Hey, it’s the 49th anniversary of the first broadcast of the second episode of The Moonbase! So when better for Jokerside to conclude its epic look at the Cyber-legion’s best days that began on the Doctor’s 52nd birthday. Having quickly assumed a dominant position these implacable foes marched through the late 1960s with an offensive of classic stories and iconic sequences. Jokerside stands in awe at the close of the Golden Age of the Cybermen between 1967 and 1968.
- The Tomb of the Cybermen (Season 5, 1967)
- The Wheel in Space (Season 5, 1968)
- The Invasion (Season 6, 1968)
THERE WAS NO STOPPING THE CYBERMEN ONCE THEY’D STARTED. They’d found their nemesis in the Doctor’s second incarnation and were determined to defeat him. Or rather, repeatedly fail to factor him into their plans until he inevitably turned up to disrupt them. Part of the problem was that the species had clearly splintered into different nomadic factions before the destruction of Mondas in 1986. That’s the narrative angle, but in terms of the production, few alien races in the vast history of science fiction television had change built into their every appearance like the Cybermen. While the fundamentals remained, designers altered, amend and enhanced the design with every story. Sometimes they strove to make further allowances for long-suffering actors, sometimes they incorporated new materials or techniques. That’s a nice nod to the nature of the Cybermen but also a neat reflection of the change built into Doctor Who itself – could the Doctor have found his ultimate villain? If he had, he soon lost them as they dwindled to sporadic appearances after the 1960s.
Part of the problem was that much like their cybernetic upgrades their appearances were more frequent than they were evolutionary. That’s in stark opposition to the Daleks, where each of the Pepper Pot’s early appearances scaled up the plot and threat in true sequel style. While the fiends of Skaro were first encountered by humans during the their hugely successful invasion in the latter years of the 21st century, human’s first contact with their cybernetic cousins took place a century earlier – the late 1960s or mid-1970s based on your UNIT dating conundrum perspective. And wonderfully strangely, that chronological first contact was the fifth time that viewers at home had encountered them in just over two years.
1968’s The Invasion was the Cybermen’s greatest adventure, an epic eight part serial that finally elevated them to the level of sprawling adventure that the Daleks had grown accustomed to. So perhaps there’s little surprise that it concluded their golden age, retiring them off to infrequent nemeses presumably without so much as a gold watch. From the start the Cybermen had lurked in the background, and come their Invasion they relied on human accomplices to delay their appearance for four episodes. Before that, we and the TARDIS crew had already seen them hatch devious schemes to take control of Earth in the future, even discovered them in a last stand hibernation on their adopted planet of Telos. It’s an odd and fractured timeline eminently irresistible to science fiction fans. And within less than three year’s they’d made enough of a pest of themselves, and posed ironically wherever they could, to ensure they’d joined the top line of Doctor Who foes. In fact, so thick, fast and irresolute was their onslaught that they quite reasonably accelerated the rate they reached retirement rate even quicker than the Daleks.
And what an exit strategy. After skulking, tomb building and space walking, 1968 finally found them, taking on the military might of institution-in-waiting UNIT. But first, things were going to have to get a lot darker before that dawn.
The Tomb of the Cybermen (Season 5, 1967)
“We will survive”
Tomb of the Cybermen is a inversion of the classic base under siege story seen in the metal militant’s previous two two. For once, we’re on the Cyber terrors’ territory, although they’re hardly at full strength. This four part serial really finds them on their back cyber boot for the first time, with the events of The Moonbase revealed to be part the cyber race’s long decline. It wasn’t simply their previous encounters with two Doctors, although those are mentioned– these Cybermen are once again familiar with him – but their other intergalactic conflicts and significant losses which drive them into hibernation. It’s proves an illogical move.
