Doctor Who: 10 best Cybermen stories

Top 10 Andrew Blair 20 Sep 2013 - 07:00

Andrew counts down Doctor Who's 10 best Cyberman stories from across the TV series, audio dramas and comic strips...

Cybermen; Doctor Who's other monster. The one no-one knows quite what to do with, who show glimpses of what they can do, but don't look like dislodging the upper echelon from its perch.

They're Arsenal, basically. What is Nightmare in Silver if not Mehmet Ozil? A big name attached with lots excitement generated, and sure there are some clever ideas, but ultimately it's not what was necessary. I'd apologise to Arsenal fans but what are they going to do? Throw a trophy at me?

Like the Cybermen presumably do between their on-screen appearances, the writers will be heading back to the drawing board to discuss what they've learned. Meanwhile, here's our list of the top ten Cybermen stories across the entirety of Doctor Who.

 

10. The Pandorica Opens

Yeah. So this isn't technically a Cybermen story, but Steven Moffat is yet to attempt a full-on Cyberman story; after this fleeting glimpse of what he can do with just a severed Cyber-head and limb, I basically want one now.

From there, Moffat throws in spiders, robo-tentacles (I do hope he hasn't been reading any manga), shrivelled humanoid remains, electric shocks, poisoned darts, Frankenstein's monster, and a cyborg trying to chomp someone's face off. It lasts less than three minutes and it's the best depiction of the Cybermen since they returned in 2006.

The only criticism, one Moffat has acknowledged, is that Auton Rory must have been really going for it with that sword to cause that much damage.

Still, that's the power of love, a force from above. Or horizontally, in this case, but that doesn't scan.

Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: The Cyberman's head scuttles away like a peeved snake.

 

 

9. Unnatural Born Killers

Originally featured in an early Doctor Who Weekly backup strip entitled Throwback: The Soul of a Cybermen (written by Steve Moore, art by Paul Neary and David Lloyd), Kroton the Friendly Cyberman was brought back in this one shot (written and drawn by Adrian Salmon) in 1999 as part of the brilliant Glorious Dead series in which he would play a vital role.

Kroton would later be part of a the main arc - where he comes across as a hybrid of Donatello and David Mitchell - but he was reintroduced here; narrating his back-story while fighting off a Sontaran invasion of an unnamed planet. He disappears off into the sunset at the story's end, unable to join in the celebrations because it reminds him of the life he's lost.

Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “I'm called Kroton... I can't remember my real name.”

 

8. Junkyard Demon

Again from the early era of Doctor Who Magazine, Junkyard Demon is a Steve Parkhouse script from 1981 (with art from Mike McMahon and Adolfo Buylla – it's available to download on Mike McMahon's blog), this comic is an excellent example of something that doesn't look to understand the Cybermen – using them merely as a monster to be fought – but still packs in a very entertaining story nonetheless.

From the fantastic opening panel of the scrap ship Drifter idling through space, or the bulky, irritable Cyberman (a cross between the Tenth Planet and Moonbase costumes), this is the kind of thing that the comic strip excels at. The TV show of the time could never realise Junkyard Demon as successfully as the magazine's comic.

Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: The reveal of Cybernaut Zogron, an explorer who expanded the Cyber-race, begging the question of the unexplored early years of the Cybermen, post-Spare Parts but pre-Moonbase.

 

7. The Invasion

With the Cybermen not appearing until episode four, there's some good ol' delayed gratification here, possibly borne out by the need to fill eight episodes (a six-episode pitch was planned to be reduced to four parts until another story fell through, necessitating the final number of episodes). It was intended as a similar story to the present-day, London-set Web of Fear (director Douglas Camfield therefore returned), and as a pilot for a new show format. Without The Invasion, the Pertwee era would be radically different (or possibly not even exist at all).

As it is, The Invasion ticks over nicely without the Cybermen's presence, with the team of Tobias Vaughn and his epic sidekick Packer compensating for their absence. When they do arrive, they are still used sparingly, but there are some iconic shots of them walking around London before UNIT arrive to biff them about with explosives.

Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: Tobias Vaughn chuckles in response to goading Professor Watkins into shooting him.

 

6. The Five Doctors

Sometimes you don't want to be confronted with great works of depth and meaning. Sometimes you just want everything in a bun. Yes, there's a trend for pubs to serve gourmet burgers, but sometimes you just want some objects in a bap, at least one of which is plausible meats.

Eighties Cybermen are plausible meats. David Banks is one of the few banks you can rely on. No-one is ever going to say he's engaged in the act of verisimilitude in his replicating of the nightmarish half-life of a technological-vampire, but equally no-one is going to say 'David Banks was rubbish in Doctor Who'.

