A selection of Cybrids. Blended Cybermen, old and new combined.
A selection of Cybrids. Blended Cybermen, old and new combined.
Tony’s going to hospital.
The Harvest is the third of three experimental stories from Big Finish, for which the brief appears to have been pretty exciting from the word go: do something new with companions and Cybermen.
The Fifth Doctor Cyber-story, The Gathering, takes Davison’s Doctor back to Earth to find Tegan, decades after she left him, her life quite small and unsatisfying, and very nearly over. It’s a story that doesn’t let the Fifth Doctor off any of the hooks Tegan caught him on, and refuses absolutely to give him any easy, time-travelling way to solve Tegan’s problems: perhaps uniquely, it’s an audio that if anything hardens the sentiments of a companion towards their Doctor (at the time it was the first – and was presumed also to be last – audio story Janet Fielding would do for the company, so it could afford to feel final). It tells the somewhat low key story of a piece of relatively unimpressive Cyber-technology, and how it can still have important consequences for Tegan’s life. The Gathering, the Sixth Doctor’s entry into the loose trilogy, finally takes Peri home to deal with the fallout of her reckless decision to run off into time and space – to face her family’s disapproval, their heartache, their hurt feelings. Where Tegan hardens her attitudes towards the Doctor, Peri discovers how time and space have changed her, giving her the resources to stand up for herself and her actions, while still being compassionate to those she loves. If Tegan’s story is an ending, Peri’s is almost a rebirth, set against a much more full-on Cyber-story – think town under siege, weaponising the dead, uber-future Cybermen and a race against time before the Cyber-threat goes critical.
In contrast, The Harvest, the Seventh Doctor story, does something relatively straightforward in terms of companions – it starts the journey of one: staff nurse Thomas Hector Schofield, known to his friends as Hex, gets involved in the life of the Doctor and Ace, going by her surname of McShane at the time, when strange and creepy things start happening at his place of work, St Gart’s hospital, London.
If the companion journey in this story is comparatively straightforward, the Cyber-story is probably the most breathtaking of the three by virtue of its potential. Dan Abnett takes a fresh look at the Cybermen and asks one fundamental question: what would happen if the Cybermen decided they didn’t want to be Cybermen any more?
It’s a question that entails the reversal of much of their traditional body horror, but it also puts us more viscerally in touch with that horror than we usually get, as what we’re dealing with here are Cybermen intent on replenishing themselves with flesh, blood, sinew, and an emotional cortex of responses. The Cybermen have always had the essence of bodysnatchers, but seldom more potently than here, as nano-surgeons at St Gart’s try to find appropriate tissue to make this gothic nightmare come to pass. Incidentally, if you thought the plot of Deep Breath was original, you’re about ten years too late – The Harvest was released in 2004, and basically lays the pathway down which Deep Breath would eventually tread, machine creatures adding flesh to their frames in an attempt to become more and more human.
Of course there’s more to it than that – there’s a cogent, if depressing, commentary on human greed and the ever-present need of nations to get ahead of other nations any way they can, and there are twists which even having come so far it would be unfair to spoil for you. But The Harvest also seeds a couple of New Who Dalek stories of which neither Abnett nor Big Finish could have had any idea when it was released. If Evolution of the Daleks proposed the unlikely scenario that the last Daleks in existence could feel jealousy for human beings and want to emulate them, the leap is easier to make in terms of the Cybermen here, because they aim to operate from a position of logic, and logic dictates that the people of Mondas responded to extraordinary pressures, but in the absence of those pressures, the need to be in Cyber-form should be re-assessed. In essence, the idea of Cybermen who change their mind is shocking, but rational (rather than having to be explained away as a mechanical fault, as in the case of Rusty, the humanist Dalek from Into The Dalek). There’s also a sense of similarity between The Harvest and The Wizard’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, with the idea of a desperate, aching closeness to something wonderful, a détente between the Doctor and one of his oldest enemies, only to have that potential snatched away close to the end.
Make no mistake about it, The Harvest is a suitably emotional ride, given the subject matter. It also shows Ace and the Doctor as having come a long, long way together, able to trust each other implicitly. It’s an evolved Ace from her on-screen days, a relatively grown-up Ace after the events of audios like Colditz and The Rapture, which saw her ditch her nickname and reclaim the surname from which she’s always been hiding. In terms of its dynamic, it’s an example of something that has been done successfully since on audio, and taken rather more as a stimulus for comedy episodes on-screen too – the idea of the Doctor going long-term undercover in an environment to assess some alien chicanery and put a stop to it. Back in 2004 though, this was still an unusual idea – that the Doctor would take the time to blend in with human beings, rather than forcing events to go his way with his usual mystique and button-pushing. It’s a scenario that brings a sophistication of performance out of McCoy and Aldred that makes for easy listening despite the high-octane emotional loading and the gothic concepts at work within the story.
And what of Hex, the new boy? Philip Olivier, then best known for his work on the soap opera Brookside, delivers characterisation by the bucketful. Abnett’s script allows him a proper journey (most akin, in TV terms, to that of Donna Noble, going from ‘What the hell, this makes no sense!’ through his deep compassion and ability to rapidly process the bizarre realities of this life of Ace’s and the Doctor’s, and decide he wants to be part of it). Late in the story, he’s throwing his knowledge as a nurse into the fray, helping save people from death and harm as the body count rises, and able to take command of situations when needed, even when faced with rigid authority structures which see him as little more than the lowest life on the ladder.
The Harvest gives Hex a rollercoaster of an introductory story (it’s not really an origin story – we learn much more of his origins as he goes along), showing him as having the right stuff to join the Tardis. It also delivers a Cyber-story that to this day is unlike anything that’s been tried since, for all its uniqueness rather dissolves towards the end. It gives us a timely lesson in the susceptibility of humans to greed and self-interest, even at the expense of the lives of the little people, and it stands as the most linear and satisfying of the three stories in a very unusual and dynamic trilogy.
