Doctor Who Monsters - The Cybermen (UK - DVD R2)
If anyone says "Delete, delete" to The Wilson Bros, they'll break their fingers...
The Cybermen were the creation of Kit Pedlar and Gerry Davis; they first appeared in William Hartnell’s final story, The Tenth Planet, and were quickly brought back for a rematch with Patrick Troughton, who would battle them no less than four times during his three-year stint as The Doctor. The Cybermen were in an almost constant state of stylistic evolution, which helped to keep their look fresh, but they never achieved the same iconic status as the Daleks (whose look barely changed at all over the years). Though the public regards the Daleks are the top villains in Doctor Who, there are fans who like to think of the Cybermen as the thinking person’s top adversaries…
TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN: Fresh from seeing the Daleks meet their "final end", The Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Fraser Hines) and new TARDIS crewmember, Victoria (Deborah Watling) find themselves on the planet of Telos, where an where a team of archaeologists from Earth, led by Professor Parry (Aubrey Richards) are on an expedition to find the legendary tomb of the Cybermen, but the motivations of one or two members of the team will put not only the lives of the rest of the expedition in danger, but also those of the TARDIS crew and ultimately many worlds in many galaxies if the Cybermen are released from their cryogenic slumber...
Patrick Troughton's time during Doctor Who had fared particularly badly when it came to the junking of episodes, meaning that master-tapes had been wiped by the BBC and that none of the film prints sold to foreign territories had been returned. One would have assumed that because William Hartnell's time came before Troughton, the archive of his stories would have been more complete than those of his successor, but this was certainly not the case. Until the early nineties, Troughton's 1967 epic, Tomb of the Cybermen, was one of five stories from his tenure that were completely missing, as with all of the missing episodes, the audio still existed and had been circulating amongst Doctor Who fans for years, building up a mystique all it's own - it's safe to say that only Fury From the Deep surpassed Tomb of the Cybermen in terms of fan adulation based upon the surviving audio.
Sometimes, miraculous things can happen. In late 1991, Hong Kong-based television company, ATV, returned prints of all four episodes of Tomb of the Cybermen to the BBC - it was the last time a whole story was returned and will probably never happen again. Many Doctor Who fans who were too young to see the original broadcast (or weren't even born when it first went out) were finally able to watch this Patrick Troughton epic in all its glory...
Patrick Troughton is wonderful in this story, not only showing his commanding presence when trying to impress upon the group that trying to get into bed with the Cybermen is a really silly thing to do, but also showing a touching paternal side when comforting new companion, Victoria starts to dwell upon her recently-deceased father. He even gives some tantalising little hints about his own family and how he remembers them - it's a beautifully-written and performed scene, as The Doctor and Victoria bond over their shared loss. Oh, and the fact that Troughton wears a very fetching black cloak in this story and lending him a more commanding air than usual is also works in his favour.
Fraser Hines is as good as ever, displaying all of the chemistry he had with Troughton, and developing a close bond with Deborah Watling; Jamie McCrimmon can be looked upon as one of the definitive companions in Doctor Who, as he was Patrick Troughton's constant companion - apart from one story - during his time on Doctor Who in the sixties. Simply being around most of the time isn't enough for Hines to be looked upon as the definitive companion; Hines imbued the character of Jamie with many different qualities, including more than his fair share of bravery, not to mention being chivalrous to the female members of the TARDIS crew. Jamie also served as the butt of some jokes regarding his intelligence and social sophistication (or lack thereof), but it's simply that Jamie McCrimmon comes from a time long before the mid 20th century and such cultural and developmental shortcomings are to be expected. Having another companion from quite so far back in time before the 20th century was something of a gamble, coming so comparatively closely after the disaster that was Katerina, but it ultimately paid off.
This was only Deborah Watling's second story - and her first as a proper member of the TARDIS crew - but she fits in rather nicely and the chemistry that she shares with Troughton and Hines is immediately apparent. Padbury also gets to share what is one of the most touching and well-played scenes that Doctor Who produced in the late sixties, with The Doctor and Victoria speaking about their families and their personal losses; both actors are wonderful, with Troughton shedding a little more light on his enigmatic character and endearing him to an audience more than ever.