Here we get at least three Cyberleaders, all of them prime slabs of plausible Banks-meat. Ignore the fact that two get killed off quite easily because Eric Saward kept writing them into the script when Terrance Dicks didn't want to, and savour them.

Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “When the tower is in our hands-” *SLOW FIST CLENCH* “He shall be...destroyed.”

 

5. Legend of the Cybermen

Taking a cue from Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Big Finish's Legend of the Cybermen sees them invade the Land of Fiction seen in 1968's The Mind Robber. Thus, we have Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor teaming up with Second Doctor companions Jamie and Zoe (and other characters who are in the public domain, including Alice Liddell, Captain Nemo and Count Dracula) to fight the invasion.

Writer Mike Maddox uses this playset gleefully, revelling in the sheer wrongness of the two concepts meeting and so we have: epic phantasmagoria, delirious battle sequences, a discussion on the importance of the imagination, a chance for the Doctor to explain himself, and the conversion of some childhood favourites...

Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “And I was lost to her again.”

 

4. The Flood

Also known as 'The One Where They Almost Regenerated McGann', the last of the great Eighth Doctor comic strips went out in style. Scott Gray's The Flood sees the Cybermen invading contemporary London and going all biblical on humanity.

The comic strip had been taking advantage of its budget, going full colour and doing things the TV show could never dream of doing, like destroying outer space and having Daleks fight Spider-Daleks from other dimensions. Here Martin Geraghty's new design of Cybermen are gaunt, vampiric figures with conversion-tools hidden in their fingertips – impossible to realise on TV. There is a lot in these strips, though, that would be echoed on television in years to come.

While the Cybermen were superseded by the Daleks in Doomsday, here they take their place as the focal point of the finale, both of an arc and of the Eighth Doctor's glorious comic book run.

Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: The Cyberleader accepts humanity's supplications.

 

3. Earthshock

Having been off-screen since 1975's Revenge of the Cybermen (an uneven mix of the Second and Fourth Doctor eras), 1982's Earthshock remains an excellent example of how to bring back a popular monster. Obviously you want an excellent marriage of sight and sound (how good is the end to Part Three?), but also you want to do the following:

  1. Don't tell anyone, not even the Radio Times.
  2. Don't put the name of the monster in the story title.
  3. Have them lose only after a gargantuan effort by the good guys.
  4. Kill off one of the good guys.
  5. Give the monster a new, superlative catchphrase.

Tick. Tick, tick, tick, tick. Excellent.

Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: The Doctor looks at Nyssa and Tegan crying, and doesn't know what to do next. (Davison's acting in this scene is even more impressive when you consider that Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton were trying their best not to deck themselves laughing).

 

2. Tomb of the Cybermen

Tomb of the Cybermen suffered from heightened expectations upon its VHS release in 1992, as it had previously been missing from the archives and built up to levels of unachievable greatness by the Target novelisation. For those of us who weren't really paying attention in 1992 (I was probably playing football or watching repeats of Big Bertha or something), it merely became another video with no prior reputation.

Because of this, I have never been disappointed by Tomb of the Cybermen. Then again, I enjoy the hokum trappings of Sixties science-fiction: the excitement of rocket travel, the grand utopian programmes of explorations, the endless British character actors failing to do convincing American accents. All great fun, and that's before we get to the interactions of the new TARDIS crew of the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria.

What Tomb of the Cybermen does better than any other TV story is create a mythology for the Cybermen. Sure, The Tenth Planet has an origin story, but it doesn't have Cybermats, Cyber Controllers, or 'We must survive'. That last one is the most important, as it captures an aspect of tragedy not always present. There's something terribly sad about the Cyber Controller's desperate struggles in the last episode, and that's something that only the Russell T. Davies era Cybermen come close to achieving.

Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “You belong to us. You shall be like us.”

 

1. Spare Parts

There are some excellent scenes in Rise of the Cybermen, which kindly tries to make its Cybermen all things to all fans (they're mighty, formidable, destructive, and tragic), but there's a reason that the credits acknowledge Marc Platt at the end. Without Spare Parts we don't know what Russell T. Davies and Tom MacRae would have come up with.

Spare Parts is, essentially, for Cybermen what Genesis of the Daleks is for Daleks. Like Genesis, Spare Parts is set on a planet settled in for a long, dark night. The people of Mondas haven't done anything wrong, they've just been unfortunate enough to live on a planet that is drifting away from the sun. They do what they have to in order to survive.

