Okay. Technically, the prompt is “Favorite Alien Race/Alien Race You Would Like to Meet.” But I’m editing it a bit for today.
A few months back, I went on a rant about 10 Classic era monsters I want back. Well, everything I said there still holds true. And I can easily think of at least 10 more to add to that list. My problem is that pretty much all of my favorites are not necessarily aliens that I would like to meet. In fact, the ones that are probably my all-time favorites are the only ones I’ve been known to have actual nightmares about.
Yes, I know I sound like a five-year-old here. Let’s move on.
As charming as many of the rubber monster suits have been over the years, the aliens that I tend to fall hardest for are the ones that actually scare me or creep me out.* And no one in the Classic era achieves this better than the early Mondasian Cybermen.
And why not? After all, 2016 is the 50th Anniversary of the Cybermen!
Comissioned by producer Innes Lloyd, the Cybermen were co-created by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis at the end of William Hartnell’s tenure as the First Doctor in 1966. They were meant “to bring some ‘hard science’ into the show” as Kit Pedler was a medical scientist and had become Doctor Who‘s Scientific Advisor. Mondas was Earth’s twin planet, and the Mondasians were organic humanoids very similar to us. But Mondas drifted far out into the solar system and it became difficult for them to survive. So the answer was obvious. Because Cyborgs are always the answer, right? They started to cybernetically augment themselves to rid themselves of all pain and suffering–including emotion–until there was almost no remaining trace of their former humanity. And as we know, “upgrading” became compulsory.
Take a moment to think about that. What could be scarier?
The first two Cybermen stories** were “The Tenth Planet” (Late 1966) (which also featured the regeneration of William Hartnell into Patrick Troughton) and “The Moonbase” (Early 1967). I go back and forth on which of these designs is my favorite because both have their good points.***
The originals (left) are much more human than they were even by their second appearance. It’s hard to tell from the black and white, but they still had completely human hands. The massive chest pieces look like they’re toting around wearable air conditioners (and I’d be willing to bet the actors wished they had been). And the enormous flash bulbs on top of their heads were just a thing of beauty.
By their return in “The Moonbase” not even six months later, they’d undergone a complete makeover. But you can see that the original design was still massively influencing their new look. They’re still all shiny and metallic and they still have the now iconic “handlebars” on their heads. The headpiece is vastly different though and looks more like a funnel. They look more like the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz, now, which is why I call this version “The Tin Man from Hell”. The faces are the same, though, which makes them as recognizable as anything else. Their life support systems are considerably more streamlined. The tubing is different, though, and now has the somewhat unfortunate addition of Wiffle balls around the joints. But my favorite bit is their hands. They’re not visibly human anymore, but they have three pointy digits. Sort of like a Sontaran, only better.**** Eventually, they got little caps on the ends of their fingers, like they were wearing giant thimbles. This “upgrade” worked so well, that it stayed the same for the following two stories (“Tomb of the Cybermen” and “The Wheel in Space”) with only a few minor alterations here and there. They finally changed it again in 1969’s “The Invasion”.
I like this version as well, but the earliest two are still my favorite.
Their voices were different too. The original Cybermen sounded extra freaky when they landed at the South Pole. And because of the way they changed pitch, they were a little harder to understand sometimes. There’s still a much more human quality to the voice, just like their look isn’t as inhuman as it becomes by the next story.
When the Cybermen return, their voices are as new as their appearance. All traces of inflection are gone now, and there is a slight similarity to the way they sounded when they returned during the Russell T. Davies era. Only I think this voice is much scarier because there’s more of an edge to it. It’s more sinister sounding, despite the evident lack of emotion behind it.
The Mondasians also gave us other things we’ve become used to in New Who today. The Cyber-Planner, the Cyber-Controller, Cybermats, and the Tombs. They all began in these early days.
If you New Who fans aren’t familiar with the term “Cyber-Planner” then think back to “Nightmare in Silver”. Remember Mr. Clever? Now you’ve got it. These are from “The Wheel in Space” (top) and “The Invasion” (bottom), both from 1968.
And we all remember today’s Cybermats and CyberMITES. But check out how they began. These are from 1967’s “Tomb of the Cybermen” (left), 1968’s “The Wheel in Space”, and 1975’s “Revenge of the Cybermen”. I always think the ones from “Revenge…” look like space dust busters.
The Cyber-Controllers and Cyber-Leaders have changed through the years as well. This is the Cyber-Controller from “Tomb of the Cybermen”. Check that awesome brain case.
The Cyberships have been upgraded through the years as well, and here are a few examples. Top left is the original ship from 1966 and bottom right is what they look like today. See how similar today’s ships are to the ones from 1968’s “The Invasion” (top center)?
And of course we have the Tomb. This, thankfully, hasn’t changed much.
It’s not all scary and creepy with these Mondasian Meanies though. The early Cybermen had some hilarious weaknesses. They succumb to radiation in “The Tenth Planet”, which seems pretty legit. But then in “The Moonbase”, Polly realizes they can be taken out with nail polish remover and other assorted solvents.*****
Oh, yeah. And gold. Personally, I think all of these are more interesting than anti-Cyber guns. In “Silver Nemesis” (1988 – the 25th Anniversary Special), Ace even takes one down with a gold coin and a slingshot. Just saying.
Also, the Cybermen hatched from eggs once to sneak aboard the Wheel. This isn’t relevant to my previous point, but you just needed to know that.
So, with their wicked appearance, creepy/hilarious voices, and epic history, the oldest of these
loveable scary Cyborgs will always hold a special place in my heart. Which I realize is ironic given their lack of emotion, but whatever. I love them. They are and probably always will be my very favorite aliens.
* This is a strange phenomenon for me because I genuinely don’t like scary movies. And I’m not just talking about horror films. I mean even films like Signs or Independence Day were, in some ways, realistic enough to scare the hell out of me and I’ve never watched them again. I couldn’t even deal with the modern War of the Worlds. Though to be honest with you, that may have been more because of Tom Cruise than anything else.
** Not speaking chronologically from the Cybermen POV, obviously. It’s a bit complicated from their view. Also, this obviously discounts their origin story audio, Spare Parts. Which you should listen to. Go do it now. I’ll wait.
*** They do too. Shut up.
**** Eventually, they got little caps on the ends of their fingers, like they were wearing giant thimbles. And the boots changed.
***** Okay, yes, and then they were defeated by gravity, or rather the lack of it when they were force-floated off of the moon. Whatever.