George Pastell was an actor who had made a career playing "funny foreigner" types in television shows, such as The Saint and The Avengers, not to mention appearing in the odd quickie by Butcher's Films - as "funny foreigner" types, as Butcher's loved to include Middle Eastern intrigue in many of their films. Here he is Kleig, cunning and ruthless member of the expedition who, along with the equally cold-blooded Kaftan (Shirley Cooklin), seeks to pervert the reasons of the expedition for their own ends. Pastell and Cooklin made for a great villainous duo, as they scheme and plot behind the backs of the more noble members of the group. Like many megalomaniacal villains in Doctor Who, their belief that trying to make a deal or control evil forces such as the Cybermen or the Daleks is doomed to failure and - much like the reign of an alpha-male in a group of primates - rarely ends without a bloodthirsty demise.
Worth noting here is that Tomb of the Cybermen features the first appearance of the Cyber Controller; literally standing head and shoulders above the other silver residents of the tombs on Telos, the Cyber Controller has a similar-yet-different design to the others and the visible organic matter in his glass cranium literally shows that he is the brains of the outfit. Actor Michael Kilgarriff would later return to the role in the Colin Baker story, Attack of the Cybermen, but sadly the intervening couple of decades took its toll on Kilgarriff's waistline and his appearance in that story led to fans taking inspiration from the writings of the Reverent V W Awdry and referring to him as The Fat Controller...
One of the problems that the Cyberman had around this period was that they were pretty hard to understand; the electronic gadget used to distort the voices of actors were such that words could be not fully sounded out and the result was something that was on the borderline of being unintelligible. Though what was heard in the earlier Cybermen stories in Troughton's era was fairly hard to make out, it was certainly a step up from the bizarre Zippy-like timbre of the Cybermen in William Hartnell's swansong, The Tenth Planet. The Cybermen were in a constant state of evolution during Troughton's time as The Doctor and Tomb showed them in a mid-way period of their development, starting to look somewhat sleeker, but still with many of the remnants of their first encounter with the Second Doctor during The Moonbase - if we were to pick our favourite incarnation of the Cybermen, we'd say that it had to be the ones seen during The Invasion, as they look so damn cool in that story.
There have been accusations of racist stereotyping in Tomb of the Cybermen - the Cybermen can't help being silver, they were born that way and we're sure that they wouldn't want to change that. Seriously, the character of Toberman (Roy Stewart) is essentially Kaftan's muscle, but eventually sees the evil in her employer and decides to do the right thing at a crucial moment. What is interesting is that the previous story, Evil of the Daleks, also featured an almost mute, dark-skinned heavy that is initially a threat but becomes an ally only to sacrifice himself near the end of the story; it's pretty strange that story editor Victor Pemberton didn't pick up on this and ensure that two such similar characters/story devices weren't used so close together. For what it's worth, we think that such characters aren't necessarily racist, as both Toberman in this story and Kemmel (the lovely Sonny Caldinez) from Evil of the Daleks were essentially positive and shows that that the capacity for good (and even the concept of self-sacrifice for the greater good) can exist in anyone. We just think if you want to put labels on such characters, we'd use "clichéd" and "stereotypical".
As mentioned earlier, the rediscovery of this story allowed many fans, who had previously only heard the audio of it - courtesy of the die-hard fans who were armed with tape recorders during the original broadcasts - and for many, the images that the atmospheric soundtrack created in their minds were far more potent that the ones that the BBC were able to muster back in 1967 and quite a number of these fans actually wish that the tapes of Tomb of the Cybermen had remained missing. We strongly disagree with this opinion, as the ambitious script is realised pretty damn well by the production designer. There a couple of questionable parts, such as the use of stop-motion animation to depict the tombs freezing and unfreezing, the all-too-obvious wires as Toberman picks someone up and one or two other things, but these are only minor criticisms - Doctor Who has rarely produced a flawless story in terms of production values, so Tomb of the Cybermen is no worse in that respect. Irrespective of some of the gaffes, there is bags of atmosphere as the Doctor and the others enter the eerie tombs, and our first experience of watching this story occurred many moons ago in the early hours of Sunday morning on UKGold and the suspense was palpable and certainly stayed with us, so when it was released originally released on DVD, it was a must-buy for us.
