The Tomb of the Cybermen

Cover of Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen DVD release


  • 14 January 2002 (UK)
  • 6 August 2002 (US)




The Tomb of the Cybermen is an enormous leap forward in production values, captivating plotting, and characterisation above all previous Doctor Who stories. The plot's a bit silly, but the story is very entertaining.

The Tomb of the Cybermen - 4 episodes

Like The War Machines before it, The Tomb of the Cybermen is a bold leap forward in Doctor Who. From early in the first episode, the seemingly larger budget and improved production values are readily apparent: the setting ranges from a vast outdoor landscape to numerous chambers within the expansive, awe-inspiring, pristine, and futuristic cybermen edifice, and a lush soundtrack accompanies the action. Another major change is the approach to characterisation and plotting. In place of the "stagey", slow-burning and pensive approach of the William Hartnell years, the audience is treated to a fast-paced, danger-filled youthful adventure. The story is out-and-out fantasy, and the Doctor is now a playful, joking, genius troublemaker. These are a lot of changes, but they're mostly positive ones.

The story begins with the introduction of Victoria to the TARDIS. She is the newest addition to the crew, and we see Jamie and the Doctor welcome her in their respective ways. Although Tomb... wasn't the first serial to feature the second doctor, it it the first one to survive in its entirety. It was also the first serial of the show's fifth season. As such, the opening scene gives a excellent first introduction to the beheaviours and attitudes of the three principal characters. This seems to be a fortuitous boon.

The characters, especially the Doctor, are far less subdued than the typical Hartnell characters. They're less serious, more prone to arguing, and generally more dynamic. The Doctor and Jamie's fraternal relationship is clear from the start, and Jamie's desire to emulate and win praise from the Doctor is one of the character's defining and best features. Victoria comes across well as a wide-eyed traveller who wants to be taken seriously.

The archaeological team arrive at The Tomb of the Cybermen
The archaeological team arrive

The story really picks up with the introduction of the team of guest characters, who are on an archeological expidition on a foreign planet. This team, too, consists of dynamic characters with varied but distinct personalities who work together at a fast pace. The team uses explosives to reveal the entrance to a large structure inside a mountain and begin efforts to explore the facility. This kind of introduction of the main story, which follows guest characters first and only later adds the Doctor and his team, was similarly used in The Rescue and it serves to increase the audience's curiosity and suits the story well.

Around this time, the Doctor joins the story. He agrees to help the archeological team explore the Cybermen building, but the group discovers one trap after another, in an Indiana Jones-esque crusade. This is where the story really shines. The archeological team is composed of members with highly varied personalities: the diplomatic academic Parry, the serious financier, Kaftan, the manic and self-absorbed logician, Klieg, the trepidatious architect, Viner, and the amiable and cowboy-like American pilot, Hopper. They are joined by various assistants and crew. It's great fun watching the group get picked off by cybermen traps one-by-one, and some of the deaths are quite surprising. Since the crew is so diverse in behaviour, some drama is built on their divergent reactions upon realising the precariousness of their situation and the arguments that result.

Inside the cybermen edifice in The Tombs of the Cybermen
Inside the cybermen edifice

The more comic book action-adventure oriented approach of the serial has several significant consequences. It's far and away more enthralling than any Hartnell story, but sometimes the extraordinary energy with with the episodes are imbued and the constant danger borders on the absurd. The guest players are largely caricature stock characters played extraordinarily over the top. Some of Klieg's lines ("Finally, a boolean function of symbolic logic!") are delivered with an almost comedic vigour, while Viner ("Everything must be recorded!") and Jamie ("I don't want to take my eyes off it!") don't fare much better. The special effects are frequently laughable (cybermats, the sine waves used to indicate communication, melting/refreezing ice, effects involving bodies being thrown, etc.). And the music has a very strong presence, as do some of the sound effects (it seems that whenever the cybermen are alluded to, a prominent electronic/metallic vibrato effect is played). The use of motifs like this are ridiculously transparent and sometimes overdone. A more serious concern is the presence of apparently gross oversights in the plot. While the archaeological team is trapped on the planet and is forced to contend with the traps, the Doctor can leave at any time. He doesn't. Instead, he chooses to stay and help solve puzzles that expose himself, his companions, and the team to even greater danger. One might argue that he wants to prevent the team from letting the cybermen loose, but their demonstrated incompetence at reaching the cybermen makes such an idea implausible. A more serious problem is the cybermen: if their intent was the trap the team, why stow away frozen in a room with one entrance that the team can seal off from the outside? Logistically, this is not a good idea. There are some major problems with the plot. But the campy B-movie nature of the serial, with its uber-energetic acting, silly dialogue, sometimes poor effects, and cardboard characters in many ways makes viewing the story more enjoyable.

A few minor points: several sections of Cybermen dialogue are highly reminiscent of the famous Star Trek baddies, the Borg. Witness: "You belong to us. You shall be like us.", "To struggle is futile." Compare: "Resistance is futile. Your life, as it has been, is over. From this time forward, you will service us." Striking! Another issue is the character of Toberman. While casting a black actor to play the character of a servant is not outright racist, it is a questionable choice. Some of the worst moments in the episode come from the Doctor's patronising manner of speaking to Toberman, treating him like a child. These problems are a minor subtext, but they certainly distract from the story.

In the end, despite its flaws, the story is very entertaining on the whole and the Doctor comes across very strongly as an intelligent explorer who has a tendency to playfully meddle and always wind up in difficult situations. The plot suffers a bit in the second half, once the cybermen are introduced, as it devolves into strict action and the somewhat absurd motivations of the villains are revealed. The third episode of the serial, with its subplot involving the ridiculous cybermats, is particularly tedious. Though the story is still generally very entertaining in the latter half, its weaknesses and its contrast with the Hartnell stories are most apparent. There's really no pressing issues of morality for the Doctor to deal with (as in The Daleks, The Aztecs, and The Rescue). It's pure childish adventure. This makes the story more riveting than typical Hartnell fare, but it also strips it of a bit of weight. Given the young companions, the slasher nature of the episode, the Indiana Jones-like architectural exploration, complete with fatal traps, and the comic book qualities of the villains, The Tomb of the Cybermen seems more like Scooby Doo than prior Doctor Who. This approach has both positive and negative consequences, but the new Scooby Who certainly makes for a captivating change.


Special features

There aren't that many special features, but some of those that are present are good. The Tombwatch feature is definitely be the best of the bunch. In it, several actors and members of the production staff reflect on the serial. Especially informative among the panellists is director Morris Barry, who also appears in a separate feature to introduce to the story. The commentaries are a bit less informative, as they feature no moderator to guide the discussion. On the other hand the special feature describing the restoration of the serial is of interest. The restoration team did excellent work on this story, but the feature also shows that their changes to the scene of the cybermen returning to their tombs may have been a bit too severe.