Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Ice Warriors

It seems strange that the nemesis in both this, and the last entry, have recently been given a revisit in the new series; whilst The Abominable Snowmen may not have returned per se, the Great Intelligence certainly has, appearing in The Snowmen (which is only one word away from being an identical title), The Bells of Saint John and the incredible season finale, The Name of the Doctor.  The 50th anniversary is due to reintroduce the fan favourite, the Zygons.  Meanwhile, elsewhere in Season 7b, Cold War saw the return of one of the most popular races in Doctor Who, the Ice Warriors.  Doctor Who’s love/hate relationship with the creatures from Mars began here, in November 1967, in The Ice Warriors.

The Ice Warriors is one of those rare serials which open with its own unique opening credits; here, the name of the serial fills the entire screen, and creepy incidental music accompanies these opening title cards.  The music is reminiscent of early Star Trek incidental music, in fact, and is typical Dudley Simpson, with jarring sound effects clashing with some orchestral majesty.  It’s a lovely piece.  Also unique about this serial is the loss of the word “episode” or “part” – instead, the number simply looms across the screen. 

The opening scenes are wonderful too – there is an interesting juxtaposition of old and new, as the Victorian decorations and architecture are home to enormous computer banks and ultra-modern costumed characters.  In contrast to his futuristic costume, Peter Barkworth is magnificent as Leader Clent from his first appearance, hobbling around the room and barking orders.  Sadly less impressive is Roy Skelton’s voice work as the computer – later named ECCO in the novelisation – as it mumbles robotic nonsense in a barely audible manner reminiscent of WOTAN or countless other computers in Doctor Who. 

The discovery of the Ice Warrior, Varga, is magnificent – seen through the fantastic set design, shimmering and imposing, he looks wonderful.  There is a slightly ropey moment where a mixture of stock footage and live action are merged and it becomes unclear what is happening where, but ultimately it is a pleasing scene, and the quality of the direction of the live performances is unquestionable – Derek Martinus is always capable of creating a sense of wonder in his serials, and this is no different.  As with his work on The Tenth Planet, the scenes outdoors are some of the best, and it helps to create an impressive sense of scale.

The eventual arrival of the TARDIS, some ten minutes into the episode, is a wonderful moment of physical comedy for Troughton, Hines and Watling, as they are forced to climb the vertical floor of the TARDIS and out, over the ledge.  The scenes in which they enter the base are similarly very humorous, as the crew are mistaken for scavengers.  The scenes which follow, with the Doctor following Clent around the room unnoticed by the scientists, and then interfering and saving the day, are brilliant, and Troughton is back on his comedic form, playing the wise-cracking clown to Clent’s uptight scientist.  I simply adored his line that “Nobody’s perfect”, and again we see Troughton thoroughly enjoying himself.  After such a serious serial before this, it is refreshing to see Troughton bounce back.

The scenes in the main Ioniser control room are filled with techno-babble, but there are some absolute gems in the script too – Clent’s line that “suddenly, one year there was no Spring” is haunting and evocative, and drives the point home in a direct manner.  After this, we have something of an info-dump, as the back story of Penley’s leaving the project is explained.  Clent’s response to the mention of Penley’s name earlier was wonderful – he is all gruff bravado on the surface – but his mention here of the name is more reverential, and he clearly sees the Doctor as a potential replacement.  Although he doesn’t like computers, Troughton’s Doctor is evidently a scientific genius, and even Clent has to acknowledge his abilities.  It’s been quite some time since Troughton was so commanding in the role.

The cliffhanger, and its subsequent resolution in the following episode, is rather spectacular, as Varga is gradually being revived thanks to the low current running through the ice and his casing.  Whilst he thaws out behind a curtain, things seem to be getting steamy in front too, and Hines is on top form as he discusses the scantily-clad female scientists and suggests that Victoria could pull off a similar look; Victoria’s disgust is palpable, and is a nice little reminder that she is as out of her own time as Jamie, and those Victorian principles evidently die hard.  It is the first sure sign that there is something passing for a libido within the TARDIS, and whilst Victoria may be too stuffy and uptight to respond, within the next few stories we’ll be meeting a scientist named Zoe who is precisely the kind of responsive flirt Jamie evidently needs.

Episode 2 also seems to see the death of the Victoria character we knew.  I’ve mentioned in my last few blogs how surprised I am by the vigour and drive with which Watling’s character responds to situations.  Whilst she may scream from time to time, she was nowhere near as unbearable as I seemed to remember, instead seeming proactive and looking for trouble.  This seems to be the precise moment at which things change, though; she goes from go-getter and thrill-seeker to whining, screaming girly girl seemingly overnight.  Whilst episodes 2 and 3 are missing, with the audio track, narrated by Fraser Hines, and the opening moments of episode 2 sees Victoria scream “Jamie!” desperately, before she “collapses in a dead faint.”  From this moment on, there seems to have been an irrevocable change in her, and she’ll never be the same again. 

I’m watching the newly released DVD of this serial, which actually has the episodes animated in the stead of the usual linking narration, but rather than focus on the animation, I’m watching the two in sync, so rather than focus on the sterling animation created by Qurios Entertainment, I focus on the serial itself, and what Martinus seems to pull off using the resources of the time, instead of what we’re able to see thanks to the animation.

Clent’s reliance upon technology is contrasted with the lifestyle of Storr and Penley, and Hayles is clearly trying to send us a message that technology is responsible for everything bad happening to the world; the message, however, is undermined somewhat by Storr as a character.  Angus Lennie must be the campest savage ever, and the conversation about a “whatdoyacallit – a tomato?” is painfully contrived.  Meanwhile, Hayles is similarly criticising the militant minded, and this is more successful – as Varga, Bernard Bresslaw is magnificent with his rasping tones and his staccato laugh.  Where the character shows his flaws is in his paranoia – whilst he is off with Victoria, he shows that he is too capable of fear, as he plots in a measured and calculated way the downfall of the humans, simply because he is concerned for the safety of his people.

Of course, this is the point of the Ice Warriors; they are a fascinating race precisely for all of these intricacies.  After this serial, though, they become far more interesting, showing different levels of a hierarchy, represented through their caste system.  When we next meet them, they are trying to conquer the Earth from the moon using a fungus sent via the Trans-mat system in The Seeds of Death.   Opposite Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, they appear in the two Peladon stories, representing ideas of peace, representing the Galactic Federation.

Episode 3, whilst still missing from the archives, is where the story begins to slip for me.  Whilst the whole thing sounds magnificent, and the linking narration from Hines helps to sell it too, I can’t help but feel that it’s all show, and no meat behind the story.  It begins to feel like, 3 episodes in, nothing has actually happened yet.  The entire plot seems to surround two groups of characters doing what they are doing for no reason other than fear.  And whilst that usually wouldn’t bother me, here it frustrates me terribly, as ultimately the entire serial is a complete run-around, with no serious danger to anyone.  But more on that later...