RISE OF THE CYBERMEN: The Doctor, Rose and Mickey encounter a serious problem with the time vortex and find themselves transported to an alternate version of London in a parallel universe (it's a pretty safe bet that it's not the same one Jon Pertwee saw destroyed all those years ago), where things are essentially the same, but with a few almost subliminal differences: zeppelins are still in production, seen as a fashionable status-symbol among the well-to-do, most of the public receive phone-calls, news and entertainment downloads via ear-pods, a device that plugs into the ol' Wilkinsons, and most disconcertingly of all for Rose, her father, Pete Tyler is not only still alive, but has become the successful businessman she always imagined he would be.
Unbeknownst to the visitors of this parallel Earth, sinister forces are causing ripples on the surface of a seemingly idyllic society - just why are homeless people disappearing from the streets; why is dying billionaire businessman John Lumic, determined to make everyone in Britain embrace the ear-pod technology that he distributes? Finally, what exactly are the covert activities which have brought life - of sorts - back to Battersea Power Station…
The answer to all three of the above is answered in one simple name - Lumic. - oh, by the way, did we mention that he is also a megalomaniacal madman? The tycoon in question plots to give the human race the ultimate upgrade that will allow human beings to live forever, but the process will paradoxically remove their humanity, turning them into an invincible army of drones. Will The Doctor be able to stop the plans of the crazed industrialist? Is there enough gold on the planet to thwart the armies of Cybermen being created at a rate of knots? Will Lumic call Rose "Dave"? You'll have to sit through it to find out, unfortunately…
The idea to bring back Shaun Dingwall as Pete Tyler was a great idea, as he had proven so likeable in the series one episode Father's Day. Dingwall is essentially the same person, but this Pete Tyler is successful, but the vulnerability and the character flaws from the Pete Tyler seen in Father's Day are still there.
Seizing the opportunity to play against type, Camille Coudri plays Jackie Tyler as a complete bitch, a vain, unpleasant character who is purely married to Pete Tyler for his money - in actuality, the pair have quietly separated. The Tylers are also a childless couple, meaning that neither of them know about the alternate Rose who has entered their universe - this provides emotional thread in the story, as Rose tries to connect with the alternate Pete Tyler, not bothering to heed the dire warnings from The Doctor on the subject. The chemistry between Piper is Dingwall is great, as the two of them continually size each other up, but the two of them are cautious for very different reasons - Rose because she is seeing a different version of the father she never knew, and Pete because he is suspicious as to why this strange woman is looking at him with reverent eyes.
There is no Rose in this alternate reality, nor does a counterpart to The Doctor exist, but there is an alternate Mickey in the form of Ricky, and this one is a tough, militant guy who, along with his band of anti-establishment activists, The Preachers, is determined to bring down John Lumic and Cybus Industries.
Roger Lloyd-Pack was an interesting piece of casting - initially fans groaned when they heard that Trigger was going to be in Doctor Who. He may be a little on the hammy side, but we were quite impressed with the menacing timbre in his voice whenever he says something particularly dramatic - it appears as though Lloyd-Pack was channelling Christopher Lee in his performance. Sadly though, at no point does Lumic say "I saw one of those old police boxes the other day…"
When it was announced that veteran Doctor Who director Graeme Harper was aboard for this two-parter, we were really pleased - Harper was responsible for directing two of the most consistently popular Doctor Who stories from the original run, Peter Davison's swansong The Caves of Androzani and one of Colin Baker's best story, Revelation of the Daleks. We thought that Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel couldn't miss - boy, were we wrong.