Part Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is“Am I horrible?”

 

One not to watch: The Wheel in Space – it's full of plot holes and padded badly. Also four episodes aren't known to exist so if you are watching it, you should probably stop and tell the BBC.

 

Pre-order Doctor Who: The Monster Collection - Cybermen, released on the 30th of September, at the BBC shop.

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Disqus - noscript

It's almost the 25th anniversary of Silver Nemesis and you didn't include that?????

Well, I just re-watched it the other day and....fair enough I guess!

Does "Nightmare In Silver" not count as Moff doing a cybermen story?

Not since he didn't write it, no.

I find the Cybermen scarier than the Daleks, at least when they threaten people with that snippety-snip conversion process.
By contrast, the idea of them being an unstoppable empire sort of disintegrates when you remember Rory saying "Would you like me to repeat the question?"

Well done in not including any of the nu Who rubbish. Stomp stomp stomp and no intelligence, threat or menace. They should go in the direction of the borg in Best of Both Worlds or a Terminator style- ie unstoppable, intelligent and cold. That would be really dramatic.

Great article and completely agree with your choices, reasoning and understanding of the Cybermen. Top 5 absolutely spot on and really good to see Unnatural Born Killers on the list. As you point out his role in the Glorious Dead could almost see that story make this list too.

Yes, it largely sucked from a runny bottom. A rather farcical romp; not at all
fair on McCoy and Aldred.

I didn't absolutely love Spare Parts. It's been hailed as one of the greatest Who stories of any kind, ever, but I thought it was just ok. Some of the acting was a bit hammy in my view, and it occasionally dragged a bit. I didn't dislike it either, mind.
I think Attack of the Cybermen is hugely underrated and deserves to be in there. It pulls no punches, a fair bit of horror in there.
My top 3 would be:
1, Earthshock
2, Attack
3, Invasion

i wonder why pertwee never had his own encounter with them. ( not including the five doctors )

Ah yes, the only reason they were in it was because they were silver!

Having said that I do find it a guilty pleasure (even with the Queen bit!)

The Cybermen have always been a personal favourite of mine. I’m really surprised to see Legend of the Cybermen feature though I did enjoy it I think there have been several stronger audio Cybermen stories. Spare Parts is a fantastic choice for number one it’s a supremely good audio. I’m also very fond of The Blue Tooth (Companion Chronicles), Human Resources (New Eighth Doctor Adventures) and The Silver Turk. My favourite is still Tomb and not only is it my top choice for Cyberman story but it’s definitely got a place in my Top Ten Who of all time. I think NuWho has treated the Cybermen incredibly badly not one story has been above average (and I say that as someone who didn’t hate Nightmare) it’s a shame they can’t seem to find a suitably scary or at the very least interesting story for them.

i would say earthshock is should win this in my opinion . it had a very clever twist which is loosely based on the truth. it set up tension very well in some of the scenes it was needed. it has a ending that very few episodes have. a death of someone important and and end title sequence without music. although tomb is a close 2nd for personal reasons i found the cybermen difficult to understand and i found the use of the token black was stupid ( with the exception of the cyberman death scene ) and the human baddies were camp and for me personal very annoying in a way that makes joffery from game of thrones seem 'normal'. i do however concede that this could be due to the times and due to the way i see it. anyway earth shock all the way for me

Silver Nemesis is weak. I still think that Series 25 is unjustifiably underrated though.

Terrance Dicks strongly dislikes the Cybermen as he thinks they're boring. They only appeared in The Five Doctors because Eric Saward requested they be included.

i would agree with the views that new who has struggled with the cybermen. in part this is due to their design. in part due to the stories. also most of the new viewers will think hang on didnt the borg do this and that. if i was writer and tasked with the cybermen. id say go back to the mondas days and redesign them and make a new design something that doesn't look like a rip off of ironman or batman.

I know it's difficult, but I really wish they took them back down the body horror route, which really is what it is all about.

Nightmare
in Silver was disapointing as it continued their development into
'robots' as opposed to people with bits replaced and emotions removed
etc...

As it stands they've become more like the borg. It just isn't very interesting!

If I'm honest I also have a soft spot for it.

I agree. A vast improvement on the previous year and the start of something pretty awesome.

Oh definitely of 25 and 26 Nemesis is the only serial I’m not a fan of. It’s almost perverse that Who was cancelled when it was because despite everything the final two series of that era are both incredibly strong. Obviously many people disagree but I revisited McCoy’s tenure last year and had a great time.

