August 4, 2008

Reopening Old Tombs

Now that season four of the new series is now over ("Journey's End), having just been shown on the Sci-Fi Channel, many are waiting until December for the next Christmas special.

However, in the spirit of keeping the classic series alive (now in its 45th year!), I will - in my very humble and unassuming way - will blog on one (or more) classic series stories per month, trying to help convert those who are stuck on new Who appreciate the treasures of the past.

Our first entry is a story initially transmitted 41 years ago...then lost in 1978 after the BBC's film copies were destroyed....achieved almost mythic status for 18 years...and then were found in Hong Kong, of all places.

So, you're probably thinking, "Does the Second Doctor story Tomb of the Cybermen deserve such a stellar reputation. Should I believe all the hype?"

The answer - an unequivocal yes

What's impressive about the story is that it's not just atmospheric and kind of creepy...but it also seems to foretell much of the series future. There's a nice cleanly told logic-vs-human-emotion subtext that would not be out of place in the Letts-Dicks Third Doctor era. There's also a nice mixture of near-Gothic horror and science fiction that Phillip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes would have killed for.

But more importantly, there are some nice, almost subtle shadings to the Doctor that wouldn't seem out of place during the Andrew Cartmel era...or even recent seasons of the new series. Although Patrick Troughton's Doctor is known as a "cosmic hobo", there are some scenes that are...well, relatively darker. Throughout the story - involving an expedition to the "tombs" of the Cybermen on Telos - there's the sneaking suspicion that the Doctor may be as much of an instigator - perhaps even more so - than he's letting on. (And he's much more subtle about it than he will later become).

But there's one key scene in the story (which was vid-FIRED by the Restoration Team as a DVD Easter egg) that provides some texture to the Doctor's character. He's talking to Victoria about...well, his family. Take a good, close look at Troughton's face when he's talking about how his family "sleeps in his mind". It's the kind of scene that would have been easily cut for the new series....but in this story, it takes on a slightly deeper resonance.

It's not all perfect, however - even in its restored state, some of the more "cheesy" aspects (such as Kirby wires and buzzing voices) take on a slightly harsh prominence...but no more so than, say, your average episode of Lost In Space.

But Tomb of the Cybermen is, without a doubt, one of the stronger stories from the 1960s. It's a shame that it was lost for so long...but now, it's just ripe for rediscovery.

Highly Recommended

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