Silver on the podium for the silver giants.
2. The Cybermen
Just as the first season of 21st Century Doctor Who was built around one particular returning Classic monster, so was the second season of this era: radically redesigned Cybermen were in four of the thirteen episodes of the 2006 season. This suggests that the Cybermen were icons of Classic Doctor Who, were integral to Classic Doctor Who, that they would be brought back in such a manner.
However, icons they may be, but they were hardly integral to the programme across the years 1966 to 1989.
Consider a story that’s regarded as one of greatest Cybermen stories – Earthshock. Although they feature on the DVD cover, at the time of transmission during the first episode it wasn’t known by the audience that this was “the returning story for the Cybermen”.
They are a Big Deal. The reveal at the end of Episode One emphasises this.
How weird is that though? This was a monster who, after their appearance in 1968’s The Invasion had appeared – as the main bad guys – in precisely one story, (1975’s Revenge of the Cybermen).
Who were the Cybermen meaningful to, in 1982? “Fandom”, the people reading Doctor Who Magazine would have pored over the pages that had tantalising pictorial glimpses of the Troughton era; a significant proportion of the older people of the audience would have actual memories of the Troughton era though.
The Cybermen had been built up into this massive Doctor Who icon, with a combination of people reading and re-reading Doctor Who Magazine and people’s memories – despite only appearing in one “Cybermen story” in 1970s. In 1982 there wasn’t even the opportunity to watch and re-watch existing BBC stories starring the metal monsters.
1983 saw the first Doctor Who VHS release though – and it was Revenge of the Cybermen.
Ten years after Earthshock, in 1992, fans were given a chance to see on VHS the recently-recovered (via Hong Kong) Tomb of the Cybermen.
For a Doctor Who monster that had been (before the 1980s) mainly existing in the collective imagination rather than the BBC archive of stories this was a milestone for the Cybermen.
The Tenth Planet, The Moonbase, The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Wheel in Space, The Invasion – just before 1991, absolutely none of the 1960s Cybermen stories existed as a complete whole, (the VHS Cybermen: The Early Years was released in 1992, the Early Years series the Lost in Time DVD boxset of its day).
Before fandom got to watch the glorious entirety of Tomb of the Cybermen (complete with Cybermats) at the start of the 1990s, the Cybermen cult was sustained across the 1980s with Earthshock and The Five Doctors, Attack of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis.
Those last two Cybermen stories of the Classic era: it’s interesting that both Season 22 and Season 25 are particularly festooned with iconic Doctor Who monsters – makes sense for the 25th Anniversary season, and there’s a fascinating echo of Tom Baker’s first season for Colin Baker’s first full season.
Both Bakers would be established as Doctors facing off against the same three iconic monsters (including the Sontarans), their Cybermen stories are not considered Doctor Who greatest moments however.
When Eccleston and Tennant were being established as Doctor Who, the Cybermen were in the mix.
It’s a Cybermen head in Dalek that the Ninth Doctor reaches out to before the main event – and it’s of the style seen Revenge of the Cybermen – though the radically redesigned Cybermen greet the Tenth Doctor’s arrival.
The Eleventh Doctor’s era has shown that a lone Cyberman can be just as scary as a lone Dalek, and that Cybermats could be redesigned too.
Numbers 10, 9, 8, and 7 – Ood, Weeping Angels, Mara, Nestene
The countdown concludes next week.