There are some lovely little moments, including the scene between Peter Sallis’ Penley and Wendy Gifford’s Miss Garrett.  Ultimately, this scene is a waste of time, as it achieves nothing, yet still it is played wonderfully, and the exposition allows the characters some growth.  It does frustrate me how stubborn and narrow-minded Penley is, though.  Miss Garrett pleads with him to return with her to save the day, yet he point-blank refuses to.  Never mind that the world is at stake; it seems he is doing it just to stick two fingers up at the establishment... or namely, Clent. 

Similarly brilliant is the scene between Jamie and Arden and the Ice Warriors who mercilessly gun them down.  Clent’s resistance to send them off – because of the enormous workload Penley is still refusing to help with! – saw Jamie volunteer himself to save the damsel in distress.  That they should get so close, but then seemingly fall at the final hurdle, is horrific, and one can only imagine how children would have reacted to it when it first aired.  It sounds horrifically brutal, and even though Arden hasn’t been the most likable character – he’s single-handedly responsible for the return of the Ice Warriors and at least one fatality due to his negligence on the ice cap, let us not forget – it is still tragic that he gave his life up to try and redeem himself, and save the world.  Jamie is saved by Penley, who takes him back to his hideout, much to the chagrin of Storr.  Again, Lennie and Sallis sell the scene like a bickering old gay couple, and it is intolerable.  As Storr mutters “Ach, I don’t trust anyone from that base”, we are reminded of the two polar extremes seen here, between the extreme faith in science of Clent and the extreme disdain held for it by Storr.  Both are stubborn and pig-headed, and neither is right – which lends some depth, at least, to their characterisation.

Troughton doesn’t seem to have a great deal to do in this episode, still pottering about doing research and arguing with Clent about his reliance upon computers.  The scene when Victoria finally makes contact with them again, and Clent is too concerned about the ship to care about Arden and Jamie’s death, is rather unnerving; he seems to dismiss their deaths rather brusquely, although it certainly sounds like there’s at least a slight degree of remorse there.  Regardless, his cries of “Keep calm, girl!  We want facts!” seems rather tactless.

Episode 4 is, thankfully, still in the archives, and after two episodes of almost nothing happening, it is refreshing that we can focus once more on what we can see.  Not that the plot is really up to much; this is a typical fourth episode where nothing really happens.  Victoria finally escapes, but is captured again by the end.  Storr plans on selling out the human race to the Ice Warriors, but is killed for his trouble.  The Doctor says that he is going to go and see the Ice Warriors... and goes to see the Ice Warriors.  There’s never really a sense of urgency in episodes like this, despite Clent and Garrett, back at the base, who are clearly terrified by the graphic of lumps moving towards a U-shape building, presumably the base and the Ioniser. 

The opening of the episode is equally dissatisfying; the cliffhanger was needless in the last episode, since no sooner do they pull out the sonic weapon, they then re-sheath it, deciding instead to let Victoria tell the Doctor and co even more.  Not that Victoria is really of any use in this episode either; instead, she simply stumbles around in the worst attempt at a break-out ever, and screams shrilly enough to cause an avalanche, burying the equally inept Ice Warrior that was stumbling after her. 

There is a lovely and touching scene, between Clent and the Doctor, when the Doctor announces that he is going to leave the base to become captured by the Ice Warriors – Clent has not seemed so human at any point, and between this speech – “I’ve come to regard you as Penley’s replacement” – and the scene at the end when he gulps back “I’m pinning all my hopes on the Doctor” as he realises that it is potentially too dangerous to use the Ioniser, he really wins the audience over.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to a key word in that last sentence – potentially.  Everything seems to be on hold because the Ice Warriors ship might have a nuclear reactor, and as such the Ioniser might react and destroy the base, and with it the hopes for the future of Earth.  But after 4 episodes, we need to see something more than a group of people worrying about what might or might not potentially happen if something does or doesn’t happen.  Whilst there are some lovely character moments, this serial is one where it is simply 2 episodes too long.  Hell, this could’ve been a 2-parter with some major exposition cuts, yet still have been a tense affair with a little padding. 

Storr finally gets his comeuppance, and it didn’t happen a moment too soon; the guy’s bullish technophobia was enough to drive me mad, and the moment he informs Penley that he is planning to “befriend the aliens” I was practically screaming at my TV willing someone to kill him.  As Penley attempts to persuade him that they need to head back to the base, he turns his back on him and mutters “you’re trying to trap me!” and with that the paranoid, delusional fool abandons his – possible – lover and stalks towards certain death, his filthy hair blowing in the wind.

The direction, however, is wonderful, and Martinus actually makes me want to like this.  Ultimately, though, it is Hayles’ script that falls a little short.  The scenes where the Doctor is framed through the ice, a wobbly silhouette discovered by Penley, is magnificent.  Likewise, the sets are excellent.  The cliffhanger is something of a damp squib, though, as the Doctor is trapped within an airlock until he tells the Ice Warriors his name, simply down to pure stubbornness.  As the titles for episode 5 roll, we are forced to relive this bland sequence all over again.  Varga gives the Doctor 10 seconds to answer his questions, but then, rather than asking any questions, he begins to count down, before the Doctor... simply gives in. 

There are some wonderful little titbits of dialogue throughout this serial, mostly either delivered by, or aimed at, Troughton – and the moment that Varga determines that the Doctor cannot really be a scientist because “you look more like a scavenger” got a genuine giggle out of me.  So, too, did the moment that the Doctor finally comes face-to-face with the Ice Warriors in their defrosted glory; his double-take, before attempting to escape, really brings home the shock of these creatures, and their wonderful (for the most part) design.  The casting of such giants (again, for the most part) as the Ice Warriors to appear opposite intentionally short actors as the humans of the base is all well and good, but here it is even more striking, as the 2nd Doctor’s diminutive frame is overshadowed by the Martian monsters.  As a note, I say for the most part since Turoc, played by the usually imposing-looking Sonny Caldinez (of The Evil of the Daleks) looks rather squat in comparison with the others, dumpy and lumbering in comparison to the gargantuan appearance of Bresslaw and co. 

The scenes between Penley and Jamie are likewise rather lovely, and the fondness with which Penley speaks of Storr is very touching.  That said, this does seem like something of a wasted serial for Frazer Hines as Jamie – all told, he’s barely spent half an episode in the 5 that have gone before stood upright.  He comes across as brash and courageous, but ultimately is simply laid there either unconscious or paralysed for a great amount of time.  The intercutting of stock footage works to an arguable degree – whilst I’m sure a grizzly bear, in the wild, would be a threatening and imposing image, the stock footage of a baby bear is hardly bone-chilling, and there is very little tension in the scene in which it charges at Penley and Jamie, armed only with a tranquiliser gun.

