On Monday, the BBC shared a Doctor Who photo of Peter Capaldi‘s Twelfth Doctor squaring off against Cybermen for the two-part finale, written by Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay. Seen it before, right? Well, these weren’t just any Cybermen, these were the Cybermen from Mondas, the titular celestial body from the 1966 story, “The Tenth Planet,” which was to be William Hartnell’s last hurrah. So, big deal; the Cybermen look different. Well, it’s actually much more complex than that. The Cybermen are always evolving, and their backstory is always evolving. It’s one of the most convoluted in the show’s long history.
“The Tenth Planet” was co-written by Gerry Davis (then the show’s script editor) and Kit Pedler (a friend of Davis’ who’d been the show’s scientific adviser). It suggested that there was a lost planet in our solar system, once the Earth’s sister planet—it looks like Earth but upside down—that split off from orbit billions of years ago. This planet is called Mondas, and its human-like inhabitants, in an effort to constantly make themselves better, began to upgrade their physiology using science and technology, thus making their lives longer. However, after time, the people began to be more machine than man, finally removing the emotional receptors of their brains, which got in the way of their version of harmonious progress. The Cybermen, as they call themselves, are attempting to siphon energy from Earth, which would destroy it. Obviously, the Doctor and them wouldn’t let that happen.
So it was established that the Cybermen came from the planet Mondas, and their plan was much more calculating and sinister than simply wishing to upgrade all of humanity. In their initial appearance, they spoke by opening their mouths wide and having jangly, garbly dialogue coming out like a radio speaker. But, true to their ethos, they didn’t stay the same for long. Later that same year, in Patrick Troughton’s third story “The Moonbase,” the Cybermen looked markedly different, with any “organic” portion still remaining replaced or covered by hard metal shells. The Doctor discovers a crypt containing dormant Cybermen on the moon, which led directly to possibly their most famous story, “The Tomb of the Cybermen,” which finds an Earth expedition to the planet Telos locating Egyptian-like tombs and ruins, containing several dormant Cybermen and their leader, the Cyber Controller.
This is where things start to get wonky. If the Cybermen are from Mondas, then how and why did they end up on Telos, and granted the TARDIS can travel in time, there’s not much indication as to why they adopted Telos as their new home. The Cybermen appear two more times in the ’60s, in “The Wheel in Space” and “The Invasion,” but in both of these, their plans have to do with them on and around Earth. Their lone appearance in the ’70s, against the Fourth Doctor, “Revenge of the Cybermen,” find the Cybermen on the run, having lost a Cyber-War against humanity, who found out the metal men have a natural allergy to gold. They attack the gold-rich asteroid of Voga in an effort to cut off Earth’s supply.
When the Cybermen returned in the ’80s, in “Earthshock,” opposite Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor, it’s established that they’ve learned time travel and attempt to prevent the destruction of the dinosaurs, which means humanity’s whole trajectory would have changed. They appeared as the de-facto villains in 1983’s “The Five Doctors,” Doctor Who‘s 20th anniversary special, but there wasn’t much growth in terms of their backstory in that episode (with good reason).
Once the Sixth Doctor took over, script editor Eric Saward and uber-fan Ian Levine got together to finally tried to reconcile the disparate history of the Cybermen. Unfortunately, “Attack of the Cybermen” is one of the worst stories in history (fight me about it) and reads like the fan fiction it is. Basically, it tries to explain why Mondas was destroyed and why the Cybermen moved to Telos, but also large swaths of it don’t make any sense and the Doctor shoots laser guns and stuff. It’s a bad story, you guys. Similarly, the Seventh Doctor’s run-in with them (“Silver Nemesis”) is better left unwatched.
In the new series, the Cybermen mostly stem from the alternate universe the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey visit. The Cybus Industries Cybermen were not from Mondas, Telos, or any other planet besides Earth, but they also were effectively mindless, marching monsters without any of the cunning and planning of the earlier Cybermen. Even once they started being our universe Cybermen, they didn’t get much more intellectual or compelling, acting mostly as mindless upgrading machines or the literal zombie soldiers of Missy.
By returning to the Mondas version of the Cybermen, aside from fulfilling a long-held wish for Capaldi, we might actually get Cybermen in the new series with some personality that are more frightening because they still possess SOME semblance of humanity (just completely cold and unfeeling). The Cybermen in the new series have felt completely like robots, but as initially intended, they were a misguided version of us, which is something the Twelfth Doctor’s penultimate story could really make use of (hopefully in a Cybermen version on the Dalek two-parter from Series 9).
What iteration of the Cybermen are your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor and the resident Whovian for Nerdist. Follow him on Twitter!