Monday, 7 October 2013

Making the Cybermen Scary; Where Neil Gaiman Went Wrong

This is a guest post by Joe Corbett on Making the Cybermen Scary; Where Neil Gaiman Went Wrong

'Nightmare in Silver' was one of the most anticipated episodes of Series 7. We were promised a new Cyberman design, doing away with many old limitations, such as slow speed and noisy legs, and making them even more scary. However, many of us were gravely disappointed following the episode's airing. Many of these features that were promised to us were overrated or non-existent. The Cybermen's annoying leg-stomping was just as loud, and the 'scary' element manifested itself in a seeming indestructibility to most forms of attack, with an exception to planet-smashing bombs. Coupled with the extreme super-speed of one Cyberman, it resulted in an overly unrealistic new shade of Who's most revered monster. 

The factor which I find makes the Cybermen the most frightening is the human element. In their first TV story, 'The Tenth Planet', Cybermen had many features which tied them to their humanoid origins, including fully organic hands. In 2006, it was shown how humans were effectively vivisected, lobotomised and placed inside metal suits to become Cybermen, and many organic features of the steel giants were displayed. The problem Gaiman has created in his new story is that the human element has been almost removed entirely. The idea that the Cybermen convert humans to their own form was implied only with the Cybermen's constant cries of 'YOU WILL BE UPGRADED', and the underdone headgear given to Impresario Webley and the Doctor. In 'Nightmare In Silver', the Cybermen could essentially have been completely alien robots rather than converted humans in suits, further emphasised by the deep, robotic voice that conveyed no human element at all. 
Like this, but less sexy.
What Steven Moffat and his team could do to try and bring back the fear factor to these monsters is to emphasise the human element, reiterate how the Cybermen were once people like you and me, but with their emotions cleansed. He could do this through the re-addition of organic components (similar to Lisa Hallett in Torchwood's 'Cyberwoman'), or perhaps to add tubes feeding chemicals to still present organic parts. Another potential addition would be the conversion of the helmet piece into a sort of mask, with the faceplate able to lift up and reveal the cybernetically enhanced face of the converted human inside. Imagine how grotesque and terrifying it would be to see a friend or loved one of yours wired up inside a metal suit, their emotionless face gazing straight at you, and then ordering in a voice mimicking its' own (albeit with a robotic undertone) your conversion into a being like itself.

Another problem with 'Nightmare In Silver' is the revision of the Cyberman's weakness. Granted, the cyborgs' newfound ability to adapt does make the prospect of battling them a little chilly, but if this were reused throughout the Cyberman's future appearance, I think that everyone will begin to find it tacky, boring and a producer's excuse to keep characters where they're supposed to be. The 'UPGRADE IN PROGRESS' plot device was used to give the Imperial platoon a more legitimate reason to blow Hedgewick's World to dust, instead of merely eliminating them with the weapons they had. Had the Cybermen invaded Earth, or a different densely-populated planet, the prospect of destroying the planet would be impossible, and thus the Cybermen would be made practically invincible. What's more, if these Cybermen were to confront the Daleks, then the conflict would end in a standoff, with Daleks and Cybermen unable to injure one another (assuming the Daleks are still immune to Cyber-weaponry). 
Surely we would never resort to this?!
In order to 'save' the Cybermen from further criticism, it is my opinion that the producers of Doctor Who must make an effort to revert the Cybermen to a form before the revival, not necessarily so much in form, but in ability. The Cybermen should become more organic-looking and less invincible. In fact, the only thing they should be totally immune to is the reversal of emotional inhibitors. Seriously, this easy method of 'overloading the Cybermen's suppressed emotions causing their heads to blow up Fembot-style' has been used as a deus ex machina for too long, and a new weakness should be introduced. The Cybermen are too valuable a Doctor Who classic to be made into a joke like they have  been over the past seven years, and it's time for change. It's easy enough to think up a realistic storyline where the Cybermen throw away all their strengths and revert to weaker forms, Right? Okay, maybe not, but if Moffat and his colleagues can think up a plot loop as colossal as the Doctor surviving his death, then this should be a doozy.


PunkJohnnyCash said...

I've been saying for a while that they need to be more like zombies or something. The Cybermen always had cloth suits until the new 21st century stuff. I want to see flesh, and slow moving almost dead people in these suits, not a skull in a shiny up to date high tech armor. I want to see suits that look almost spray painted, hands and other parts of people showing. Go scary by leaving the high tech out.

Ingold Inglorion said...

The most horrifying aspect of the 10th Planet Cybermen was the barely-hidden human element. How when they spoke they simply opened their mouths and the voice came out. "Spare Parts" by Big Finish takes this to the logical conclusion, showing us how the Cybermen were made...out of desperate necessity on a dying world hurtling free through the cosmos. They are supposed to be CYBORGS like Steve Austin, not stomping suits of armour. The Pandorica Opens gave us a glimpse of this kind of cyberman when the helmet opens and a skull falls out; where did that style of Cyberman go? The "new" New Cybermen are even worse than the brain-in-a-box of Pete's world...they're practically T-1000 liquid metal. "Mr. Smarty" was just irritating...the real horror was the 5th Doctor about to be cyber-converted on Mondas, and Nyssa seeing a new Cyberman that she thought was the Doctor.

Let's talk Star Trek: What makes the Borg so terrifying? The fact that the human element is so visible.

Taren Capel said...

I agree with Ingold - Who might have been first in the human/cyborg game, but it was Star Trek's Borg that really built on that concept, refining it while adding the cool creepy factor. Somehow Who needs to recapture that original human element that made the Cybermen terrifying - and dangerous.

Taren Capel said...

Heck, I think the Robots from "Robots of Death" carry that same Goth horror aspect more than the current Cybermen do.

Joe Corbett said...

Exactly what I was getting at ;)

gbollard said...

While I agree with the idea that they're more scary in their 10th Planet versions (minus the silly voices), I still thought Neil's changes did make them scarier.

I don't see why we couldn't have both, just not at the same time. It's a time machine after all, why can't we go visit the old "dudes" sometime just as Mondas is spinning away and their scientists are doing the first brain replacements?

It would exciting to see where it all goes wrong for the first time and know that the Doctor is not permitted to interfere.

Mikeyboss182 said...

The new Cybermen were just one of the problems with Nightmare In silver.

Shafty said...

"In order to 'save' the Cybermen from further criticism, it is my opinion that the producers of Doctor Who must make an effort to revert the Cybermen to a form before the revival, not necessarily so much in form, but in ability."

You know, I don't want to sound like a jerk, but it's sentences like these that make me hate fan essays on what's "wrong" with something. They're over-complex "college 101" ways of simply saying, "I don't like it," while trying to come across as authoritative.

Jesus, these are made-up sci-fi cyborg baddies we're talking about here. This sounds like a white paper on municipal waste disposal solutions in a post-suburban environment. You want to convince people your opinion on made-up sci-fi cyborg baddies is right? Be passionate, be direct, and keep some perspective on the subject.

Sorry to be a jerk. It's obviously just my opinion.

trueness said...

sorry but the new cyberman are a whole lot scarier than the old version, the old version were just silly and you could kill easily the new ones give that sense of helplessness which creates that true sense of dread and btw it isnt a brain in a box like was stated it is their entire head in the helmet