The scenes in the Brittanicus Base are great here, too.  Too easily could Clent have been drawn like one of the typical Base-Under-Siege managers, like Hobson in The Moonbase and Robson will in Fury From The Deep.  Ultimately, the downside to such formulaic stories is that we essentially end up with a stock-supply of one-dimensional caricatures, and the manager/leader/boss is inevitably a shouty, stubborn man who distrusts the Doctor despite evidence to support what he is saying.  Here, though, Hayles writes Clent’s wonderfully, and Barkworth mines the character for all he can.  The scene in which he criticises the computer’s self-preservation is wonderfully underplayed, and likewise his ‘banter’ with the other staff, and they way in which he draws himself up after being put down by one of his employees, is spot on.

The most electrifying moments come between Clent and Penley – finally back together again.  The tension is palpable, and the way in which he confides in Miss Garrett is really rather touching, gulping hard as he admits that, if he tries to pull anything, he will have to do the inevitable and prevent him.  When Penley finally arrives, the bluster and bravado is explosive, and whilst Penley’s references to Clent being more a machine than a man have become tiresome, seeing Barkworth’s responses to this insult are magnificent.

The final scene of the episode, with Troughton trying desperately to remove the lid from the stink-bomb is very funny, and Victoria’s attempts at distraction are equally ridiculous.  The final image, of the blinded Martian hitting the controls for the sonic weapon despite the best efforts of the Doctor and Victoria is a genuinely rather nail-biting moment, and by far the most satisfying cliffhanger of the serial.  Of course, the attack was merely a warning shot, and did no major damage in the opening of part 6, as the Ice Warriors finally arrive in the base and discuss their “needs” with Clent and his staff.  The moment when they shoot down Walters with their sonic weapons still gives me goose bumps, although that is principally because I simply love the special effect used, the warping whining screen and accompanying noise are magical.

As the Doctor and Victoria rush against time to find a way to stop the Ice Warriors, the Doctor’s throwaway line that “there is a vague risk that it might kill everybody” is delivered with a wonderful deadpan by Troughton – and Victoria’s response of “Jamie?!” is a lovely moment showing the bond between the TARDIS crew.  Following the sonic attack aimed primarily at the Martians, Victoria, off-screen, is sent back to the TARDIS to wait the final showdown out.  This is comforting; here we have Troughton taking a back seat to the story, and the touch of realism here is wonderful.  Whilst we’ve had a number of serials where the Doctor and crew have been in the right place at the right time to avert disaster, here he is too far away to help, and has to place the fates of everyone into the very human hands of Penley and Clent.

Ultimately, this is a story about man v nature, and the role therein of science, and as such it is refreshing, then, that really the Ice Warriors have nothing to do with the climax either.  It is simply Clent, Garrett and Penley, and the Ioniser.  It is also telling that it is Penley – the only one who showed the courage to walk away from science – who stands up to the computer and, in doing so, saves the day.  While Clent was busy posturing, trying to justify his value to the Ice Warriors, it was Penley being the realist who knew what had to be done.  The final death of the computer is something of a damp squib, bawling like a spoilt child and making that damned awful racket as it does so. 

The serial ends, however, with one the most anticlimactic moments of Doctor Who history, as it is declared that it was “Only a minor explosion!  We’re Safe!” and we realise that everything that has been discussed at length for the last 6 episodes was all meaningless posturing, and that there never really was any risk to the crew, the base or the world after all.  That the Doctor and his TARDIS crew slink off off-screen, and the sounds of the ship taking off are heard over the top of the final discussions, adds to the idea that really, the Doctor had no effect in any of this; even without his presence, it is likely that the world would have been saved.  This should be a good thing – it should reinforce to the viewer that humans are, when pushed, capable of saving themselves.  Sadly, it doesn’t quite pull that off.  Instead, it simply feels like a bit of a cop-out.

All told, I realise that this blog entry is something of a mixed bag – and that’s as it should be.  There are a number of moments of excellent characterisation throughout, and Barkworth as Leader Clent is particularly outstanding, but all told, between Hayles’ insistence of pushing his anti-scientific mantra at us, and the ultimate redundancy of the Doctor and his crew, it somehow falls short.  What it does do, however, is to introduce us to the Ice Warriors, some of the most infamous and exciting villains the show has brought us in years.  Their portrayal, thanks principally to a sterling effort from Bernard Bresslaw, guarantees they remain so, and their recent reappearance in the series shows that even after almost 50 years, they have not lost any of their appeal.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Abominable Snowmen

The Abominable Snowmen is as much of a mystery as the eponymous creations; created by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, the creations are great, lumbering creatures, with wonderfully soft fur and horrifically grotesque claws.  They do not speak, or make any noise aside from the incessant beeping given off by the control units.  They are robots, artificially created in the 1930s by something called the Great Intelligence, and proved so popular that they returned to the series 3 serials later in The Web of Fear, and were due to return again until Haisman and Lincoln fell out with the production team over the dire The Dominators.  Tragically, only one episode of this serial exists, meaning that we are left only with audio and telesnaps.  Having said that, though, the serial is an incredibly strong one, and works in this format regardless.

The serial starts with what sounds to be a haunting and moody moment, grittily shot (based on the telesnaps) as a huge lumbering shadow falls across the ground, a rifle is wrenched away and twisted into so much scrap metal, and a gigantic footprint is discovered.  Unlike Marco Polo, however, when there was a logical explanation for this print – the sun melts the edges of a normal footprint, making it seem to grow, don’t you know? – here the print is that of the infamous Yeti, who are roaming the mountains of Tibet and wreaking havoc, despite their shyness and allegedly pacifistic nature.

Cutting to the TARDIS crew, it is a delight to watch the passion and enthusiasm in the crew here; the banter flows nicely, as the group argue about the correct geographical positioning of Tibet, and the Doctor’s secretive nature is again to the fore as he searches for the holy Ghanta, a mystical bell which needs to be returned to the Monastery.  As he digs out the now iconic fur jacket and heads off, leaving Jamie and Victoria rifling through chests of objects and clothes, there is a wonderful playfulness to their conversations, with Jamie still showing care and concern for his companions.  Hines sells the conviction perfectly – as Troughton returns, having found the footprint, he can read him like a book, but the Doctor’s insistence that he goes alone troubles Jamie no end.  As in the last two serials, the proactive nature of Victoria’s character continues to surprise me; Watling has always been undervalued, by myself included, and seeing her here, using her cunning to trick Jamie into leaving the safety of the TARDIS because she is bored, is wonderful. 

Once the Doctor makes it to the monastery, though, things quickly spiral out of control.  The danger is palpable in the scenes set within the monastery, and this is sold no end by the excellent performances of all involved.  As Professor Travers, the paranoia and fear is dripping from Jack Watling’s performance, and the speed with which he accuses the Doctor of murder and sabotage is telling;  when we later hear that it is because he thinks the Doctor is a journalist, it makes the entire thing seem even more ridiculous – the thought that anyone would go to such lengths “for the sake of a cheap headline” is rather preposterous, even by today’s standards with the Leveson enquiry.  As Khrisong, Norman Jones is wonderfully chilling, with his shifting eyes and murmured threats in hushed tones.  Indeed, the only inconsistency in the entire serial, as far as I’m concerned, is in the racial stereotyping some of the actors assume; several speaking in perfect RP English accents, crisp and clean dialogue which is sharp and well-delivered.  Others, though, decide that, because they are playing Tibetan monks, they need to assume faux Asian voices, blurring some of the diction in a mockery of Asian speech patterns.  It runs the risk of becoming offensive – but fortunately just stops short of being so.

