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Morphic resonance on Doctor Who

July 9th, 2006

The first episode of the new series of Doctor Who was screened in Australia last night, and the preview of coming episode showed our old friends the Cybermen. As my son observed, they’re the least satisfactory of the Doctor’s enemies because they are just second-rate Daleks. Today, I opened my copy of the London Review of Books, to find the exact same observation from Jenny Turner, reviewing Kim Newman who objects to the cliched, but apparently universally true, observation, that children watched the series from ‘behind the sofa‘. Support for Rupert Sheldrake, or just evidence that the series reliably produces the same responses in lots of viewers.

Also in my mailbox, after a return from travel was an issue of the Scientific American with the front page headling Do Stem Cells Cause Cancer ? (answer, apparently, yes). My immediate thought was to wonder how long this will take to turn up as a talking point in the Republican alternate universe.

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  1. July 9th, 2006 at 21:10 | #1

    Cybermen second rate – never. At least, unlike the Daleks, they could walk up stairs!

  2. July 10th, 2006 at 17:24 | #2

    Aaargh! How did I not know this was on! Among my favourite memories of last year was watching the Doctor (and very Little Britian) with my two kids (8 & 5).

    And I love Cybermen.

  3. July 10th, 2006 at 17:43 | #3

    What we found a little disconcerting was the close similarity between the Sycorax aliens and the Finnish band ‘Lordi’- winners of 2006 Eurovision. All destroyed by a thatcher-like British P.M.

  4. July 10th, 2006 at 19:19 | #4

    As a longtime fan of the Doctor (my earliest memory of this Time Lords adventures is the original screening of the story “The Space Museum” which was about 1966) I both agree and disagree with Prof Qs assessment of the Cybermen. I haven’t seen the latest version of Cyberman, however, if they are extrapolations of the post 1969 cyberman the criticism is justified. The 1970s and 80s Cybermen were pretty laughable, espescially the latter who resembled silver scowling teddy bears. These Cybermen could not hold a candle to the Daleks in terms of menace, presence or the ability to geneate terror.

    However, the Cybermen of the 1960s were very different . The original Cybermen who appeared in the last story of the Hartnell years “the Tenth Planet” were appallingly camp; even as a six year old I found it difficult to be frightened of monsters who wore silver long johns while walking with flashlights on their heads. Howver, the cybermen who appeared in the Troughton era were, in my opinion, the stuff of nightmares. Their facial features had been reduced to blank staring hollows for eyes and slits for mouths, while their voices were rasping,harsh and unmodulated. I never actually watched them from behind the sofa but I do remember running outsude my house in fright at the beginning of the 1972 repeat of the penultimate episode of the 1968 story “the Invasion” when the Cybermen who had been hiding in Londons sewers emerged by climbing through manholes and dramitically casting the covers aside.
    To me, the thing that made the Troughton era Cyberman particularly frightening (apart from being between the ages of 7 to 12) was they they possessed the quality described by Arthur C Clarke as rendering a monster truly horrific, that is a representation of something familiar but horribly distorted. Furthermore, the fact that many of the stories were filmed on low definition video (405 line until 1968) than transferred onto black and white filmstock made it easy to overlook the overall cheapness of the props and sets which might overwise have distracted viewers from the effect the costume designers and producers were trying to create. One of the things that was particularly annoying about the 70s and 80s episodes of Dr Who was that the introduction of colour highlighted these deficiencies and detracted from the plot, although given the awfulness of some of the Pertwee and Baker era stories I wonder if this was deliberate!
    Perhaps a resurected cyberman from the the Troughton era stories “The Moonbase” ,”The Tomb of the Cybermen”, “the Wheel in Space” or “The Invasion” might change a few reviewers opinions. If I had to make a choice between meeting either a Dalek or a late 60s Cyberman on a dark night I would choose the former, especially if I had a convenient staircase nearby!

  5. July 10th, 2006 at 20:03 | #5

    Not forgetting their fearsome serpent-on-a-string companion – the cybermat.

  6. July 10th, 2006 at 22:55 | #6

    The Cybermen are *such* a Troughton phenomenon – one story with Hartnell (his last), zero with Pertwee, one in Baker’s first season, one with Davidson…. but at least four with Ol’ Pat. Of those I’ve only seen ‘Tomb’, but it cast the Cybermen as something like the Borg from Next Gen Star Trek. (OK, I think I’ve geeked out enough with the TV SF…)

    Cpl’s talk of ‘blank staring hollows for eyes and slits for mouths’ also reminds me of Philip K Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch which has a certain resonance with the Cybermen. (Synchronicity shout-out: Brisbane’s currently plastered with posters for The Strokes (or The Vines or one of those other young peoples’ musical combos) using what I think *must* be cover art from a paperback edition of Stigmata. Can anyone confirm?)

