The Cybermen : The Emotional Idiots of Classic Who – Part 2

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.

In my last blog I analysed every televised Cyberman story between 1966-1975 drawing attention to their illogical plans, emotional personalities, and the idiotic ways in which the Cybermen are killed off. In this blog every Cyberman story between 1982 to the show’s cancellation in 1989 will be analysed. Who knows maybe the Cybermen will improve, maybe their days of illogicalness are over, maybe they will learn to keep their emotions in check, maybe, just, maybe, they will show what the Cybermen are capable of. Then, again, maybe not. There is only one way to find out ….

Earthshock (1982) marked the Cybermen’s next appearance, and they are at their best here, but again they are plagued with multiple illogical and nonsensical plot points. It turns out that the Cybermen plan to destroy the Earth – go figure, with a bomb – go figure - hidden underground. The Earth is holding a conference along with delegates from other planets, and if an alliance is formed then the Cybermen will be outnumbered. The Cybermen have placed two deadly androids (Carolyn Mary Simmonds and Barney Lawrence) in the caves to protect the bomb, and this is where the illogical stuff crashes into the plot. The Androids who are programmed to protect the bomb actually draw attention to it. Having murdered various members of an expedition crew (gasp an expedition crew in a Cyberman story), a full rescue team are sent to find out what happened to their missing colleagues. Okay perhaps the crew members stumbled upon the bomb by mistake so the Androids took decisive action to protect it. Why not programme the Androids to move the bomb to another location if it were to be found on the off chance? By killing the crew members, they directly draw attention to the cave systems where the bomb is hidden, thus putting it in further danger. Surely it was the Androids who put it there in the first place since all of the Cybermen are hidden aboard a Freighter heading to Earth. Also the geographical location of the bomb doesn’t affect the damage it can cause, so moving the bomb a mile or two down into caves would be fine. Just look how far away the Androids are when The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) begins tampering with the bomb. The bomb is of course eventually put out of action, so the Cybermen put Plan B into action which has some glaring plot holes in it, and is once again, very illogical.

The prementioned Freighter has been suffering from a series of power loses for a short period of time. These power failures have been caused by the Cybermen…. Wait. What? Why would the Cybermen cause multiple power failures when the Freighter is heading to the exact place the Cybermen want to go? Explain someone … explain …. Also when the Cybermen gain control of the Freighter and turn it into a flying bomb to destroy life on Earth along with the Peace Conference. However the Cybermen (there are 15,000 thousand of them) fail to evacuate from the doomed ship (apart from the ones in the Tardis). Several Cybermen are revived by mistake, and thousands more are still in hibernation. Where would or can they evacuate to? There’s only one escape pod – big enough to fit say about 10 humans (the number of personnel on the Freighter) and not 15,000! Cybermen. It becomes evident that all the Cybermen are all killed when the Freighter explodes at the end of part four! So why do they think they will dominate the Earth when they know full well that the Freighter is a mighty bomb which will explode above Earth’s orbit? Also why don’t the Cybermen kill the remaining crew members and Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) knowing that they are bound to attempt to undo the damage they cause? Adric figures out that by solving three logic codes the Freighter would move a degree or two, thus avoiding the Earth. Whilst overriding the Cybermen’s settings, the Freighter jumps back 65,000,000 million years in time. It turns out the Freighter was the meteor that wiped out the Dinosaurs. So the Earth is technically saved, and history runs its natural course, all thanks to Adric’s meddling. But if Adric and the remaining crew members were killed then the Cybermen would have succeeded. Why give your enemies a chance to beat you? Why? So many plot holes … so little answers.

The Cybermen, as you can probably guess, are once again quite emotional. There are two Cybermen who have a lively conversation with somewhat expressive hand gestures. The Cyber Leader (David Banks) is very emotional – ‘he’ dismisses humanistic pleasures – smelling a flower, watching the sunset – but still appears to have his human emotions intact. Other emotions expressed by the Cybermen includes – cruelty and vengeance. Among many, many others. Oh these pesky Cybermen. Next adventure.

