Certainly it’s worth noting that Pedler’s original conception of the Cybermen was as a race of “star monks.” Here it is instructive to look at the origin of the Cybermen, as completely and utterly screwed up as it may be. Mondas and Earth are twin planets - the one an inversion of the other. The Cybermen tell us that they and Mondas “drifted away on a journey,” making a sweeping arm motion as they do, and that they went to the edge of space, then returned. In the course of that journey, their bodies wore out and they steadily replaced themselves with spare parts, removing human weaknesses in the process.
The Cybermen, in other words, are an alternative version of humanity - the dark mirror of humanity, who went on a quest for spiritual enlightenment and succeeded at terrible cost.
For me the absolute joy of bringing back the Cybermen was coming up with a weird rationalisation: in the Tom Baker universe the Cybermen pretty much died out. They were incredibly unsuccessful and clunky. And then you get the Cybus Cybermen. My theory is the Cybus Cybermen were sent to Victorian days and zapped off into time and space at the end of “The Next Doctor”. They met a bunch of the Mondasian/Telosian Cybermen, and there was some cross-breeding and interchange of technology, which is why you then get the ones that look like, but actually aren’t, the Cybus Cybermen. And then I thought well, they’re going to keep upgrading themselves – my computer doesn’t look like it did five or ten years ago, definitely not 15 years ago. It’s going to be faster and it’s going to be better. So let’s make the Cybermen faster and slicker and better.
Cybermen evolve. They have changed over the years, with nearly every story. It was only in the last six years have they kept the same design.
Do you get much say in terms of the design? Is it something you put in your script – “I want sleeker Cybermen”?
Yeah, I do. But mostly I got to go to Cardiff and they said “Let us show you the stuff that’s come in from the art department”. They said “What do you think?”, and I said “Well, I like this face, I like this body – can we put this body on this face?” The only point where I really pushed them was when they sent me the face design and I just felt it wasn’t quite right. And I pushed for the “Moonbase” face on a much higher tech thing. It’s that effect we’re going for – a very simple circular eye, a slash for the mouth, and they are where they are on a human face. Don’t get creative, because the more creative you get, the more we lose the uncanny valley. And for me there is that wonderful uncanny valley of how little it takes to make you go “This is a face”. It just takes two eyes in the right place and proportion, and a little mouth. And it’s absolutely impassive, which makes it really scary.
“Steven Wrote to me and said: ‘Will you make the Cybermen scary again?’” Gaiman told François Léger in an interview with French entertainment website Reviewer.fr. “I thought back to when I was six or seven years old. Moonbase, Tomb of the Cybermen… I saw these when they were first broadcast.
“Cybermen where scarier than the Daleks because they were quiet,” he added. “Daleks went around going ‘Exterminate!’ and shaking things up. Cybermen where just… You look up and there’s a Cyberman.
“I thought: ‘Let me see what I can do when I take the 1960’s Cybermen and everything that happened since. So that’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t know if it will work.”
Neil Gaiman is back, and he’s taken on the return of the Cybermen. What were your instructions for him?
I wanted to make them creepier, and a bit more active. I thought we had gone as far as we could with the stumpy Cybermen. I wanted to do the colder, deadlierversion and I was interested in Neil giving it a ghost-story feel. Neil’s a good ghost story writer.
If anything, the new series has massively intensified its dependence on monsters by using them as mid-series publicity “relaunches” (Daleks in series one; Cybermen in series two) and as series finale audience-grabbers. Paradoxically, this almost domesticates the show’s monsters, making them a matter of audience familiarity, safety and branding at the same moment that they are supposedly terrifyingly monstrous. A truly human monster - a psychopath, a serial killer, a despot or tyrant - seems to be simply too dark and too threatening for the new show’s format to contemplate, even if it can tolerate moments of “humanity” in its Slitheen combatants, as well as pantomiming monstrosity in the guise of mad scientist John Lumic. Van Statten is probably one of the new series’ darkest turns, and even he doesn’t really take centre-stage, instead serving to magnify the threat of just one Dalek in comparison with his greed and ruthlessness.