If you haven’t tried these stories yet, give them a go – and in particular, invest in The Harvest. Not only does it begin a whole new series of adventures for the Seventh Doctor – the Hex stories – that include many of the most inventive that Doctor has yet had, it’ll make you yearn for an on-screen Cyberman story that dares to flirt with this much invention, let alone this much heart.
Tony argues for the Cybermen to take pole position.
The Cybermen are frequently thought of as Doctor Who’s Silver Medal Villains, the second mega-hitters in the show’s history and, next to the Daleks, Who’s creepiest, most successful returning villains.
Here’s the thing – to me, the Cybermen will always be scarier than the Daleks. More interesting than the Daleks. In short, and there’s no other way to put this, better than the Daleks.
It is of course quite hard to explain why that should be so – the Daleks turned Doctor Who from an interesting programme that went on to be about cavemen into must-watch TV. Their second story expanded their potential hugely, and remains an all-time classic, their design is iconic, their voices still have the potential to scare the bejesus out of children, no matter how old they are, and philosophically, they’re a combination of Nazism, atomic horror and the screaming ego of a five year-old with a gun. What have the Cybermen got that competes with that?
Firstly, the idea of the Cybermen is much scarier. Yes, the Daleks are ‘bubbling lumps of hate’ in bonded polycarbide suit of armour, but they never had a choice about that. They were ‘born’ that way, manufactured to be a laughable lesson in ‘perfection,’ and sent out into the universe to give the rest of us a cosmic kicking.
The Cybermen are us.
You, me, all of us. The Daleks might hate every non-Dalek thing in the universe, but the Cybermen were frightened. Frightened of all the things you and I are frightened of in our pathetically short, squishy, organic, organic, emotion-driven lives. They were frightened of ageing. Of decrepitude. Of a loss of memory and function. Of going blind, or deaf, or mad. Of the frailty that comes with getting old. And of the ultimate consequence of time – of death. Mondas was not casually chosen as the Earth’s ‘twin’ planet – it was pure science fiction allegory. The Mondasians were us, with better medical facilities. At least they were in the Sixties. Now, it would be fair to say we’re just about starting to catch them up – bionic arms and legs are starting to be 3D-printed and they’re changing lives.
And that’s the scary thing. The Cybermen began with such good intentions, and the replacement of limbs and organs is absolutely a good thing for those who lack them. But Kit Pedler, who originally had the idea of the Cybermen, feared that the more we augmented ourselves, the more it would slide from necessary to easy, from surgical to cosmetic or functional, to elective. The idea of upgrading ourselves not because we lack anything in nature, but because the mechanical alternative is better is how you get from where we are right now to the Cybermen.
And as Russell T Davies was quick to point out when he took on the task of bringing the Cybermen back in New Who, we are a culture obsesses with gadgetry and gizmos, the latest cool upgrade and the race to be the same as everyone, to be socially equal. If there’s a killer app, we all have to have it. A killer game, we all have to have it. The most bells-and-whistles phone, it’s in our pocket, transforming how we spend the time of our lives.
Imagine if there was an affordable technology to upgrade your eyes, so they’d replay anything you saw, any time you wanted, straight to your brain. Imagine a slot at the back of your next, a chip that would give you mental access to Netflix at the speed of thought. Imagine a cyber-nanite pill that could eat excess fat. Reprogram muscle to grow. Rebuild neuronic pathways. Imagine you could download your entire mind to the cloud, seamlessly, every ten minutes, for rebooting in the event of accidental damage. Imagine you could retard the ageing process, be young, be strong, be desirable forever. Which of us wouldn’t take any of those elective steps on the pathway to the Cybermen?
Now imagine every heartbreak you’ve ever had. Every death you’ve grieved for. Every love that’s spurned. Imagine all the rage of passion and politics, of argument, of knowing that you’re right and someone else is wrong. Imagine all the pain of knowing others are suffering, and you can do nothing to help. That you can’t save those who die of famine, those who flee from war, those whose parents beat them, those who find the streets a safer bet. You can do nothing to help any of them.
Then imagine you could take all that pain, all that passion and heartbreak and impotence, and you could flush it, cool as lemonade from your brain. How much easier would your life be without the burden of a conscience, without the need to care.
How attractive would that be?
The Cybermen are us if we take the easy option, if we delete the painful parts of being alive because they hurt. The Daleks are screaming Nazi children in tanks, but there’s something altogether more heartbreaking about the Cybermen, and especially their certainty that their way is better.
Then, beyond the heavy philosophy of the Cybermen, there’s their aesthetic. The Daleks and Cybermen might both be former humanoids encased in metal and kept alive by artificial systems, but the Daleks don’t look like they were ever us. The Cybermen, in all their forms – from the mummified Tenth Planeters to the metallic Troughton variants, and even up to the current, somewhat cherubic mostly-androids – look humanoid. Their eyes and mouth are in the same relationship as ours, their arms and legs are like ours. The fact of their former humanity is inescapable – as is the fact that with their expressionless faceplates and their synthesised voices, they’ve lost the last scraps of that humanity to their fear and their need to survive.
That aesthetic of lost humanity, that blankness coming from something that we instinctively feel should be like us, makes the Cybermen more imposing, more terrifying than the sons of Skaro.
Then there’s the variability of their use. While the Dalek shadow is thrilling when thrown against a corridor wall, there’s no such thing as a stealth Dalek. Or rather, there is now, in terms of the humanoid Dalek agents, but there hasn’t been until very recently. Cybermen were doing the scary shadow thing as early as The Moonbase too, but they could also hide as humans in a hospital bed! They had plans that were deeply (in fact, some would say impenetrably) sneaky as far back as The Wheel In Space, and they’ve done everything from poisoning staff on a space station to send the survivors to blow up a planet, to crashing a shipful of themselves into the Earth, to altering the course of Halley’s comet to stealing children from an amusement arcade and turning the Doctor into one of them. The Daleks have had some whacky schemes in the past too, it’s true, but for sheer, madly illogical logic, you can’t beat the Cybermen.