Our BIG gripe about this two-part story is that the Cybermen are not the Cybermen that the fans all remember fondly. When the initial New-Who Daleks were unveiled, fans breathed a sign of relief in that the modifications performed on them were minimal, and that they were still the same villains they knew and loved. This was probably due to the fact that the Daleks were so firmly ingrained in the public consciousness that they simply could not do anything TOO radical to them, or the public wouldn't buy into them. The Cybermen were another matter entirely…
It's a pretty safe bet that a focus group was put together and a discussion about the Cybermen was initiated - it's also fairly certain that the production team just took the basic concept of the Cybermen, along with what the general public vaguely knew about them (ie, they were silver and they had the protrusions from their heads) and just started redesigning them from scratch.
The original concept of the Cybermen way back when William Hartnell first encountered them back in 1966 was that the former residents of the planet Mondas were once completely organic, but they had decided to augment themselves with artificial body parts, until they were more machine than organic. The Cybermen here are all created from unwilling subjects who have most of their humanity stripped away - alternate universe or not, this has precious little to do with the Cybermen of the original show.
There is no getting around it - the new Cybermen are camp with a capital "C"; when the first picture of the new Cybermen design was released, we thought that it was a joke. Once the initial disbelief had dissipated, we looked at the thing again and we disliked it intensely - we consulted with other Doctor Who fans and most of them held pretty much the same opinion. The Cybermen that burst so dramatically onto the screen at the end of the first episode of Earthshock all those years ago were nearly perfect in their design - menacing, sleek and with something distinctly organic on display to show that they were flesh and blood at one stage of their existence.
The Cybermen here might as well have been a group of androids, as they are mindless automatons, completely incapable of working and thinking independently, and they march down streets in a manner that wouldn't look out of place in a dance routine by the Village People. Much emphasis is put on this silly marching - well, when you have adversaries that aren't particularly menacing from an aesthetic point-of-view, or even threatening through their personality, you have to try and think of SOMETHING in order to make them seem ominous; the Cybermen uniformly coming to a halt puts one in mind of a certain comedy sequence with Bernard Cribbins in Daleks Invasion Earth 2150AD…
It was great to see Don Warrington putting in a guest appearance as The President of the United Kingdom (would this be a nod to Inferno, which also had the UK as a republic?) - Warrington exudes class and gravitas in pretty much everything he says and does (if you've ever heard him swear, he elevates profanity to an almost eloquent level) and him simply being in the story helps quite a lot.
There is many a plundering from popular culture, and one the sticks out the most is the sequence where Lumic is denied a crucial decision that will thwart his plans, and he arranges the death of said impediment as a result. Whilst in this case, Warrington is allowed to get off of the airship before being dispatched, in Roger Moore's final Bond outing A View to a Kill, the poor schmuck in question is neatly dropped out of the zeppelin. Thematically, the two scenes play out exactly the same.
This must indeed be a parallel Earth, as Battersea Power Station is actually seen working - the last recorded time the one in our universe was operating was back in the year of our Lord Dracula AD1972!
THE AGE OF STEEL: The invasion of the Cybermen continues as The Doctor, Rose and Mickey come face-to-face with the "reimagined" horde of chrome-plated crazies.
The Cybermen have stormed the Tyler mansion - The Doctor, Rose and Pete Tyler manage to evade being taken away for upgrading. They team up with Ricky's militant group and they try to put an end to the attack of the Cybermen.
It might seem as though we are putting the boot into this two-part story somewhat unfairly - ok, to a certain degree you might be right. The Cybermen are probably our favourite Doctor Who adversaries and we are pretty pissed off with the shitty redesigning they have received here. It would be remiss of us not to praise some of the aspects of the story - the visual effects are quite stunning; the zeppelins are beautifully rendered - they are a quantum leap over the barrage balloons seen in the first series' The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances - what's more, the zeppelins are mainly seen during the daytime, which as anyone who knows anything about CG work will tell you, is a bitch to do convincingly. Speaking of CG work, whenever the two Mickeys are onscreen together, you really feel as though there are two of them; this is down the great CG work in the story, but also to Noel Clarke's acting ability - we may have been a little rough on him in previous reviews, but here he excels and turns in not one, but two great performances.
Speaking of cast members - it is nice to see a more mature face in the show - The Age of Steel has Helen Griffin as "Mrs Moore", the senior member of Ricky's group. Griffin puts in a nicely understated performance of a middle-aged woman who just happens have fallen out of favour with the powers-that-be and fallen in with a group of radicals. There is a sense of wisdom and knowingness to her performance that raises it above those of most of the other cast members in this episode.