The Five Doctors (1983) only centres on the Cybermen very briefly. These Cybermen have been scoped out of time and put in Death Zone by Lord President Borusa (Philip Latham). So technically the Cybermen are not here by choice, but by a secondary party. It would seem that the Cybermen here have a concept of morals and ethics: ‘promises made to aliens have no validity’. Anyway Borusa plans to discover the secrets to Immorality, which were apparently discovered by Rassilon, whose physical remains are rumoured to lie in the Tomb of Rassilon, inside the Dark Tower. The Dark Tower has a series of logical puzzles and bobby traps which people have to overcome to get to Rassilon’s tomb. One such bobby trap (a chequered board pattern on the floor) is discovered by The Master (Anthony Ainley) and a platoon of Cybermen. The Cybermen, for some reason fail to see the danger they are in, and walk across it with no second thought and are killed by lightning-like bolts. The Master, just seconds beforehand demonstrated that it is save to walk across the chequered floor design without being killed. The Master obviously knows that any particular person has to walk across it in a particular way (kind of like the bobby trap seen in Death to the Daleks) to avoid being killed. So if the Cybermen are geniuses why don’t they figure this out? Why don’t they conclude that The Master is trying to dupe them? Do they really think it would be that easy to walk across what is so obviously a bobby trap? Surely they must realise that The Master, who is a Time Lord, knows about Time Lord trickery and science and therefore has the upper-hand to avoiding falling into traps. Why don’t the Cybermen copy The Master’s exact steps by walking across the chequered floor one at time? The Master survived his journey across the board – both forth and back – so why not conclude that the path The Master took is 100 percent save? Why risk it by walking across other areas of the board which The Master did not walk across? Do they really think the Time Lords would allow anyone and everyone easy access to the Dark Tower without taking necessary and precautionary steps to protect it? And another question that’s just come up: why do the Cybermen groan in pain when killed, when they can’t feel emotions or pain? They always groan as they are struck down, but again they have no human emotions or the ability to react when afflicted with pain. Again the Cybermen are not the main antagonist of the serial, but they still haven’t improved compared to their last appearances. As for the next adventure …..

Attack of the Cybermen (1985) is completely illogical. The Cybermen travel back in time to 1985 to prevent the destruction of Mondas. They plan to achieve this by destroying the Earth before Mondas returns to the Solar System. This – will - achieve – nothing. In The Tenth Planet it is firmly established that Mondas is dying and has returned to the Solar System to drain Earth of its energy to survive. So if the Earth is destroyed in 1985, Mondas will die in 1986 since it won’t have a planet to latch onto to drain its energy. So how do the Cybermen plan to destroy the Earth? With a bomb of course. This time they plan to use Halley’s Comet. Which raises more questions, how does one turn a giant snowball into a bomb? Well if the Cybermen couldn’t care – why should we? But the illogicalness doesn’t stop there. The Cybermen also want to destroy the surface of Telos. Why? Isn’t destroying one planet more than enough for them? The Cybermen also lock The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) up in a room with deadly explosives (mirroring The Tomb of the Cybermen perhaps?). Why – oh forget it. Inside the room The Doctor meets a Cryon called Flast (Faith Brown) who is surrounded by crates containing Vastial (a highly deadly substance in temperatures above 15 degrees centigrade). The Doctor deduces that Vastial could be used against the Cybermen, allowing him to escape from his imprisonment. The Doctor, later on, uses a small amount of Vistal to kill the Cyber Guard outside the room and escapes. The Cyber Guard in question casually investigates the tray of Vistal, like a mouse walking up to a trap with cheese on it. before being set alight. First question, did the Cyberman not see The Doctor’s hand place a mysterious object on the floor before retreating back into the room he is imprisoned in? Second question, why would the Cybermen just walk up to the mysterious object like nothing bad is going to happen? Third question, surely the Cyberman would deduce that The Doctor would try and escape, so could it not conclude that The Doctor is obviously setting a trap to do just so? How stupid could the Cyberman have been? In fact how stupid are the rest of them? Surely the Cybermen would have conducted research into the element to find out its properties. Why would the Cybermen not think about conducting experiments on Vistal? The Cybermen clearly know there is a room full of the stuff since they had previously imprisoned Flast inside the said room, and there is no evidence that the Cybermen put the Vastial inside the room to prevent it from combusting, so what’s going on here? Or, if the Cybermen did put the Vastial inside the room used to imprison The Doctor and Flast, then they clearly know the element is danger when heated up, so would the Cyber Guard not take the appropriate actions to save itself? Honestly does it really matter at this point? Either way you could totally see the Cybermen here, leaving a room full of gold still intact, where the enemies could fight back. And top of all of this, two Cybermen towards the end of the episode, realise they are immediate danger, and one of them hilariously tells the other to ‘leg it’, with very human-like hand gestures. They also run away like children who are about to be told off by their parents. Now okay, the Cybermen do actually have good pointers here – first they use the Cryons’ refrigeration technology for their own selfish needs. By using other people’s technology for their own gains, the Cybermen are logical here, instead of wasting time creating or copying the technology themselves. However with all of other nonsensical nonsense around them, they once again are makers of their own downfall. And as for the next adventure ….