Invention, multiple use, the cold aesthetic of sacrificed humanity and their interminable closeness to what we could become all, for me, make the Cybermen the most fascinating, and the scariest, of all the Doctor Who monsters. As they’ve evolved in recent years to upgrade their speed and stealth, to spread their nature by touch in cybermites and by weaponising the dead, the Cybermen have added new, more 21st century scares to their arsenal. I for one want to see where the Cybermen’s terrifying destiny takes them, and us, next.
Tony rides the Spacey Zoomer.
The Cybermen have, over the course of their fifty years of Doctor Who history, not been treated well in terms of story. For creatures supposedly governed solely by logic, some of their stories have been tortuously over-complicated, and in others, particularly in recent years, there has been more of a focus on their visual, stompy-monster threat than their philosophical underpinnings or their actual reason for being.
As such, it’s a bit of a mystery why, of all the Cyber-stories in recent years, many fans find Nightmare in Silver to be something of a let-down.
In the first instance, it’s actually about something that matters to the Cybermen – rebirth, the relaunch of their race as a power in the universe, some long while after defeat in a massive Cyber-war. For contrast, this is essentially the same basic premise as Revenge of the Cybermen, with its handful of almost glam-rock-shiny, seventies Cyber-groovers. But Nightmare in Silver actually addresses the fundamental nature of what the Cybermen are, and what they are reported to do, but have seldom ever actually been shown doing – upgrading, evolving, adapting to new circumstances by patching in new abilities, new realities about themselves. This, if anything, is the reason Cybermen want to make more of themselves – they exist to defy death, ageing and disease, and they want to make more of themselves because they honestly believe that they are better than everything else. If they’re going to be based on logic, and they’re going to believe they’re better than everything else, there has to be a reason why they believe that. The reason is that nothing should phase them. Very little should kill them. And every stratagem of those resisting their inevitable supremacy should be counteracted by a rapid evolution.
There are of course very good practical storytelling reasons why this has never been shown on screen before – if you have a creature with the potential that the Cybermen have, you have very little story: you have a marching army of Cybermen, you have their enemies trying to resist, you have their enemies’ resistance failing, and you have the Cyber-army growing. Or, conceivably, you have their enemies left with no alternative but to blow up the planet on which they happen to be standing. This is what the Cybermen should be – but it does make for fairly monotonous storytelling.
But since it’d never been shown on screen in 48 years of Cyber-history, you have to give props to Neil Gaiman (and who, after all, doesn’t give props to Neil Gaiman for one reason or another) for deciding, just once, to really show what the Cybermen genuinely are.
It’s true, there’s a hint of a sixties Doctor Who annual about the beginnings of the story: The Doctor and Clara taking her two young ‘wards’ on a jolly whizzo space adventure – including the Spacey Zoomer! – but this sense quickly drops away once they’ve bounced about a bit in zero gravity and the Doctor has noticed the strange insects and night falls. All the jolly fun drops down to dark shadows and forebodings as the children are packed off to bed and, inevitably, Angie goes wandering off to investigate the punishment platoon.
It’s also true that there seems to be no particularly good or logical reason why the punishment platoon should have been sent to this particular space-rock, other than to provide the handy expedient of a bunch of soldiers to fight the Cybermen, and a really big bomb. But in its core elements, Nightmare In Silver makes significantly more sense than most other Cyber-stories in the show’s history. They have been there on this insignificant planet, quietly rebuilding their numbers by stealing the children who used to visit and turning them into their new recruits, their new army, just waiting for the right brain to become their Cyber-Planner. And with the arrival of new children, the time has come. The Doctor’s strange insects start scuttling, and the Cybermites do their work.
The Cybermites are a creation of genius – synthesising the idea of the Cybermat as a servant-creature and the idea of nanobots as tiny repair or conversion droids – we imagine the new Cybermen have a system full of Cybermites to perform the upgrades of which they speak, and to begin the conversion process in organic humanoids they encounter. The idea of fast Cybermen is so obvious it’s frankly amazing it’s never been shown before, so Gaiman gives it to us – if you were a creature that was an organic brain in a constantly evolving metal body, why would you choose a slow, noisy one? No, you’d be as fast as possible, as efficient as possible. Likewise with the scenes which many fans thought made the Cybermen too jokey in this episode – the detached body parts used as decoys. But again, this is what the Cybermen are, or should be: since the re-statement of them in New Who as an organic brain in a body mainly made of metal (with, we assume, most of the rest of the inefficient organic body jettisoned), the head should be able to function independently, and there’s no reason why, given a coherent program matrix of Cybermites, individual limbs shouldn’t be able to function strategically and separately too. This is the Cybermen functioning logically for once in their on-screen career.
When the first of the upgraded Cybermen makes its appearance and steals the children, the resurrection of the Cybermen can be put into operation rapidly – but then a better plan immediately suggests itself, and the Cybermen switch tack. They don’t need the children to be their Cyber-Planner: not when there’s a Time Lord brain available.
The Eleventh Doctor’s frantic and massively camp battle with the Cyberiad trying to rewrite his brain and bring him into the system as the new Cyber-Planner (that’s Mr Clever to you) has been seen by some fans as antithetical to the idea of emotionless, logically-driven creatures, but this misses the point quite spectacularly. The Cybermen respect the brain, and they have learned to make use of its creativity, its organic impulsiveness – but within reason, and only in their Cyber-Planners. Possibly they’re assimilated details of the Dalek-Movellan conflict and appreciated the need for an organic work-around for pure logic in strategic situations. The battle is also played out in a way specific to the Eleventh Doctor – every Doctor would have had a similar battle, but the specifics would have been different, because the personalities would have been different. Ultimately, we see the cunning of the Cyberiad, trying to manipulate Clara, and succeeding to some extent. With millions of revived and upgraded Cybermen on the march, the Doctor and the Cyberiad play a logic game for control of his brain – and the Doctor once again teaches the Cybermen the value of that organic intuition, by cheating (which is ultimately a way of working around the rules). But still, in the final analysis, when you have a foe as dynamic and unstoppable as the Cybermen should be, blowing them up with love should not be an option. Blowing them up with a massive, massive bomb – yes. And ultimately, there’s no alternative at the end of Nightmare in Silver – it’s the only way to beat a foe that just keeps on coming and assimilates your soldiers.
