Thursday, March 17, 2011

Someday They'll Get the Cybermen Right, Right?

I'm still waiting for a really good Cybermen story on Doctor Who. (On TV, that is. "Spare Parts" got it right on audio, in ways that I'm about to explain.) Oh, sure, we've had lots of stories where the Cybermen show up, and even some where they do somewhat interesting things, but it says a lot that the coolest Cybermen story I can think of is mainly memorable for them getting their butts kicked by the Daleks.

The problem is that nobody really seems to understand what makes the Cybermen work, and I include their creators. The horror of the Cybermen isn't that they're tough, or that they have laser blasters, or that they have a cool catchphrase (which, apart from anything else, they don't. "DELETE!" sounds like the off-brand Dalek knock-offs.) The horror of the Cybermen is that what they do makes perfect sense. They want to convert every human being into a Cyberman because they genuinely know--not just believe, know--that it willl improve their existences, and they will never stop because they know they're right. The horror of the Cybermen isn't, "DELETE DELETE DELETE", it's "You will become like us."

But everyone writes them like big stompy villains who sneer and boast and preen and strut. For bad guys who aren't supposed to have emotions, they certainly seem to get upset a lot whenever anyone challenges their worldview. Instead, they should be calm, remorseless, and entirely certain in the rightness of their attitude. To the Cybermen, human beings are suffering from a mental illness that makes them irrationally irrationality, ironically enough. These poor people believe that their brain disorder somehow gives their life meaning, and need to be forced to undergo conversion for their own good. It's unfortunate that they can't understand how much better life is with a superior body and none of the distractions of emotion, but they will. Once they undergo the process, they'll understand just how much sense it makes. And then they'll help to convert others.

My idea for a Cybermen story involves a small group of Cybermen setting up shop on a space station, promising that they will not use violence or force, and simply asking people to volunteer for the process--convincing them, through the logic of their position. Yes, being a Cyberman means an end to joy, but it also means an end to fear, an end to rage, an end to misery and suffering and pain and sorrow and all the weaknesses of the flesh. There are some people who would gladly give up their flesh and blood if it just meant the pain would stop.

Their endgame plan, of course, would be to convert the unwilling by force once they had enough recruits. Because deception, while again unfortunate, is sometimes necessary when dealing with the irrational. It's like dealing with a madman, sometimes. But the Cybermen have a cure for that.


Kay said... exactly are the Cybermen different from the Borg again? (I'm only half-joking here; much as I like both Doctor Who and Trek, I still can't help but think of them as the not-Borg).

Eric said...

heh, I was going to make the same connection. What you describe is very Borg-like, although it's more like what the Borg would be if they had only assimilated Vulcans.

All said, though, I would really like to see an episode like you just described.

El A said...

I LOVE this idea. The Cybermen as a cult, with humans (equipped with bluetooth earpieces, because they've got to drop clues about who we're dealing with before the big reveal at the end of the first episode) out front as their representatives. Probably taking root on some war-torn dystopia.

John Seavey said...

Well, they're different in that they're not a gestalt; they're different in that they don't have the BS "adapt to everything you do" superpower; they're different in that instead of being mindless drones of a Borg Queen, they're individuals (albeit individuals who all think a lot alike. But they take orders like soldiers instead of being commanded like drones.)

Of course, this is really ways the Borg aren't like the Cybermen, rather than ways the Cybermen aren't like the Borg; after all, the Cybermen do predate the Borg by twenty-three years. It's unlikely that the creators of "Trek" came up with the idea independently. :)

Chris said...

Great idea. Obviously it's the pre-violent cult recruitment stage when the Doctor shows up. The question is, will he save everyone once things turn violent, or will things turn violent because he gets involved?

frasersherman said...

This sounds too much like Jack Finney's Body Snatchers for my taste. I think the approach they take on the series--the only way the series can expand is by forcible recruiting--works better, actually.
While I agree about "delete" I will say that the scenes in the new series where people get cyberized just off-stage drive home how grisly it is.

John said...

In your hypothetical Cybermen story, I'm not sure how many willing converts they'd win through logical reasoning...but they'd get a bunch thanks to irrationality, emotionalism, and physical frailty. The depressed could be made content! The crippled could walk! The dying could live on! When even their opponents must admit that Cyberconverts gain real advantages, moral argument against the Cybermen becomes very difficult. Picture the Doctor warning of impending take-over, the Cybermen pleading their rational altruism -- conflict is wasteful; you will all turn to us eventually -- and converts' family members arguing on both sides.

For a nice twist, the story could end WITHOUT forced Cyberconversion, but with a natural disaster wiping out the non-Cyber population, leaving the Cybermen to confront the retreating Doctor with evidence that they are truly superior.

One could also take advantage of the Cybermen's remaining individuality to introduce factions. Yes, they are all devoted to universal Cyberconversion. Yes, they are all emotionless and utterly rational. But they do not all need to agree as to method or timing.

-- John Stepp

El A said...

John, I love the idea of no forced Cyberconversion, especially in relation to a populace on the losing side of a war. More fear, more hopelessness, more walking wounded = more converts.
Take it a step further and remove the Cyberconversion machine. Or at least doing it while the subjects are awake to see the rotating knives. No screams. No splattery blood everywhere. They anesthetize the subjects first. When they wake up, they're Cybermen. Are they still evil? Well, of course they are, this is Doctor Who. But what if they join in the war (for their own motives) on the losing side and turn the tide? Then they would have the support of the populace on the losing side, complete with even more willing converts wanting revenge on their enemies. Complete with WW2-esque recruiting posters "Join the Cybermen and see the universe!" etc.

mrjl said...

isn't forcing others beings to convert into somthing they don't want to be irrational though?

Craig said...

I know this is several months ago, but hey. Have you read The Flood, the last Eighth Doctor story in the Doctor Who Magazine comics? (And very nearly his regeneration story.)

It's not quite there (they're manipulating people's emotions to drive them to accept conversion) but their argument that humanity is insane is not far off.

Muga said...

"Well, they're different in that they're not a gestalt; they're different in that they don't have the BS "adapt to everything you do" superpower; they're different in that instead of being mindless drones of a Borg Queen, they're individuals (albeit individuals who all think a lot alike. But they take orders like soldiers instead of being commanded like drones.)"

Behold, I come from the future!

This comment amuses me in the context of the latest Cyberman episode.