    In Stigmata the alien hallucinogen Chew-Z is marketed with the slogan ‘God Promises Eternal Life. We Can Deliver It.’ There’s a killer Cyberman story just in that slogan that can’t be told with Daleks.

  7. July 12th, 2006 at 21:10 | #7

    daryl
    I agree while that the Cybermen were very much a Troughton phenomen, they managed to do what few Dr Who monsters have done and cross over into the realms of politcal satire. For example, they were featured in the 1980s “Lenny Henry” show in which he satirised the then dominant conservative party by way of a Doctor Who skit.in which the doctor finds 21st Century Britain (whose inhabitants are known as the UB40s)is run by the Cybermen whose fearsome leader is the cyberwoman Thatchos (with a sidekick Denos). A good laugh but it got me wondering what would happen if Cybernetics becomes a practical reality in the near future. We might end up with a nightmarish scenario of which not even Philip K Dick could have dreamt: an immortal cybernetic John Howard who never has to worry about annoiting a successor.

  8. July 12th, 2006 at 23:34 | #8

    “[The Cybermen] were featured in the 1980s “Lenny Henryâ€? show in which he satirised the then dominant conservative party by way of a Doctor Who skit.”

    Sweet! I’d appreciate a link to a video of that show, if you’ve got it. The only other Whovian skit I can think of just now is the ‘Pakistani Dalek’ from Milligan’s Q6. (and, at a pinch, Tom Baker and Lalla Ward’s TV ads for Olivetti in the very early eighties)

    As for Nightmares Beyond Dick (NBD) – to me that’s Horselover Fat meets the Grim Meathook and I’m content with the impending nightmares on this side of Ol’ Phil, the love. How about waking up in a world where all people and animals have Howard’s glasses, eyebrows and teeth from 1976 and the only people who are aware of the change are commentors on Lavartus Prodeo?

    d

  9. RoD
    July 13th, 2006 at 10:21 | #9

    Darryl, darryl, darryl!
    I’ve only seen ‘Tomb’, but it cast the Cybermen as something like the Borg from Next Gen Star Trek.
    Tomb was 1968, the Borg were created around 1986. The Borg were cast as something like the Cybermen! (Borderline plagarism I thought at the time.)
    However the Borg are a much better modern concept for abandoning humanity for the sake of efficiency and improved interfacing with technology. I doubt any Who fan was truly hoping the Cybermen would return – they’ve been a diminshing return since Tom Baker’s 1st season.
    And for cybernetics affecting politics, I would recommend the novel ‘Interface’ by Neil Stephenson and his uncle (under a combined nom de plume). A politician plugged into instantly polling which subconsciously influences his actions. A very near-future horror story.

  10. July 13th, 2006 at 14:01 | #10

    The ads Tom and Lalla did were for Prime Computers, if I recall correctly.

    Also, I think that The Curse of Fatal Death (Red Nose Day charity spoof with Rowan Atkinson) video features several Doctor Who parodies as bonus material.

    The Cybermen are my favourite Who villains, thanks largely to my watching Earthshock at an impressionable age. Potentially, they’re very interesting foes, if handled right. Given their origins in fears about ‘spare-part’ surgery, the way to go these days would be a Stross-style parody of Extropianism. I don’t think I’m going to spoil things too much by saying that the new Cybermen story goes some of the way towards that, but not nearly far enough.

  11. Darryl Rosin
    July 14th, 2006 at 13:06 | #11

    Ok, sorry, yes you’re right and I knew that – but some slight causal disorientation is to be expected when discussing the Doctor, yes?

  12. July 14th, 2006 at 13:51 | #12

    You’re quite correct, which is why there are about 20 mutually contradictory definitive guides to the programme’s continuity. And, of course, why there are three distinct explanations for the fall of Atlantis through the course of the series.

  13. Ian Lester
    July 26th, 2006 at 10:34 | #13

    Nick, it’s just that they only chose three explanations for the fall of Atlantis from the large number of reasons extant in a large (though possibly not infinite) selection of alternate time lines.
    I used to watch re-runs of Dr Who with my children. Now, unfortunately, I can’t get my grandchildren away from computers long enough – I’ll have to get DVDs or something.
    I suspect from all this tongue in cheek serious discussion that you all as well as I do remember that it was kids’ program. Personally, I love all that appallingly cheap and ineffective sets and props. But then, I think Plan 9 from Outer Space is a masterpiece.

  14. Tom Goodecreatures over the years.
    January 31st, 2009 at 09:02 | #14

    I have a ‘new’ cyberman as my computer desktop. I have to say that the cyberemen have certainly become fearsome looking over the years, certainly from their beginnings with lace-up boots.
    Bith the Cybermen and Daleks have improved their look, but there is only so far a Dalek can improve. The modern Cybermen are really evil looking now and their body armour is quite terrifying.

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