Fortunately, this base under siege story finds different dynamics at play. First the Cybermen have laid a delicate trap, one that adds terror to the early tension while providing a logical route to their reanimation. Secondly, it’s the human blend of archaeologists and logicians (and TARDIS crew) who are the invaders. It’s immediately obvious that the logicians aren’t seeking the lost Cyber races for an article in New Scientist and the human fascination with their master race cousins who quickly fell to myth would provide fodder for Cyber stories all the way up to Big Finish’s recent The Last of the Cybermen. Crucially that story featured companion Zoe Heriot, akin to a human calculator her entrance would be closely linked to the Cyberman, but that was for a future adventure. First there was the tomb that the BBC managed to banish to a tomb for many years…
“You belong to us. You shall be like us.”
These Cybermen are not nearly as modified as the last faction the Doctor encountered. Although they look slightly shabbier, that’s forgivable. Of two main differences to those encountered on the Moonbase, one is that they are repressed to the point of inert and secondly there is the emergence of an authority figure: The Cyber Controller. Noticeably different, he lacks the Cybermen’s typical handlebars, in their place an extended cranium to process and draw strategy from huge amounts of a data. A huge figure, happy to hibernate in a crouched position, he may be larger and have better squat control than a regular Cyberman, but he lacks their chest units. A rather striking and more mobile, athletic sort of figure, or possibly jumpsuit lanky, he seems to be an amalgamation of a Cyberman foot soldier and his race’s earlier Central Processing Machines. Cyber thinking had clearly become more mobile prior to their forced to retreat. Outside the television universe stories such as Marc Platt’s Spare parts would build central committees and controllers into the emergence of the Cyber race, but here the Controller appears to be a direct response to devastating and constant conflict with other races. And in their hives of sleep, his Cybermen swarm not around a Queen but a logician. And they’ve even brought little pets along to wake up to…
Oddly, but perhaps an indication of both their rustiness and need to improvise we see the Cybermen deliberately implement partial cyber-conversion. The logician’s manservant Toberman has his limbs augmented with metal while his mind is made obedient to Cyber orders. Even in their desperate straits, that seems like an aesthetic and tactical decision destined to go wrong.
“Some things are better left undone, and I have a feeling that this is one of them”
Removed from military personnel, it’s Chief Archaeologist Professor Parry who provides the main moral impetus, lamenting the loss of life that begins even before they’ve entered the tombs, albeit reinforcing the success of the mission to avenge it. Hostage to booby-traps and then the rousing army below them, the morality of these human tomb raider’s is highly individual, and instantly set against the broad black and white canvas of whether the Cyber race should be awakened or left entombed. The logicians are a typically amoral bunch, although in the midst of the tombs they play a game as erratic as that of the Cybermen themselves. The main crux here is that the Cybermen are at the end of their tether and a seriously underpowered race. Holding the squatting position and climbing ladders has left them significantly below par, a condition that requires the Controller to compromise. Although inevitably, as soon as he’s had some Cyber Lucozade he reneges the deal with his understandable evaluation that ideas, like promises, “have no value”.
The Doctor is happy to pun terribly about “metal breakdowns” and play a very risky game in the remote tomb – but at this point in the timeline, particularly in the company of those deliberately hunting down the mythical Cyber tombs, there’s little need to rail about what the Cyber race represents or why they must be stopped.
Crucially it’s in the Tombs that emotion is first shown to be a compelling weapon against the Cybermen. It’s a terrible ruse when the Cybermen wheel Toberman out as their not so subtle spy. But it’s the death of his mistress Kaftan that prompts an emotional reaction in the brute, overcoming his conditioning and allowing the humans to overpower their foes. There’s an irony in the fact that it’s Cyber augmentation that enables Toberman to grapple the Cyber Controller in the first place, but it’s easy to see how illogical any conception of their plan backfiring would appear to the metal heads.
In the shadows
“The tombs of the Cybermen must be below ground…”
The Cybermen don’t get to lurk as much as their legacy suggests. Of course The Tomb of the Cybermen was lost to fans for many years thanks to the BBC’s 1970s tape scrapping campaign and it’s no surprise that this confident mix of ideas grew a myth all of its own. After it was discovered and served up on home media in 1993, its reputation was so enhanced it was always going to struggle. And while a noble entry in the travails of the metal tyrants it carries many flaws. Some of the story is plain silly, particularly the easy discovery of tombs that are helpfully emblazoned with Cyber symbols. No doubt these are intended to scare away those of no use (sorry, Victoria) or lure those of the right aptitude. But while the idea of setting logic puzzles so as to allow only the most worthy into the Cyber race is fine in theory, but seems to rely on remarkably illogical happenstance for a doomed and buried race. In a claustrophobic story, a lot falls to the design of both floors of the Cyber base which is suitably memorable. The tombs are rightly lauded an iconic image and add immensely to the Cybermen’s inhuman charm.
