Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen Is A Cheesy, Problematic Classic

We have a Doctor Who news drought, so let's look back at "The Tomb of the Cyberman". It's one of the Second Doctor's (Patrick Troughton) earliest surviving stories because the BBC, in its infinite lack of foresight, erased a whole bunch of shows on videotape so they could reuse them. This was decades before VHS & DVD sales came along to bring in additional revenue for the broadcaster. It's a crime that so few Second Doctor stories still exist.

Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen is Cheesy, Problematic Classic
"Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen" still, BBC

"The Tomb of the Cybermen" was the Second Doctor's second story and the second Cybermen story, so that's a lot of seconds in one go, which is rare. It features many story tropes that have since become common in Doctor Who: a rich jerk who finances an expedition to a place where he unleashes an alien menace, rich jerk tries to make a deal with an alien menace thinking it'll get him power only to be – surprise! – betrayed, It introduced a lot of the Cybermen conventions we now know: the Cyber Controller, who would become the Cyberleader in later stories, the Cybermats, which are metal slugs that slither, act as spies and also attack dogs. The image of legions of Cybermen bursting out of their tombs is considered a classic horror moment, even if it was really just plastic sheeting due to the low budget at the time. That image has been replicated by showrunner Steven Moffat in "Dark Water" during series 8 of the new show.

This is Doctor Who as 1960s TV production values and writing styles at their cheesiest. There's also an unfortunate trope that can't be saved even by Roy Stewart's stoic and dignified performance as Toberman, a character horribly stymied by racial stereotyping. Toberman is problematic for the writers' depiction of him as the archetypal muscular black manservant who nobly sacrifices himself for the white characters. It's the Gunga Din problem all over again and a problem that stained television and film for decades (and still does). The writers of Doctor Who were always well-intentioned, but that doesn't lessen just how painfully wrong the message being sent was. Unfortunately, some of the show's scripts were products of their time when attitudes were different, and this is one of the show's worst moments… but far from its only one, as we'll see in future articles.

Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen is on Britbox in the US.

Enjoyed this? Please share on social media!

About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
Comments will load 8 seconds after page. Click here to load them now.