Episode 2 thankfully exists, so we are given the chance to see the Yetis in all of their glory – the scenes with Jamie and Victoria in the cave are wonderfully tense, and the lumbering creatures – whilst painfully and undeniably cute – pursuing them across the hillside is marvellous.  They finally run straight into Travers as he wanders around the hillside.  Travers must be an absolutely awful explorer, mind; he says that for twenty years, he has been searching for the Yeti, and yet in about twenty minutes, the Doctor’s companions have been chased by them, and they have discovered their cave.  Entirely by accident. 

The Doctor, meanwhile, is having a rough time; accused of not only the murder of Travers’ assistant, he is being held responsible for the troubles which have befallen the monks.  Thonmi, a patient and sensible young Monk played by David Spenser, is sent to retrieve the Doctor from the dank cell in which he has been locked up, where he tries to show him the holy Ghanta, stored under his mattress.  It turns out that Khrisong and his Warrior Monks have decided to place the Doctor in a trap to prove his culpability; he is strapped to the front gates of the monastery.  Troughton is, as always, magnificent to watch, and his facial features and twitches are wonderful to behold as he dangles from the rope. 

At the same time, Thonmi takes the Ghanta to the Master of the monastery – incidentally, the second mention of “the Master” in the last 3 serials – Padmasambhava, who we are never able to see.  Instead, his whispered tones chillingly pervade the air, as his voice seems to come from everywhere and nowhere at once.  Songsten, the Abbot of the monastery, is also present, brainwashed by Padmasambhava and forced to follow his orders.  The return of the Ghanta is evidence enough for the monks to free the Doctor, just in time as the Yetis appear over the brow of the hill, in pursuit of Jamie and Victoria, with Travers in tow.  While Thonmi leaves to set the Doctor free, we hear, for the first time, the schizophrenic tones of Padmasambhava, as he mutters about the protection of the Doctor, and, at the same time, the dangers facing their “great plan” if the Doctor learns of their plans.

The episode ends with a Yeti becoming captured, thanks to Jamie’s plan to lure it into a net, and the Doctor analysing it, discovering that not only is it a robot, but the control sphere – like one of the glittering metal balls found in the cave by Jamie and Victoria – is missing, having fallen out when the Yeti was hauled upwards outside the gates.  Meanwhile, the sphere, stuck in wet mud, is beeping furiously, and the one brought into the monastery by Jamie begins to beep in response, eerily rolling along with a mind of its own. 

It is a shame, really, that episode 2 is the only episode that exists from this serial, as, by the sounds of things, the drama and tension really pick up from episode 3 onwards.  Episode 1 was decidedly slow, revelling in the superb location shooting and building very slowly.  Meanwhile, episode 2 was fairly formulaic, a typical run-around, with some standard setup.  Episode 3, however, really ramps it up, and the proverbial stuff hits the fan; the story explodes into action, there are ethical conversations about science versus religion, the Master’s plans become clearer, Victoria shows a great deal of cunning (as does Travers!) and the Doctor gets some great lines.  It’s all go!

The strongest moments in the third episode are those with Padmasambhava and Songsten, the Abbot, who is brainwashed into believing he is working for the greater good.  As Padmasambhava, Wolfe Morris is absolutely superb – the differences between the vocal inflections of the two voices are incredible, and it never becomes confusing, only listening to the soundtrack, to be able to differentiate who is who – which is exactly as it should be. 

The character I feel particularly sorry for is Rapalchan – who is, despite rumours, not played by Harold Pinter under an equity guise.  The poor man is tricked and brainwashed left, right and centre; firstly by Travers, who manages to persuade him that he has been granted permission to leave, and then by the Abbot Songsten, who is similarly brainwashed, and is being forced to leave monastery to place a vital piece of equipment in the cave for the Great Intelligence. 

In episode four, the tension continues to ramp up as the escaped Travers, spying on the Yeti, also spots the brainwashed Abbot, and follows him up to the caves he has been seeking all these years.  Whilst these Yeti are evidently active, there is meanwhile a ridiculous scene wherein Jamie and the Doctor discover inactive Yetis guarding the TARDIS.  It seems ludicrous the Great Intelligence should go to the trouble of providing guards whilst its evil machinations unfold, yet fail to turn them on.  Still, off they are, and after a humorous scene to discover this fact – with a terrified Jamie hiding as the Doctor throws a rock at the inanimate lumbering behemoth –  the Doctor and Jamie are able to gain entrance to the ship to find the equipment they need.  This equipment includes a screwdriver – sadly, still not one of the sonic variety, which is still almost half a season away.    

Travers, meanwhile, is having less success as he spies upon the Yeti spheres, and watches as the pyramid cracks open, before spewing foam out endlessly.  To some extent, rather than the season of Base Under Siege adventures which Season 5 is known for, we should consider this the season of Foam.  Seriously, the amount of foam used in the show at this juncture is ridiculous – from the foam-spewing chest unit in The Tomb of the Cybermen to the stuff being vomited out of the spheres and engulfing the mountain, through to the big bad foam of Fury From the Deep and the sprayed foam of The Web of Fear, it seems like everyone’s at it.

The activation of the pyramid in Travers’ cave, meanwhile, leads to a wonderfully tense moment between Jamie and the previously dormant Yeti – having removed the panel to reveal the sphere, the Doctor has removed it, but it suddenly gets activated, and so through some wonderful sounding mime work, the sphere desperately tries to reinsert itself, and only through Jamie’s quick reactions does he manages to squeeze a rock into the chest cavity, blocking the entrance for the sphere itself.  Similarly proactive is Victoria, as she continues to seek out the truth and look beyond the facade of the monastery, actively questioning what others seem to take for granted.

Deborah Watling’s portrayal of Victoria in this episode in particular is fascinating, and the way in which she questions Thonmi, despite his honesty and nobility, is very moving; a man so capable of unabashed faith takes the concept of time travel utterly in his stride, and it speaks volumes of the peaceful and calming nature of Buddhism, as his acceptance that “Our master, Padmasambhava, can free himself from his earthly body” likens the powers of time travel with those of the master of the monastery and his astral projections.  What the show does cleverly here, though, is that rather than appearing preachy about the virtues of the religion, instead it simply uses the power of belief as a way of justifying such implausible ideas as time travel.

Meanwhile, Khrisong is also questioning what he has always been told and tries to get to the bottom of the mysteries of the Abbot and the Master; the episode ends with him supporting Jamie and the Doctor, and placing his faith in them instead of his beliefs.  At the same time, Padmasambhava and Songsten are busy planning to escape the monastery, and again Morris’ delivery sells the scene, as his languishing voice speaks of “The strangers?” in a bored and tiresome tone.  The final cliffhanger, though, as we finally see the face of Padmasambhava finally revealed as he beckons Victoria ever nearer is horrific, and his suggestion that she has “no alternative” is equally chilling. 

