The Cybermen have always rivaled the Daleks as the premier villains in the Doctor Who Universe. The Daleks always seemed to be able to win on just being a creepy monster. The Cybermen were always the thinking man’s villain for me. They are inherently a very philosophical monster. At what point do humans become something else as they replace their parts. It’s been a theme in Science Fiction for generations. In the Doctor Who Universe, the evolution of the Cybermen has reflected the thoughts of the times. Their role now as arguably the most important adversaries is built upon more of their hive mentality (closer to the Borg character from the Star Trek Universe). In the beginning, they were much more of an unstoppable force of technology over humanity.
The newest DVD release from BBC, The Moonbase, features the second appearance of the Cybermen. The four-episode story arc came out in Season Four during the run of the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. The remarkable importance of this release is that two of the episodes are part of the missing BBC shows. They are included here as animated episodes with vocal tracks from other sources. The first appearance of the Cybermen had occurred earlier in the season. It was during The Tenth Planet storyline, which was also the last of the First Doctor and the introduction of Troughton. Only four stories later, it was time for a second appearance for the new villains.
The Doctor is traveling with Polly, Ben, and Jamie. Ben is mostly an afterthought in the story and is barely seen. The Doctor first encountered the Cybermen in 1986 but this time the TARDIS lands on the Moon in 2060. (That’s a great part of telling a time-travel story is that reintroducing villains is convenient when you can skip forward many generations. ) The Doctor and his companions arrive on the Moon near a weather observation station called The Moonbase. The base also serves to control the weather on Earth. Like so many throwaway Doctor Who characters and concepts, I love the possible dramas that could happen within this station. And the best drama? A mysterious disease is what our heroes encounter. Trapped in a Moonbase with an unknown disease infecting people is a great start to the story. The Doctor becomes an actual Doctor and partially a Sherlock Holmes to solve the mystery.
As the members of the Moonbase are dying, they are being harvested by the Cybermen. So, the clever story goes in two directions. There is the story of the Doctor and his companions figuring out that they are up against their foes from so long ago. And there is the story of the Moonbase staff not believing that there are still Cybermen in existence. The double race to find and cure the disease is played off against battling the evil Cybermen. It’s a classic storytelling method that works out well over the four-episode arc. The stories come together as they must when the Doctor discovers the cause of the disease just as the Cybermen are preparing to use the control of the weather to destroy the Earth.
The conclusion to this story is relatively satisfying. The underlying mystery of the disease becomes the leading story until the final episode. The Cybermen are still finding their identity as villains. Their existence here is much like that of a zombie. For a story from 1967, the influence of early zombie films and as a symbol for soldiers in Vietnam, this is appropriate. Once dead, the sick Moonbase members essentially are going to be reanimated as robotic creatures. The Cybermen will continue an evolution but this change to an even more non-human evil is important in their development. I’m impressed with the way the story is structured over the four episodes. There is a balance of the different storylines that isn’t always present in Season Four.
The DVD has animated versions of episodes one and three. There is an audio commentary for the second and fourth episode by Polly, Jamie, and a scientist from the episode. The commentary for the first and third episode is done by other cast members including Cyberman actor Barry Noble. The other notable extra is a fun making-of feature with cooperation of all of the companions.
I’ve long been a proponent of the Troughton years. The series was really finding how it was going to exist another fifty years. The ability to work in new companions and a new Doctor was first and foremost. But then to tell stories that build up villains like the Cybermen which are entertaining on their own as either an adventure or in this case as a mystery. The Moonbase is an important release, even missing live versions of the episodes. We are seeing the beginning off a set of characters that will influence the series into 2014. I’m hoping that the animated recreations help forward the release of many important stories of the Second Doctor that have been lost.