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The Monster Collection: Daleks / Cybermen Review

Guest contributor Giacomo d. Lee takes a look at the DVD release featuring the Daleks and Cybermen.

daleks-monster-collection-dvd4 stories, 2 foes, and Doctor Who villains don’t get more famous than Daleks and Cybermen. The former are a British institution, and the latter have inspired countless other races on both the big and small screen. Both are robot killing machines with organic insides (alien mutants in the former, human brains in the latter). Both wage war on emotion, and have waged war against the Doctor since the early days of the 50-year-old show.

In celebration of Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary, the BBC have released ‘The Monster Collection‘, box sets centered around major villains of the Doctor, bundling together their first appearance from the classic series alongside their most recent episodes on the modern one. In the Dalek collection we have the The Daleks from 1963, and Asylum of the Daleks from 2012. In the other set meanwhile, we have 1967’s The Tomb of the Cybermen bundled together with 2006’s Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel. Which is strange, as the Cybermen race have had three standalone episodes dedicated to them since Age of Steel!

Haunted Homes of the Daleks

No-one’s really sure if these collections are supposed to feature classic origin stories plus reboot of origins from the revival series, or only appearances spread out over more than one episode. If it’s the former, then why does the Master box set skip his reintroduction in 2007’s entire Utopia trilogy? And if the latter, then why does the Daleks set feature the one-part, which is certainly no origin tale either, and will likely alienate newcomers looking for a catch-up on continuity?

the-daleks-63I can’t imagine them complaining though, as Asylum of The Daleks is already a classic episode, and arguably one of the few Dalek tales since the classic series to bring a chill to the bone. It shares a lot with the first appearance of the creatures in 63’s The Daleks. In both stories, the Doctor and company find themselves in haunted house substitutes, with the First Doctor on the desolate planet of Skaro, and the Eleventh Doctor in the disturbing Dalek Asylum planet. These are atmospheric tales, and the Daleks are not the only foe – there’s the radiation and swamps of Skaro to contend with, and the bizarre stalk-headed zombies who guard the Asylum. Touches like these ensure the stories don’t turn into simple cat and mouse games of Daleks v Humanoids, or Blow ‘Em Up (as a lot of episodes often play out). Once you start showing too many epic explosions, you shatter the creepy atmosphere of Dalek kind, with their slow patrols and strangled voices.

Unlike the Cybermen, Daleks need to be surrounded by subtlety. Asylum gets this perfectly in the amazing scene where an hallucinating companion believes she’s ballroom dancing with gentlemen and fair ladies, but is actually surrounded by malfunctioning Daleks. It’s a terrifying punchline that couldn’t work with any other creature.

Cybermen v. Daleks

cybermen-monster-collection-dvdInterestingly, 67’s The Tomb of the Cybermen also has the same claustrophobic mood. Starring Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor, the story resolves a mausoleum haunted by the spectres of Cybermen. The idea of making the Cybermen ancient is a great inversion of the futuristic concept behind the robot race, and a nifty way of reminding the audience how old the universe really is (something deployed in 2010’s The Pandorica Opens, with the rusty scuttling Cyber Head that attacks Amy Pond). It also helps what only one of the first science fiction shows was able to do in creating an internal mythology and projecting it against an unexplored universe, one of space and one of storytelling, and staking the territory as its own in TV history.

If we compare the two classic serials, than The Daleks is a much tighter story than Tomb, not suffering from the latter story’s drag in pace or over convolution once villains start declaring themselves in the human faction. It’s also an interesting exercise to see how the show changed so rapidly in four years. William Hartnell’s First Doctor is a new character as much to the audience and his companions, and is built up with a surprising degree of shiftiness. When his companions mutter to each other about the Doctor’s true intentions, they’re as suspicious as we are. By the time we come round to the Second Doctor though, he’s a jolly best friend, and his companions are clued up as he is about the danger of their adventures and the universe itself.

Cybershames

rise-of-the-cybermen-age-of-steel-promo-artThe Tenth Doctor is equally as affable once the Cybermen meet him again in Rise of the Cybermen. These are fun episodes, but not the best representation of the Cybermen so far this modern series (The Next Doctor and Closing Time are better). The robots are a little over shiny and bulky to be scary, and everything’s a little too sanitised and clean. This is due to their upgrade, setting an unfortunate habit in the modern series to keep refurbishing the Cybers. They did this once with the Daleks to disastrous effect, but only once. When the Daleks return, it’s because they’re the cockroaches of our universe. When the Cybermen return though, it’s always due to a resurrection or unearthing of some sort, much like in the 60’s tale, and again there’s some new change to their armour somehow, and producers claim they’re back to their scarier looks from the classic era. Well, as anyone who’s saw this year’s Nightmare in Silver can attest, that just ain’t the case. I’d rather have the gangly and mysterious Blankenstein Monsters from The Tomb of The Cybermen than speedy gadgets on legs. Who are the Cybermen now, anyway, and how did they come back? I know they were resurrected in Rise’s parallel universe, but I’m still not sure of the connection to the robots we see nowadays on the show. If they are to be bigger and bolder, then their backstory needs a little reinforcement also.

I think it’s time for the Cybermen to get their own Asylum style episode, something that reminds us of their status quo, but done so in a surprising and edgy fashion. But if even Neil Gaiman can’t save the Cybermen, then who can?

The Monster Collection box sets are released 30 September 2013.

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