Nightmare in Silver is an example of the kind of storytelling you cannot do too often. But it’s an example of absolutely what the Cybermen should occasionally be seen to be like – implacable, unstoppable, evolving round every obstacle and leaving you nowhere to go. In the history of the show, they’ve been killed with everything from gravity to radiation, gold dust to cleaning fluid, their own self-realisation, and *ahem* love. Nightmare In Silver stands alone in painting them as a galactic threat, and admitting that what you need to defeat them is not cleverness, because they can think their way around cleverness faster than you can create it. Some threats, some bullies, you have to beat with a show of brute force, and if you’re human, rather than a super-intelligent Time Lord who aims to be better, your only real option is to hit them, hard, before they can lay a Cybermite-infested fist on you. There are elements of the storytelling that are questionable, and that make it seem like it’s aimed at younger fans, but in terms of the representation of the Cybermen as a real, logical, implacable threat, the show has never done better.
Nightmare in Silver is the apotheosis of that thrill in Tomb of the Cybermen when they wake up en masse. It’s why the Invasion resurrection thrills. Why the sight of all those reviving Cybermen in Earthshock sends chills down your spine – it’s the ultimate on-screen realisation of the idea that when the Cybermen march, you cannot run and you cannot hide. You cannot reason and you can’t out-think. You can only kill or be killed: that is the true nature of the nightmare in silver.
Tony thinks logically about the Cybermen.
The Cybermen have never been used to their full potential on screen.
Ahhhh – thank you. I’ve been wanting to get that off my chest for quite some years now.
The Cybermen are Doctor Who’s silver medal monsters. Only the Daleks outrank them in the show’s history, and the reason for that is that, like the Daleks, they work on two levels – the immediate, threatening, scary monster level and the philosophical level, embodying a primal human fear.
The Daleks are what happen if you raise a child in darkness and isolation, teach it its superiority and instruct it in hatred, then trap it in a tank for its whole life. With their genuine belief that they are superior, they glide on screen and scream at you, but they also embody both a fear of nuclear poisoning, and the rigidity of mindset that comes with a racial superiority complex. They’re both demented loveless children and out-and-out Nazis in tanks.
The Cybermen, if anything, embody an even more primal fear – the fear of ageing, of decrepitude, and of death. The Cybermen are what happen when a society’s ability to keep death and ageing at bay is equal to its fear of those material constants. They’re what happen when the trend for cosmetic, elective plastic surgery tips the balance of life and death in favour of living forever.
This philosophical reality of the Cybermen – the Dorian Grey factor, where the longer you live and the more you replace, the less human or humane you become – has been woefully underexplored in their on screen exploits.
There’s very little in the science fiction world that organic systems do better than the potential of engineered systems. Creative thinking is the great exception. New Who has fundamentally re-written what the Cybermen are, and taken them in a positive direction, by saying that the main component that remains organic in them is the brain – the thing, ironically that makes individuals unique – and that all or most of the rest of them is now mechanical. This would surely be the logical way for the Cyber-race to progress, improving the robotic components, and reducing the limitations placed on their evolution by the decay and degeneration of their organic parts.
But if that’s what the Cybermen are, they’ve been massively underutilised.
Throughout the Classic Who years of course, they were largely used for their ‘stompy monster’ potential, which is undeniably great – get a Cyber-shape looming out of the Antarctic snow, or its silhouette thrown across a lunar landscape, and you still get a tingle of fear at the size of the things. Get them marching out of sewers and down the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, or get them bursting out of tubes on a cargo ship and marching in ranks towards you, and you get the distinct sense that dying is the least dreadful thing that’s going to happen to you today. But New Who made a stab in the Russell T Davies era at understanding the philosophical level on which the Cybermen ascend to an extra pitch of fear. By giving them an ‘alternative’ origin, the show rewrote the vital part of them, inasmuch as only the brain counted as organic – but then went back to using them largely as stompy villains, marching into dinner parties, or marching around the world as ‘ghosts,’ having them as comedy relief in A Good Man Goes To War and The Big Bang, and even ‘blowing them up with love’ in Closing Time.
Neil Gaiman’s Nightmare In Silver was decried by large swathes of fandom, but, just as The Age of Steel did for them back in Davies’s time, it fundamentally took the Cybermen forward. Why would they be stompy – if they were constantly evolving, upgrading, refining themselves (and they have over the years had more physical redesigns than any other creature), why would they not be fast? Fast, and silent. The detached hand sequence was played unfortunately for laughs, or at least evoked laughs by its similarity to a Red Dwarf sequence, but this is exactly the point about the potential of the Cybermen – they should have independently programmable limbs and bodies. They should have detachable limbs, and yes, their heads should be able to function turned around 180 degrees or entirely detached. The Cybermites were a brilliant evolution of the Cybermat idea, but they could be taken further – combine technological advancement with the Daleks, essentially, and use their own nano-cloud technology – you should be in danger of becoming a Cyberman simply by being in the same area as a single Cyberman; like Borg nanites, there should be clouds of tiny Cyber-mites that turn living flesh into metal, that rewrite mental pathways and shut down the areas responsible for emotional response – no more of this “stored” or “restorable” emotion, so you can destroy the Cybermen by unlocking emotion in them. They should simply look at you when you try a manoeuvre like that, and keep on coming.
What’s more, for creatures ruled by logic, they have a sentimental attachment to their old, organic, body shape (which of course is the result of being largely played by human beings). To restore the Cybermen to the level of body-horror, have them strap on limbs, weapons etc as needed. Why not have Special Weapons Cybermen? What about Cyber-zerkers: Cybermen that are overclocked, as it were, to take out maximum resistance in a suicide mission and retain as many standard Cyber-units as possible. It would be a mistake to lose the traditional Cyber-look of handles on heads, but there’s no fundamental reason why the Cybermen have to remain looking like men at all.
