The Cybermen : The Emotional Idiots of Classic Who – Part 1

Updated: Jan 8

Disclaimer: This blog contains spoilers throughout. If you haven’t seen any classic Cyberman story I suggest you watch them before reading this.

The Cybermen, the emotional mercenaries from the planet Mondas. Ever since they marched into the Doctor Who universe back in The Tenth Planet (1966) they have remained as a special part to the show’s canon. Despite the fact that their presence has been somewhat diminished over the last few years with a total of just 10 appearances (some of them very brief) in 16 years, no one can deny that they provide a special ingredient to the shows’ format and continuity which will hopefully continue for years to come.

Yes, it would seem that the Cybermen, with their emotionless face in The Tenth Planet, their electronic voices in The Moonbase (1967) and The Tomb of the Cybermen (1967), their not-so frightening appearance and presence in The Invasion (1968), and their superior intelligence evident throughout the classic, and revived series to a certain extent, all contribute as defining factors which make the Cybermen the formable villains that we love today. Or are they? It’s undeniable that the Cybermen are geniuses with intellectual levels which far surpass that of the average human. Right? And they boast that they have gotten rid of all emotions and are invincible. Haven’t they?. But at least they come up with seemingly fool proof plans which The Doctor cannot possibly escape from. Or do they? Let have a look and find out.

The Cybermen, as many will know, were introduced back in 1966 with William Hartnell’s swansong The Tenth Planet. During the serial they ‘take over’ an Antarctic Base with a small group of international humans at the helm. The Cybermen plan to drain Earth’s energy to save their home planet Mondas, which is also the lost twin planet to Earth. Coincidentally the Cybermen are also linked to Mondas (like the Axon Monsters are to Axos in The Claws of Axos (1971)). The Doctor figures out that Mondas will eventually absorb too much energy and will disintegrate, which it eventually does towards the end of the climax. So – The Doctor effectively just has to sit back, and wait to defeat the Cybermen. No, that’s not accurate, The Doctor doesn’t have to do anything! The Doctor does not have to use his wits or smartness to overcome the cybernetic aliens. Episode four ends just how The Doctor predicted, Mondas disintegrates after absorbing too much energy, and the Cybermen collapse into nothingness, and the day is saved. So if all The Doctor needed was time, then what danger do the Cybermen pose exactly? The ending is pretty much spoiled in episode two, when The Doctor deduces that Mondas will eventually absorb too much energy – resulting in its destruction. It’s not that ‘fun’ fighting supposedly invincible, towering aliens when all the protagonist and hero needs is time. Nor is it credible that all The Doctor has to do is sit back and relax, in a manner of speaking. The Cybermen for some reason are totally oblivious to the fact that Mondas can’t sustain itself indefinitely, and their end game undermines their invincible persona. Not exactly the best start is it?

So – what about the rest of the story? Perhaps the Cybermen show what they are made of throughout the rest of the narrative. It’s not as if they like to stumble around, getting themselves in really inconvenient and ridiculous ways – right? Well unfortunately the answer is no. Many characters find themselves either imprisoned or backed into a corner by a Cyberman, but every time the Cyberman or Cybermen are disposed of in tomfoolery situations. Ben Jackson (Michael Craze) uses an old film projector to blind a Cyberman, and is murdered when he uses its chest unit as a weapon to protect himself. Another Cyberman is easily tricked into walking into a room full of radiation – when radiation is deadly to the Cybermen, and various other characters use the Cybermen’s weapon against them to dispose of the Mondas mercenaries. So if the Cybermen are geniuses why not create a weapon or weapons which only they can use? The Master (John Simm) created the laser screwdriver which only worked for him in The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords (2007) so why couldn’t the Cybermen? For that matter why do the Cybermen profess to be invincible when they clearly aren’t. They have a dozen weaknesses, some of which are pretty silly. Imagine if a superhero’s arch villain had several weaknesses, the superhero wouldn’t need to work that hard to save the day. It’s evident that The Tenth Planet was not the ‘best’ way to introduce the Cybermen, but maybe their second appearance puts them in better light. One hopes.

