What’s in a Name?

Why do some monsters have names while others don’t?

The best place to start may be with the Cybermen.  After all, they went from having names to not having names.  Moreover, they did it more or less within one particular story, ‘The Moonbase’ (if I remember rightly, they had names in the script but these were not mentioned on screen).

The first thing to mention is that this is the story in which they went from being threatening because they are emotionless and logical to being threatening because they’re one of those “terrible things” bred in those “corners of the universe” that “we” have to fight, when they were no longer fighting to save their planet but to steal ours, when they lost their human hands, when they started (so early!) saying things like “Clever, clever, clever!”, i.e. when they became overtly and deliberately evil.  But there has to be more to it than that.  After all, vampires keep their names.  Loss of humanity and the acquisition of evil intent are not enough to strip them of their names.

Moreover, the Cybermen are not the only Doctor Who monsters to lose their names.  There’s also the Daleks, who lost their names when they stopped being Kaleds (or Dals).

This loss of name is very important.  In the ‘Moonbase’ Cybermen, it seems more like the final stripping away of individual identity.  It works similarly for the Daleks as for the Cybermen, and has similar wider connotations when it comes to both these races.

(Notice, by the way, how blithely one talks about ‘races’ in this sci-fi context… a way of putting things that would be wholly unacceptable in Western liberal discourse nowadays if applied to, say, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians… which isn’t to say that the racialist patterns of thought don’t still pertain in the attitudes of many, just that they are not usually openly stateable anymore.  This is an example of an entire cultural discourse – in this case, that of racialism – taking refuge in a ‘pocket universe’ within culture once the wider culture has largely rejected and banished it, or at least talk of it.  The discourse of racialism hides out, in disguise, in the SF ‘Recycle Bin’ once it has been guiltily deleted from the cultural ‘Desktop’.  Sometimes such things even get deleted from the Recycle Bin but, as we know, they remain on the hard drive, waiting to be forensically recovered.) 

Veering back to the point… notice how the conversion of Lytton or Stengos into Cyberman or Dalek involves the loss of identity, thus the loss of name.  When Stengos sees his daughter, his first word is her name.  He remembers her name, and hence his own, which is what launches his psychological struggle against his Dalek conditioning.

The named/nameless distinction maps roughly onto the biological/robot-or-cyborg distinction, and both are really about individuality vs. the loss of individuality.  The Daleks and Cybermen act far more on a kind of groupthink than, say, the Silurians. …

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