The Cybermen have always been effective on screen for their stompy villain routine. (Well…maybe notsomuch in Revenge of the Cybermen, but mostly…). They’ve never really been utilised to the best of their capabilities in terms of what they philosophically represent.
Not so in audio – in stories like the loose trilogy, The Reaping, The Gathering and The Harvest from Big Finish, there are three quite different but equally audacious takes on the Cybermen, but of course, audio is free from the expense of rendering such dynamic inventions as fill these three episodes on the screen.
In terms of stories which would use modern Cybermen to a greater percentage of their philosophical, body-horror potential, why not have the Cybermen, through a semi-Cyberised slave like Tobias Vaughan, going into commerce: providing overpopulation solutions to overcrowded worlds, or coming as saviours or gods to worlds where the inhabitants are all dying of plague – offering physical immortality to the old and seeing how many people would volunteer for conversion.
For a low-budget idea that stays true to the core of the Cybermen, why not have them revolutionise the beauty industry – one pill, one time, and you never age again; only gradually do you find out that the Cybermites are swarming through your body, turning you into something else, your fear of ageing and death giving you the ultimate Picture of Dorian Grey makeover that the Cybermen truly represent. Why not have them set up sleeper cells through organ replacement banks and blood transfusions? Granted, you might traumatise a generation of children from ever going into hospital, but they’re already scared of statues, so what’s left to lose? At least the beauty industry idea might reinforce the original philosophical idea of the Cybermen – that over-augmentation results is people who are somehow less human. Or to emphasise the newly more mechanical superiority of the Cybermen, what could be more Cyber than a computer virus, infecting servers around the world, allowing pathways through cables for the Cybermites to do their work.
When you have such a richness of symbolism wrapped up in a monster – the fear of ageing and death; the bargain of Dorian Grey; the zombification of humanity and the fetishisation of technology to the point where the next techno-upgrade is immortality, it’s a shame that the Cybermen should have been used for so long either in over-complicated and strangely illogical plots (The Wheel In Space, Revenge of the Cybermen, Earthshock, we’re looking at you, among others) or for the symbolism only of their strength and their blunt trauma effect as soulless monsters. Dig a little deeper and the Cybermen could be the kind of villain to blow the Weeping Angels away and reclaim their rightful place in the topmost echelons of the Who monster hierarchy.
‘Excellent,’ says Tony, watching the 80s Cybermen.
When the Cybermen returned to Doctor Who in Earthshock after an eight-year absence, they were pitched with a beautiful clarity of thought. They had been the show’s second real instance of bottled lightning throughout the 60s, only eclipsed by the Daleks in terms of number of appearances and working in both stompy monster and philosophical terms. But Revenge of the Cybermen back in 1975, while to some extent seeding what the Cybermen would become, in other ways did them very few favours – the Doctor’s rant in that story about them being ‘a pathetic bunch of tin soldiers skulking about the galaxy in an ancient spaceship’ hurt the Cybermen’s credibility, as did some of the story’s budget limitations and shot-choices – the Cybermen in Cyber-flares, ducking their wobbly helmets under doorways and occasionally adopting disco-strut pointy-poses left the taste of over-ripe cheese in the mouth of many viewers, which meant they didn’t appear again throughout the rest of Tom Baker’s time as the Doctor, seeming to confirm the irrelevance they had assumed during Pertwee’s era.
But in Earthshock, they were reinvented, based largely on what had gone before – the Cybermen still had the most illogical plans of any alien race in Who, almost as a nose-thumbing to the notion of their being governed by logic, but Eric Saward went back to The Tenth Planet to deliver a Cyberleader with that least cybernetic of qualities – charisma – who could argue the philosophy of freedom from emotion with the Doctor (in some ways, the Cyberleader in Earthshock is not only positively flippant, but more than vaguely Buddhist, detached from the ‘irrelevancies’ of a life lived at the beck and call of emotional distraction). The Earthshock Cybermen had also been redesigned in the most 80s fashion imaginable – if they’d had metal shoulder-pads, the image would have been complete. They looked fresh, and new, and, with the exception of the moon-boots (themselves an improvement on The Invasion’s lace-up Cyber-feet!), they looked believable.
The idea of the Cybermen is that they work, just like the Daleks do, on two levels – the philosophical level, where they represent the fear of ageing and death, and its ultimate defeat by the replacement of most organic matter with mechanical elements; and the physical level, where they are towering, shadowing figures that inspire fear by their size, their indestructibility, their numbers and their uniformity. Throughout the history of Who they had largely been used in this latter way – as a monster of shock and awe, looming out of the dark or out of hostile environments, or marching, endless and indefatigable, as in The Invasion.
Their reinvention in Earthshock was in many ways a Cybermen Greatest Hits album to remind, or inform, viewers of their greatness – there they were, smashing their way out of tubes. There they were marching (with a recognizably Cyberman music cue underneath), line after line after line towards the camera. There they were, tall, cold, terrifying, and there were those blank, emotionless face-masks, betraying nothing because there was nothing but logic underneath.
But in Earthshock, Saward really did make a decent silver fist of bringing in that philosophical element too, having the Cyberleader and the Doctor argue over the importance or irrelevance of emotions. In a way, it was a scene echoing those of other Doctors – William Hartnell’s barnstorming ‘Have you no emotions, sir?’ speech and Tom Baker’s more scornful ‘Pathetic bunch of tin soldiers’ speech, melded together and given performance points more suited to Davison’s Doctor. Indeed, it’s one of Davison’s most stand-out opportunities to define his Doctor, this battle over the importance of ‘small, beautiful moments.’ Where Tom Baker was dismissive, finding the blinkered Revenge Cybermen an irrelevance, Davison’s performance has more in common with Hartnell’s, delivering an actual argument as if trying to change the Cyberleader’s mind. This was the 80s though, and the Cyberleader essentially ‘wins’ the argument with a horror-movie move, threatening to kill a friend of the Doctor’s, in this case, Tegan. While this was merely an evolution of the Cybermen that had been before – the Revenge Cybermen were ‘positively flippant’ to Sarah-Jane as they consigned her to an impending death too – the Earthshock Cybermen were ultimately responsible for the death of a companion. That hadn’t happened since The Daleks’ Master Plan, and it shocked a nation of fans, coming as it did unexpectedly and only after a massive struggle for control of the Tardis. While the Davison Doctor proved his mettle by doing what Tom Baker’s Doctor was unable to do – jumping a Cyberman and clogging its chest unit with gold – the death of Adric at the end of Earthshock rocketed the Cybermen forward, pitching them straight back into the premier league of Who monsters. Like the Daleks, and only the Daleks, they had taken Tardis-traveller blood.
