Doctor: [To the Cyberleader] ‘You’re nothing but a pathetic bunch of tin soldiers skulking about the galaxy in an ancient spaceship.’
Cyberleader: ‘Cybermen can survive more efficiently than animal organisms. That is why we will rule the galaxy.’
Revenge of the Cybermen
And that is what it boils down to. The Cybermen are second only to the Daleks in their desire for domination, but whereas Skaro’s most insane desire to utterly destroy anything different to themselves, the Cybermen will subjugate and convert their conquests, thus bolstering their own ranks. This is the true horror of the Cybermen. Convinced that flesh will fail, that their way is best, they surrendered emotion and eventually individuality in the name of survival.
So, for the uninitiated, what is a Cyberman? Their history is one of sadness; the inhabitants of the planet Mondas – Earth’s lost twin – the original Cybermen were like us until they found that replacement surgery was necessary to prolong the life of their dying race. Their respiratory system was replaced by the prominent chest place, and their strength increased ten-fold. With their planet lost, wandering through the galaxy, the Cybermen conquered many worlds but Mondas was eventually destroyed following an attack on Earth (The Tenth Planet). Few of the remaining Cybermen are true Mondasians, but their aim is still the same – survival. Eventually, some settled on Telos and built their own tombs in order to draw those humans that would see them reanimated into their lair… and convert them.
This, of course, isn’t an entirely new concept; every story in existence has the concept of survival wove into it one way or another. In a Universe where anyone can be met at anytime by the Doctor, it is no surprise that many of the races he meets are threatened with extinction. Take the Kaled/Dals, the Ice Warriors, and the Zygons as prime examples from the original series – then add what has happened to the Autons world following the Time War and the effect of the war on the Gelth’s world. And just look at what the Master was prepared to do to stay alive!
Survival is a word that also commands our daily existence. We work – or otherwise acquire money – in order to survive. We buy food that we might survive, and pay rent or mortgage so that we and our families have shelter – in order to survive. Doctors and scientists spend their lives working so that we might survive.
This was something that co-creator of the Cybermen Dr. Kit Pedler recognised. In 1966 when he was employed by the Doctor Who production team to give the series a stronger scientific grounding, the Cybermen were born. A real-life Doctor, Pedler was fearful of the ghastly possibilities that the proposed replacement-part surgery likely to be available in the future would create for mankind. Survival was one thing – but what if we lost our humanity?
As the Cybermen were eventually able to develop into a force capable of challenging mankind’s place in the galaxy, their image as silver-clad cadavers was replaced with an image of an unstoppable force. Thanks to writer Eric Saward, the already overused Nazi metaphor applied with varying degrees of obviousness to all of the Doctor’s adventures with the Daleks were shoehorned in to Cyberman mythology in the 1980s, no doubt to assist with their desire for conquest. But surely survival is enough?
Pedler and Davis’ original vision of the Cybermen back in the 1960s was perfect. Done-to-death Nazi parallels were meaningless in the 1980s, and even more so now as imperialism rears it’s ugly, destructive head once more. But a human-like race, fearful of it’s impending doom, fighting nature for survival and using whatever means be they mechanical or whatever – that is genius. And the parallels with real life are far more interesting. Governments have risen and fallen for the last 4000 years – aggressive fascist policy isn’t going stop mankind whether it be fictional or real. But a dying race would stop us, and make us face up to these very real decisions.
A mechanical heart or one grown in a lab?
Artwork: Nigel Parry