Doctor Who: Tomb of the Cybermen at Alamo Drafthouse
Once a month the Alamo Drafthouse - Mason will be bringing classic serials of Doctor Who to audiences, and they've kindly asked me to host the events for them. Apparently they have confused expertise with a complete inability to shut up about a television show, but it's nonetheless an honor. We begin Saturday at 3 p.m. with a Second Doctor story, Tomb of the Cybermen, and I couldn't be happier.
It was really only a year ago that I finally gave in to the pesterings of literally every single person I know and decided to give this show a shot. I didn't want to because I always believed myself to be a person incapable of starting anything in the middle. That's why I never watched Lost. By the time I'd heard enough to get me interested, investing in three seasons to catch up felt more like a homework assignment than fun. This was my argument against meeting the Doctor.
"Don't worry about it," they said. "Start with a Fourth Doctor story on Netflix, that's Tom Baker. If you don't like that, move on to the new series." So I did. I watched The Ark in Space utterly glued to the screen. A year later, I've seen every single episode available on Netflix, old and new, read a dozen comics and books, played three video games, bought a fez and taught my three-year-old to scream, "EXTERMINATE!" It's not a show, it's a religion, and when a man that did Rocky Horror for ten years straight tells you a pop culture institution is like a cult, you need to bloody well listen to him.
I hope this event can be that for someone else. Let me tell you a little about it.
For the completely uninitiated, Doctor Who is about a man called the Doctor who can travel through space and time in a ship shaped like a phone box called the TARDIS. He usually has between one and three human friends along for the ride, and if he is fatally injured, he can regenerate into a new form. We're currently on the Eleventh. The show turns 50 years old next year.
Tomb of the Cybermen features the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. Troughton is where Matt Smith stole pretty much every aspect of his Doctor from except for the flirting right down to the bow tie. This is, unfortunately, the first serial featuring Troughton to still exist in its entirety. Earlier episodes have been lost, and this is also the only complete serial to feature his companion Victoria, a 19th century daughter of a fellow time traveler who had died saving the Doctor from Daleks on Skaro.
The Doctor, Victoria and Jamie (18th century Highland Scot who traveled with the Second Doctor almost his entire life) land on the planet Telos at the same time as an archeological expedition. The scientists are searching for the last resting place of the Cybermen, a cybernetic race that reproduces by converting humanoids into themselves through horrific surgeries. Think Star Trek's Borg but worse.
It was the Cybermen that were responsible for the death of the First Doctor and the regeneration into the Second. He had bravely fought against their invasion of Earth in 1986. He manages to stop them, but collapses from exhaustion in the process, ultimately regenerating for the first time.
Naturally, the Cybermen aren't as dormant as everyone thought, and once again the Doctor has to match wits with one of his most deadly and enduring adversaries.
Though the serial is as hokey as anything that you might find in 1960s science fiction, along with all the lovely casual sexism and racism of that time, it has stood up very well. The Cybermen, even in costumes that look like garbage bags, are capable of incredible menace and maintain the cold, machine logic cunning that still makes them effective 50 years later.
Troughton's Doctor is one of the best. He's a much more comedic figure than his predecessor, more of an eccentric uncle than a wise grandfather, and he clearly has great affection for his companions. His trust in Jamie's abilities and bravery is total, and while he tries to keep Victoria away from the action since he promised her father he'd look out for her, he is quick to build her up with compliments and promises of adventure.
Beneath the jovial facade, though, is a shrewd man who disarms with wit in order to further his plans. He manipulates both the Cybermen and his hidden human enemies with ease under the cover of a bumbler, and doles out incredible quips with ease.
Where the serial works best, though, is where it still works best to this day. The Doctor's endless fascination with the best parts of humanity, like the will to explore and bravery in the face of daunting odds, and his long war against those who would end those parts. He recognizes both the outer monsters like the Cybermen, and the minds of those that would conspire against us from the inside for their own gain. Tomb of the Cybermen is what Doctor Who should always be, the Doctor helping men fight both the evil they encounter and the evil they create while reminding them that they are better than that.
Yes, he's Space Jesus. Come hear the sermon. Ours has lasers.
Tomb of the Cybermen shows Saturday, October 27, at 3 p.m. at Alamo Drafthouse - Mason, 531 S. Mason Road, Katy. The event is free.
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events