that would seemingly be quite important to anyone aboard the TARDIS but also one that is rarely asked. This suggests a sort of bond between the orphaned girl and lonely traveler, a reminder of what both characters have gone through. Likewise, simply seeing the Doctor grasp Jamie’s hand is a small but important gesture that suggests a bit more of link to humanity than the First Doctor often showed. To him, traveling is a way of lessening the pain of loneliness as he runs from his own past, and he hopes that giving that same opportunity to his companions will bring them the same sort of happiness and, in a manner, peace. This is especially true for Victoria, but his genuine fondness for and comfort with Jamie on display here is far deeper than that with any previous human companion as well.
The story itself is wonderfully straightforward, putting clever spins on tried and trusted ideas. The argument can certainly be made that the serial suffers from slightly racist or politically incorrect undertones, but the characters themselves are all written well enough that they become quite believable, occasional bouts of foolish stubbornness aside. Similarly, the production values are extraordinarily high for the time, and the tombs themselves are a true wonder, and they really help bring to life this classic story of an iconic and powerful menace awakened by bumbling and ill-intentioned humans. Perhaps more than any Troughton episode up to this point, ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ perfectly encapsulates everything that works so well in the Second Doctor’s era.