And then of course there’s a key reason why Cybermen don’t really need to sneak around so much anymore. The great entrance of the Cybermats prove them to be an instantly compelling and creepy if rather odd looking addition. Cybermats would become a key part of the Cybermen’s arsenal in the future, before downsizing to Cybermites in Neil Gaiman’s Nightmare in Silver.
Must try harder
“I knew they were here on the same quest.”
In the end, as one of the Classic Series great obsessions with puzzles, things can become a little repetitive. The switching on and off of the Cybermen’s hibernation borders on the ridiculous, as do ruses such as flip lever, wander to hatch, only to find the lever’s been sneakily switched back, snigger.
If there’s any masterminded strategy behind the Cybermen here, it’s to wait until they are found. And that is no great plot at all. Although the idea of a deity awaiting acolytes has been fleshed out in many a science fiction tale, such things have to be tested by what happens next. These Cybermen are incompetent in overpowering the small rabble of human aggressors and instead spend much time in the lower tomb section of the base hatching plans or waiting. It seems inconceivable that the Cyber race couldn’t have developed some kind of dynamo to keep their soldiers at a fair level of power come their reanimation. That was always going to leave them in trouble. Indeed once awakened, the only thing they seem to have gained is the element of surprise. No new technology, increase in foot soldiers or great new strategy. Just how many people did they expect to come trotting into their tombs?
Indeed, their weakened state makes this the first time that a character, the Doctor of course, is able to reason with them.
Unfortunately, in the midst of this, the Controller doesn’t help at all. Much as happened when Dalek stories pursued some idea of a hierarchy, we now find a group of Cybermen surrounding a Controller and continually looking for instruction… As opposed to the insidious, quiet call to action of massed Cyber ranks that came before. And in their fine architecture there’s the sense that the Cybermen are becoming obsessed with their own iconography. While their exit from the tombs is rightly seminal, there’s little chance in the forced interior for them to capture the majesty of the moon march we saw during their previous scheme.
Plot Cyber-rating: There’s not much to grade. Failing to charge their batteries and settling for minor conversion is a clear indication that whiskers were falling off the Cybermat. This is a less a grand scheme than a chance pop around grandad’s house for a quick lesson in morality. Very much style over substance and highly illogical. Although who could possibly do without a story as mythical as this? A very reluctant two handlebars out of 10. I mean, things would be far worse when the Doctor return to Telos in 1986…
The Wheel in Space (Season 5, 1968)
“And from the ship there was streaming an army of Cybermen, jetting towards them through space”
At last the Cybermen broke through the confines of four-parters to lay their silver digits on something that the Dalek’s had enjoyed since their first appearance – a longer run. The mutants of Skaro, for all their matching obsession with surviving beyond the humanoid, were always so much more demanding. And with a six-part series finale, it looked like the only thing that could stop them now was… Well, the BBC’s episode scrapping policy of course. Only two episodes and a few scraps of clips now remain of the serial that introduced companion Zoe Heriot to the TARDIS, the pseudonym Dr John Smith for the wandering Time Lord, and Jamie McCrimmon to the metal rogues for the third time. Time Lords and Scots, they must have very special entries in the Cyber databases. To rectify, Jokerside took the liberty of reading Terrence Dicks slight but romping TARGET novelisation of yet another base under siege story.
There’s certainly ambition in The Wheel’s space-bound setting, although not perhaps the great leap forward that a change of personnel might have suggested. For the first time neither Gerry Davis nor Kit Pedler were involved with the script. Instead Dr Pedler’s story was adapted to teleplay by David Whitaker, a man who had fine recent form on the show after steering both of the Dalek’s legendary (and sadly also lost) attacks on Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor.