The Cybermen were back, and with Dalek stories oddly locked into an epic timescale from Genesis through Destiny leading naturally to at least Resurrection, after Earthshock, they were poised to reclaim their place as the second most scary monster in Who.
Then The Five Doctors happened, and for all that story’s strengths, in terms of the Cybermen, everything went spectacularly chest grille-up. They’re all over the place in The Five Doctors, to be sure, but what they’re most notable for in that story is the sorry business of being entirely massacred – twice. While it’s perfectly logical that they would make an alliance with the Master, his arguments to convince them of his good intentions towards them wouldn’t fool many species in the galaxy, with the probable exception of the Sontarans. And again, while it makes perfect sense that they intend to double-cross the Master, the fact that none of them clocks his erratic pattern of steps across the game board is an epic logic-fail. The idea of a Cyberman releasing its grip on the Brigadier’s wrist because it was being hit with a convenient piece of pipe is absolutely antithetical – one of the many reasons to upgrade to Cyberform is so that you can resist pain and withstand damage without losing control of your objectives, surely? And then, of course, there’s the Raston Warrior Robot humiliation. The Raston Robot is itself a fantastic creation from Terrance Dicks, but it’s a real shame that the comprehensive display of its sports car awesomeness comes at the price of reducing the newly re-engineered Cybermen to so much scrap metal.
They’d come so far forward with the impact of Earthshock, but The Five Doctors sent them back to being silver cannon-fodder.
As the 80s progressed, the Cybermen tried to rally – Attack of the Cybermen was actually quite a strong story for them, but unfortunately with its traditionally mad, illogical Cyber-plotting rather mired in series history. But still, in terms of the body horror, the blank disregard for emotion and the inflicting of gruesome physical pain, Attack repairs some of The Five Doctors’ damage to the Cyber-reputation. They also did some prime, top-quality lurking in Attack – back down the sewers, and with ‘stealth Cybermen’ too. When their base is discovered and they come forward to face Lytton and Griffiths, all with the Cyber-theme to back them up, it’s pretty stirring stuff.
Annnd then there’s Silver Nemesis. The Cybermen barely need to be in Silver Nemesis – beyond the tedious role assigned them in the Nazi ideology as ‘the giants,’ and the fact that they’re silver, tying in with the silver anniversary theme, there’s very little need for them to be Cybermen at all, and the story is written for an omni-monster. They turn down the ‘secrets of the Time Lord’ without recognising, anywhere in their supposedly logical brains, that such secrets would give them enormous bargaining power, and Ace is able to kill them, instantly, by firing gold coins at them from a catapult. It’s an ignominious end to a rise that had such potential back in 1982 when their return to screens in Earthshock had put them front and centre of fan attention again.
Despite their ups and downs though, the four Cyber-stories of the 80s did a very important job. The Cybermen had appeared just once in the fourteen years prior to Earthshock in 1982. Seven years had gone by between The Invasion and Revenge of the Cybermen, followed by a second seven years of Cyber-drought – in the pre-VHS era, generations of Doctor Who fans had never seen the Cybermen, and arguably, given their performance in Revenge of the Cybermen, still more generations had never seen them be any good. Earthshock brought them slap, bang up to date and proved how well they could work, and the subsequent three Cyber-stories were a testament to their reclamation of their place in the big leagues of Doctor Who monsters. And for those who were 80s Who fans of course, those four stories would loom large in their mind, ensuring that the Cybermen would be a certainty to return when those fans ran the show in the 21st century.
Tony will become like us.
Last year’s Four Doctors ‘Event’ comic-book sequence from Titan Comics undoubtedly lived up to its billing, with Paul Cornell on writing duties and Neil Edwards on artwork, plunging fans back into the timelines of the 21st century Doctors to deliver a story that was twisted, mad and glorious.
This year’s event comic-book series has scripting by George Mann and Cavan Scott and is called Supremacy of the Cybermen.
Strap in, folks, mad and glorious just got real.
The thing about choosing a title like that is that the weight of TV history is so very much against you. Bless them, the Cybermen have such a combination of philosophical gravitas and visual flair, they’re impossible not to love and fear, but the stories in which they’ve starred have been, almost without exception…a bit dodgy. Even the great ones don’t bear too much scrutiny – The Tenth Planet introduces the creepy machine men, but they do, sort of, die halfway through and have to send for reinforcements. Earthshock really has no logic to it at all, as they’re due to sacrifice a whole cargo-hold full of freshly minted Cybermen just on the off-chance that any survivors will be able to mop up any humans left alive on Earth. Tomb of the Cybermen is essentially the equivalent of getting up when your Cyber-alarm clock goes off, then thinking better of it and going back to bed for ‘just another five minutes,’ so you can get up again later on. And if someone can explain the thought-processes behind The Wheel In Space to me, I’ll give them a Cyber-enhanced KitKat. What’s perhaps more is that previously, when the Cybermen have appeared in the title of stories, they’ve still been a bit of a let-down. The Revenge in Revenge of the Cybermen is both linguistically and factually questionable. And there isn’t really any Attack in Attack of the Cybermen – except, perversely, the attack on them, rather than of them.
