Throughout Doctor Who, there have been a great deal of enemies encountered by the Doctor. Some are so popular that a rematch is usually inevitable, whilst some are destined to be one hit wonders. For every Dalek there’s a Quark. For every Master there’s a Monoid. For every Cyberman there’s an Axon. Whilst some of these lesser used aliens have made a return in the world of Big Finish, onscreen they are destined to never face the Time Lord again.
The Cybermen make up one of the triumvirate of Doctor Who enemies that are regarded as the most popular. The Daleks and the Master being the other two. If you think about it, the Cybermen are somewhat analagous to the series itself. Since their first appearance back in 1966, they have gradually developed and evolved with the times, just like the show. Ever changing, embracing new technology and becoming more advanced. But what is it about the Cybermen that keep them being brought back again and again?
If you take a look at their first onscreen appearance in the final story of the Hartnell era, THE TENTH PLANET, the Cybermen were a lot more basic, it could be argued, than they would be in later adventures. Most people agree that they were certainly very creepy. By that stage of their evolvement, they had just started out and there are still human elements to them that they haven’t completely discarded. Hands are unconverted and behind the clothlike masks can be seen the eyes. This makes them very unsettling indeed as it conveys the idea of a human body being replaced gradually, limb by limb, piece by piece and the unusual electronic voices add credence to this fact.
The idea of the Cybermen is arguably a great factor in what makes them so scary. Wheareas the Daleks just want to externinate everything in sight, the Cybermen want to take people and use them in a bid to increase their numbers. You won’t be killed, instead “You will become like us” is the chilling war cry. A fate worse than death. Now obviously the television show can only hint at the horrors involved in turning a human into a Cyberman, but the excellent novels ICEBERG (Virgin New Adventures) and THE KILLING FLOOR (Missing Adventures), really go into some quite graphic detail in describing what happens to the body. Gruesome scenes of Cyber surgeons cutting, chopping, injecting and stitching. Like Frankenstein in Space. The tenth Doctor adventure RISE OF THE CYBERMEN/THE AGE OF STEEL, has a rather good scene when you see the conversion factories and inside each compartment we see a series of industrial scalpels, scissors, lasers etc….coupled with loud screams. You can just imagine the fear a human being would feel as they were waiting to step inside, knowing what was to come.
There is a fantastic line in the Big Finish audio story SPARE PARTS, where the Central Comittee of Mondas has decreed that everybody shall now be processed. This is mandatory and the Cyber patrols are out on the streets rounding people up. One of the Doctors who is responsible for the original augmentation program, is pleading with the leader of one such patrol. “Don’t forget Commander Jeng, I created you”, and the response from Jeng is a rather chilling, “And now I am superior. You should feel proud…..while you still have the capacity”. Of course, this is a reference to the fact that once converted, you also lose all ability to feel emotion or pain. This is pointed out in THE TENTH PLANET. No feelings! Perhaps Johnny Rotten may have been a fan.
Through the various Cyber stories down the years, each time the Doctor has encountered the silver giants, they have changed their look and advanced themselves even more. Their main goal now seems to be Universal domination. This is not why they started out though. In SPARE PARTS, the surface of Mondas (their original home planet), has become so unbearably cold. The propulsion factories are manned by workers who have to be augmented in order for them to be able to work in the sub zero atmosphere. Other Mondasians have chest units to help them breathe and limbs and arms are replaced with new mechanic parts. The main goal of these people however, is simply survival. Dr Kit Pedler who co-created the Cybermen with Gerry Davis, was extremely interested in Cybernetics and Robotics and often wondered how the advancement of technology would be used in society. In an article entitled, “Deus ex Machina?” in The Listener in 1969, he wrote about how robots could possible advance from simply being seen as “tin men” machines into something far more advanced, to a point where a robot is capable of such things as intelligence, goals, adaptability, the capability to learn and last but certainly not least, the urge to survive. These ideas are what informed his stories and ideas for Doctor Who. “We will survive!”.
My Mum said that one of her favourite scenes in DW, is the iconic moment when the Cyber invasion begins in the Patrick Troughton story, THE INVASION. Seeing the Cybermen on the streets on London, made them seem even more scary at the time. It is no coincidence that another of her fave moments was the Daleks in London in THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH. Once again, an alien menace from a far off world in space, is transported to modern day Earth. Suddenly they are on our streets. No longer are they somewhere far off in the Galaxy. We see them next to well known landmarks and now the threat is magnified. In the new era of DW, we have seen Cybermen on Earth. The series eight finale even went as far as re-creating the famous Cybermen at St. Paul’s Cathedral moment.
Although SPARE PARTS is a genesis story for the Cybermen, there was in actual fact, a draft idea of a genesis story, written by Gerry Davis for possible inclusion in Doctor Who during the Peter Davison era. A prequel to THE TENTH PLANET, it would have seen the 5th Doctor and Peri (whose character outline was issued to writers at the time) arriving on Mondas several hundred years BC and the Doctor inadvertantly providing the technology to create the Cybermen and blow the planet out of orbit, leading to it appearing near Earth in the first story. (THE TENTH PLANET). Unfortunately, Davis never heard anything back from JNT and Eric Saward and next thing he knew, the Cybermen were appearing in THE FIVE DOCTORS and, much to his displeasure, being massacred by a Raston Warrior Robot.
The main aim of the Cybermen has always been first and foremost, to survive and by any means necessary. Embracing ever advancing technology means they are constantly updating. Whilst I accept this fact, I do feel that the current versions are an evolution too far. For me, personally, they have always had what I call an essence of humanity. What I mean by that, is that you always get that sense that there is the remains of what was once a human being in amongst all the plastic, metal and machinery. The new ones have lost that completely. Now they are more like a race of super advanced robots with movable heads and hands and super speed (although that particular function was used once then forgotten about). For me, the Cybermen work as long as there is that organic component to them. The flying Iron Man clones can now “Upgrade” any living thing. It doesn’t need to be human. I know that’s the point. They are always changing with the times. I just feel that after the Cybus versions, which I liked, once the NIGHTMARE IN SILVER Cybermen appeared, it was an upgrade too far. It remains to be seen how the next show runner will portray them. Maybe a more back to basics approach will reinvigorate them.
As most people who know me will attest, I LOVE the Cybermen and whatever plans are in store for our favourite silver enemies, I am sure they will be constantly evolving and “upgrading” into the next era of Doctor Who.