It’s fortunate, if that’s not too galling a word, that at least the third episode of The Wheel in Space survives – the segment that featured the iconic image of Cybermen cocooned in their space spheres in recap. There was still iconography to pull from the silver giants after they had descended tombs, marched across the lunar surface and emerged from polar blizzards. But in the least easy to date Cybermen story of their pomp, The Wheel in Space is their weakest entrant of the 1960s.
More robotic than ever, the inhuman, killer Pierrot clowns had arrived…
It’s the late 21st century, probably, returning to the period of The Moonbase from the future of The Tomb of the Cybermen. Except this time the humans, rather strangely, haven’t heard of them. And the metal giants haven’t changed that much although they are noticeably more streamlined. There are scraps of information to suggest that this story takes place after The Moonbase and seem to have taken a typical usual step forward in their tailoring. While these Cybermen are again perfectly happy to hang in the background, waiting for a large scale appearance at the plot’s climax, in straitened times they appear to have become a little more sartorial. Baggy coverings that could cover all manner of upgraded elements have gone with Cybermen now enjoying close-fitting one‑piece suits. The result is a more metallic, less piped and athletic appearance. Just in time for the one story where they have less walking and climbing to do. Their three digit hands now have blunt thimbles at the tips, a strange addition, although certainly an aid when they control machinery with impulses from the tips of their fingers.
Most iconic is the change to their face shields. They’ve lost the letter box trim and gained the utterly bizarre, but brilliantly iconic teardrop effect on their eyes. Oh, and a dribble drop on their unmoving lips. More robotic than ever, the inhuman, killer Pierrot clowns had finally arrived. Frankly, that’s one of the best bits of this six-parter.
There’s also the introduction of the Cybermats into this era, relishing a greater role than they would later have on Telos with ping pong eyed abandon. An advance guard, they are sent to sabotage the supplies on the floating human Wheel – a McGuffin marvellously named Bernalium. Not having grown antennae, and with new mesmeric eyes, it’s difficult to tell which of their abilities are more impressive: travelling through the vacuum of space in bubbles that can pass through metal hulls virtually undetected; acting so cute they can somehow convince humans that they’re a pet in waiting or; chomping through metal in record time. It’s not all fun for the little critters, however. The x-ray reveal of the Cybermat encased in fast-setting plastic is another one of the story’s highlights.
In the period’s most difficult Cyber story for continuity, one bit that does make sense is the loss of the mobile controller found in the Tomb, with orders falling back to a remote Cyber Planner – an odd form of strategic balloon. Sadly, amid another utopian and diverse international crew taking us to a bold near future, these Cybermen’s worst upgrade is their new voices. Totally and utterly ruined.
In a far cry from their Mondas days, these Cybers are showcased by space walks that really highlight their strength against human fragility come the meteorite storms. These Cybermen are fully self-sustaining, without the need for any ship support come the action. And that is the perfect excuse to praise Cyber-architecture once again. When it appears, the wonderful design of their honeycomb hexagonal tube Cyber ship is worth the wait. Just not really worth thee the plot.
“No, no, no, there’s too much unexplained”
Thanks to the glorious continuation of staff holidays during the heavy filming schedules, the Doctor is knocked out for almost two episodes when Patrick Troughton took the second off. The removal of the show’s main character is manufactured when the sparse TARDIS crew finds itself at the whim of Servo robots during an odd extended opening. Those early robots kick off an interesting emotional dynamic, fleshed out in the novel, where the Servos will happily kill two random additions to the manifest that don’t fit with their grand schema. Narratively, it would have been superior if the Cyber forces had been blatantly behind the early take-down of the Doctor – as usual, they know him, “You know our ways. You must be destroyed” – rather than the TARDIS crew randomly wandering into the path of the Servo robots on board their shuttle. But as it stands, his removal and the desperate unchecked and rather silly Jamie pushes the emotional twists onto the new batch of humans who inhabit the Wheel.