And – and we swear we’re going somewhere with this – they do have a habit of being taken out in ways that are a bit silly. Their planet blew up and they fell over. Gravity messes with them. Nail varnish remover. The Glitter Gun. The Raston Warrior Robot that made so much silver mincemeat of them. And of course, gold, whether it be scraped off the edge of a badge or fired as a doubloon from a catapult, gold has had the potential to give the Cybermen a really bad day for decades. Even in the 21st century, the cult of ‘Let’s Defeat The Cybermen In Really Stupid Ways’ has continued. Self-realisation. Daleks (OK, fine, we’ll give you that one – Daleks trump most things, that’s why they’re Daleks). A Big Lever. A big disappearing ray. LOVE. A massive, planet-destroying bomb (score one for Neil Gaiman). Danny Freakin’ Pink…
The point of all this is two-fold.
Firstly, the Cybermen are due a really, really big win. They’re due some love, and some logic, and a story that is really worthy of the phenomenal concept they embody.
And secondly, at this point in the show’s history, if you nail your colours so boldly to the mast as to call your story Supremacy of the Cybermen, you’d better make damn sure they’re actually bloomin’ supreme. Not supreme-ish, not sneaking up on supremacy by poisoning everybody on a space station a gazillion miles away. Proper, ultimate, doing-what-it-says-on-the-tin su-bloomin’-premacy is what we’re looking for and what we’re expecting. We are to be fobbed off with nothing less.
Having said all that, how excited would you be if we told you that Mann and Scott deliver supremacy within the course of issue #1?
As with last year’s event comic, we’re looking at four separate Doctors, and this time, with the Ninth Doctor properly embedded in his own comic-book series, they can be relatively uncomplicated – Doctors Nine, Ten, Eleven and Twelve are each in their own proper timeline, and as has become a matter of respect from Titan, they go out of their way to tell us exactly where in the timeline each Doctor is (that’s a company that understands the nature of the geek heart!). In this first issue, the Tenth Doctor, Gabby and Cindy encounter both ‘a big old space-bus’ and a squad of Sontarans, the Eleventh Doctor and Alice on prehistoric Earth encounter a hunting party of be-masked Silurians (an effective visual touch – they have a far more sinister look in their masks than out of them), the Twelfth Doctor crash lands on Karn, talks to Ohila and finds his way back once more to post-Hell Bent Gallifrey (Oh yes, people, we’re moving on), and the Ninth Doctor, Rose and Jack encounter your actual Cybermen (a first for the Eccleston Doctor) on the Powell estate, things getting more than a little Ghostbusterish, and introducing the irrepressible force that is Jackie Tyler to the comic-book world. Sontarans, Sisterhoods, Silurians, Cybermen and Time Lords, plus four Doctors, in the space of one issue. That in itself would be enough to qualify the issue as a blistering success – not to mention almost ridiculous value for money. But each of the threads builds to a point, and each of the points makes you gasp, and each of those points in turn leads you to the cliffhanger, and one word throbs through each of the points and the cliffhanger, and yes, that word is ‘Supremacy.’ From the first issue, what comes through most of all is the scale of the imagination at work here. Most fans will at some point in their lives have thought of at least one movie-length, epic Cyber-story, shaking off the shackles of the race’s TV history and the restraints of physical possibility and effects budgets, and had the Cybermen conquer the universe of space-time. They’ve always been uniform, a single shape and size, but we’ve all in our heads imagined weird hybrids – Cyber-Daleks and Cyber-Silurians. Cavan Scott and George Mann have had those dreams too, and right here and right now, they’re laying out their imaginations of what a true Cyber-conquest of the universe might look like.
In terms of the look and feel of the thing, we’re in the hands of Alessandro Vitti and Ivan Rodriguez, with a little help from Tazio Bettin on one of the more impressive standalone pages that advances the storytelling significantly. Maybe this is just a function of having gotten used to a fairly regular stable of Who artists, but there’s a different visual vibe to this issue than you’ll find in most Titan Who comic-books. In fact, there’s a riff on the IDW comic-books here, the aliens being highly recognisable – the SIlurians look particularly impressive in this issue – but with less rigorously exact attention being given to some of the human characters. As has been an issue with new artists since he made his debut in Titan, the Tenth Doctor’s particular facial lines and mannerisms appear to be especially difficult for the new artists to master, meaning he sometimes looks like a David Tennant cosplayer, rather than David Tennant himself. As we go up the Doctors though, the likenesses get more and more en pointe, with Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor being impossible to mistake for anyone else.
While the visuals may take a little while to settle down, and in the meantime make you remember the relative precision of Neil Edwards, the scale of the storytelling here carries you through, and a handful of panels and pages that are absolutely dead-on give the first issue some strand cliff-hangers that make you take sharp intakes of breath and set your watch for the next instalment. Scott and Mann have conjured with the kind of fan-dream you need a series finale to deliver on-screen, and by the end of issue #1, make you breathless for the next stage in the drama – most especially as the first issue ends on a post-Hell Bent visual that makes a terrifying amount of sense in context – trust us, when you see it, you’ll squeal. Supremacy of the Cybermen, issue #1 is many a fan-dream come true. Buckle up, Who-fans, you’re going to want to ride this story all the way to the end.
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.
Tony digs out a golden oldie.
What can you say about Revenge of the Cybermen? In the age of million-strong CG Cyber-armies marching in unison across any vista you choose to name, the image of Revenge’s handful of redesigned (no, really, they made them look like that) 70s Cybermen, stooping to get through airlock doors and frankly prannying about in Wookey Hole almost makes you want to ruffle Revenge’s hair and send it out to play with a biscuit.
But that’s retrospect for you. At the time, Revenge of the Cybermen was a relatively big deal – it would set the seal on Tom Baker’s first season as the Doctor, with his inherited companions and largely inherited format. More importantly, it would be one last opportunity to impress on the audience how different this Doctor was from the suave Jon Pertwee incarnation. And oh yes – it would bring back the Cybermen for the first time in five years, giving the logic-driven cyborgs their first outing since the show went into colour.
The title made no bones about what we could expect. In a rare move for Cyber-stories, it put the Cybermen right up there to make you tune in and keep you watching – in exactly the same faintly cynical way that almost evvvvvery Dalek story has ever done. If you have a major star monster, almost the whole point of using them was to shout about it and get people to watch – especially in the pre-video days when if you missed it on its single transmission, that was it, you’d missed it (weep for us old fogeys, my Who-children).