The most atmospheric sequence in The Age of Steel comes when The Doctor and "Mrs Moore" are making their way through the underground tunnels to get into Battersea Power Station.- they pass by dozens of inert Cybermen in the dimly-lit tunnels - almost a tomb of the Cybermen. It is a triumph of assured direction, eerie lighting, confident editing and a superb choice of choir-based music which really brings the scene to life, although the moment when The Doctor realises that the Cybermen aren't quite as dormant as he thought reads as a little on the choppy side.
The Age of Steel sees the departure of Mickey ("the idiot") - Noel Clarke was just beginning to gel as a character, and it was a great pity to see him go, just as he was really starting to flourish as a character. The manner in which he departs is fairly agreeable, as it allows the character to be heroic, yet also enables him to be a caring individual - you can't ask for a better exit from a popular TV show than that.
It has to be said that the most disappointing aspect of this two-part Cyberman story is that the Cybermen are in it; there are some nice character pieces, some beautiful CG work and some exciting action scenes. If it had just been a story about Lumic creating an army of drones, then that would have been cool - but the Cybermen are special to dyed-in-the-wool Doctor Who fans, and fucking over such beloved characters in this manner is really disappointing. The public wouldn't have put up with this kind of shit if they had planned to radically overhaul the Daleks in a similar fashion…
Though the Cybermen and Lumic are ultimately foiled, and The Doctor and Rose make it safely back into their own universe, the silver nemesis are not easily defeated, and sooner than either of them realise, they will face the revenge of the Cybermen…
It should be pointed out that the combined running time of this disc comes to just over three hours and that both stories have been squeezed on to one dual-layer disc. Looking at it, there do not seem to be any serious compression issues, but they were skating close to it by having both stories on a single disc.
TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN: This transfer seems to be the newers one, which has had the VidFIRE process applied to it and the results are wonderful; the original release looked great compared to the VHS copy, but one this really IS a quantum leap over the older transfers.
Even though there is not all that much that can be done with the sequences that were shot on film, apart from manually painting out debris and specks, etc, - there are only really a few minutes at the start of episode one anyway - the new transfer begins to shine when the action switches to the studio, as the VidFIRE process tries to faithfully recapture the look of the original broadcast and does so in a way that ranks alongside some of the most successful uses of the process seen in the Doctor Who DVD series (the sole remaining episode of Enemy of the World is - in our opinion, anyway - one of the best).
RISE OF THE CYBERMEN/THE AGE OF STEEL: The rich blue hues seen in the Cybermen episodes look equally as good. On the minus side is that some of the detail in the blue backgrounds during the Doctor's showdown with the Cyber-Controller are steeped in unnatural grain. Though this is some form of digital deficiency, it looks like it was formed before the DVD authoring process, an artefact of the limitations of standard definition cameras used, especially as there is smoke in the proceedings.
TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN: No problems to report here - as usual; it all sounds great and there is little in the way of serious hiss or distortion issues.
RISE OF THE CYBERMEN/THE AGE OF STEEL: The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and is pretty good, with some pleasing spot-effects out of the rear speakers and a nice amount of low frequencies are emitted when the Cybermen march along in their campy manner.
Sod all. They could have at least chucked in a documentary to highlight how the Cybermen have evolved over the years.
Tomb of the Cybermen may very well be our favourite Patrick Troughton story; it's tense, atmospheric, exciting and contains great performances from pretty much everyone involved. It was almost a miracle that all four episodes managed to come back from the void and that this classic story was given the treatment it so richly deserves
We’re not great fans of Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel, mainly because of what had been done to the iconic Cybermen; there are some nice character moments and it’s great to see Noel Clarke shine at last in the show, but the bungled approach to the bad guys leaves a sour taste in our mouths.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 30th September 2013
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Easter Egg: No
Director: Morris Barry, Graeme Harper
Cast: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, David Tennant, Bingo from The Banana Splits
Length: 188 minutes
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