“But mysteries? Please Gemma, not you as well”
That lava lamp packed sky station is far more staffed than Dicks’ novel suggests and at the top of it lies the immediately intriguing relationship between Wheel controller Jarvis Bennett and doctor Gemma Corwyn. Already on edge come the beginning, Bennet quickly loses the plot. He becomes the emotional opposition to the Cyber threat while Corwyn remains the rational middle ground. Bennett is simply unsuitable for his position, and his intractability and inability to accept the evidence mounting around leads him to snap quite conclusively. That’s intriguingly underexplored and all the odder because of it. Is he just so jumped up that he can’t cope with the mundanity of his position? Have, ostensibly more likely, the Cybermen been up to their old tricks of infiltration and been busy lacing the base with mind-bending drugs? The advent of the Cybermats, the Cybermen’s advanced, if easily disrupted, mind control and the fact that only Bennett displays signs of a breakdown and most of his crew merely incompetence suggests not.
Come the end, Bennett seizes the initiative when brought to action by the death of Corwyn and walks into a pointless death of his own. As Dicks writes it, “Bennett smiled, as if pleased to come face to face with his enemy”. Strangled, smashed to the floor and then fired by a Cyber man’s chest unit. One of the stranger character journeys.
“You can’t disprove the facts. It’s pure logic.”
More intriguingly there’s the young parapsychology librarian Zoe. Destined to weakly stow away aboard the good ship TARDIS come the end of the episode, she comes from an interesting tradition that may well have been informed by the Mentats of Frank Herbert’s Dune, published three years earlier. As Gemma tells the rather bullied, but logically aloof and emotionally secure young lady, “Some people with your training do have trouble developing their human emotions… You appear to have survived your brainwashing very well”. Zoe’s skills and training are a clear stop towards the Logicians seen in The Tomb of the Cybermen and, inevitably, a step towards the nearer the mind-set of the Mondasians for the people of Earth. During one moment of clarity, that surely leads her decision to aboard the time ship, Zoe explains “I’ve been created for a false kind of existence where there are only known emergencies”. In retrospect, ending the story with the Doctor showing her a film of previous dangerous exploits against the Daleks, straight after conquering the Cybermen, is a tad harsh on the young girl. As if the Doctor would have taken any criticism well… The programme doesn’t even give her a chance.
And they really pack it in, there’s even a blooming love affair between personnel Leo and Tanya. So a strong emotional spread is levied against the arch-logicians, although not as cohesively as in previous tales.
In the shadows
“Cybermen, where did you dream up a name like that?”
It is a great help that at the end of the 21st century, even potentially after a recent attack on the moon and a century after two global threats, these humans have no clue who the Cybermen are. Even Zoe shows an incredible lack of historical knowledge. A continuity break and likely a rather flat attempt to regain the mystery of the Cybermen – after all, they have returned to being unflagged in the serial title. The Doctor however, does not escape their knowledge. This time the Cyber Planner is very sensitive to having his plans guessed and uses a nifty (or illogical, depending on your perspective) method of delving through a memory identity parade to find who’s most likely to be a pest.
Mind control is most definitely back on the agenda, particularly taking advantage of two human crew lured over to the rocket where the Cybermen are entombed. Such an ability, although surely difficult to develop in their isolation, helps them keep their thimble fingers clean while making sure that every event on the Wheel fits their grand plan. And to a point, it all works out.
Must try harder
“The Trojan Horse of the Cybermen was on board the Wheel.”
Very helpfully, the pragmatic centre of the story, and its greatest loss, Gemma Corwyn provides a breakdown of the Cyber plot halfway through, as part of her constant psychological profiling of Controller Jarvis Bennett. First a random rocket drifts near the Wheel and random drops in temperature and air pressure are the only sign that Cybermats have infiltrated the base. Second, above average meteor storms hit the station in a week and, inadvertently, the Doctor and Jamie arrive prompting the latter to rather foolishly sabotage the Wheel’s laser. As the story then unfolds, the diligent Cybermats chew away on the stocks of Bernalium leaving the space station underpowered of laser and defenceless in the face of a huge meteor storm, triggered of course by the Cybermen’s detonation of a star in the Messier 13 system. That inevitably forces the humans over to the mysterious rocket for replacements where they inadvertently transport cocooned Cybermen back to base. Along with their human slaves, these Cybermen can then… Repair the laser, deflect the meteorites and radio in the waiting Cyber fleet to begin the successful invasion of Earth.