The Cybermen returned to TV less than five months later with The Moonbase. Here the Cybermen plan to use a weather station based on the moon, which is operated by a small crew of international humans (hmmm, that sounds familiar) to destroy the Earth. Okay, that would seem logical, using Earth’s resources against them to allow the Cybermen to invade, what could go wrong? Well, the story. Well first of all, the Cybermen successfully infect the Moonbase’ s sugar supplies with a strange alien virus, which makes up the first part of their plan. This leads to certain crew members contradicting the alien virus, who are then put into the Moonbase’s sickbay, where a Cyberman (under the guise of a sick patient) takes them away for conversion. So if the Cybermen want to take control of the Moonbase, why not affect the air supply? Or the water supply? Or even the coffee? Surely it is more logical to affect something which the Moonbase crew require on a daily basis. This part of the plan could backfire if the sugar were to say – spoil, or the crew decided to lead a sugar-free diet. Anyway the Cybermen eventually gain control of the Moonbase, with the help of the crew members they have partially upgraded. So in an interesting turn of events, the Cybermen technically win, and take control of the Moonbase and a device called the Gravitron – remember this, it’s very important. With the base under Cyberman control, it would seem logical to kill everyone else, who are not under their control so nobody can stand in their way. Alas the Cybermen seem to fall victim to the same cliché that the Daleks and even The Master all suffer from. The Doctor and the other crew members are allowed to live (for the time being) and The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) successfully renders the converted crew members useless and the Cybermen are disposed of - with a mixture of nail varnish remover, and other substances, of all things!

So with the advanced guard down, the Cybermen put ‘Plan B’ into action. A whole army of Cybermen sabotage the Moonbase communication system, Dr Evans (Alan Rowe), under Cyberman control, diverts a rescue rocket by hurtling it towards the sun with the Gravitron, the other converted humans are reanimated and the Cybermen plan to blow a hole in the Moonbase’s dome, thus killing everyone inside. Deep Breath. Which would have been the logical thing to do in the first place. Okay. So after all of this, The Doctor realises that the Gravitron could be used against the Cybermen. The Gravitron is used by the Moonbase personnel to control the weather on Earth, and it can also manipulate Gravity. The Doctor realises that the Gravitron could be used against the Cybermen. He comes to this conclusion after a shot from the Cybermen’s bazooka-like weapon is deflected by the Gravitron. The Doctor instructs everybody to move the Graviton down to ground level and the Cybermen are hurtled off into space and the day is saved again. So after their second appearance, are they put into new light? Well, not really. Their plan does seem fool proof, despite the obvious flaws, and they do make various mistakes throughout the narrative. During episode four, the Cybermen are like sitting ducks – standing in the line of fire and not taking any course of action to protect themselves from enemy fire. Their plan is ultimately their downfall. Well maybe their third appearance will do a better job.

The Tomb of the Cybermen centres on a small group of humans (again?) (seriously?) who are looking for the lost tomb of the Cybermen. Inside the tomb is a series of logic puzzles for the characters to solve. The puzzles were put into place by the Cybermen before sealing themselves into their ice tombs. Okay this is the stuff, putting puzzles and tricks in the way to find the best possible humans to convert into more Cybermen, what could go wrong?. The Tomb of the Cybermen is a classic and is a marvellous piece of television and a highlight in the Patrick Troughton era, something which cannot be denied. However the Cybermen are again very illogical and make many mistakes which again results in their downfall. 1) Why can the tombs only be opened and closed from the outside? What sense does that make? Who closed it? Another Cyberman? 2) Why do the Cybermen need to return to the cells to conserve energy? What energy do they run on? It can’t be from Mondas since the planet had been destroyed hundreds of years prior. Isn’t the concept of ‘resting’ somewhat humanistic? 3) Why is it so easy for The Doctor to convince Toberman (Roy Stewart) – under Cyberman control, that the Cyber Controller (Michael Kilgarriff) is evil? This easy counter method wasn’t mentioned or used in The Moonbase. It would have come in very handy considering how many crew members were partially converted by the Cybermen. 4) Why is the tomb’s upper level full of weapons which The Doctor and the expedition team could use against them? Surely when the Cybermen went to ‘sleep’ they would either have put their weapons into storage or would have taken them down into the tombs with them. Klieg (George Pastell) and Kaftan (Shirley Cooklin) successfully operate the Cyber weapons as if it were next to nothing. This would be like a resistance group leaving a piece of paper laying around that has the password to their weapons storage written on it. Maybe the Cybermen banked on the possibility that whoever found their weapons wouldn’t know how to operate them. If that were the case, then how would ‘these people’ bypass the entrance to their tombs in the first place when the doors are electrified. 5) Why would the Cybermen electrify the doors to their tombs when they would need somebody to come along and reawaken them? Captain Hopper (George Roubicek) and his crew were nearly ready to give up after a member of their crew (Ray Grover) is electrified after touching the tomb’s door. Oh dear. The Cybermen are again pretty idiotic here and not the logical thinking, super intelligent, non-emotionless villains they make themselves out to be. Next Adventure.

