Friday, 22 December 2017
Inspirations - Tomb of the Cybermen
Season Five kicks off with a story that owes much of its inspiration to Egyptology. We'll get to that shortly, but first we ought to mention that the first episode of Tomb of the Cybermen is a clear attempt to relaunch the series for new viewers. The opening TARDIS scene sees new companion Victoria introduced to the ship, and to the lifestyle of the Doctor and Jamie. For the very first time, the Doctor even mentions his age - believing himself to be around 450. He has to think about it - either because he can't quite recall, or he is translating it into human terms. (If the latter, this might go some way to explaining some of the discrepancies in the Doctor's age over the following decades. Sometimes he is using Gallifreyan dating, and sometimes translating for Earthlings). Later on the Doctor will also talk about his family.
The TARDIS console room is the best we have seen it since the very first episode - big and bright, as director Morris Barry has chosen to put it on film. This is partly for the benefit of those new viewers, but also because he has other ideas for how he is going to use his studio space.
Behind the scenes, Innes Lloyd remains the producer but the on-screen credit goes to Peter Bryant, who is being sounded out as Lloyd's replacement. Stepping in as Story Editor is Victor Pemberton, who had played a small part in the previous Cyberman story, The Moonbase.
That story was also directed by Barry, and he is reusing the same costumes (although the Cybermen no longer have lace-up boots, and the piping is different).
Onto the story itself. It is written by the creators of the Cybermen - Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. For inspiration they have looked to Egyptian archaeology. They also have an eye to the numerous horror movies featuring the Mummy. Hammer made four, whilst Universal had a whole connected series of them.
We have an archaeological expedition in a desert landscape, searching for a lost city. Amongst them is George Pastell (playing Eric Klieg). He was of Cypriot descent, but had often played Egyptians and other Arabic characters - including two Mummy films from Hammer. In their first Mummy film - simply called The Mummy (1959) - he had played a man who allied himself to the Mummy. His family had been guarding its secret for many generations. His other Mummy movie was Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964), where he was on the opposing side, playing a policeman.
Playing his partner Kaftan is Shirley Cooklin, who just happens to be Peter Bryant's wife.
The party blast open the side of a mountain, and find a huge set of metal doors. On either side are stylised images of Cybermen. These are obviously inspired by the monumental reliefs of the Pharaohs seen adorning temples and other monumental buildings throughout Egypt.
It should be noted that real archaeologists tend to uncover their discoveries with trowels and toothbrushes, rather than using gelignite. Kaftan offers £50 to the man who can open the doors - which would just about buy you a cup of coffee in 500 years time. The chap who attempts to win this prize is killed, as the doors are electrified. This is the first hint that the tombs are booby-trapped, and may have a curse upon them.
The ancient Egyptian tomb-builders often left booby-traps, though not quite in the same league of those seen in Indiana Jones movies. They might leave a deep shaft in the floor, down which an unwary tomb-robber might plummet.
The curse surrounding the opening of the tomb belonging to the boy-king Tutankhamun was built upon the sudden death of Howard Carter's backer, Lord Carnarvon. He already had health issues, having been involved in a serious car accident. This is how he came to develop a love of Egyptology - he had been sent to Egypt because of his health. In April 1923, he suffered a mosquito bite. This wound was reopened when he was shaving. Blood poisoning set in, and he died soon after. At the moment of his death, the city of Cairo was hit by a power cut. There were four electricity generation plants serving the city - and all four failed. It was claimed that, back in England, his pet dog let out a howl and dropped dead at the exact moment its master passed away. Other people who had entered the tomb in the first few weeks after its opening died over the next few years - in car crashes and from illnesses.
It has been speculated that some of these deaths may have been directly related to the tomb - as the air inside may have harboured all sorts of nasty bacteria.