Sound tenuous? Yes, it’s a ridiculously elaborate, tremendously illogical Trojan Horse plan that is made tremendously more complicated by its excessive episode count.
And why? Well in the most distilled analysis we’ve yet seen – the Doctor constantly summarises the Cybermen as coveting “the treasures of the Earth”, wanting to colonise, possessing “an overriding ambition to invade Earth in order to plunder its mineral wealth”. That’s just before the two TARDIS dullards realise that they’ve dropped the ship’s Time vector Generator, further wollying the plot. But the key word there is “overriding”. The metal heads had been accused of envy and revenge before, and they’re not really making a case against that with a plan that borders on sadistic.
Worse, it’s fallible at the most minuscule levels. With a huge reliance on their prodigious reliance on mind control, the Cybermen have to contend with the Silenski capsue that can detect mind-control. That’s a grand plan undermined by affixing a small slip of metal to the back of a human’s neck.
Consider now that human neck. In Who lore, that human neck stuck out a great many times during mankind’s remarkably busy 21st century. They spread out into the cosmos while apparently easily decimating Cyber forces almost by accident, and often in small numbers. And that’s with a sizeable swathe spent under the successful domination by the Daleks. It’s worth noting that to get around the continuity challenges posed by this adventure, David Banks Cyberman sets this adventure in 2028. That seems wonderfully optimistic now. Not especially for the revolving space station that might exist in 12 years, but the fact that the human race might attempt a concerted effort to become more logical by that time.
Plot Cyber-rating: With the power to supernova a star in another system, would the Cybermen really need to go to these lengths to stealth acquire a space station? These and many other questions bog down an utterly bizarre and complicated excuse for a base under siege story that suggests the Cyber Planner was already near retirement or totally off his rocker. Even the regrettable loss of the tapes nor the limited print run of the original TARGET novelisation hasn’t many artificial hearts pine for exercise in incompetence over reason. A barely half handlebar out of 10.
The Invasion (Season 6, 1968)
“They’re from another world. Inhuman killers”
Despite the sub-par base-under-siege shenanigans presented by The Wheel in Space, the Cybermen returned the following season with an epic eight part plot in contemporary London. While this would prove to be their great finale, at least until the mid-1970s, it might also constitute their finest hour. This is the end of their golden age. A last hurrah. And they got to steal one of the show’s most precious titles from their nearest rivals. Quite right too.
But when I say contemporary London, the original spec of the story and fuel for UNIT dating controversies places it in the late 20th century, most likely some time during the 1970s. Somewhere between Glam and Punk. Therefore, the title is wholly apt among the manifold invasions the Earth had endured up to that point (many not seen until later Doctors witnessed them): this is chronologically the first time that the cyber race set foot on Earth, preceding the return of Mondas by a good decade (although Big Finish, and 2008’s The Next Doctor – the latter albeit with non-Mondasian Cybermen – would later play wonderfully fast and loose with this).
It’s also the second adventure developed from a story by Dr Kit Pedler, but this time brought to teleplay by script editor Derrick Sherwin. While a legendary Cyberman adventure, Sherwin’s script also took the time to create future show staple UNIT, reintroducing the promoted Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, last seen nine months before in The Web of Fear.
“I’d hate to have to face a whole army of them”
And while this may be the first Terran Cyber-incursion (the Cyber Director at confirms that it is at one point, certainly by their records), there are no bandages, the sickly scent of antiseptic or monotone pub logicians with record players grated to their ears. This is the slickest version of the Cyber race yet seen. Streamlined like those we’d already seen a century later on the Wheel, rather than the baggier versions that attacked the Moonbase, they’ve retained the iconic eye drops of the latter but fortunately lost the dribble drop from their lip grill. Heavy ear muffs add vast width to their vacant faces, ear-ended by functional handlebars. Whether audio-amplifiers or antennae, the way they make a firm loop between ear and crown seems like an accident waiting to happen. No doubt why you rarely see a Cyberman bending over.