Since listening to The Tenth Planet, I have come to the conclusion that the Cybermen have really good PR people. They’re idealised as being powerful creatures of incredible strength and power, but watching their stories it becomes apparent that they’re nothing like that.
They often aren’t emotionless or logical. They aren’t a mighty army of super-strong soldiers. They skulk. They plot. They bide their time. In The Tenth Planet they need the element of surprise to kill red shirts, but otherwise have been killed by their own weapons, radiation (any radiation, apparently), electricity, enhanced humans, insanity, shiny jumping robots, bullets, chessboards, gold dust, gold arrows, gold coins, and a Cerebration Mentor. This is a special gun that fires emotions at them, making them insane. This is completely different to killing them ‘with love’ because it is a gun and therefore ‘science-fictiony’.
The Cybermen are fairly consistently portrayed: they will hide somewhere while using subterfuge (traitors, mind control, Cybermats, Tobias Vaughn, etc.) to gain access to their target, and aim to control it by weakening the population so as to reduce the amount of combat necessary. They are not fighters, although they are capable of doing so against small numbers. Think of the classic Cyberman kill: they sneak up on someone before delivering a powerful, spine-shattering blow.
The legends of the Cybermen are of powerful giants. What we see of the Cybermen are depleted armies, hiding in the dark.
Their best stories completely immerse themselves in a hideously brutal pragmatism, and bring to the fore the element of tragedy innate in the Cybermen: they are like this only because their world was dying, and replacing their organic matter was the only way to survive. That’s all they want. This is what makes the buzzing, monotone implications of ‘You belong to us. You will be like us.’ all the more chilling. Placed in this near-certain-death situation, it’s no wonder they chose harsh and unfeeling decision making, and their haunting electronic bleat of the mantra ‘We will survive.’
Despite this great image, we rarely get to see the Cybermen as they should be.
The Cybermen are often used as a ‘Villain of the Week’ and, although this in itself is no bad thing, certainly Earthshock could have worked nearly as well with Ice Warriors or Sontarans. The problem is that, on screen, we have yet to dig really deeply into the inherent tragedy of the Cybermen.
The Tomb Of The Cybermen and The Wheel In Space explore these themes wherein the human characters confronted by the Cybermen are offered a behavioural choice, either embracing what it means to be an irrational human, or seeking the logical perfection which at its extreme means conversion into a Cyberman.
When the Cybermen first appeared in “The Tenth Planet”, they represented our fears about organ transplants — at what point would we stop being ourselves? In later stories, the Cybermen represented our fears about being replaced by logical computers.
I recommend reading Collins’s four-part overview of season five.
The standout feature on the extras package is an extended and updated edition of the Cybermen documentary which originally featured on the 2009 Cybermen Collection set.
Presenter Dr Matthew Sweet takes a cherishably Radio 4 approach to the history of the Cybermen, investigating the thematic links between the Cyber stories and noting that we never encounter them at the height of empire.
We have seen the Daleks at the height of their powers, with emperors and galactic invasions, but we only hear about the Cybermen at their best. Instead, we see Cybermen hidden in tombs, caves and sewers, recovering from the Cyber Wars and the death of their home planet.
The Cybermen are a race that live beyond death, and we only see them in their twilight days.
This was a question that had always fascinated me: what are monsters for in stories? I mean, they’re there to menace the protagonists, of course, but what else? I found myself coming to the conclusion that monsters are very often presented as standing for something – some human trait taken too far, for instance. As an example, the Sontarans have humanity’s desire for war to the exclusion of all else. The Cybermen are an embodiment of the desire people often have to get rid of flawed bodies that get colds or break their legs, and replace them with something that can’t fail. Once in a while, you get monsters that are based on something else, like an animal’s characteristics – the Wirrn, say, or the Zarbi or the Macra. Perhaps the most interesting are Malcolm Hulke’s Silurians and Sea Devils, which in a sense are just humans that happen to look different from us.