Silver Nemesis (1988)! The final appearance of the Cybermen in the classic era. How will it fare? Will the Cybermen improve? Are there days of illogical plans over? Well … strangely yeah. They are. Sort of. Kind of. Let’s have a look. It is astounding that the Cybermen’s ‘best’ (apart from the pre-mentioned Earthshock) appearance – occurs in what is possibly the blandest anniversary special to be conjured up and produced on a shoestring. In a way the Cybermen aren’t actually done a service here, considering they hardly appear, until the plot calls for their involvement when things dry up, and when they do appear their contribution to the story amounts to very little. That being said, the Cybermen do team up with Neo-Nazis lead by De Flores (Anton Diffring). This is perfect writing since both the Nazis and the Cybermen share similar views and are also essentially one in the same. There is of course a back-stabber plot point, where De Flores plans to defeat the Cybermen using the Nemesis Statue (Fiona Walker), and the Cybermen probably plan to do the exact same thing. Unlike Revenge of the Cybermen¸ the Cybermen do actually keep their appearance a secret, and out of sight. An entire Cyberman army are hidden in Earth’s orbit from plain sight. It takes The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) to figure this out, so without his appearance on Earth they probably would have succeeded with their conquest of Earth. By like previous Cybermen serials; the Cybermen are whipped out in a variety of ways; killed by Lady Peinforte’s (Fiona Walker) golden arrows, slaughtered by Ace’s (Sophie Aldred) pocket coins, disintegrated by the engines of the meteor which contains the Nemesis Statue, shot and killed by various Neo-Nazis, and the Cyber Leader (David Banks) is stabbed with another golden arrow by Richard (Gerard Murphy). Whilst many of their deaths aren’t technically the Cybermen’s fault, they are once again portrayed as blubbering idiots and not cybernetic geniuses which they claim to be.

There is also a plot point where The Doctor instructs the Nemesis Statue to destroy the Cyber fleet, which the Statue claims to understand. The Cyber Leader (David Banks) arrives, as does Lady Peinforte and Richard who all demand The Doctor to hand over the bow of the Nemesis Statue. Whoever owns the bow, controls the Nemesis Statue. The Doctor eventually ‘surrenders’ the bow to the Cybermen. Believing they have gained control of the Nemesis Statue, the Cyber Leader instructs The Doctor to tell the Nemesis Statue to cancel its destructive capabilities. The Doctor then asks the Nemesis Statue if it understands the Cyber Leader’s instructions, and the Statue claims it has. The Cyber Leader also orders for the Statue to rendezvous with his Cyber fleet in space. The statue takes off and heads into space to rendezvous with the space fleet destroying it entirely! This is where the Cyber Leader goes wrong, the Nemesis Statue confirmed it understood its orders but never said anything about obeying them. This is pretty ludicrous that the Cyber Leader could have made such an obvious error of judgement. It’s not like the Cybermen knew very much about the Nemesis Statue since its spent most of time drifting through space, and how they came to know about it is another matter altogether. Wouldn’t the logical step have been bringing the Cyber Fleet down to Earth, then using the Nemesis Statue afterwards? After all once the Cyber Leader is given the Nemesis Statue by The Doctor, it practically announces itself as the victor. Why send the Nemesis Statue up into space, only to bring it back down (again) during the conquest of Earth? Also, why does the Cyber Leader get The Doctor to give it its instructions? The Nemesis Statue doesn’t exactly discriminate between good and evil, and it doesn’t have a failsafe to repel orders from people who tread on the ‘dark side’. And again, why not kill The Doctor, Ace, Lady Peinforte and Richard from getting in the way – remember Revenge of the Cybermen and Earthshock? It’s not like the Cybermen would allow The Doctor to live during the conquest of Earth, so why not get the job over and done with now? Oh dear… here we go again. The Cybermen are again poor – not as bad – slightly better – no, no, they’re pretty much the same. More emotions are expressed by the Cybermen here and there, and their impact is once again – poor.

So what have we learned about the Cybermen? Well first of all they are undoubtedly illogical and very, very susceptible to being disposed of in very convenient ways and means. Despite everything said about the above episodes, some of them are actually great pieces of television and could easily be produced as television movies. The likes of Earthshock had to be produced in a matter of days, and The Tomb of the Cybermen is often regarded as one of the highlights of the classic era, and its not hard to see why. But then we have episodes like Attack of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis which just do not work in their entirety. No television is perfect, no movie is flawless, and no theatre production goes through a run without the odd hiccup or bump in the road. Writing for television is also one of the most challenging and demanding careers in the entertainment business, and the writing for the Cybermen, although undoubtedly poor, does show flairs of imagination, originality and adventure. Alas the Cybermen are often done a mis service, and the reasons for this could many or few. Maybe the episodes were given to the wrong writers, or maybe the creators of the Cybermen, Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis (both very talented people nonetheless) were just to clever for their own good. It can’t be easy for a writer to write for characters who are supposedly logical-thinkers, invincible, and unemotional, and create plots where each attribute is honoured. It is also near impossible to continually create situations and plots for the Cybermen where each of their characteristics aren’t put to the test. So maybe the Cybermen are just to smart for their own good. You definitely feel this when watching them laying out their plans for Universal conquest of Earth. So with all of this being said, the Cybermen are easily the Emotion, Illogical Idiots of Doctor Who and they can wear that as a badge of honour. Or dishonour. Or whatever emotion they want to feel. But the Cybermen don’t display emotions so how can they feel honour? But wait the Cybermen have displayed emotions many times, remember. So, they can wear the badge with honour. Or dishonour. Wait a minute. Why would the Cybermen want to be wear badge? I’m confusing myself. Okay let’s just say that the Cybermen will feel – no – show – no – wait a second let me think. I’ve got it so …. The Cybermen can -

[end note: It may be possible to continue this discussion with an analysis of Revived Doctor Who Cybermen stories, but we’ll have to wait and see]

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