Cybermen in the Eighties
Yes, I’ve missed a decade. And by “missed”, I mean “totally ignored”. The seventies featured just one Cybermen story, “Revenge of the Cybermen”, notable mainly for introducing the Cybermen’s most famous weakness, gold dust. Perhaps by the seventies, cultural anxieties about medical technology had faded too much for the silver cyborgs to be a credible threat. Indeed, the cybernetic nature of the creatures in this story was completely down-played.
The Cybermen returned in 1982, in a story called “Earthshock”. Gone were the rubbery cyber-suits, gone were the tear-drop eyes. The new Cybermen were perhaps the first of Doctor Who’s major recurring villains to seem to be explicitly influenced by the immersive visual stylisation and detailing of the Star Wars films. They don’t exactly look like Imperial Stormtroopers, but at least they do seem to be able to withstand closer inspection than their predecessors. In particular, their silver overalls are now covered—matted, even—with intricate tubing, and their helmets have more divisions and curves etched into what were once smooth, featurless surfaces.
By the eighties, it was also a requirement that the Cybermen display a bit more individuality. Continuining the trend of “Revenge”, we have an individual CyberLeader, whose function is basically to be incredibly macho (the figuration of gender, and masculinity in particular, with the Cybermen has become quite more overt by this stage) and to provide the Doctor with someone to argue at.
The depiction of violent Cyber-death in the sixties drew complaints and protests from parents, but the eighties Cyber-stories were exceptional in their committment to showing dying cyborgs spraying and vomiting white gunk everywhere. It’s interesting and perhaps unsurprising that the most vivid representation of the Cybermen’s imbrication of the organic and the mechanical arrives at the moment of death. By this point, signs of the underlying organic structure of the Cyber-body are few and far between.