The character of Dr.Who and the panoply of books, TV series and audio adaptations that it has spun have held British and international audiences in thrall since 1963. And “Dr. Who and the Tomb of the Cybermen” by Gerry Davis, a novelized adaptation of the episodes that aired on the BBC is another gem.
Readers will find the plot of this novel gripping and difficult to put down. The hero “Dr.Who”, an extraterrestrial being from the planet Gallifrey explores the universe in the TARDIS, a blue British police box that is actually a time-traveling space ship on the inside. As interesting as Dr. Who’s layered character is, the real punch of the novel lies in its vivid and terrifying portrayal of its villains, the Cybermen.
These emotionless cyborgs have the power of ten men and can live in an airless vacuum. Their origins lie in Earth’s twin-planet of Mondas that was knocked off its solar orbit and drifted into space. The aging and technologically-advanced Mondasians are anxious about their survival and replace organic body parts with cybernetic ones.
This concept of replacing organic with cybernetics by the author was a clever parallel to the cybernetic thinking in the medical field that was prevalent at the time in elite American universities. As the Mondasians trade organic neurons with computer chips for longevity, they become devoid of all emotion. Their sole objective is to maximize their power and to perpetuate their species by conquering other planets and ‘converting’ other organic species. The Cybermen with their ruthless logic and all-consuming desire for power become Dr. Who’s most tenacious enemies.
The novel revolves around the sudden disappearance of the Cybermen from their planet Telos, an arid, mountainous redoubt originally covered in ice and dominated by the Cryons. The Cybermen snatch the Cryons’ massive underground refrigerated cities and use them as cryogenic chambers to go into hibernation. The reason for the Cybermen’s entombment is their running out of sources of energy.
Davis tells about a brilliant assumption that the Cybermen, especially their Cyberman Controller makes when going into hibernation. Humans, being incurably curious, would find their tomb inside the mountain and solve the complex logic puzzles and in their obsession to find out more about their enemy. The parallels to modern day archaeologists and their insatiable curiosity to find and to enter the most inaccessible of Egyptian pharaoh tombs are striking.
And this is precisely what happens with a team of archaeologists landing on Telos, finding the tomb and managing to enter it. Dr. Who and his assistants are by now a part of the team that’s inside the tomb. Giving away the specific details of the characters would spoil the fun for readers so this review covers only the broad outlines of the story.
What follows is a fascinating portrait of the fallibility of human nature, its desire for control and its lust for power. Even as Dr. Who and part of the team realize the gravity of the threat and aim to finish the last of the Cybermen, there is a traitor in the ranks who wants to strike a deal with them.
This master logician believes that a power-sharing arrangement can be arrived at with the Cyberman controller, the dark-hooded leader of the Cybermen. What follow is infighting, murder and attempts by the traitor to force the rest of the team to accede to his agenda.
So do the Cybermen strike a deal based on pure logic and urge for power? Or does this fraught human-machine alliance collapse under the weight of the Cybermen’s fanatic belief in exclusive dominance even at the expense of extinction?
This last part of the novel is just too juicy to reveal and the review will leave the reader perched at this tantalizing vantage point, motivating her to check out the book.
The novel’s innovative idea of a villain based on contemporary scientific developments at the time, brisk prose and strong finale with a riveting untied mystery element is worth 4 out of 5 stars.
What is missing is a deeper dwelling on the nature of logic and perhaps an extended argument on this between the traitor and the Cyberman Controller. But this minor quibble does not take away from the core strengths of the novel including most importantly, its ability to transport the reader into a different realm. The terrifying nature of the Cybermen emanates, after all, from how similar they are to us. They are ice cold and calculative and they remind us of facets of our personality that we find uncomfortable to confront.
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