The Wheel in Space (1968) marked the fourth appearances of the Cybermen, with the Cybermen attacking a space station, and planning to invade Earth – (again). Unfortunately, most of the story is missing from the BBC archives, and the only possible way of enjoying this six-part serial is through the soundtrack or watching episode 3 and 6 on the Lost in Time DVD boxset. However with the help of the plot synopsis we can see that the Cybermen are ‘banking’ on the fact that their 6 stage plan to dominate Earth will all fall into place with no interruptions. First the Cybermats will infiltrate Space Station W3. Whilst this happens the Cybermen will hatch from eggs onboard the Silver Carrier, a space rocket which is 9 weeks overdue and 90,000,000 miles off course (according to Zoe (Wendy Padbury). Umm … that’s not suspicious at all. The Cybermen will then destroy Star Hercule 208 which will causes thousands of meteors to crash onto W3. With this in motion, the Cybermats will then destroy W3’s supply of bernalium, an element vital to the Space Station’s operation. This will cause the crew of W3 to head to the Silver Carrier (ahem … which has been missing for 9 weeks, and just happens to turn up …. without its crew) to acquire crates containing bernalium and bring them back to W3 to replace the damage caused by the Cybermats. Unbeknownst to the crew the crates will actually contain Cybermen. . The final part of the plan will have the Cybermen take control of the wheel and then guide the Cyber army to Earth.

Okay what a plan. It seems that the Cybermen have thought about this place for a while and are confident it will work. However, the entire operation is very circumstantial and could fall apart at any stage. First Jarvis Bennett (Michael Turner) commander of W3 is a very unstable, trigger-happy man, who tries multiple times to destroy the Silver Carrier believing it to be a danger to W3. Dr Gemma Corwyn (Ann Ridler) manages to convince Jarvis otherwise, believing there might be surviving crew members onboard. So the plan is already in danger, it just takes Jarvis to press one button, and BOOM! Bye, bye Cybermen. It is also convenient that Jamie (Frazer Hines) sabotages W3’s lasers later on, thus preventing Jarvis from blowing Silver Carrier to pieces. Jamie also accidentally contacts W3 from the Silver Carrier, during episode two, thus throwing the Cybermen a lifeline. This act prompts Tanya (Clare Jenkins) to inform the crew that someone aboard the Silver Carrier is contacting them, and Jarvis orders for crew members to be sent over to investigate. So if the W3’s crew weren’t one to pass information on, then the Cybermen could be doomed. Second the Cybermen put W3 crewmen, Elton Laleham (Michael Goldie) and Armand Vallance (Derrick Gilbert) under Cyberman control to take them to the wheel inside the prementioned boxes of bernalium after the Cybermats corrupted W3’s source of bernalium. But surely W3 would have back-up supplies in a storeroom, no? Even if they did, how long would the Cybermen be willing to wait to be taken over to W3? A week? A year? A decade? The Cybermen have no emotions and do not age, so time should be irrelevant to them. And the icing on the cake is W3 has several weapons which various characters use against the Cybermen. A substance called quick setting plastic proves to be lethal to the Cybermen. The Doctor rigs up a machine to repel and deactivate a Cyberman, there is a neutron force field which repels The Cybermen towards the end of the serial, and W3’s laser is up and running again with a temporary replacement -from the Tardis of all places – which destroys the Cybermen’s fleet. The Cybermen also hilariously walk through space whilst flapping their arms up and down, like ballet dancers on stage– they have to ‘walk’ a considerable distance to get to W3 from their spaceship. Why not ‘park’ their spaceship right next to W3? At this point W3’s laser isn’t working, so what’s the danger exactly? Why not knock out the laser entirely instead of leaving it deactivated? Why not, I don’t know – Why not – Why not – I’m running out of ideas here? So despite The Wheel in Space being 2/3 missing from the BBC Archives, the Cybermen haven’t much improved at all Also, why do the Cybermen want to go to Earth? …… Next one…

The Invasion surprisingly does not display the Cybermen as illogical idiots. For the most part. According to Tobias Vaughn (Kevin Stoney) the Cybermen’s plan has been in action for 5 years. Not likely. Anyway Tobias Vaugh, managing director of International Electromagnetics, plans to help The Cybermen invade earth by placing micro-monolithic circuits in all of IE’s equipment which is shipped worldwide. The circuit will send out a signal, which will render everyone unconscious, which will then allow The Cybermen to invade since nobody will get in the way. But Vaughn has a trick up his sleeve, during the planning stages of the invasion, he has designed a machine along with Professor Watkin (Edward Burnham) which can induce emotions into a Cybermen, which will kill them. On the face of it, it doesn’t look like much could do wrong. At the beginning of episode one, a Cyber-ship fires a missile at the Tardis, possibly because it was a threat to their plans. So this shows the Cybermen acting as logical aliens, killing the enemy before their cover can be blown.