Episode 5 is finally one of high-tension payoff, as the proverbial hits the fan in the biggest way; as Padmasambhava moves pieces continuously on the chess board, and Victoria is cast under a trance and similarly possessed, the Yeti attack, and rain destruction down on the building.  Meanwhile, Travers is raving about a “shadow on (his) mind” and the Doctor and Jamie, with the assistance of Thonmi, deal with the attack on them.  Rinchen is killed in the destruction, and the monks are forced to leave the safety of their sanctum.

Rinchen and Sapan are two fascinating characters, played by David Grey and Raymond Llewellyn respectively, and they have had some wonderful scenes earlier in the serial.  In fact, one of the most interesting moments of the entire serial occurred in episode 3, when the pair created their spirit trap around the immobilised Yeti.  The debate about the power of faith is poignant and heartfelt, and Rinchen’s character in particular is given more room to grow than we expect of a character with only some 30 lines throughout an entire serial; how fitting, then, that he should come to an end not as a direct result of the Yetis themselves, but instead crushed to death under a falling statue of Buddha.  It is a stark symbol that though the power of prayer can provide comfort at times, ultimately it is equally capable of death and destruction.

The theme of possession and brainwashing has never been as truly horrifying as it is presented here.  When Dodo was hypnotised back in The War Machines, she was carted off to the countryside to recover and never heard from again.  Ben was brainwashed in The Macra Terror but managed to fight it eventually, seeing his friendship as more important than the intentions of the Macra.  Polly was cloned by The Faceless Ones and as such lived out her final episodes before her departure as another, far less likeable, character.  Here, though, the performances are helped by such a strong script, and Wolfe Morris is particularly magnificent, clearly loathing every second of his prolonged existence.  The reveal of him, crumbling and decaying in a chair, barely holding onto any dignity as he ages uncontrollably in front of us, is truly horrific.  The moment that he calls for his “old friend” is heart-wrenching, although as an audience we can feel slightly cheated that seeing him die before our eyes after their reconciliation, only to be revived as soon as their back is turned, is slightly unfair.  It is an idea current show-runner Steven Moffat will steal in some 45 years when the Great Intelligence returns to the rebooted show and Richard E Grant’s Dr Simeon is killed and yet returns like a puppet on a string for the Great Intelligence to control.

Similarly magnificent is that when Padmasambhava speaks through Victoria, Watling is truly terrific – she convinces utterly, and the idea that she can do little other than repeat the same instructions is awful.  It is one of the most unnerving moments in the show to date, as Troughton settles down next to Victoria to try to break her conditioning, and his suggestion that “She’ll go out of her mind” if he probes too deeply into her subconscious is terrifying.  Never before has someone hypnotised seemed so fragile, as she repeatedly begs the Doctor and Jamie to “take (her) away”.  Still, this being Troughton and Hines, there’s still time for a moment of visual humour, as Jamie begins to doze off whilst the Doctor hypnotises Victoria to remove the “implanted fear”.

As Travers, Jack Watling gets a magnificent moment to shine at the end of this fifth episode, though, as he shows tremendous courage and faces his fears, returning up the hillside to the cave with the Doctor before telling his story again, dealing with his terror; all the while, the corporeal form of the Great Intelligence continues to grow and grow, bulging out through the mouth of the cave and flowing down the hill.  The sixth episode finally sees the loose plot threads tied up as the Doctor discovers that Songsten is the missing link in the story, thanks to Travers’ recollection that it was he who took the pyramid into the cave.

In episode 6, we also see the death of Khrisong, a man who has been so dutifully honourable and true to his cause – it is a tragic moment, made all the more poignant since it is his master, the Abbot Songsten, who kills him, stabbing him in the back as he is about to enter the Inner Sanctum and face the true Master of the Monastery.  He gets a final noble moment with his people, and is able to pass on word that Songsten, whilst physically responsible, is not to blame due to the trance he is in.  Meanwhile, the struggle for control between Padmasambhava and the Great Intelligence is gut-wrenching, as Morris manages through a two-toned delivery to really sell the idea that the holy man simply wants death, as he begs that the Intelligence “Release me!”  The hoarse and whispered “Songsten” is equally pervasive and chilling.

The final showdown between Troughton’s Doctor and Morris’ possessed Padmasambhava is horribly unnerving, too – never before has our hero looked so vulnerable, as he is bombarded with the mental force of the Great Intelligence.  His entrance, followed almost instantly by the cry of pain, is terrifying, and the next image we see of him is bent over, in agony, trying to reach the throne.  Once the group have broken into the Inner Sanctum, Jamie and Thonmi begin the destruction of the control units.  There is another horrifying moment when, following the destruction of the control sphere and the Yetis, the Great Intelligence continues to taunt them, intoning that “one stroke of fortune will not save you”.  There’s an incredibly tense action sequence, with Travers bursting in and shooting at Padmasambhava – and he catches the bullets! – before Jamie finally saves the day by smashing the pyramid and destroying the power of the Great Intelligence, as well as the top of the mountain housing the cave.  Morris’ Padmasambhava is finally freed, and with one final word of thanks to his “old friend”, he is finally granted the death he has so longed for.

The final moments of the serial are something of an oddity – after the introduction of the Yeti, and then the realisation that they are actually robots under the control of something else, we are then led to believe that Yeti do in fact exist, and they are the timid creatures Travers said they were.  Of course, the real Yeti are just as cute and bumbling as their robotic counterparts were, but the sheer excitement in Watling’s face as he goes careering after them is quite magical.

All told, this is a truly special serial; whilst it may be remembered by most for the introduction of the second-cuddliest bad guys ever – yes, I’m looking at you, Mandrels! – it is actually a superbly crafted and intricate study of the human condition and power of faith.  Through an absence of incidental music and some stellar performances, the resultant serial is a tense, doom-laden slow-burner, gradually building up to the incredible climactic scenes in the Sanctum.  Haisman and Lincoln crafted their script with suitable nuance and subtlety, and the direction from Gerald Blake is wonderful.  As always, it is a tragedy that we have so little of this still existent.  The Yeti and the Great Intelligence will be seen again – and very soon – but first, in Jamie’s words: “Could you not land us somewhere warmer next time?” – Yes, it’ll be The Ice Warriors!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Tomb of the Cybermen

For many years, The Tomb of the Cybermen was regarded as the holy grail of Doctor Who – fans spoke of it with tones of veneration as though it were the single greatest piece of television ever.  Those that hadn’t had the chance to see it first time around were remiss that they missed the chance, and when it was eventually rediscovered, people raced to see it, and many were ultimately a little disappointed.  It is still held in high regard by some, but for a large number it sadly didn't live up to the hype.  It’s very standard fare, really, particularly by Troughton’s standards.  It’s a base under siege story, and the earliest complete Troughton serial existing at the moment in the vaults, but that’s all that is really going for it.  Troughton is superb – and being given the chance to see every single moment of his performance allows us to see more of him than we ever have before.  There are moments in serials such as The Power of the Daleks, The Macra Terror and The Evil of the Daleks which are no doubt sublime; because we cannot see them, though, we take it for granted.  Here we are able to witness just how nuanced his portrayal of the Doctor is.  There is the potential for it to have been brilliant, but there are so many weak moments that it is by no means the perfect serial that it could have been.

