Tony Fyler crumples up his Cyber-Christmas list.
Not long ago, I wrote a piece claiming that the Cybermen had never been used to their full potential on screen.
I’m absolutely overjoyed to be writing a piece the thrust of which is that they’re a damn sight closer to that goal now than they were.
Getting on my fandom high-horse, from which of course all things are possible, I demanded stories where Cyber-conversion was as dangerous as a Dalek nano-cloud, where you should be in danger just being around them. I demanded stories where the Cybermen were essentially downloadable, where they came to address and provide salvation from the fear of death, and stories where, as in Nightmare on Silver, the only real solution to them is to run away and blow up where they stand.
It feels almost like Steven Moffat read by Cyber-Christmas list, and wrote Death In Heaven just to shut me up. Alright, so technically he wrote the episode before I wrote the list, but don’t tell me Mr Wibbly-Wobbly-Timey-Wimey couldn’t pull off something like that. You know better than that.
Oh, plus, as an added bonus – Iron Man-rippy-offy flying Cybermen. Yes, we’ve seen the image on screen in the Iron Man movies, but it’s a relief that the Cybermen have finally given the big silver finger to the New Who Daleks in their aerodynamic abilities, and joined the ranks of species from which you can’t simply run away very fast. I’m guessing that whole ‘This is not war, this is pest control’ line in Doomsday really smarted.
Was Death In Heaven the perfect Cyber-story? No – it could never be that, the storytelling burden was always going to be too heavy to deliver that once the Mistress (yes, dammit, get over it!) was revealed to be involved – you need her to be the brains behind the outfit, or there’s no point in her being there. But did it deliver what Moffat promised - ‘a properly scary Cyberman story’? Certainly, and it also took their evolution significantly forward again. Look forward to future stories where the Cybermen weaponise the dead more and more (‘Night of the Cybermen’, ‘Day of the Cybermen’…erm…Shaun of the Cybermen?)
While the skeletal remains are absolutely not essential to future Cybermen and would probably be jettisoned by any species entirely governed by logic, they did give to Death In Heaven, and will undoubtedly continue to give to future Cyber-stories, that connection –point to the original body-horror of the creations; the Frankenstein moment, the real fundamental reminder that they used to be people just like us. Death In Heaven also gave a kind of storytelling justification to the emotional inhibitor – generally, it’s an overwritten Achilles heel in the Cybermen’s New Who reputation, as overused now as their aversion to gold was by the time they reached Silver Nemesis, but whereas it’s an unnecessary weakness when you have pre-meditated Cyber-conversion, either in terms of brain surgery, or in terms of the Mistress’s much cleaner, software solution – simply delete the troubling emotions from the personality software you download into the hardware of the brain – if you’re going to remotely transform the bodies and brains of the dead into Cybermen, then it’s simply more effective and efficient in the short term to have something built into the exoskeleton that imposes emotionless control until you can reprocess them properly and remove the emotions entirely. Perhaps there could in future be two classes of Cybermen – the entirely emotionless, and those who can be ‘blown up with love’ – those still relying on their inhibitors not to feel the emotions they felt before they were converted. Civil War of the Cybermen, perhaps?
While not a perfect Cyber-story, Death In Heaven certainly went a long way to expanding the scary on-screen potential of the Silver Medal Monsters in Doctor Who’s arsenal. Let’s hope that from here they go on to be used in innovative and philosophically interesting ways, rather than just for the delicious visual appeal of them stomping about, being menacing.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk