The lineage of the Cybermen: 50 years of the silver nemesis in ‘Doctor Who’

During a recent appearance on BBC Radio 2, Peter Capaldi revealed there might be a different kind of Cybermen in the next season of Doctor Who.

If so this will be the latest in a long line of make overs for the mechanical menaces, practically in line with those of the Doctor himself. This is perhaps not unusual for a technological advancing race, although some of the design upgrades have been more like a backward step at times.

Let us examine the lineage of the Cybermen…

 

Cloth Faced Cybermen (1966)

Okay, the first ones were clunky. With car headlight craniums and chest units so huge it is a wonder the actors managed to remain upright, it looked as though they were thrown together on a Volvo truck production line – a sub text in itself!

Yet despite the relatively primitive design, the Mondas models remain surprisingly eerie. Flesh and blood hands protruding from plastic and metal arms make for an unsettling juxtaposition, while the cloth faces have a mummy like appearance denoting their nature as “walking dead.” Peter Hawkins’ bizarre sing song computer vocals also add to the unnerving nature of these beasts.

To date, this is the only occasion we have encountered the Mondas Cybermen. Time for a rematch? Get that Gerry Davies Genesis script dusted down, Mr. Chibs!

 

Grinning Cybermen (1967)

Having wiped out the natives of Mondas, along come the next lot from Telos. With streamlined dimensions and solid faces, these were gigantic animated statues with grinning skull like faces and high pitched inhuman voices that appeared to not so much converse as relay words from a darker dimension.

There was also something about the way they silently looked at captured humans with just a hint of intent. Blood chilling, certainly terrifying, these arguably remain the classic Cybermen.

 

Wetsuit Cyberman (1967-1968)

It wasn’t broke, so why fix it? Unfortunately there were problems with the previous costume design, in that the helmets were claustrophobic for the actors, while the loose body suits had a habit of catching and tearing.

Thus, the Cybs were further streamlined with tight fitting wetsuits sprayed silver and zippers clearly on show. “Teardops” were added to the eyes and lower mouth now reduced to a smiling slit, the sinister high pitched staccato voices became more fluid and gravely.

Unfortunately, with sliding cake hole removed and chest lights no longer working, the actors were obliged to gestate so as to indicate which one was speaking. Not the most logical of behaviour.

For ‘The Invasion’, it was decided the Cybermen should look more like soldiers hence the addition of the “earmuffs” to resemble a combat helmet. The chest units were now more compact and their electronic voices plunging.

Despite zippers still showing, they looked mightily impressive coming down the steps of St. Paul’s.

 

Camp Cybermen (1975)

When Barry Letts and Philip Hinchcliffe decided to bring them back after a seven year break, they decided the surviving Invasion costumes were considered dated and a new set commissioned which composited elements from past designs. The earmuffs were retained and larger chest units from Moonbase to Wheel brought back.

One innovation, however, was the rather ineffectual energy gun built into the forehead which had them resembling mechanised unicorns. Robert Holmes’s decision that they should be more conversational ruled out the staccato speech patterns in favour of human vocal delivery with a slight electronic texture, though Christopher Robbie tried sounding more alien by annunciating with a seemingly East European accent. Unfortunately the combination of this while strutting with hands on hips gave us the campest Cyberleader yet. “Cyber-bums” indeed!

This was also the story where we first privileged to their weakness to gold. A plot device that was to reoccur.

 

Cyberhunks (1982-88)

Following another lengthy break, JNT brought the Cybs back in a completely modernised form and, boy, did they look impressive. Chunky head and narrow chest unit, slinkier flying suit body costume. The transparent chin revealed an organic jaw, which became mysteriously opaque when David Banks’ vocoder battery slipped.

As with Revenge, the characterisation was less of the cyber and more man. These Cybermen may have avoided doing “the time warp again”, but they certainly hand gestured while speaking in deep voices akin to K-1 in the Tom Baker story, Robot.

So not so much Cybermen as robotic macho guys and, as such, may have disappointed those hoping for a return to the chilling nemesis of the 1960s. Still, they were a hit for a new generation of fans and became the Cybs for the 1980s. Their final appearance in the 25th anniversary story Silver Nemesis saw a slight alteration custom made metallic looking body costumes and chunky features more rounded again.

Despite their high tech advances since Revenge, these still had not got over that allergy to gold. Especially when launched from Ace’s knicker elastic.

 

Cybermen Today (2006 – present)

With earmuffs ditched, it’s back to the narrow slit mouthed Cybermen with symmetrical facial design and Borg like mechanisation. The often criticised clinical emotion of the 1970s/1980s ditched in a return to the cold, singular logic of the 1960s. And a constant reminder that these were once living beings, something many of the previous stories often forget.

Originally an alternate universe lineage, recent years have seen a return to the Telosian race as signalled by a more rounded facial layout and smiley mouth. Question is, what are they smiling at?

 

Which Cybermen do you think are the most effective? Is it a case of the one you know first? Where should they go from here? Let us know below…

Buy the Cybermen collection box set on Amazon here.

Written by Barry McCann.