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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

18 Comments

  1. Paul
    October 10, 2011 @ 12:23 am

    Couldn't agree more about the Cybermen. On the podcast I co-present (http://thetimevault.wordpress.com) we've been watching DW in order and we're just reaching the end of the Troughton era. The Cybermen are dreadful monsters. They work well as a threat of what we could become and, in The Invasion, work pretty well as a threat in the shadows. But that's about it.

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  2. Wm Keith
    October 10, 2011 @ 1:34 am

    "It's only when you look closely that you realize that the Cybermen are actually supposed to be rubbish – it's just that everyone forgot to make sure that was a meaningful contrast with everything else in this story."

    A lovely conceit – and you haven't even mentioned the visual effects. Even as a 5-year-old, my lasting memory of this story was the bizarre use of extremely obvious stock footage from a Saturn V rocket launch.

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  3. talestoenrage
    October 10, 2011 @ 4:55 am

    The more you talk about Cybermen as bad monsters, the more I think about the recent explosion of zombies as a trendy concept that's absolutely oversaturated. Obviously we're not at that point with Cybermen in pop culture (and only the Daleks ever came close), but in the context of the show, you can make the same point-they're scary when used well, but they're very limp and lifeless on their own.

    I actually think the most recent season of the relaunch had a good example of this. "A Good Man Goes To War" had the idea of a whole Cyberfleet-which gets blown up in about 10 seconds, then they never appear in the episode again. Then in "Closing Time," they're a threat on a very personal level, and it makes them a lot more effective (comparatively) than having a giant horde of Cybermen running around. Obviously, it's a little different now that the show can have more than 5 Cybermen on screen at one time.

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  4. Lewis Christian
    October 10, 2011 @ 5:08 am

    I love the Cybermen. My first DW story featured them and I've loved them ever since. This story, alongside "Silver Nemesis", I actually love.

    However, I do know how crap they are.

    Even in the well-loved "Earthshock" they're crap, but nobody dares say it. Two have a chat in the corridor, they walk around hands-on-hip (though less noticeably than in this story), they have emotion, and they just happen to be in a bloody great story.

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  5. Seeing_I
    October 10, 2011 @ 5:09 am

    What really disappointed me about "Revenge" is that with all Holmes' interest in possessions and transformations, that aspect of the Cybermen never seems to have entered anybody's head as an effective plot/character point for them. Very sad.

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  6. Lewis Christian
    October 10, 2011 @ 5:11 am

    Also, the Cybermen only work when the actors take them seriously.

    Davros is a man in a rubber mask with a Dalek skirt. But Tom Baker's serious acting of shock, fear, surprise… it really sells Davros' threat. Here, however, he mocks the Cybermen along with everyone else. They're at the end of their rope and even the Cybermen don't seem to have a clue what they're doing.

    Had this been a production taken seriously, maybe it could've turned out a little bit better.

    Oh, and had "Terror of the Zygons" actually been the S12 finale, I feel this story wouldn't get as much flak. It'd simply be the weak link. But as it stands, it's now known as the weak link and the terrible end to S12.

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  7. elvwood
    October 10, 2011 @ 10:36 am

    This is the first Tom Baker story that I don't remember at all from original broadcast. Given the time of year I couldn't have been on holiday for all four weeks, but even watching it again on DVD sparked no memories. This is actually quite impressive! I remember at least something of every other story between Spearhead From Space and The Invisible Enemy (when I stopped watching regularly) except for The Face of Evil – and I haven't seen that one since 1977, so a second viewing might bring something to light.

    Meanwhile, I am as ever enjoying your analysis. Thank you for keeping going!

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  8. WGPJosh
    October 10, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

    This was another one of the first Tom Baker stories I was exposed to, and was I think the second one I watched when I first started to rewatch the series grown up. I thought it was an OK serial at first, but it's another one that just hasn't aged especially well for me and yeah I'll second the frustration at "Terror of the Zygons" not being the Season 12 finale: Seems like that would've tied up the story arc much cleaner and that's always sort of irritated me.

    Your analysis, however, is bang-on and you've perfectly articulated what for me is the entire heart of the Tom Baker era: A postmodern deconstruction of the entire series and its mythos that has managed to achieve legendary status over time. It's cool to think of "Revenge…" in those terms: I don't think it's the definitive stance on the matter, not by a long shot, but it's a fine enough early effort from the era's first creative team in their first year and shows how even the lamest ideas can be salvaged for some good given appropriate time and effort.

    I mentioned this back on the "Ark in Space" entry, but I'm a huge fan of the Cybermen, and I echo your reading here 100%. I loved, LOVED the Qlippothic, Kenneth Grant Cybermen Star Monks of "The Tenth Planet" and for that brief moment they had the potential to be one of the series premier narrative devices. The keyword here, of course, is "potential", because as soon as they come back in "The Moonbase", as you said, they're totally wasted, squandered and rendered hideously boring and trite. And it's a real shame, because they were possibly one of the series very best ideas.