Nifty pipes reinforce their strong limbs and torso while a hefty and energy-ray emitting chest unit is belied as a grafted accordion with its four tuning knobs by the grills which suggest cardio and respiratory functions. Once again, one wonders what’s in their actual chests. When seen en masse in some of the most iconic moments in not only the serial but the 26 year run of classic Doctor Who they look resplendent their all-rubberised silver suits – just as they had been in The Wheel in Space (wink, wink). In all they’re pretty slick. But as Tobias Vaughn proves soon enough their minds remain exploitable.
Even more drone-like like than before, beyond their human frontline these Cybermen have need for little except sheer bulk of gun carrying numbers. They swarm to the tune of the wonderfully named Cyber Director, basically a giant thinking filament, who in turn apparently reports to someone or someones unseen.
But this invasion, their craftiest yet, has no room for those useful pets the Cybermats! While it would have been wonderful to see them sliding around the sewers of London there’s an obvious reason for their absence. The Cybermats would not only have to wait a century to burst from the wainscoting, but also for the ancestors of these invading Cybermen. Famously temporally averse, the Cybers wouldn’t develop any form of time travel ability for many years (or rather, steal it), presumably something this rapidly advancing, tech-accelerating race considered illogical or was simply beyond their grasp (or perhaps kept beyond gauntlets by meddling Time Lords). Therefore, these metal fiends are an indication that Mondasians diverged from their planet many years before their home planet returned to Earth. In that case they constitute not only a wholly separate and less charismatic faction than those we first met but also the one from which evolved every Cyberman we’d seen in opposition to the Second Doctor. We’d been watching them in reverse! At least that explains some of the increased chutzpah they have later on down the line, if not the completely inexplicable fact that this faction recognise the Second Doctor and Jamie from Planet 14!
“The main difference from the other teaching machines is that it is able to induce emotional changes in the subject.”
Apart from the battles of morality, emotional blackmail and good old-fashioned double-crossing, The Invasion boils down to little other than a bloody big fight between the Cybermen and the British military. When the Cybermen appear in force, amid a successful invasion, it’s a visceral and crowd-pleasing scrap of grenades and clanking, savage, Cyber falls from great heights. There’s even time for effective fire extinguisher guns and those death throe sound effects that would become so important to the cyber legions in the 1980s. Excellent!
But most of the plot falls on their agent, the cruel and merciless Tobias Vaughn whose downfall is ensured as soon as he displays emotion during minor set-backs to his grand and treacherous scheme. Indeed, the final cliff-hanger of the series boils down to Vaughn losing the plot, and a forced volte‑face that the Master would make his trademark a few years later. Other than that, the teams of scientists, administrators, archaeologists and soldiers found in their previous stories are all missing. It’s the first time that the Cybermen have broken from the base under siege story and there’s no room for intense emotional build-up and opposition in a confined environment. Perhaps base under siege stories were good for something after all.
Should any viewer have been missing emotion, the weighty and slightly padded serial does serve up an extended 12 minute ending for the eighth episode where there’s plenty of time for comedy. And that’s just as well considering how The Invasion doesn’t hold back on horror throughout most of its run-time, particularly the gratuitous photography of Cyber corpses.
In the shadows
“You see Packer, I’ve thought everything through in detail. Nothing’s been overlooked…”
‘Shadows’ seems an understatement considering these Cybermen only claim their first kill in… episode five, having appeared for the first time in episode four. Really they wouldn’t be less effective until 2014’s Series Eight finale. But there’s a good reason for that. Human control is more important part of the Cyberman palette than ever before, in fact it’s the whole idea. They either have an expanded remit to exploit human emotion and greed or they would soon learn not too. They also show quite possibly their first predilection for suspended animation to hide themselves and maintain a low profile. We’d seen that before and would see it again.