What followed was sadly, all faintly familiar from the black and white days. Mysterious plague in a base under siege – oh look, there’s a Cybermat. Not that the title left any room for suspense in any case, but if it had, that was that element blown. Then there’s the overly complicated plot. The Cybermen have a real bee in their handle-headed bonnets about Voga, the planet of gold, because gold in the chest unit suffocates them, and people had used Voga’s gold to invent the fabulously camp-sounding glitter gun, and so almost wiped them out in a great war. So…logically…the thing to do before embarking on a grand second campaign is to blow the bejeesus out of Voga before you start.
So, erm, why poison the crew of the space station that orbits Voga? Ah, well you have to do that so you can have three humans left to carry bombs down a shaft made by the exographer-turned-traitor Kellman, and blow the planet to bits. Naturally.
Except of course Kellman, like all good traitors, is actually working for a power-hungry faction among the Cybermen’s enemies, the Vogans, who aim to get the Cybermen all nice and comfy on the space station – and then blow them out of the sky forever with a big rocket. Despite the Cybermen having a spaceship of their own, to which they could simply return when they saw the rocket coming, and handily naff off, avoiding the impact.
It’s important to realise that a) this was a Gerry Davis script, and it probably wasn’t the one he had in mind – it has since come to light that he’d pitched a Cyber-origin story, somewhere between Genesis of the Daleks and Big Finish’s Spare Parts, and b) the production team themselves weren’t particularly happy with the result. But with a budget blown on outside filming for the Sontaran Experiment and the realisation that the Invasion’s Cyber-suits would never pass muster in the age of colour, meaning a need to make new ones, the team were stuck with having to base a story largely on The Ark In Space’s set, and that was that. Revenge was essentially a Second Doctor story that needed maybe one or two more edits if it had any hope of making sense. It never got them.
But once you accept that the story’s going to make very little sense – once you’ve learned to love Revenge of the Cybermen and stop worrying – its riches do appear, glittering like the planet of gold itself (Yes, yes, I’m aware that Voga never actually glittered and looked like the inhospitable lump of rock that is Wookey Hole, but you get the idea).
In the first place, Revenge of the Cybermen marks a definite shift in the Cybermen’s portrayal on screen. After their first deeply odd but distinctly humanoid vocal performance in The Tenth Planet, they had always been voiced by some seriously modulated machine-noise. Revenge is the first time since The Tenth Planet that you could recognise the human in their speech. This led, naturally (however contentiously) to Cybermen who could show emotion. The Cyber Leader in Revenge (which is also the first instance of marking the Leader out with black handles) sounds positively cruel and gloating when he tells Sarah-Jane that she will have “a closer view” of the impact when the station crashes into Voga in Episode four. It might seem naff in context, but these two things would go on to define the Cybermen through to the end of the Classic era (as the Fifth Doctor comments in Earthshock, the Leader he encounters sounds positively flippant. And you could understand him when he was.)
The double-agent betraying the Cybermen plot would also go on to be lifted practically wholesale for Attack of the Cybermen, with Lytton taking the place of Kellman, the Cryons taking the place of the Vogans, and the Cybermen, for *cough, cough* scientific reasons, still intent on blowing up a planet (albeit in the second outing, their adopted home world, Telos). The whole ‘Cybermen defeated by gold’ thing that now seems such a fundamental part of their make-up was only brought in in Revenge of the Cybermen, Davis writing in an Achilles heel that would go on to become so much a part of their inevitable defeat that, by the time Ace was killing them, Dennis the Menace style with a catapult and some gold coins in Silver Nemesis, it became an almost pantomime weakness. Not so in Revenge though, where for reasons that continue to make no sense, the Vogans don’t appear to have any gold-based weapons that would be effective against the Cybermen, and the Doctor and Harry ultimately fail to get gold dust into the Cyber chest-units and instead have to leg it.
But despite these important steps in Cyber development – humanoid voices, traces of emotion, gold, the black-handled Leader – perhaps the ultimate legacy of Revenge of the Cybermen isn’t to do with their development at all. Watch it again, and see Tom Baker fly in his interpretation of the Doctor. In terms of a barnstorming first season, it’s been a hard one to beat, lining up old returning enemies alongside some new classic foes, but Baker in Revenge is positively masterful – and occasionally scary. Watch him prepare to deliberately infect Kellman with the ‘plague’ to get information and you remember that this is your Doctor, technically torturing a man, there on screen. We’re not in safe Jon Pertwee territory anymore, boys and girls. Hear him rant to the Cyber Leader about how the Cybermen “have no home planet, no influence, nothing! You’re just a pathetic bunch of tin soldiers skulking around the galaxy in the remains of an ancient spaceship,” and you hear an alien disdain that certainly hadn’t been part of the character’s make-up since before we’d learned he was actually an alien. Watch the scene in the caves where he roars “HARRY SULLIVAN IS AN IMBECILE!” before falling immediately unconscious, and once you’ve stopped laughing, try imagining that coming out of any other Doctor’s mouth. It’s a moment of delicious Bakerness that no-one before him would ever have attempted. Watch him in the caves, declaring that his idea is better than that of his fellow walking bombs. When challenged as to what his idea actually is, his response sets the Modus Operandi not only for this Doctor, but for many to come – “That’s the trouble with ideas – they only happen a bit at a time.” The “Thing In Progress” is born right there in Revenge of the Cybemen.
Ultimately, Revenge of the Cybermen is frequently overlooked, and often suffers by comparison to stories that no-one has seen in their entirety for decades thanks to the wiping of episodes in the sixties (meaning people make up the visuals for themselves and blow themselves away). But on rewatching, it adds substantively to our understanding of what the character of the Doctor is allowed to be, with Baker in fantastic form, and, despite being utterly typical of the sixties Cyber-stories that preceded it, and consigning them to on-screen absence for another eight years, it lays the groundwork for the evolution of the Cybermen throughout the 80s, acting as a blueprint for the Cybermen that a whole generation remember as a favourite Doctor Who monster.