Saturday, October 08, 2016

50 years of the Cybermen

It's 50 years today since the broadcast of The Tenth Planet episode 1, in which a startling new monster was introduced to Doctor Who.

I'm not alone in adoring the original versions of the Cybermen, designed by Sandra Reid with skew-whiff cloth faces and still-human hands (painted silver). Clunky and awkward and each one with a name - Krang, Jarl, Gern, Krail, Talon and Shav - they're not simply robots but people who've willingly disfigured themselves to survive in the cold of space.

Researching my book The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who, I read the "Cyborgs and Space" by Manfred E Clynes and Nathan S Kline, a 1960 article Astronautics that first coined the term cybernetic organism or "cyborg". Although that word wasn't used in Doctor Who until Terror of the Zygons in 1975, there are lots of parallels between the article and the first incarnation of the Cybermen. Here it's suggested that for long-term space exploration to be practical, people will need to be surgically fitted with air conditioning units and then psychologically conditioned not to care...

The cold, stark proposal is utterly terrifying. No wonder the Cybermen struck such a chord.

Today is also 50 years since the studio recording of episode 4 of the same story. Between 6.30 and 7 pm, an effects shot was recorded in which a close-up of lead actor William Hartnell morphed into a close-up of Patrick Troughton, the new Doctor...

The episode was broadcast three weeks later, and I shall have more to say about it in three weeks' time.

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