As one would expect the Cybermen are eventually defeated, thus Plan B must be put into action. This occurs after an entire Cyberman fleet in destroyed in space with a missile fired from Earth. Plan B sees the Cybermen planning to use a bomb to destroy all life on Earth which will be guided to the planet from space. Well wouldn’t it be sensible to have the bomb already in place on Earth in-case things were to go wrong. Since the Cybermen see themselves as logical thinking beings they wouldn’t presume that anything could go wrong with their plans. The Second Doctor learns about the bomb, and with the help of the Russian Army, both the bomb and Cyber ship are destroyed. The main problem with The Invasion is the Cybermen hardly appear, they make very brief appearances for the most part between episodes 1-6, and a lot of the fight sequences occur off-screen. Episode 8 features a lot of Cybermen action but they are pretty much disposed of in rapid succession. At the heart of it, the Cybermen are not that illogical, and the story is an improvement compared to others. Ultimately the Cybermen should have prepared for the worst and brought the bomb with them in the first place instead of guiding it to Earth, thus allowing the people of Earth time and opportunity to destroy it. That’s the thing about the Cybermen, they always presume they will win no matter what, but yet they continually give everyone else enough time to come up with a plan to destroy them. So, not bad Cybermen, not bad at all. Onto the next one.

Revenge of the Cybermen (1975) focuses on the Cybermen planning to destroy Voga, the planet of Gold. As it turns out the Cybermen are allergic to gold, so destroying Voga would seem ideal. Right? Well yes, and no. First, Voga isn’t the only planet with gold. Surely there will be millions of other planets rich in the element. So even if the Cybermen destroy Voga, there is still work to be done. Second, why does gold affect their Cyber equipment? Surely the Cybermen, who are aware that gold is lethal to them, would design their equipment so gold doesn’t affect it. Third, why would the Cybermen risk their lives by venturing down to Voga to place Cyberbombs in the cave systems?. The caves are rich in gold, the Vogans design their weapons from gold, and the Vogans have weapons that can fire gold dust. This part of the plan is illogical. This would be like Count Dracula walking through a garlic patch and coming out the other end in perfect health. It would be far more logical for the Cybermen to say – steal a rocket or rockets, or fire a laser or something science fictiony. Okay to be fair the Cybermen do eventually use a Beacon to destroy Voga but why not do this in the first place? As it turns out the Cybermen had already released a plague before The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry (Ian Marter) arrived on Nerva Beacon, which has killed everyone bar a few crew members. Logically, all the Cybermen have to do is release a deadly virus on Nerva Beacon and wait for everyone to die. If people survive, send a second wave or a third. After everyone has succumbed to the virus, the Cybermen could then use the Beacon to destroy Vogan and the Vogans. As long as the Vogans don’t know the Cybermen are coming, they will be sitting ducks with no hope of escape. The Cybermen have one thing to do – don’t announce their presence. It will then be easy for the Cybermen to load the Beacon with explosives and send it on a collision course with Voga. Fourth, The Doctor is able to programme the Cybermats to attack the Cybermen with gold stuck on it. So The Doctor is able to use the Cybermen’s technology against them. Now I know The Doctor is super smart and can get out of any tricky situation without the help of obviously edited cliffhangers, but come on. It’s not the fact that The Doctor uses the Cybermats against the Cybermen, what’s frustrating is, how easy it is.

But perhaps what’s more bizarre is, the Cybermen continually display emotions. The Cyberleader (Christopher Robbie) is the worst offender displaying a whole array of emotions – satisfaction, irritation, hatred and fear, among others (just look at the way the Cyber Leader places his hands on his waist) and his reference to the Cybermen as ‘warriors’ would suggest a sense of pride. Emotions are a Cyberman’s worst enemy – just look at the climax to The Age of Steel (2006) or The Next Doctor (2008). Perhaps Christopher Robbie wasn’t the best choice for the role or he didn’t understand the concept of the Cybermen. However, considering the big buzz about the Cybermen throughout the late 1960s I would beg to differ. Or maybe it’s because the actors who played the Cybermen in Revenge of the Cybermen, also delivered their lines, unlike previous Cybermen stories when voice-over artists would provide the voices. Every Cyberman story from now on will see the actors inside the Cybermen costumes deliver their lines, and not voice artiste(s). Whatever the reason maybe Revenge of the Cybermen is by no means their best appearance, and their superiority, invincibility, and emotionlessness personality are questionable. Maybe the next one. … Which can be left for another day.

So far six Cybermen stories have been covered in this blog, and so far it can be concluded that the Cybermen are indeed not the invincible, unemotional, intellectual, and logical thinking beings they claim to be. The remaining five Cybermen stories of the classic era will be covered and analysed in a follow up blog quite soon, and by the looks of things so far the Cybermen won’t much improve at all. Whilst the Cybermen are beloved characters in Doctor Who they certainly aren’t flawless, and their reputation is questionable.

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