Some of this information was published last year, when we ran our Video History of the Cybermen, but it bears repeating, not least because OMG it’s the bloody CYBERMEN!
One of the recurring ideas in science-fiction is the idea that, as we tend to look back on our own past as if it was better than now, we also look to the future in fear, wondering how bad things can possibly get. Well with the Cybermen, it’s about as bad as you can imagine. All the things we enjoy most about ourselves: our kindness, our sense of humor, compassion, empathy and all the rest, have become of so little value that they are lost in the frantic race to preserve the spark of life. As fleshy parts wear out and are replaced with shiny metal, emotions drop out and land with a splat on the floor. All that is left is duty, and the will to recruit more cyberfolk to the cause.
It’s like a robotic version of the selfish gene, and as you can see from the First Doctor’s very first meeting with the Cybermen in The Tenth Planet, when they’re still a little bit meaty under their stocking limbs, it’s horrific, and the fact that they’re a little bit comic does not diminish the horror at all:
Things changed a lot by the time the Second Doctor met up with his Cyberfoes again. And continued to do so every time they did battle. This is from The Tomb Of The Cybermen (note the use of practise golf balls for external joints):
By the time the Doctor meets them again, in The Wheel In Space, they’ve taken on a more artistic expression. Little tears under the eyes, and oddly, under the mouth too. And the torch is smaller, and the headphone pipe less weighty, replacing them with a corduroy skullcap. Then it’s all change again as they get it together to tackle Earth in The Invasion, they’ve changed again. The headphones are back on, bigger than ever, and the mouth is just a slit. They’re still crying though.
These are my favorite cyberhelmets, because they’re impassive, but somehow very, very sad.
The Third Doctor did not meet with the Cybermen, and by the time the Fourth Doctor did, they hadn’t changed much, except their leader had coloured his headphones in and those practise golf balls had become yoghurt pots.
In the ’80s, the Cybermen grew even bigger heads, and wore shoulder pads, just like Joan Collins. They had perspex mouths and they weren’t crying any more, whether they were doing battle with the Fifth or Sixth or Seventh Doctors. All of which made their bodies suddenly look a little punier than at any time since that whole business with Mondas. Not that it stopped them getting up to mischief:
Of course, once the show was relaunched, the design changed again. Out went the shoulder pads and big headphones, in came cheekbones, and the tears and slit-mouths and robo-voices were back too. Oh and they like to wear slightly flamboyant cuffs, and for the very first time, appear to be made of actual unpuny metal.
Tell us about it, Captain Jack:
But no matter how many times they revise their core design, the horror of the Cybermen is that they are always part human, and always in a state of evolution from one thing to another. However much they change in the future, they’ll always be terrifying because you can always empathise with the small, terrified blob of human meat buried deep behind their crying eyes. And no one, not even the Doctor, seems to be able to suggest that it would be better for the universe if they perhaps stopped recruiting and left well enough alone.
One last clip? Oh go on then…