The Mondasian Cybermen are back on our TV sets this weekend!
To celebrate, and out of curiosity (as it’s been a while), I went back and listened to Big Finish’s ‘Spare Parts’ again. The origin story of the Mondasian Cybermen. And it occurred to me that this might be the only Cybermen story which is universally hailed as a classic.
Nothing in the new series has ever really got to grips with the Cybermen. No matter if they’ve had a Cyber-King in Victorian London, or been really fast in a futuristic amusement park, or been defeated by James Corden’s love, they’ve always not quite worked.
In the classic era: undoubtedly ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’ has its fans, but there are too many people who’ve noticed its inherent racism for it to really seem like a bona fide classic,
‘The Invasion’ is great, but it’s really Tobias Vaughan and The Cybermen rather than a Cyberman story.
‘Earthshock’ suffers from Beryl Reed and Adric’s terrible death scene.
‘The Moonbase’ and ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ are both frequently dull.
If anyone wants to make a case for ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ or ‘Silver Nemesis’ as classics, I look forward to hearing it.
(I know I’ve left out ‘The Wheel in Space’, but I have a fondness for that one. I might be totally alone in that though.)
So that leaves ‘The Tenth Planet’, which has the regeneration and the Mondasian Cybermen, but still isn’t great, is it? It lacks human characters to care about and relies on spectacle alone to push itself into our memories.
And so having done that ridiculously quick dismissal of The Cybermen on TV, I find myself left with the Big Finish audio adventure, ‘Spare Parts’, and ‘Spare Parts’ is flipping great!
There are flaws undoubtedly, for example, a preponderance of coincidence as characters run into each other again and again. It’s a small society, but surely not that small.
But where it really works is as a human story. And that perhaps more than anything else is the genius of the Mondasian Cybermen. They are the most human of DOCTOR WHO monsters.
With other versions of The Cybermen, it’s too easy to ignore the inherent body horror of the concept, and just see them as stompy robots. But the voices of The Mondasian Cybermen – and here the voices are all production has to work with: that weird up and down modulated lilt, as if it’s a human voice were being fed through a machine – reasserts constantly that what we’re dealing with here are people. These are men and women who have had a terrible fate befall them, rather than evil cyber robots.
That humanity of the tale really sets it apart, and it’s a theme reflected in the cast of characters. The protagonists are a rat/mat catcher and his family in a small, insignificant house. No one seemingly important, no one who the fate of the world hinges upon, They are just everyday people in an everyday house and the cruelty of society demands they are swept up in this tragedy. This is some of the most affecting DOCTOR WHO ever created.
The Proletariat nature of the story is particularly apparent when you look at the two other possible versions of the same material.
Cybermen co-creator, Gerry Davis submitted ‘Genesis of the Cybermen’ to the production team in the 1980s. His plot sees The Doctor and companion entangled with Mondas’s ruling family. It’s aristocratic factions with little notion of the real people of Mondas.
The other version came after ‘Spare Parts’ (and even gives credit to it), but Nu Who’s ‘Rise of the Cybermen’/’Age of Steel’ is far more interested in captain of industry, John Lumic, and Mickey Smith’s revolutionary army, than it is in everyday life and everyday people.
Both versions miss the fact that – ironically as it may seem – a tale about stripping away humanity really allows you to tell a distinctly human story.
The Mondasian Cybermen return this Saturday, and if it’s even half as good as ‘Spare Parts’, I will be giddy with joy.