Doctor Who: 10 best Cybermen stories
Andrew counts down Doctor Who's 10 best Cybermen stories from across the TV series, audio dramas and comic strips...
In honor of the splashy return of the Cybermen for the Doctor Who season 8 finale, we re-present this article from September of 2013. Enjoy!
Cybermen; Doctor Who's other monster. The one no-one knows quite what to do with, who show glimpses of what they can do, but don't look like dislodging the upper echelon from its perch.
They're Arsenal, basically. What is "Nightmare in Silver" if not Mehmet Ozil? A big name attached with lots excitement generated, and sure there are some clever ideas, but ultimately it's not what was necessary. I'd apologise to Arsenal fans but what are they going to do? Throw a trophy at me?
Like the Cybermen presumably do between their on-screen appearances, the writers will be heading back to the drawing board to discuss what they've learned. Meanwhile, here's our list of the top ten Cybermen stories across the entirety of Doctor Who.
10. The Pandorica Opens
Yeah. So this isn't technically a Cybermen story, but Steven Moffat is yet to attempt a full-on Cyberman story; after this fleeting glimpse of what he can do with just a severed Cyber-head and limb, I basically want one now.
From there, Moffat throws in spiders, robo-tentacles (I do hope he hasn't been reading any manga), shrivelled humanoid remains, electric shocks, poisoned darts, Frankenstein's monster, and a cyborg trying to chomp someone's face off. It lasts less than three minutes and it's the best depiction of the Cybermen since they returned in 2006.
The only criticism, one Moffat has acknowledged, is that Auton Rory must have been really going for it with that sword to cause that much damage.
Still, that's the power of love, a force from above. Or horizontally, in this case, but that doesn't scan.
Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: The Cyberman's head scuttles away like a peeved snake.
9. Unnatural Born Killers
Originally featured in an early Doctor Who Weekly backup strip entitled Throwback: The Soul of a Cybermen (written by Steve Moore, art by Paul Neary and David Lloyd), Kroton the Friendly Cyberman was brought back in this one shot (written and drawn by Adrian Salmon) in 1999 as part of the brilliant Glorious Dead series in which he would play a vital role.
Kroton would later be part of a the main arc - where he comes across as a hybrid of Donatello and David Mitchell - but he was reintroduced here; narrating his back-story while fighting off a Sontaran invasion of an unnamed planet. He disappears off into the sunset at the story's end, unable to join in the celebrations because it reminds him of the life he's lost.
Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “I'm called Kroton... I can't remember my real name.”
8. Junkyard Demon
Again from the early era of Doctor Who Magazine, "Junkyard Demon" is a Steve Parkhouse script from 1981 (with art from Mike McMahon and Adolfo Buylla – it's available to download on Mike McMahon's blog), this comic is an excellent example of something that doesn't look to understand the Cybermen – using them merely as a monster to be fought – but still packs in a very entertaining story nonetheless.
From the fantastic opening panel of the scrap ship Drifter idling through space, or the bulky, irritable Cyberman (a cross between the "Tenth Planet" and "Moonbase" costumes), this is the kind of thing that the comic strip excels at. The TV show of the time could never realise "Junkyard Demon" as successfully as the magazine's comic.
Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: The reveal of Cybernaut Zogron, an explorer who expanded the Cyber-race, begging the question of the unexplored early years of the Cybermen, post-Spare Parts but pre-Moonbase.
7. The Invasion
With the Cybermen not appearing until episode four, there's some good ol' delayed gratification here, possibly borne out by the need to fill eight episodes (a six-episode pitch was planned to be reduced to four parts until another story fell through, necessitating the final number of episodes). It was intended as a similar story to the present-day, London-set Web of Fear (director Douglas Camfield therefore returned), and as a pilot for a new show format. Without "The Invasion," the Pertwee era would be radically different (or possibly not even exist at all).
As it is, "The Invasion" ticks over nicely without the Cybermen's presence, with the team of Tobias Vaughn and his epic sidekick Packer compensating for their absence. When they do arrive, they are still used sparingly, but there are some iconic shots of them walking around London before UNIT arrive to biff them about with explosives.
Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: Tobias Vaughn chuckles in response to goading Professor Watkins into shooting him.
6. The Five Doctors
Sometimes you don't want to be confronted with great works of depth and meaning. Sometimes you just want everything in a bun. Yes, there's a trend for pubs to serve gourmet burgers, but sometimes you just want some objects in a bap, at least one of which is plausible meats.
Eighties Cybermen are plausible meats. David Banks is one of the few banks you can rely on. No-one is ever going to say he's engaged in the act of verisimilitude in his replicating of the nightmarish half-life of a technological-vampire, but equally no-one is going to say "David Banks was garbage in Doctor Who."
