Here we look at some of the best Cybermen stories of the past…
As we’ve discussed elsewhere on this list, the Cybermen haven’t always been well served by their status as Doctor Who‘s ‘other’ major monster.
At the time of this story, the last time we had seen them properly was in an over-populated and disappointing anniversary story in which a squad was defeated by a teenager with a catapult. Yes, a great scene for Ace, but it rather takes all the shine out of their threat.
And so we have this two-parter, which by anyone’s standards is a continuity mess. But the thing is, it has to be: while it would be dull to go back and do an origin story (on Mondas or Telos, pick your favourite) the new fans coming into this cold need to be reminded exactly what it is you’re giving up when you erase emotions.
The Cybermen’s new catchphrase – ‘Delete!’ – far from being a pale imitation of ‘Exterminate’, is a sound signifier of the lack of emotion of these villains in the iPod generation: they will wipe out life as easily as we might swipe a song on our playlist to the trash bin.
You’ll have noticed that there’s not a great deal of classic-era Who in this list that’s post-Troughton.
There’s a very good reason for that: once they had been introduced as terrifying body-horror nightmares with human hands and weird metallic voices, they largely failed in their promise, and tended to be wheeled out as the rent-a-man-in-a-rubber-suit style villains who seemingly didn’t understand what they were working with (you can’t have a monster whose USP is their lack of emotion and then have them repeatedly boast about it).
‘Earthshock’, however, manages to use the Cybermen in clever and interesting ways, particularly as we get distracted by completely new robots for most of the first episode.
Concentrating more heavily on the guest cast works phenomenally well in this story, too, as Peter Davidson’s breathless and idealistic Doctor is thrown in the middle of an adventure that he has no real control over.
Plus, there are the two real big shocks of the story – the death of a companion, and the first reveal of the Cybermen themselves, successfully hidden until the end of Episode 1. Which, if you’re still working your way through your classic DVD collection, we’ve just spoiled for you. Sorry about that.
Oh, we know how the script is meant to go: everyone loved this story when it didn’t actually exist. Then it was discovered on a dusty shelf, and everyone decided that it wasn’t actually any good. But that script is wrong.
This is magical Doctor Who, and Cybermen at their very best. Yes, we can discuss dodgy mannequin effects and questionable race relations (all the good guys are white, the villains… well, are not). But there is something glorious about this four parter.
It’s the very ultimate in a Troughton story where the gang are creeping around dark corridors, and it is one of the very few Cybermen stories in which they make no effort to explain themselves, apart from the almost banal delivery of their truth: “You belong to us – you will be like us.”
Because the Cybermen are aliens who are constantly upgrading themselves to be better and sleeker, it’s very unlikely that we’ll see this version of them again – complete with roughly painted mouth and eyepieces, and the sing-song voice boxes of a throat surgery survivor – and that really is a shame. Because, put simply, they have never been as terrifying.
What’s your favourite Cybermen story? Let us know below…