If you think the Cybermen are a bit nonsensical these days then you need to take yourself back to the classics. Take ‘Tomb Of The Cybermen’ for instance. Forget the costumes in the TV version of these as they were working with limited budgets and realisation is harder than you think.
Menace and intent is made all the greater by the soulless nature of these beings that look a little bit like men. They are ungoverned by lust or desire for power, they simply exist to be powerful and are physically strong and intransigent. They cannot be reasoned with as they have no imagination. Modelled I’m assuming on tax consultants, these robot-like characters dominate the story even though they are not present for much of it.
What lacks in modern day versions is this real sense of menace. Those Cybermen are used as comedy foils or a temporary menace as when one chases Amy Pond round under the Stonehenge. In fact and, don’t get me started on this, this is problem with the whole approach to villains in the latest incarnation.
At least in ‘Tomb Of The Cybermen’, we know what we are getting. We know that the Cybermen are unlikely to stay buried, although goodness knows they take their time getting out of their tombs. We also get a range of characters some of them rather formulaic its true but they do have motives, hidden or otherwise and they do have a function, sometimes it is to be cannon fodder.
Contrast trying to novelise some of the recent ‘Doctor Who’ episodes and you are left with the impression that there would have or be a lot of back-story and filler to make up a novel.
I know it’s like comparing fish fingers to custard but, sometimes and oft, I mourn the passing of the straightforward story that lets us get on with it, doesn’t have a ‘get out of jail free card’ that it constantly waves in our face. Like any other drama we need consistency and ‘Tomb Of The Cybermen’ has an internal logic that takes us in great security towards the end. We know they will be defeated, we don’t know who will die. Companions weren’t guaranteed to survive to the credits even in those days. We need to feel that our emotional investment in the outcome is justified and not cheated by a sleight of hand finish.
‘Tomb Of The Cybermen’ keeps us pushed up against the wall right until the final credits because we have some sympathy with the human characters and we find the character of the Doctor to be working for their interests.
I’m not a massive fan of bringing in the new voice of the Cybermen neither as this rankles with my memories of the originals. Much as I love Nick Briggs and his talents, I would have preferred it purely to be the classic sounds.
I like the slow burn of the plot here. I like how all the characters are set up. I love that one of the main characters is called Kaftan and one of the others, a strongman. It’s, all in all, quite a mix and although it’s voiced by one of the original Cybermen rather than a companion this works out. I would have preferred Jamie McCrimmon to be the narrator as Frasier Hines could have done most of it in his own voice rather than his north o’ the border.
There is hardly any frantic running about in this and it is never addressed while the Doctor doesn’t take everybody off the planet in the TARDIS or even his own team. They seem to fall in rapidly and incomprehensibly with the idea they have to tough it out with the others.
All in all though, it is quite nice to listen to these old series and get a sense of history from them. They demonstrate how our use of drama has changed and how much more demanding modern audiences were. The gap between the original transmissions is bridged in time by the novelisations, which came quite a bit later, when some sensibilities had changed. The best and even the worst TV stories enjoy their own momentum in a novel version.
(pub: Audio Go/BBC. 4 CDs 286 minute story. Price: CD: £ 6.63 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-44582-636-3. Download: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-44582-635-6)
reader: Michael Kilgarriff
check out website: www.audiogo.co.uk