It’s a brilliant move to have the TRDIS crew warn UNIT that the Cybermen are hidden somewhere on Earth. They’ve used stealth many times before, hiding away and surviving like Who’s cockroaches, but they’ve never been quite so shadowy. Main villain duties fall to the smooth, if arrogantly deceived Vaughn. An iconic Who villain so effective that a number of spin-off media have reanimated him with little effort. While Vaugh takes point, these Cybers provide a threatening background. In the mind of viewers, they live on their reputation far more than their powers of control. Vaughn on the other hand is happy to put a lot of stock into his modified ‘teaching’ weapon, the catchily titled Cerebraton Mentor. It’s a prime card so strong that come the start of the adventure that we see Vaughn derange a Cyberman before any of the metal giants have had a chance to do anything. It’s a chilling moment, particularly when that confused and deadly giant is let loose in the sewers.
But when the Cyber forces arrive, they come in brilliant and unforgettable style. Their march from St Paul’s is as iconic as the Daleks earlier stroll to South London across Westminster Bridge in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. In fact it’s the best bit of the entire story until the Second Doctor’s hilarious running, jumping bomb dodging near the end. Replete with chilling radiophonic trickery, that comes at the peak of episode five before a prolonged bout of bloody and oily war. That’s what this plan would always boil down to.
Must try harder
“A few minutes and then I shall control the world.”
There’s two important things to consider about this Cyber-plot. One, it took an immense amount of planning and two, it actually worked. The difficult alliance between International Electromatics and the Cybermen is based on logical and illogical mistrust, each possessing insidious back-up plans from the outset… But in the main it succeeds. Vaughn had worked on the plot for five years and had the Cybermen not detected one small, familiar and blue Time Lord vessel it might have run on some time longer. The Hypnotic pulse carried through IE chips manages to knock out the world’s population, although it’s undermined by the same simple trick as the Doctor employed on the Wheel. Metal capsules. Quite a design flaw that, and one the Cybermen would failed to tackle for the next century. That creates a gap that leaves a determined, if minimal force of opposition, no doubt disappointing the Mondasians who simply longed for a quiet walk through the English capital. Although they hadn’t forgotten their guns. Certainly, with all the fighting centred on Britain, while mercy rocket missions head over to Russia, it’s one of the most focussed invasions of Earth.
Once again it seems that Cybermen struggle with the idea of revenge. Once Zoe’s in the right place to calculate the missile strike that wipes out the Cyber’s first fleet, the Director opts for full destruction of Earth. That’s a hell of a Plan B. Also, even in their first proper tangle with humanity, it’s difficult to ignore the moon. Potentially a cause for Mondas’ original departure, certainly the focus of a future scheme. Yes, The Invasion is not only the Cybermen’s most effective plot, but manages to put a previous/future plot even further in the shade as well.
Plot Cyber-rating: Special credit for introducing the Cyber Megatron bomb. In their last great hurrah of the 1960s, the Cybermen really stick it to the Daleks. First they worked out planetary propulsion, then they successfully invaded the Earth a century before the Pepper Pots. Sure it foreshadows much of that tale, and it’s a fairly truncated invasion tale at that, but their method and early success can’t be doubted. Sure, all they had to do was hang back more than ever, but they seem pretty handy with marching and guns considering they can’t have had that much practise. And then there’s the fact that it’s a secret invasion. Exploiting human technology is perfectly apt and would still be brilliant today, had the New Series not had the Sontarans realise that first. And to think that we’re quite possibly nearer the time of The Wheel of Space than The Invasion. After all, surely the Mondasians founded capitalism far before their Earth cousins. If anyone knew how to exploit it… A mighty Eight handlebars out of 10!
Return to the beginning of the future: The Cybermen emerged into their golden age with ambitious planetary propulsion and their increasing attraction to the Earth’s Moon
Compiled: with help from one of my favourite childhood books, David Banks and Andrew Skilleter’s Cybermen; the BBC’s Essential Cybermen; the DVD Special Edition of The Tomb of the Cybermen, gratefully recovered, and the DVD edition of The Invasion with animated augmentation; sadly The Wheel in Space remains lost bar scraps and two episodes found on the BBC’s Lost in Time DVD. In the interest of completion, the only fair thing to do was take in the remaining parts of the story by reading Terrance Dicks’ novelisation, one of the rarer novelizations published by TARGET in 1988.