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.
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…
Continue reading “The Golden Age of Cybermen Part 2: From The Tombs to The Invasion”