The serial opens with a wonderful prelude of sorts, as the Doctor and Jamie welcome Victoria into the TARDIS.  Deborah Watling’s character was a late addition to the crew in the previous serial, only meeting our time travellers in episode 5 of the 7-part The Evil of the Daleks.  As such, she doesn’t have the relationship built up with the travellers that we’d expect from the outset; unlike Vicki’s introductory story, The Rescue, which focussed solely on her and her troubles, Victoria is given a story similar to Steven’s introduction, which was in the penultimate episode of The Chase.  It works surprisingly well, and one thing I am particularly taken by, doing this experiment, is how my opinions of characters can so swiftly change.  I always took Victoria to be something of an irritation, a typical whiner who tags along with the Doctor and Jamie through necessity following Evil, rather than by choice.  Now, whilst that is true to some degree, what is also surprising is how quickly she takes everything in her stride, and how proactive she is. 

What is also wonderful about this short prelude is that is allows Hines, as Jamie, the chance to have grown as a character too.  When he joined the crew, he was the boy from the past, out of his depth and asking silly questions that a contemporary audience would scoff at.  Now, though, he has become the old hand in the TARDIS, and is able to give Victoria a guided tour without issue.  No longer is he the boy afraid of “flying beasties”; instead he gestures to panels of knobs and levers with a nonchalance, talking of them as “controlling our flight” while Victoria becomes the incredulous traveller.   The conversation turns to a mention of the Doctor’s age, currently approximately “450 years old” which is a wonderful little set up for a conversation in episode three which is absolutely smashing.  Victoria is then sent to change her clothes whilst the Doctor steers the TARDIS off through time.

Meanwhile, in on the surface of Telos, an expedition of various nationalities is gathered on a cliff face, whilst a black giant of a man is lumbering on the outcrop above.  Pedler and Davis’ script cleverly introduces these characters and their traits within moments; Viner is a whiny, snivelling man terrified of his own shadow, Toberman is a lumbering servant with no individual brains, Kaftan is the financier of the expedition, Parry is a caring and compassionate archaeologist who is concerned that Kaftan and Klieg are trying to take over his expedition.  All of this is setup very quickly, and effectively.  All the same, the direction falls a little flat; the group are all gathered, staring up at one area where explosives have been set, and there is a fantastic explosion which reveals nothing.  Meanwhile, whilst the entire crew are looking forlornly, off-screen we hear a low rumble – evidently supposed to represent a landslide – and a gormless American minion points in totally a different direction, where the tomb entrance has been perfectly and conveniently revealed.  The incidental music here is wonderfully effective, though, and again is all from stock; the use of silence to contrast the hubbub of action moments before the explosion is an excellent moment of tension.

With the arrival of the Doctor and his companions, though, the action ramps up, as does the tension.  Moments before, an unnamed explorer has died horrifically after touching the doors into the eponymous tombs.  The Doctor and co are naturally accused – par for the course – but Troughton very quickly takes command of the situation, informing the archaeological party exactly what happened, where and how.  There is some fantastic makeup evidenced by the burn marks on the man’s hands, too, which just about makes up for the dreadful accents sported by Hopper and his crewmates – George Roubicek’s enthusiasm is palpable, as he chews his way through lines like “it’s not exactly peaches!” and constantly calls people “sport” or “guy”.  The writing here is partly to blame, but his hands-on-hips Flash Gordon-esque performance doesn’t exactly help to sell the character. 

What is interesting is the disregard Troughton’s Doctor seems to have for the lives of the people on the expedition.  From the outset, he is actively endangering everyone involved; once he hears mention of the Cybermen – although why he needed to hear it is beyond me, since there are massive motifs stencilled either side of the door! – he actively pushes the group forward.  They are just about to give up when he helps them to open the doors to the tombs.  Soon, he also helps the group open doors on either side of the main room by explaining the method needed, and further assists Klieg in opening the vaults which lead to the tomb proper.  He is flippant with each of these things – and when one considers that Klieg and Kaftan are simply not smart enough to have managed to infiltrate the tomb alone, and one cannot escape the feeling that all of this could have been avoided, if the Doctor had just kept his mouth shut.  Indeed, I touched on this in the last blog update I wrote, for The Evil of the Daleks, but we can’t help but feel that the Doctor’s impish, clown-like and scruffy exterior is hiding much darker motives; he is still the manipulative man we see much later in the Doctor’s travels, particularly during McCoy’s era. 

There is an interesting moment of power play between Klieg and the Doctor, where he says that he manages to work things out by “keeping my eyes open and my mouth shut” – as he says this, Toberman sneaks away right in line with the Doctor’s vision lines.  It is an odd moment, one which is justified in the next episode and we discover that he has sabotaged the fuel links on the rocket, stranding the group on Telos.  Again, the Doctor allows him to leave, and although he makes a passing comment about the damage a large man like Toberman could do, he never comes out with his accusations, instead just watching and planning.

There is some wonderful comedy again between Hines and Troughton – the scenes before the group enter where they inadvertently hold hands always makes me chuckle aloud, and the flattery of Victoria’s dress is equally lovely, with a quick-witted comment on the skirt length – “a bit short?  I shouldn’t worry about that – look at Jamie’s!”  Once the team are inside the hidden city, there is a wonderful sense of scale to the place; the set design is simply magnificent, making the most of being studio-bound as it is, Martin Johnson’s set design is wonderful, all functional dials and huge control panels, with sliding doors and hidden guns, as well as the bizarre choice to have the Cyberman face stencilled on literally every surface – indeed, even each stool has a Cyber-face staring up at you.  This is only one small fault, though, as overall the design work is a masterpiece. 

The scenes in the testing room and the projector room are suitably tense, as the title has promised us Cybermen, and the cliffhanger allows us a glimpse at the eponymous villains, back for their next serial three serials after their last appearance.  The reveal of the Cyberman is suitably chilling, appearing as it does in a hail of gunfire, executing poor Haydon, the best guest actor of the group by miles.  Episode 2 opens with a recap of this, and it is painfully frustrating – not one of them will confirm what they must all have seen, and even the Doctor simply mutters that he “saw something”.  They point out that they were all looking at the screen – where the Cyberman came from! – yet are unsure that it is what they saw.  Instead, the group focus on the significance that he was shot in the back, revealing the large weapon hidden therein. 

