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Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // March 13, 2012
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted March 20, 2012 | E-mail the Author
Doctor Who - Tomb of the Cybermen
The Show:

There are only a few adventures from Patrick Troughton's stint as The Doctor where all of the episodes of the serial survive.  (15 out of 21 stories are missing some or all of the chapters.)  The earliest complete tale that's still around is The Tomb of the Cybermen, and that was thought lost until a copy turned up in Hong Kong in 1991.  It's a good thing too, because this is a truly great chapter from the long-running show.  First released on DVD in region 1 in 2002, the Restoration Team has gone back and taken another pass at this serial using techniques and programs that weren't available when they first worked on it.  The result is a very good looking disc, one that's a solid improvement over the original which was nice looking to begin with.

The Doctor, Jamie, and his new companion, Victoria, land on the planet Telos just as an archeological expedition has made an important discovery:  they've located the final resting place of the Cybermen, long dead for over 500 years.  The expedition is lead by Professor Parry, but financed by a mysterious woman, Kaftan, who is never far from her large muscled bodyguard Toberman.  Also with the party are Kaftan's colleague Klieg, Captain Hopper, the pilot of the space ship that brought them to Telos, and Viner, an archeologist.  There are also a few crewmen who would be wearing red shirts if they were on Star Trek.
Entering the antechamber the group finds a series of levers, a series of odd symbols, a large, sealed hatch, and nothing else.  It's up to The Doctor to discover, and open, two hidden doors and while Klieg works on deciphering the code that will open the hatch, the rest of the group go exploring.  One of the doors leads to a Cyberman rejuvenation chamber where Kaftan purposely seals Victoria into the sarcophagus-like cell that's used to recharge the evil androids.  She's about to start the rejuvenation process on the young girl when The Doctor, assuming that the whole thing was an accident, releases her.  Meanwhile Jamie and another expendable search a strange room where hypnotic patterns are projected on the walls, with deadly results. 

Eventually Klieg gets close to solving the logic puzzle that is the key to unlocking the hatch, but can't quite crack it.  With a helpful nudge in the right direction from The Doctor, he finally comes up with the answer and throws the correct levers, opening the portal to the chamber below.  There they find a something amazing:  the last of the Cybermen in suspended animation.  Ignoring The Doctor's warnings Klieg manipulates the control panel and wakes revives the creatures.  He's part of a group of intellectuals on Earth who feel that they should be ruling the planet, but they lack the power.  Klieg and Kaftan are sure that if they can free the Cybermen, the robots will do their bidding.  But it never works out that way, does it?
This was the second Troughton Doctor Who story that I ever saw (the first being the over long and unwieldy War Games) back when it was first released on DVD and revisiting it I'm still struck at what a good job Patrick Troughton does in the role.  He really takes the character in a totally different direction than his predecessor did (something I wish the current show would do a bit more) and changes the feel of the show in the process.  Troughton's Doctor comes across as a bumbling goofball at first glance, but hidden inside the rumpled exterior is a deceptively brilliant and capable person.  That surprising contrast is what makes this incarnation of The Doctor so delightful and it's fully evident in this adventure.  I especially liked the ad-libbed bit when The Doctor and Jamie and following the others into the Tomb.  Aware that it's dangerous, The Doctor and Jamie hold each other's hands for comfort as the step over the threshold only to realize what they've done and quickly let go one on the other side.  

Of course this serial also features the Cybermen, the Doctor's scariest villains.  (I never could understand why the Daleks were so popular.  They're okay, but the idea of a men who have had all (or nearly all) of their organic parts replaced by metal and plastic and have lost all emotion in the process is very creepy.  That goes double when they start converting people they've captured.  But I digress...)  The story adds a good part to the Cybermen mythos but the high point is when the machine-like creatures wake from their frozen slumber and break out of their tomb.  An impressively large set was created and the effect is memorable and striking even today.
One of the things that struck me about this story, especially when compared with Doctor Who from the 80's, is how restrained the acting is, it's even subtle in parts.  When The Doctor asks Klieg if he wants to rule the Earth, the man says "yes, yes you're right... master of the world." He delivers the line quietly and without much inflection and doesn't chew the scenery at all.  Compare that with some of the villains in Tom Baker's last season where they are so over the top it's almost camp.  Another nice touch is the subtle revelation of who damaged the space ship that the expedition arrived in.  In the scene where captain announces that the ship can't leave due to a sabotaged fuel pump, Toberman smiles quietly in the background.  That's the only overt evidence of who was responsible.  It's a well written script that still plays well.

The DVD:

This show comes with the original mono soundtrack that fits the show just fine.  The dynamic range is nothing to write home about, but the dialog is generally crisp and clear and there is no background noise, tape hiss, distortion or dropouts.  There are optional subtitles in English.

The full frame B&W image has had the VidFIRE treatment, a method of deinterlacing filmed images to approximate the original videotape fields.  I compared this release to the original 2002 DVD version and there is a definite improvement.  It mainly makes the movement a bit smoother and the image a bit tighter.  I was going to do some side-by-side comparisons but for still .jpg compressed images the differences were very minor and I didn't think they gave a good example of what viewers could expect.  Suffice to say if you haven't bought this serial yet, this is the version to buy.

This disc has some great extras.  First off are two, count 'em, two commentary tracks.  The original track from the 2002 release with Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling is here, along with a brand new one featuring Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, Bernard Holley, Victor Pemberton and Shirley Cooklin.  Once again Toby Hadoke is acting as moderator.   Other items ported over from the original release include an introduction by director Maurice Barry that was on the original VHS release of this story, a 3-minute title test sequence, Late Night Line-Up, a 3-minute look at the BBC special effects workshop that features some Cybermen props, and The Final End, a 1 minute mock-up of the final battle from the now lost final episode of Evil of the Daleks made from the original audio track and some home movies.
As for new bonus features, there are a few nice ones.  There's The Lost Giants, a 27-minute look at the making of The Tomb of the Cybermen with the cast and crew, The Curse of the Cybermen's Tomb, a 14-minute look at the parallels between this story and Egyptian tombs both in reality and in movies, and Cybermen - Extended Edition is a 32-minute overview of the Cybermen's appearances in Doctor Who from both the old and the new series. It's all wrapped up with a 7-minute look at the VidFire process.
In addition there is a pop-up informational text option which is very informative as always.   It does give some dry statistics, like how many people viewed each episode, but there are also some interesting notes such as script changes that were made and background information on the supporting characters.  The extras are rounded off with, a couple of photo galleries, and the listings from the Radio Times in .pdf format.

There are two things that are missing however.  The old disc has a 30 minute featurette, Tombwatch, that is missing.  This Q&A session with many of the cast and crew from a 1992 convention is worth having and it's a shame that a rights issue kept it from being included.  There's also a VidFIRE demo that's not here, but since the whole show has gone through the process it's not a huge loss.

Final Thoughts:
The question many of you reading this are asking is:  should I upgrade?  That's a tough one.  The video is an improvement, but the original disc didn't look bad to begin with.  There are some nice extras too.  The Lost Giants is well watching and both commentary tracks, though a bit of overkill, are nice to have, but on the other hand the Cybermen overview didn't present any new information.  It boils down to how often are you going to watch this story and how much are the extras and some improved video worth?  If you don't have this early adventure though, that makes things easy:  run out and buy a copy of this Special Edition.  Highly Recommended
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Highly Recommended

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