Unearthing the Tomb of the Cybermen

I normally do not buy something on DVD twice.  If a “special edition” is released after the initial regular DVD, well, it has to be pretty darn special indeed for me to pick it up.  But I made an exception for the recent two-disk DVD re-release of the Doctor Who serial “Tomb of the Cybermen.”

For those unfamiliar with “Tomb of the Cybermen,” it was first broadcast by the BBC back in September 1967.  In the role of the Doctor was Patrick Troughton, who portrayed the eccentric Time Lord from November 1966 to June 1969.  “Tomb” was written by Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis, the co-creators of the Cybermen, the second most popular villains on Doctor Who after the Daleks.  After its broadcast in the UK, the serial, along with a number of others, was then sold abroad, and several years later the BBC’s master tapes were erased.

Back in the days before VHS and DVD, there appeared to be no alternate market for old black & white shows to be financially lucrative for the BBC.  So, to their thinking, it made perfect sense to wipe hundreds of video tapes to re-use for new material, and to toss in the rubbish bin those film copies returned to them by foreign television stations.  Unfortunately, a great many Doctor Who episodes ended up on the chopping block, including the majority of Patrick Troughton’s first two seasons on the show.

Of course, fans of Doctor Who felt differently.  For the next quarter century, viewers who had seen “Tomb of the Cybermen” on their television screens way back in 1967 spoke of it, and other Doctor Who serials starring Patrick Troughton, in hushed, reverential tones, declaring them to be “the greatest Doctor Who stories ever made.”

For someone such as myself who was born in 1976, nearly a decade after “Tomb” aired, this would drive me crazy.  Here I was, a huge Doctor Who fan in the mid-1980s, being told about all these classic stories from the 1960s that I would never have an opportunity to see.  True, I was able to read the novelizations published by Target, including one of “Tomb” by original co-writer Gerry Davis.  And occasionally I would get to see old, grainy black & white photos published in sci-fi reference books or by Doctor Who Magazine.  But it wasn’t the same as being able to actually view those stories.

For many years, the closest we could get to the original show

For many years, this was the closest we could get to the original serial

Then, in early 1992, seemingly against all odds, a copy of the complete four-episode “Tomb of the Cybermen” was discovered, buried in the archives of a Hong Kong television station.  The serial was returned to the BBC, who immediately rushed it out onto video tape.

A digression: it is an odd thing, in that “Tomb of the Cybermen” has been found nearly as long as it had been missing, yet for many it is still refer to it as a “lost” classic.  I think this speaks of just how utterly unlikely it was for it to be discovered intact so long after it was thought destroyed forever, and how thrilled fans were to actually have it returned.

In any case, back in 1992, I remember thinking to myself, now that I finally have the opportunity to view “Tomb,” can it possibly live up to the hype that had been generated over the previous twenty-five years?  The funny thing is, a lot of those older fans who had seen “Tomb” way back in 1967 were actually a bit disappointed, saying it wasn’t nearly as good as they remembered (just one more example of 1980s Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner’s maxim “the memory cheats”).  I guess it can be difficult to compete with quarter century old childhood memories.

For myself, though… wow, I was completely in awe!  “Tomb of the Cybermen” was an amazing story: intelligent, exciting, suspenseful, ambitious, and lots of other adjectives that I could probably use if I pulled out my thesaurus.  It was fantastic.  And at long last I was able to finally see one of those classic Doctor Who serials the older fans had spoken of so respectfully.  True, there were many other still missing or incomplete stories: “Evil of the Daleks,” “The Web of Fear,” “Fury from the Deep,” and other Patrick Troughton serials from his first two years on the show.  But at least we now had one complete example from what many considered to be one of Doctor Who’s golden ages.

I’ve lost count of how many times I viewed “Tomb of the Cybermen” on VHS.  Then, ten years later, when it came out on DVD, I picked it up.  Finally, when the two-disk special edition came out a month or so ago, I bought that, as well.

So, what are my specific thoughts on “Tomb of the Cybermen” and it’s brand-new re-release on DVD?  I will discuss those shortly, in my next entry.  Stay tuned.  (That’s as close as I’ll ever get to a genuine Doctor Who cliffhanger on this blog!)

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One thought on “Unearthing the Tomb of the Cybermen

  1. I recently re-read the novelization, which is still pretty brilliant — intensely visual. Those who were disappointed by the story when it was found were probably remembering the sets & costumes from the book (and, of course, the book’s slightly less disturbing take on Toberman).

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