Rise of the Steel Cybermen

Age of Steel

It was good to see the Cybermen back on Doctor Who, albeit in a version that made me think in terms of Metal Mickey’s older brother with an ASBO. Their change in appearance, from biological to overwhelmingly mechanical, was deliberate. As Writer and Executive Producer – Russell T Davies put it in Doctor Who Regeneration (Broadcast BBC Radio 2 on 20th Dec 2005),

 

"We went very wrong with those [Cybermen] scripts for a long time because, actually in the sixties it’s like; yes there was a fear – oh, your leg [gets] replaced… you’ll have a metal heart, and stuff like that – actually now we’re very clever and we welcome that. All our fears about being turned into cybernetic creatures haven’t happened. They can put a tiny microscopic valve in your heart; they are improving the nerve endings on artificial limbs. Everything we feared in the sixties is no longer true. We don’t have a fear of ending up in an iron lung. If you want to know what science is fearing now it’s cloning, it’s genetics, it’s cellular, it’s growing an ear on the back of a mouse, which doesn’t particularly help you with the Cybermen, because that’s a very interesting story to pursue in itself, but actually, you know, when it comes to the Cybermen, I want great big metal monsters stalking the streets. I don’t want a ‘geneticy’, ‘cloney’ man with an ear on his back."

 

It seems that RTD is arguing here that the dialogue about us becoming posthuman through cyber-engineering is no longer relevant. It is bioengineering that is the big fear today, and that has nothing to do with Cybermen. So what we get is hulking great ‘robot like’ monsters that in some ways take us back to the front cover of all those pulp science fiction magazines. He has gone for our basic fear of mechanical monsters, and concentrated on that. The storywriter, Tom MacRae, has taken this on board with some success, whilst managing to maintain a toehold on the fundamental question raised by the Cybermen; what is it that makes us human?

 

I was slightly perplexed by the need to go to an alternate universe and rewrite the genesis of the Cybermen with what was a rather well used plot device of a  James Bond like villain. The original story of the creation of the Cybermen explained in part in The Tenth Planet and fully in Spare Parts, was far more imaginative and poignant. Nevertheless the story was very entertaining and using a villain with easily understood, if hackneyed, motivations saved time in what is the new series’ greatest handicap, the need to tell complex stories in a limited time span.

 

Overall this story was a hit.



2 comments


    Frank Sable

    May 21, 2006

    The impression I get from your Davies quote is that he doesn’t have an in depth knowledge of science fiction, rather (like many of us) he has a kind off magpie collection of bits of information that he cobbles together into his stories. What he does have is a knack for understanding what makes television work. And this seems to be paying off with Doctor Who. Full marks to him for that.

    Matt

    May 21, 2006

    I think another possible reason for setting this story in a parallel universe was that they wanted to avoid too many open and blatant huge public battles between the Doctor and the sci-fi bad guys.

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