During the entirety of episodes 1 and 2, by far the most frustrating thing is Cyril Shaps’ portrayal of Viner; for an actor that went on to appear in four serials, he is surprisingly one-note, all high-pitched whines and repetitive complaints.  The Doctor investigates the dummy Cyberman and the gun which appears from the wall, while in the central room, Toberman returns to confirm that “it is done”.  Once the whole group return to the central chamber, where Klieg continues to puzzle over near-impossible logic sequences, Hopper returns to say, in a typically melodramatic drawl “Well, I'm going to tell you something now. The first guy that set sets foot in my rocketship is going to stop the repair work just like that!”  As such, our deus ex machina is in place, and the group are stuck within the tombs whether they like it or not.  Quite how everyone seems to miss the suspicious activity going on between Klieg and Kaftan is baffling – and this being 1960s Doctor Who they are, of course, foreigners, lurking in the darkness, exchanging furtive glances and whispering confidentially. 

Once again, it is due to the Doctor’s interference that the group are able to enter the actual tombs – had he not interfered and explained the method, the group would merely have been stuck in the central chamber waiting for Hopper and his men to fix the rocket.  Instead, the team head down into the tombs, where we are granted the view of yet another spectacular piece of design wok – the honeycomb design of the Cybermen’s tombs are magnificently lit, and look incredible, particularly in the defrosting sequences as the Cybermen are reawakened by Klieg’s meddling.  Sadly, director Morris Barry doesn’t make the most of these sequences, instead choosing to linger on them for overly long sequences which are then soon repeated, somewhat undermining the power of them.

As I mentioned at the start, what makes this serial so important is the fact that it allows us to see Troughton, on top form, from start to finish.  There are so many subtle and clever moments throughout this serial – such as when he casts suspicious glances at Klieg down in the tombs – that make the absence of his stories all the more painful.  There is so much we must surely be missing, things which we can only guess at.  By all accounts, several of the scenes in the recently rediscovered The Underwater Menace episode 2 show that this serial is far from the joke many considered it to be.

The waking of the Cybermen, as I say, is an awesome moment, and their slow rise to consciousness, bursting forth from their cocoons to the ‘Space Adventure’ theme tune is an iconic moment.  Slightly less iconic, though, is the moment at which we meet the Cyber-controller.  As he is revealed, squatting, it is far less visually striking than it may have been.  However, the cliffhanger remains incredibly effective, as the shrill and invasive singsong tones of the Controller utters “You shall be like us”.

Episode 2 is also wonderful for giving Victoria a chance to grow as a companion; Watling here works tremendously well in the sequences where she is forced to watch Kaftan in the central chamber, rather than following the boys into the tombs below.  Whilst the motive may be a little sexist, she attempts to fight it, demanding to be allowed to follow the men.  There is a wonderful moment where Kaftan asks Victoria if she wishes for some food, but Victoria is put off by the futuristic appearance of the food cubes – it is a subtle reminder that this Victorian girl is out of her depth in a futuristic universe.  When she is drugged by Kaftan, it becomes standard female-companion fare, until she awakens and turns Kaftan’s gun on the Cybermat sidling towards her, suddenly becoming crack shot with a pistol.

Klieg is yet another of those typical human villains in Doctor Who, much like Mavic Chen in The Daleks’ Master Plan and Theodore Maxtible in the last serial, The Evil of the Daleks.  Blinded by his own ambition, he genuinely believes he is equal to them, but within moments of meeting them, he is forced to his knees, a quivering wreck.  Desperate for their approval, he begs and pleads, before realising the danger that the hulking giants represent – although that too is only a short-lived realisation, but more on that later.

Episode 3 allows us to appreciate the Cybervoices fully, and Peter Hawkins does a wonderful job; having voiced them since their introduction in The Tenth Planet earlier that year, he has also voiced them in their second serial, and the nuanced performance has been honed somewhat – for me, though, the perfect Cybervoices are the original work of Hawkins and Roy Skelton in The Tenth Planet, where they had a horrifying singsong quality, with the emphasis always seeming to be on the wrong part of the word.  Now, though, they have a very human inflection down to a tee, but the voices still work effectively.  The droning “You shall be like us” is chilling.  Less effective is the ridiculous buzzing noise made by the 8 Cybermen that are released and attacked by the smoke bombs thrown by Hopper on his mission to save the Doctor and co from the tombs.  It is a horribly invasive sound – and not in a good way – and detracts somewhat from their menace.  Similarly, the Cyberman that pursues Jamie through the tombs is equally ridiculous, doing preposterous double takes.
This sequence is notorious for another reason though;  one of the most embarrassing things about being a Doctor Who fan is those moments when you pray no one will walk in on you watching it, and the fight sequence in which Toberman is lifted by the most ridiculously visible wires is one of those unforgivable moments in the show’s history, along with the Kandy man’s appearance in The Happiness Patrol and the dinosaurs in Invasion of the Dinosaurs.  I once heard someone refer to it as being caught masturbating.  It’s that embarrassing.  There are one or two moments which baffle you – if that wasn’t worth a retake, what kind of muck up would be?!  There are moments where both Roy Stewart as Toberman and Hines’ Jamie each trip on the way up the stairs – Hines falls downwards, and it is only because of Troughton’s fast-thinking that he doesn’t end up face-planting.  These are still forgivable, as one could imagine the characters, in their heightened emotional states, tripping and stumbling.  But the sight of the enormous crampon attached to Stewart’s waistband, as well as the cable is shocking.  Worse still, Stewart is lifted into the air before the Cyberman is even in position to lift him. 

Equally rubbish is the sequence with the Cybermats.  Inexplicably, these are more than double the size of the original one which attacked Victoria and Kaftan, and it is never made clear whether these are supposed to be the same as the first, or a larger model.  Instead, it is left to the audience to decide.  Some ten models were made by the FX and props guys, of differing manoeuvrability, with some fixed to nylon wires, other remote control, and others completely stationary.  When the ‘masses’ of them attack the group in the central chamber, it is unclear precisely what is supposed to be happening, or even what the threat is.  Unlike in later Cyberman stories like Revenge of the Cybermen, where the Cybermats have a clear function, here they seem to attach themselves to their victims yet do absolutely nothing.  They don’t bite, or poison.  Instead, they sit there until the victim knocks them off.  As such, this sequences has no tension to it – the Doctor lays down a wire which is electronically charged and it fries the circuits of the Cybermats.  And there ends the threat.  To be fair, they could simply have picked them up and thrown them away.  There is another wonderful comedic moment here, too when the Doctor refers to them having had a “complete metal breakdown” – and it is interesting that it is Jamie who does the pantomime eye roll and sighs outwardly at this poor attempt at a joke.

It is sequences like this which show Morris Barry’s inability to direct action sequences; whilst the smaller moments are well lit and tense, with suitable atmosphere, the action sequences for the most part decline into silliness and farcical noises.  One such beautiful moment is the scene between Troughton and Watling, where the pair discusses their families.  Victoria’s monologue is heartbreaking, and we are reminded that this story takes place hours after the events of The Evil of the Daleks, so she has only been an orphan for about a day.  Likewise, we are given a rare glimpse into the Doctor’s life before we met him, and he talks of a family in a poignant speech;
“I have to really want to, to bring them back in front of my eyes. The rest of the time they sleep in my mind, and I forget. And so will you. Oh yes, you will. You'll find there's so much else to think about. So remember, our lives are different to anybody else's. That's the exciting thing. There's nobody in the universe can do what we're doing.”
It is a powerful moment, and one with great resonance.  It achieves the difficult task of creating a rapport between Doctor and companion which is founded on trust and love, as well as respect and admiration.