    Despite that though, even though every single time they showed up after "The Tenth Planet" they were complete crap (and I'm counting the New Series too here. Sorry NuWho fans) I still love the idea behind them and hold out some desperate, fragile hope someone will come along and do right by them someday. I love it so much in my spare time, among other things, I actually play around at crafting a couple Qlippothic Cybermen stories of my own.

    As others have said, thanks so much for keeping going with this blog. It's one of the most fascinating and stimulating projects I've come across in a very long time and I find it incredibly refreshing every time I visit. We're indebted to your loyalty and hard work and it's an honour for me at least to follow along and join the discussion every once in awhile.

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  9. Spacewarp
    October 11, 2011 @ 1:50 am

    One of the main problems with the Cybermen is that they lumber. They walk very slowly towards you in a stiff-legged and menacing kind of way (yes, the zombie analogy is a good one). Admittedly that is scary if you're younger than 9 (which is probably why they were designed that way), but here we are in the 21st century and the new Cybermen still walk like 1930s robots.

    I always thought that a redesign of the Cybermen should see them far more agile and dangerous, something like a cross between a Ridley Scott Alien and the Raston Warrior Robot from "5 Doctors". Something relentless and quick, with infra-red vision that can crawl up walls to get you. Having said that, in a series aimed squarely at children such a concept might be a bit too much.

    This story does indeed address the fact that the Cybermen as a species are rather rubbish, however the logical conclusion of that is that they should have died off thousands of years before, since any species worth it's salt should be capable of easily out-running out-fighting and out-thinking them.

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  10. talestoenrage
    October 11, 2011 @ 3:18 am

    I was going to say that they don't lumber anymore, but that's not really true. They've just traded in the quiet lumber for an ostentatious one, with all the hydraulics and pounding as they approach. They might move a little faster, but it's much easier to tell something's coming.

    That's the main reason I made the zombie comparison. Yes, Cybermen are intelligent, and more dangerous individually than most zombie versions. But they still only work well as a threat as an army. If you throw a single Dalek into a situation, you expect it to go south, and feel cheated if it doesn't. A single Cybermen can be made into a threat, but you would also believe it if someone tripped him and left him there to solve the problem.

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  11. Steve Hogan
    October 11, 2011 @ 8:47 am

    Yeah, I was pretty disappointed when the new series went in the direction it did with the Cybermen. They're pretty and art deco now, but it's lost almost any sense of them as partially organic. I'd love it if they did a story set on Mondas prior to The Tenth Planet with some groteque variation on that serial's Cybermen. (Bring back the singsong voices!)

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  12. WGPJosh
    October 11, 2011 @ 10:08 am

    @ Steve Hogan

    Big Finish actually did do that story with Peter Davison's Doctor and Nyssa in the very excellently regarded story "Spare Parts". It deals with the origins of the Cybermen on Mondas and gives an astrophysical explanation for why Mondas left the solar system. It also tries to re-create "Genesis of the Daleks" by giving The Doctor the option to destroy the Cybermen in their infancy and having him face the same ethical dilemma with Nyssa as his morality chain.

    It's a decent enough story, but I don't get the sense they truly played up the Qlippothic nature of the Cybermen here and used it to really get at what to me is the real philosophical quandary they embody: The deconstruction of enlightenment and the contrast between the different forms it can take. That being said it's a good techno thriller with some great acting by Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton and the guest cast, some expected throwbacks to "Earthshock" and the welcome return of singsongy Cybermen. If you're looking for a decent Cybermen story and don't mind it being essentially a "Genesis" redux, I'd say check it out.

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  13. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 11, 2011 @ 10:14 am

    Broadly speaking, I'd also point out that the reason the Cybermen are rubbish has little to do with their being clanking generic robots. Rather, it's something in the nature of the idea of "the returning monster."

    The first returning monster – the Daleks – just got to be the Daleks. They are justified not because of continuity or anything like that, but because they are the Daleks, and the Doctor in some sense needs them.

    The third returning monster – the Yeti – just got to be a returning monster, because Doctor Who recycles its villains. And so did every subsequent returning monster.

    It's the second returning monster that has the problem. The Cybermen didn't return in The Moonbase as "another monster good enough to bring back," because that category didn't exist yet. The category was just "the Daleks" at the time. And so the Cybermen never got to just be returning monsters. They always had to be "the things you got because Terry Nation took the Daleks away."

    It has nothing to do with how good an idea they were. Even if they'd come back as abstract Qlippothic horrors, they'd still run into the problem that they were just the second choice Daleks. And that problem would have hit any monster that became the second monster to reappear.

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  14. WGPJosh
    October 11, 2011 @ 10:53 am

    @ Phil

    Right, that's a very deft clarification. What I meant when I said that when the Cybermen return in "The Moonbase" they stopped being a clever idea was a more general claim that was intended to cover your point as well: Yes, of course a huge part of what happened to the Cybermen is due to the fact Innes Lloyd wanted the Daleks and didn't think he could hold on to them. Therefore, the Cybermen get reconceptualized as Dalek ripoffs. But, in making the Cybermen also-ran Daleks, that inevitably forces them to abandon whatever it was that was essential to their character beforehand. Ergo, it's a shame the Cybermen turned out the way they did because they were such a good idea to begin with.

