Why the Cybermen Work as Villains
Guest contributor Matthew Wood examines the appeal of silver nemesis.
Ever since their inception, the Cybermen have threatened our screens on a regular basis. In fact, the intent for these silver beasts was that they would in effect replace the Daleks as the main recurring enemy for the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton). They are one of the longest lived monsters in the Doctor Who universe, their longevity is unmatched by most other alien species and they’re quite easily one of the scariest, if not most dangerous, monsters in the show. But why do these beasts work?
Sure Daleks are scary in a more obvious way, their complete disconnect from anything natural is quite chilling, and the Weeping Angels have that almost omnipresent nature by looking like something out of your nearest city. Most of the monsters in Doctor Who have a scary nature that makes them memorable for perhaps one or two episodes, but it doesn’t translate across to be what we now call a “classic” monster. Few have donned this title, the Cybermen being one. To understand why these metallic horrors are so scary and still scare us like they did back in their first appearance back in 1966 (The Tenth Planet), we have to understand how they differ from other villains.
Using an example I used before, the Daleks are scary just because of how different they are to us, yet how much they can reflect the worst of us. They too are encased in metallic armour and soul purpose is to purge the world of all things un-Dalek, but the Cybermen differ in some pivotal ways. Let’s explore these ways.
The history of the Cybermen is a sort of worst-case-scenario about humanity. They were on the twin planet to earth and were essentially humans that already exhausted their resources, and to adapt to their environment they slowly replaced parts of their body with machine parts. It is interesting to note that the humans on this twin planet did not make the decision to become wholly Cybermen, this was a gradual decent down the wrong path. These people had effectively influenced evolution to their own purposes. You can also see throughout each Cybermen television story, their body armour gets gradually more dynamic and more further from any human distinctions. Make no mistake underneath a Cyberman is a human being, but what’s scariest of all is what is the human wanted this to happen.
The Cybermen, no matter what episode or version you see, are just that little bit human in how they look, not how they act. They have all the things we associate with humans, two legs, two arms, eyes, mouth, they are a humanoid structure but they are not human. Without even seeing a Cyberman do anything evil, you immediately are unsettled by them. There is a term used in visual effects called the “Uncanny Valley”. This is when a computer generated object is so realistic, but not completely real, that your brain becomes confused at what it is looking at and you become unsettled. Doctor Who, genius of a television show, does this without the use of CGI. The somehow human, yet not human aspects of the Cybermen keep them from even being seen as the good guys even to a new viewer. An average Cyberman is taller, a bigger built and more aggressive than a human. There is the sense that, weapons aside, a Cyberman will still beat you in a fight, not could – will. The incredibly ordered, structured and logical army only amplifies this factor by millennia.
Like most villains, the Cybermen want to rule the universe, however the way they do this is different than if say a Sontaran had its way. They don’t try to kill all other species, or force them to follow their rule. They try to include their victims, however they don’t see it as victimising their opponents. In their eyes, the Cybermen are helping everyone by purging their emotions, making them the peak of their ability. They don’t call it murder or killing, it’s called an upgrade. Mirroring their origins of wanting to improve and help themselves with technology, they believe living things will be better as Cybermen, if they had a concept of happiness they would see converting into a Cyberman as the biggest party of them all. They force existence to their victims, but this is an unwanted existence. No one wants to be a Cyberman, they’ve gone from evolution to revolution. Now to become a Cyberman it’s no gradual decision, humans don’t want it, they are forced into it.
There is so much more that makes us hide behind the couch from a Cyberman, due to their ever evolving storylines throughout the show’s history. The fact that they can adapt to become a better fighter and a bigger, better version of themselves only continues the scares and keeps the Cybermen from being a one note villain. I’ll put it like this, my father watched the Fourth Doctor episodes as a child and the Cybermen stood out like a sore thumb, and they were in just one serial. We can only hope as Whovians that the best (and scariest) of the Cybermen has yet to come…!
P.S. To close, here is a list of my top 5 Cybermen stories:
- The Invasion
- Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
- The Tomb of the Cybermen
- Attack of the Cybermen