The cliffhanger of episode 3 is something of a damp squib, sadly; having realised that Klieg is hell-bent on trying to resurrect the Cybermen for his own demented ends, he is locked away – in the weapons testing room.  With the weapons.  It’s utterly ridiculous, and adds further to the idea that the Doctor is manipulating everyone still.  Part way through episode 2, he admits that he knew Klieg’s intentions all along, but was just watching to see “what he was up to”.  There’s a flippancy here which is unnerving.  But yes, Klieg is locked up in the weapons room, surrounded by Cyberman weaponry;   yet still sort of works.  It further highlights how, due to their absence from history for more than 500 years, the threat of the Cybermen seems to have been forgotten.  But Klieg and Kaftan’s re-emergence at the end, and the shot off-screen followed by a scream, is all terribly pat.  The show is called Doctor Who.  The likelihood of the Doctor being killed off-screen partway through a story is minimal.  And yet... and yet...  We must remember that it was whilst facing the Cybermen that Hartnell died, regenerating into Troughton.  It was also mid-season, although not mid-serial.    But really, dying at the hands of a madman like Klieg was never likely.

Instead, it is Callum that has been shot and wounded, jumping in front of the ray and taking a bullet for the Doctor – making this the second time in as many serials that someone has gladly sacrificed himself for the sake of the Doctor.  Again, it is striking that the death toll continues to rise hour by hour, and again it strikes me that this could all have been avoided.  The Doctor’s irresponsible behaviour continues, though, as the group are lead back down into the tombs by Klieg, and the group of Cybermen are revitalised, having returned to their tombs to reenergise.  And here is my biggest issue with The Tomb of the Cybermen as a serial:

Throughout the serial, we are told that Klieg intends to use the Cybermen to rule the world, indeed to rule the universe, for the Brotherhood of Logicians.  Yet when we finally see these reawakened Cybermen, who have been within their tombs for more than 500 years waiting for qualified minds to awaken them, we cannot help be struck by how utterly inept they are.  Having spent 500 years hooked up to all of the machinery within the tombs, in a state of suspended animation, they are out of their units for no more than a few hours before needing to plug themselves back in?  Even the Cyber-controller is in need of a recharge, his voice slowing down throughout the scenes in which he menaces the Doctor and the others in the central chamber – and the Doctor again assists the Cyber-controller by helping him into the rejuvenation chamber.  There is a throwaway moment where Troughton jokes that he needs to teach Jamie how to tie a proper knot as the rejuvenated Controller bursts through the door to the chamber and menaces the entire group once more. 

Kaftan’s death scene is another of those moments which seems utterly redundant.  With the Cyber-controller rejuvenated, he demands that the tombs be reopened.  The group refuse, so he does it himself.  Kaftan runs over and throws a switch – and the Cyber-controller executes her, before flipping the switch back and continuing on with his mission.  It is a needless moment of self-sacrifice, albeit one which is visually very impressive as the smoke bubbles forth from the collar of her shirt and she crumples to the ground.  Ultimately, though, her death is only a tool which allows Troughton to take control of the situation.  Toberman, part Cyberman now, is so enraged by the death of his beloved mistress that he throws the Cyber-controller into the entrance panels.  Of course, this is again one of those laughable effects – we see the head fall off the dummy! – but we take it in our stride as we are working up to the finale. 

I’m really not quite sure how I feel about Toberman, as a character.  My issue isn’t the ‘racism’ of having a dumb near-mute foreign looking character – we’ve had it only the serial before with Kemel, after all – but rather the very one-dimensionality of him generally.  Had Toberman been a character, rather than just a cardboard cut-out of a strong man, throughout, these final moments would probably be more touching and poignant.  Instead, though, we have barely seen a moment of Toberman being human; his delight at the prospect of hurting Jamie ultimately boiled down to a “Hulk smash”-like glee as he twisted his fists.  His dialogue has been entirely monosyllabic and sparse in the greatest degree regardless.  Toberman, once converted into a Cyberman, seems no different.  We see the oscilloscope footage superimposed to show that he is taking orders, but even his movements are not really that different to his shifty exit in episode 1 when he took his orders from Kaftan.  At the end of the day, Toberman’s function is that of a slave, a servant to follow the bidding of a master.  And this is what makes me dislike the turn of the story, as too much of it hinges on Toberman’s character, but there just isn’t enough character there for it to rest upon.  The scene in which he destroys another Cyberman with his bare hands, meanwhile, is magnificently gory and explicit, and genuinely quite nerve-wracking.

The serial ends with the group finally escaping the tombs, with the hatch locked down and the Cybermen all back in their cells, in a scene in which we watch the “awakening” in reverse.  Once out, they are pursued by the Cyber-controller and it is Toberman, sacrificing his life, which saves them – he forces the doors shut, regardless of the electric current running through the system as a security measure against further exploration.  And again, I’m not sure how I feel about this, either.  To some extent, it is a moment of redemption for Toberman – after all, it was his fault that the party were stranded on the surface of Telos anyway.  But it is because of the Doctor’s security system that Toberman has to die at all, and that makes me a little uncomfortable.

I’ve talked about it a number of times during this blog and the last, but I’d just like to point out, once again, that all of this is Troughton’s Doctor’s fault!  Had he not meddled, the group would have just left.  Only one casualty, the nameless man who was looking to claim fifty pounds but who was electrocuted for his trouble.  Instead, Hayden was shot in the testing room, Klieg was murdered by a Cyberman, Kaftan was executed by the Cyber-controller, Viner was shot by Klieg, Callum was shot protecting the Doctor, Toberman was electrocuted... all because of his curiosity.  It’s an uncomfortable thought, that due to his constant intrigue he has led a number of people to their grave – yes, some of those people were ‘bad guys’, and their ends were deserved, but only because the Doctor helped them gain entrance in the first place.  To set “a fatal” current through the doors and panels seems a little extreme, too – considering the difficulty the expedition group would have had in the first place, it seems frivolous for the Doctor to be responsible for any future deaths.  Similarly upsetting is the fact that Toberman’s body is simply abandoned.  He sacrifices himself for their sake, dying in the process, and yet everyone kind of shrugs and heads off in their own direction, with the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria returning to the TARDIS, and those remaining of Parry’s expedition returning to Hopper’s rockets.

And a solitary Cybermat runs past, hinting that this isn’t the “final end” of the Cybermen we were faced with at the end of the last Dalek serial.  All told, this isn’t a bad serial, per se.  It’s far better than some we’ve seen, and is certainly better than some that will follow.  For me, though, the faults within the story and the direction are just too distracting for it to rightfully own the title of ‘classic’ that it is revered to be.