The party enter the tomb. On one wall is a huge circular display. The symbols covering this represent a logic puzzle. They are inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphics. The ancient Egyptians left a wealth of documentary evidence about their world, on papyrus and in stone - but no-one could decipher any of it. Scientists puzzled over these pictograms for centuries, until the French Army of the Nile under Napoleon uncovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799. The stone had the same decree inscribed upon it in three different languages. One of these was Greek, and so a transliteration became possible. There was a race between England and France to achieve this, but the honours went to a Frenchman named Jean-Francois Champollion, who decoded it in 1822. Hieroglyphics could then be translated. Klieg mentions Whitehead Logic. This refers to the mathematician Alfred North Whitehead - and not Reg Whitehead who will shortly appear in a Cyberman costume.
The party splits up to explore. In one room we find a huge recharge unit - based on a sarcophagus or mummy casket. Archaeologists will laugh at Viner, who can record every pertinent detail of the room with a few scribbled notes in his pad. No painstaking measuring here. He doesn't even take any photos, and we later see that Prof. Parry has a camera.
Another chamber is used as a weapons testing room. Here we have a wall which illuminates to show a subliminal target. Another expedition member succumbs to the curse here, shot dead by a Cyber-weapon. The room also contains a Cybermat. These small metallic creatures are inspired by Egyptology as well. The ancient Egyptians saw the scarab beetle as symbolic of resurrection and rebirth. This is because the Sun God Ra was thought to roll the sun across the sky each day - just as scarab beetles roll balls of dung along the ground. Scarab beetles appear throughout Egyptian art.
The tombs themselves are hidden under a massive hatch in the entrance chamber, and the Doctor allows Klieg to open it. He does this by dropping a huge hint, then by changing some of the controls behind the Logician's back. This is another example of this Doctor's manipulative streak, something which tends to be dropped later on. All of the subsequent deaths might be placed at the Doctor's door. Had he not helped Klieg, the hatch might have remained sealed. He has warned the party several times not to proceed, of course, but he mainly wants to see what will happen next. If any harm befalls the expedition, they have brought it on themselves.
Now, the Mummy cycles of films always feature a single being - usually a High Priest, usually called Kharis - but here we have a whole load of Cybermen taking their place.
The Cybermen are lead by their Controller. He's a massive example of the species, without any chest unit and having a tall, translucent cranium. You'll recall that we just met the leader of the Daleks in the previous story.
The Controller reveals that the tombs are a sort of trap. The Cybermen have retreated to this planet - Telos - to regroup. They want new recruits, and the death traps are a test. Cybermen are creatures of pure logic, so we can only assume that Klieg's position with the Brotherhood of Logicians has rung alarm bells with the Doctor. This Brotherhood is reminiscent of those groups who are pledged to protect secret tombs in the Mummy movies. Roger Delgado played one of these tomb protectors in Hammer's The Mummy's Shroud in 1967.
We should mention that Telos is Greek for "end" or "purpose" - hinting at the Cybermen's trap.
The Cybermen don't actually feature much in this story. They get up, mill around for a bit, then go back to bed. The Controller becomes a solo-menace for the second half. He has partly converted Kaftan's bodyguard, Toberman - whose name sounds like it is a contraction of the story title.
Viner has been killed by Klieg. Kaftan is shot dead by the Controller. This prompts the Doctor to help Toberman break his mental conditioning, and he turns on the Controller. Klieg has one last attempt at resurrecting the Cybermen - only for them to destroy him.
Everyone gets out of the tombs, and Toberman sacrifices himself to close the doors, which the Doctor has re-electrified. It looks like the Controller has also been destroyed by the closure of the doors.Of the original expedition, only Parry is left alive, and he leaves Telos with Captain Hopper and his rocket crew.
As with that little glowing light at the heart of the wrecked Emperor Dalek last time, one of the final things we see is a Cybermat still active - hinting that we have not seen the last of the Cybermen.
Next time: somewhere up a mountain in the Himalayas someone is making snowmen, even though there's no snow in sight...