I couldn't agree with you more. The fault lies squarely with the BBC and they way they treated the show for the last half of the 80s. Hiatus, recasting, scheduling. After all that it's no surprise they cancelled it when it was the best it had been in years. I'd have loved to see how season 27 would've played out.

I never knew that. Thanks.

I agree with you about attack, Bunter, hugely underrated. It'd be in my top 10 list without a doubt.

I don't want to be negative about your list, but having comic strips in your list is absurd to me. Great though some of them are, they're not considered canon at all...by anyone. At least Big Finish make great attempts to fit in with the continuity of the show; the comics do not. As far as most people are concerned, the show comes first, then the audios. I think that's where you have to draw the line. Once you start including comics and books, then I feel you've really gotten away from the feel of the "show"....Spare Parts at #1 might be a bit extreme, but it is an excellent story. Thank you for not putting the truly terrible Rise of the Cybermen in there!!! Confused about Pandorica Opens. Five Doctors ahead of Invasion?! I have to say, Andrew, I respect your opinion, but your lists are very odd.

I don't think Season 25 is underrated at all. Most fans seem acknowledge that it was a good season and a vast improvement on the previous season, and Remembrance was fantastic....as was Greatest Show.

Likewise. Remembrance was the first story I saw all the way through so it has a special place in my memory. That and both Fenric & Ghostlight (yes I don't just like it, I LOVE it!) are amongst my top ten!

That 'The Invasion' shot is one of the most iconic in sci-fi.

"Wot are you? Social workers?"

Attack def is in there for me
Also, the Tenth Planet (even without you know what) and the World Shapers (the death of Jamie, Planet 14 and the Voord/Cybermen origins

It really is, isn't it! What a great moment in television that scene was.

A fair selection Andrew, and yes Spare Parts is an excellent piece of work.

Glad to see some of the Big Finish plays getting some attention! 'Legend of the Cybermen' is silly, ambitious and lots of fun. Poor Oliver! And 'Spare Parts' has that one scene, when a cyberman comes home for the holidays, that ranks up there as one of the most chilling Doctor Who moments.

Fenric = Brilliant story, loved it (aswell as Remembrance). Unfortunately I wasnt a fan of the rest of McCoys tenure.

Very well said Salen1. Couldnt agree more.

I actually quite like Nemesis, from an underrated series and Doctor to boot, it has a lot of good ideas going for it, but it just tries to stuff way too much in when it really needed to be two separate adventures (one with the Nazis and the Cybermen and the other with Lady Peniforte and Silver Nemesis).

It says something about the Cybermen on TV that 7 of the 10 stories are not Cybermen focused TV stories, they just seem to be almost universally badly handled on TV

Out of the 11 Cybermen focused stories on TV you have Moonbase, Wheel in Space, Revenge, Attack, Silver Nemesis & Next Doctor are all pretty terrible, Rise and Tenth Planet barely get to average, Invasion is good but far too long.

so in 46 year we have 2 really good stories, Tomb, Earthshock and (from the one time I've watched it) Nightmare in Silver and a good cameo in The Pandorica Opens, not good is it?
I'm hoping Moffat writes a Cybermen episode soon, the Pandorica section was great, more like that please!

They're all stories. They're all Doctor Who. I find the notion of not mentioning a good story simply because it is a comic or an audioplay to be pointless.

Right, it's putrid.

I'm not a fan of any of McCoy's tenure. Silver Nemesis was about as bad as it ever got, and IMO provided the BBC management with all the excuses they needed to swing the axe in 1989.

A big yes to Moffat doing a full-on Cyberman episode, maybe even save Capaldi's first run-in with the Daleks for series 9 and focus on the metal guys instead. However, I maintain that Nightmare in Silver isn't bad at all. Not perfect, sure, and would be lucky to make the top 10 here, but it's got some fantastic moments and the new Cybers are incredible - it was elsewhere that the story fell a bit short.

Pleased to see Spare parts as number one. It is seriously amazing.

Well, that's your opinion of course, but I disagree strongly. By that logic, we should also be able to include fan fiction. We have to draw the line somewhere. The comics and novels generally aren't considered proper canon by anyone....especially the comics...much of the time, they don't even remotely try to follow continuity. The only one up for debate are the audios. Big Finish make painstaking efforts to have their stories blend in with the actual show, and for this reason most people have come to regard the audios as canon.The show and audios I have no issue with. Many of the comics and novels don't even remotely have the "feel" of Doctor Who (even if the stories are good), so perhaps they should have a list all their own. Don't get me wrong, Andrew, all of the stories on your list are good; that much we can agree on.

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