    My second point, that I find generic monolithic evil space conquerers boring in general, is a related, but separate matter. The Daleks work because they embody something more than just that and extermination happens to be their MO. The post-"Moonbase" Cybermen never really got the chance to reach that level of narrative sophistication. It's just a recurring pet peeve of mine I have across all forms of fantasy fiction, and why I can come across as so hard on Doctor Who at times. I don't like monsters for the sake of monsters.

    You raise an interesting point about the Problem of the Second Choice Returning Monster and I'd like to follow up on that a little if I can. I think we're saying the same thing, or related things, just using different language to describe it. What you seem to be saying is that there is an intrinsic problem with the second returning Doctor Who monster, and I'm saying there was a unique mistake in bringing the Cybermen back at all with no effort made to preserve their narrative function.

    It seems to me if the Cybermen came back with their original conception, they would not have been in a Dalek-like plot because you can't do a Dalek plot with "Tenth Planet"-era Cybermen. Ironically, if they were to come back properly, that story would not be what we think of as a Doctor Who monster story (and especially not a base-under-siege). It would by default have to be something different because the Mondas/Earth plot would already have been done. I'll grant I may be asking too much of the show at this point again, but to that I'd say it's another reason why I wish the Cybermen hadn't been brought back in the Troughton era at all.

    Maybe there's some inevitable problem with the Second Returning Monster, but there's nothing inevitable about the Second Returning Monster having to be the Cybermen or even the Cybermen being used as what we think of as "returning monsters" at all. Even in 1966 it had to be possible to read narrative in terms of things other than "monsters" and "bases". I know why it wasn't on Doctor Who, but that was the result of a series of conscious decisions made by the production team at the time and I can easily see those choices having gone a different way. Even on Doctor Who by that point we'd already had the idea of "monsters" deconstructed in "The Edge of Destruction", "The Sensorites", "The Rescue" and "The Web Planet".

    I guess what I'm trying to say in a nutshell is that I perfectly understand why things turned out the way they did, but I can also see how they could have turned out differently and wish they had.

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  15. Steve Hogan
    October 12, 2011 @ 3:59 am

    They probably were always doomed to being also rans compared to the Daleks, but there certainly were contrasts to be played up. While the Daleks were all rejecting ("You are not us, hence you must be destroyed.") the Cybermen were all embracing ("You are not us, hence you must become us.") so you've got one race that is bitterly xenophobic, and other that is aggressively inclusive. On a visual level the Daleks were extremely removed from humanoid appearance, while the original Cybermen were grotesque parodies of us.

    Ultimately you'd wind up with a much creepier version of the Borg than just "Those guys who just keep showing up to cause trouble for the sake of it."

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  16. Henry R. Kujawa
    April 1, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

    I was waiting for somebody to mention The Borg…

    "REVENGE…" was my 1st Cybermen story. So I had nothing to compare it against. Contrary to some opinions, I find this story IMMENSELY re-watchable. I just watched it again– and had a BLAST! (What else, with "the biggest bang in history"?) I get tired of stories that start with the heroes being suspected of murder the instant they show up, but here it was dispensed with like lightning. (The guy even hands Sarah an automatic weapon! That's going from suspicion to trust in a hurry.)

    2 of the Nerva Beacon cast I'd seen already on THE NEW AVENGERS. Did anyone else notice Michael Wisher's voice sneaking in for a bit? Sarah's a bit less bitchy this time… until she spends time with Harry. Honestly, watching him again, I see him as really a terrific character (most of the time), and her incessant persecution of him shows he has the patience of a saint. Of course, he winds up a third wheel in the Doctor-Sarah friendship/romance.

    The story is so TWISTED! Vorus wants to wipe out the last Cybermen, but to do it, he concocts a plan that involves the MURDER of 47 innocent Earthmen, plus several of his own people, and when it goes astray, a horde of Vogans as well. Tyrum is the rational one, and it was such a relief once Harry & Sarah got to talk with him.

    Meanwhile, talk about contrast. I feel this story features some of the BEST and most UNIQUE use of location filming in the history of WHO– side-by-side with some of the TACKIEST miniature effects ever seen in any sci-fi TV show. But, me being me, I just enjoy the good and ignore the bad.

    Baker's in top form. When he insults the Cybermen, I wasn't sure if he was more channelling Hartnell or Troughton (but somehow, NOT Pertwee). Later, when he rescues Sarah (for a moment anyway), it almost did seem like Pertwee (and Jo).

    Thanks for giving me a new way to look at this one. Maybe I'll keep it in mind… NEXT time I watch it!

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  17. David Gerard
    November 29, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

    I remember that from first time around as a kid. "What's that doing there?"]

    The monster I remembered most was the cybermat. "I smell a rat – a cybermat!" Though I thought he said "cyberrat" at first.

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  18. arse bandit
    January 18, 2014 @ 8:50 am

    The reason the Cybermen fail in this story is that they are shoehorned into the default setting villain image from this era – namely, the hands-on-hip ranting megalomaniac caped baddie. The Cybermen work well when they have an eerie stillness and detachment about them, eg when they are standing around coldly surveying the archeologists in TOMB.

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