“Like a gigantic honeycomb, like bees–waiting the signal to arise from their winter sleep” – Klieg
Finally, a fully existing Second Doctor story. This one has become famous for being a story that fandom had built up in their minds only to be largely disappointed once it was recovered and seen. Since the dialogue and audio were always available, I assume the disappointment came more with the visuals. This makes sense because, despite starting nicely with a stark alien landscape (quarry), the actual sets leave a lot to be desired—big open rooms with no atmosphere of ‘tombs’, bulky controls, clunky machinery, and silly pictures. The sixties light show in the projector room is interesting, but the over-the-top tie-dye costume and bouffant of the villainess Kaftan makes her character seems silly. There is also a significant amount of very sloppy editing and shoddy special effects that kill the action—especially the first cliff hanger. (They do try to make the emergence of the Cyberman from cold storage, stirring in their pods and breaking through the plastic covering, seem a little impressive.)
Concentrating more on the story, there are several nice plot points and dialogue to be found. The idea that the Cybermen are frozen away in ‘tombs’ and released by an ill-fated archaeological expedition is already pretty cool. That it turns out to be a trap specifically for intelligent minds such as could figure out the tomb is even better. Also interesting is that they make the group funding the expedition to be a secret society of sorts—The Brotherhood of Logicians—who had been secretly planning the search with the knowledge that it would release the Cybermen. (Unfortunately, these supposedly super-intelligent people come across rather stupid in their actions and decisions so it’s not as impressive as it sounds.) I also like a lot of the throw-away scientific explanations—there’s a permanent inner light from “alpha mason phosphor…letting cosmic rays bombard a layer of barium”, machines that revitalize the Cybermen by projecting “neuro-electric potential”, subliminal target devices, and symbolic logic-based computer interfaces. The menace of the Cybermen converting their prisoners is underscored more here than in previous stories so it is bit scarier for that. (“You belong to us. You shall be like us.”) It’s also the introduction of the Cybermats, supposedly deadly small scurrying “metallic life”, which are great as a concept—but unfortunately let down by their unmenacing toylike design.
Despite these interesting points, the overall plot turns out to be rather lackluster—it flips back and forth between either Klieg or the Cyber Controller being a threat and each time requires our heroes to slip and overlook something obvious for them to get back in control. (Why do they lock Klieg in a room with weapons? Why don’t keep the obviously power drained Controller from getting to the revitalizer? Why doesn’t the Doctor call out their shady behavior he obviously suspects before they betray everyone?)
One big positive is the great interaction the Doctor has with his companions and the other members of the expedition. I love that on first impression they say of him “Look at him! Archaeologist written all over him!” to which he gladly agrees or that his response to arrogant Klieg’s question for his secret for learning is “Keeping my eyes open–and my mouth shut.” The pilot Hopper (in a broad American style, one of many odd accents among the crew) also has the great line after being fed up with the group’s demands: “There’s no room for all of you on board – especially with you insisting all over the place.”
Meanwhile, the Jamie/Doctor double act now starts to turn towards physical comedy like the scene (totally improvised by the actors) of them accidently taking each others hand entering in the tomb. Best of all is the long interaction that the Doctor has with new companion Victoria as they camp out for the night, both to calm her down and encourage her transition to the strangeness that is travel with the TARDIS. She speaks of the loss of her father and the Doctor tenderly reminds her that “the memory of him won’t always be a sad one.” She finds this hard to believe and, after an initial shock at learning that the Doctor estimates his age to be 450 years, she assumes he must be unable to even remember his family by now. “Oh yes, I can,” he replies. “When I want to. And that’s just the point really. 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 that 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.”
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
The Cyber Controller brings a certain amount of menace both from his large veined brain casing to his dismissive attitude towards humans. When he gives Klieg hope by telling him that his intelligence is useful, it’s wonderfully and eerily undercut by his next line: “But first you will be altered.”
- Fully existing Troughton story!
Right on the heels of the last episode, we are unfortunately again presented with a big black man that is a silent servant/slave. Not only is it very paternalistic, but he’s not even used to particularly good effect here. In the end, he is supposedly the key to the whole story because the Doctor convinces him to overcome his programming by the Cybermen and turn against them which is how they defeat the Cyber Controller. Unfortunately, this scene lacks any emotion because he’s never given any depth as a character or individual person—we have no reason to cheer for or even feel a struggle on his part—and this supposedly key scene is very rushed and unconvincing.