Here we get at least three Cyberleaders, all of them prime slabs of plausible Banks-meat. Ignore the fact that two get killed off quite easily because Eric Saward kept writing them into the script when Terrance Dicks didn't want to, and savor them.
Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “When the tower is in our hands-” *SLOW FIST CLENCH* “He shall be...destroyed.”
5. Legend of the Cybermen
Taking a cue from Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Big Finish's Legend of the Cybermen sees them invade the Land of Fiction seen in 1968's The Mind Robber. Thus, we have Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor teaming up with Second Doctor companions Jamie and Zoe (and other characters who are in the public domain, including Alice Liddell, Captain Nemo, and Count Dracula) to fight the invasion.
Writer Mike Maddox uses this playset gleefully, revelling in the sheer wrongness of the two concepts meeting and so we have: epic phantasmagoria, delirious battle sequences, a discussion on the importance of the imagination, a chance for the Doctor to explain himself, and the conversion of some childhood favourites...
Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “And I was lost to her again.”
4. The Flood
Also known as The One Where They Almost Regenerated McGann, the last of the great Eighth Doctor comic strips went out in style. Scott Gray's "The Flood" sees the Cybermen invading contemporary London and going all biblical on humanity.
The comic strip had been taking advantage of its budget, going full color and doing things the TV show could never dream of doing, like destroying outer space and having Daleks fight Spider-Daleks from other dimensions. Here Martin Geraghty's new design of Cybermen are gaunt, vampiric figures with conversion-tools hidden in their fingertips – impossible to realise on TV. There is a lot in these strips, though, that would be echoed on television in years to come.
While the Cybermen were superseded by the Daleks in "Doomsday," here they take their place as the focal point of the finale, both of an arc and of the Eighth Doctor's glorious comic book run.
Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: The Cyberleader accepts humanity's supplications.
Having been off-screen since 1975's "Revenge of the Cybermen" (an uneven mix of the Second and Fourth Doctor eras), 1982's "Earthshock" remains an excellent example of how to bring back a popular monster. Obviously you want an excellent marriage of sight and sound (how good is the end to Part Three?), but also you want to do the following:
- Don't tell anyone, not even the Radio Times.
- Don't put the name of the monster in the story title.
- Have them lose only after a gargantuan effort by the good guys.
- Kill off one of the good guys.
- Give the monster a new, superlative catchphrase.
Tick. Tick, tick, tick, tick. Excellent.
Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: The Doctor looks at Nyssa and Tegan crying, and doesn't know what to do next. (Davison's acting in this scene is even more impressive when you consider that Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton were trying their best not to deck themselves laughing).
2. Tomb of the Cybermen
"Tomb of the Cybermen" suffered from heightened expectations upon its VHS release in 1992, as it had previously been missing from the archives and built up to levels of unachievable greatness by the Target novelisation. For those of us who weren't really paying attention in 1992 (I was probably playing football or watching repeats of Big Bertha or something), it merely became another video with no prior reputation.
Because of this, I have never been disappointed by "Tomb of the Cybermen." Then again, I enjoy the hokum trappings of Sixties science-fiction: the excitement of rocket travel, the grand utopian programmes of explorations, the endless British character actors failing to do convincing American accents. All great fun, and that's before we get to the interactions of the new TARDIS crew of the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria.
What "Tomb of the Cybermen" does better than any other TV story is create a mythology for the Cybermen. Sure, "The Tenth Planet" has an origin story, but it doesn't have Cybermats, Cyber Controllers, or "We must survive." That last one is the most important, as it captures an aspect of tragedy not always present. There's something terribly sad about the Cyber Controller's desperate struggles in the last episode, and that's something that only the Russell T. Davies era Cybermen come close to achieving.
Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “You belong to us. You shall be like us.”
1. Spare Parts
There are some excellent scenes in "Rise of the Cybermen," which kindly tries to make its Cybermen all things to all fans (they're mighty, formidable, destructive, and tragic), but there's a reason that the credits acknowledge Marc Platt at the end. Without "Spare Parts" we don't know what Russell T. Davies and Tom MacRae would have come up with.
"Spare Parts" is, essentially, for Cybermen what "Genesis of the Daleks" is for Daleks. Like "Genesis," "Spare Parts" is set on a planet settled in for a long, dark night. The people of Mondas haven't done anything wrong, they've just been unfortunate enough to live on a planet that is drifting away from the sun. They do what they have to in order to survive.
Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “Am I horrible?”
One not to watch: "The Wheel in Space" – it's full of plot holes and padded badly. Also four episodes aren't known to exist so if you are watching it, you should probably stop and tell the BBC.