What’s In A Name: The Tomb of the Cybermen

One of the most annoying things about Doctor Who serial titles – aside from the messy business of deciding whether it’s The Edge of Destruction or Inside the Spaceship – is trying to remember which begin with “The”. Some are easy. The Long Game. Easy. The Twin Dilemma. Easy. The Web of Fear. Easy. These simply wouldn’t sound right without “The” at their beginnings.

The Evil of the Daleks? Always questionable. Colony in Space? Similar. The Silurians? Trick question.

Then there’s that 1967 Cyberman story in which the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) visits the planet Telos. We should confirm right now, The Tomb of the Cybermen is, indeed, The Tomb of the Cybermen. Let that forever be settled, until the next time we forget and have to check the DVD cover.

Would we have had the same troubles if the serial had stuck with its working titles, The Ice Tombs of Telos or The Cybermen Planet? In the latter case, it feels wrong without “The”; in the former, we’d be in the same boat, wouldn’t we?

Nonetheless, we’ve got The Tomb of the Cybermen, and honestly, it’s a perfect name. It’s much punchier than The Ice Tombs of Telos and doesn’t make fans scream “BUT THAT’S MONDAS”, as The Cybermen Planet surely would. It’s also very important, at least in the history of Doctor Who titles.

This is the first time the Cybermen are included in a story’s name. You might not consider this particularly surprising; after all, it’s only their third adventure, following The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase. However, it might be shocking to consider that there’s only four stories between 1966 and 2017 which feature the word, “Cybermen” in their names: The Tomb of the Cybermen; Revenge of the Cybermen; Attack of the Cybermen; and Rise of the Cybermen/ The Age of Steel. Compare that to the Daleks, monsters that revel in their own Power, show off their Master Plan, and boast of Victory.

Of course, away from television, other formats have taken Tomb‘s “of the Cybermen” structure, including audios (Legend of the Cybermen), novels (Plague of the Cybermen), and comics (Supremacy of the Cybermen).

Unsurprisingly, the singular “Cyberman” has never featured in the title of the TV story, although the working title of Tomb variated between The Cybermen Planet and The Cyberman Planet.

This is also the only time, at the time of writing, that “Tomb” has been included in a serial’s name. We can trace this Middle English word (which, as a noun, naturally refers to burial ground, and so instantly feels suitably sinister) back to the Greek, Týmbos (a burial mound), and further to the Latin, Tumēre, meaning “to swell”. The two might be correlated due to the displaced earth after a burial and a casket’s raising of the ground (i.e. a swelling), or perhaps as a result of gas escaping; in fact, there were once reports of over-pressurised coffins exploding! (This is also where we get our word, “Tumour” from.)

The terms translated to Old French into the word, “Tombe“: this is still used in France to mean a grave, although monuments are further referred to as “Tombeau“. Pleasingly, the latter was also the name of a musical composition commemorating the death of an important person, typically in the 17th Century but with brief recurrences for the mournful genre in the 18th and 20th centuries.

Its name rather suits The Tomb of the Cybermen, right? After all, most fans think the serial is pretty darn swell.

… No? Suit yourselves.