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"Earthshock" Cyberman

Doctor Who
by Artemis

By 1982, the Cybermen had had a pretty rough time of it. They had been introduced in 1966 - in the first Doctor's final adventure, The Tenth Planet - as a vision of the dehumanizing potential of cybernetics, they had become a staple Doctor Who monster to rival almost the Daleks during Patrick Troughton's run as the second Doctor. But the Jon Pertwee years - much of them confined to Earth with UNIT, both of which had had their Cyberman invasion story one Doctor previously in the epic The Invasion - saw the Cybermen appear only in cameos, and their return in the fourth Doctor's aptly-named Return of the Cybermen was... well, not their finest hour, and when Voga's recycled-NASA-footage rocket blew apart the dinky little Cyber-Spaceship model, that was the last seen of them for quite some time. Then came Earthshock.

"Emotions have their uses."
"They restrict and curtail the intellect and logic of the mind."
"They also enhance life! When did you last have the pleasure of smelling a flower, watching a sunset, eating a well-prepared meal?"
"These things are irrelevant."

- The Doctor and the Cyber Leader

It was a landmark episode for several reasons - sadly the miscasting of a Sibyl Fawlty look-alike in what was meant to be a Ripley-esque badass space commander role was one of them, but the rest were good. The script was deliberately paced at the breakneck speed of an action movie, rather than the more sedate style previously favoured by the veteran show, the appearance of the Cybermen was a genuine surprise - show producer John Nathan-Turner even went so far as to turn down a Radio Times cover to keep them a secret - and while the metal men didn't quite manage to get away in one piece (it was originally planned that the Cyberleader would survive - both to reinforce the fifth Doctor's fallibility, in contrast to his somewhat Mary Sue-ish (though great) predecessor, and to provide a recurring villain - but the idea was eventually dropped), they did do some serious damage on their way down.

And they looked - as the ninth Doctor would've said - fan-tas-tic (at least, for a BBC sci-fi show in 1982 they sure did). Doing away with the spray-painted wetsuits and rubber tubing exoskeleton of earlier models, the new breed (dubbed "Cyberneomorph" in Cyberleader David Banks's Cybermen book, which among other things took on the Herculean task of wrangling all the various Cybermen looks into a coherent evolution of a species) were based on a military G-suit. It still got spray-painted silver, of course, but the array of built-in tubes and textures gave a rather convincing impression of a biomechanoid creature's outer skin. Character Options' action figure version does the old G-suit proud, with a highly detailed sculpt of both the winding "capillaries" and the wrinkled texture of the underlying fabric, painted a prominent but not too shiny silver and given contrast by a well-applied black wash. They even did separate paint apps for the silver-sprayed snowboots, leaving the soles plain grey. (They warmed up something fierce under studio lighting; with typical BBC perversity, the next time the Cybermen appeared, on a windy and rain-soaked shale hillside in The Five Doctors, the only costume change had been to replace the warm boots with cold and non-waterproof shoes.)

The centerpiece of the Cyberneomorph - literally and figuratively - is the combined chestpiece/head assembly, echoing earlier models of Cyberman while giving the whole thing a more streamlined '80s style. The same paint style is used successfully - mid-silver, with black ink defining the ribbed tubing part beneath the chestplate - but on both the chest and head, clear parts have been added to recreate the look of the costume, with a transparent chest panel showing the workings inside (which, impressively, are painted, albeit simply), clear tubes running from the "earmuffs" at the side of the head, and a clear jaw plate revealing the actor's jaw inside. That last part, intended to reflect the Cybermen's organic origin, required the actors to have their jaws painted silver and their teeth painted black, which tasted horrible; between the taste, the tendency of the jaw plate to fog up from the inside, and the habit the voice-changing electronics had of coming unstuck from the inside of the helmets and falling into view in the jaw, they got spray-painted silver fairly soon, with few regrets. A mark of how accurate the sculpt is can be seen on the back of the head, which duplicates even the screw-in panel that sealed the actors in their helmets - a slow and fiddly process, and not fun for anyone with claustrophobic tendencies, as several extras discovered.

The figure's articulation is the standard layout for Doctor Who figures, minus any kind of neck joint - the chest/shoulder unit is a separate layer, but the head and thick neck are built into the torso by necessity of their design. Otherwise, it's the usual fairly mobile figure: swivel shoulders, biceps and wrists, pin elbows, swivel waist, swivel/pin hips, pin knees and swivel ankles. Even in the G-suits, without the risk of breaking the fragile "exoskeletons" on earlier costumes (which rendered the Wheel in Space actors all but immobile after a few scenes, when the costume department got tired of reassembling their limbs every time they moved), the Cybermen were never that mobile, so the joints do everything that could be reasonably asked of them.

Sadly there's no Build-A-Figure with this second series of Classics figures, but the Cyberman does have one accessory to call his own, the standard-model Cyber-Gun that made its debut alongside him, replacing the fiddly and unimpressive head-mounted blasters of Return of the Cybermen. It's a two-piece prop, with a soft black strap glued into a the harder plastic weapon - locked in by T-shaped ends, so it won't come unstuck in a hurry - and the barrel given black and red paint apps. To make it look not so human the handle runs parallel with the barrel, matching the figure's angled right hand, although with the elbows being single pins, the shoulder strap isn't quite long enough to loop over the shoulder (beneath the armour) while the gun is in the hand; the only real shortcoming of the figure, there.

Any Doctor Who collector ought to want this figure - the Cybermen are up there with the Daleks as the Doctor's most iconic foes, and after Earthshock, this model of Cyberman saw re-use, with minor cosmetic tweaks, all through in the race's resurgence, in The Five Doctors, Attack of the Cybermen, and - the chest and head, over a new bodysuit - Silver Nemesis; enterprising collectors will also be able to customize an Earthshock Cyberleader simply by painting the antennae black. Along with the earlier four-figures-plus-BAF Cyberman series - which frustratingly never got to Australia, but I'm told there's hope of a new supply making its way here, now that a better distributor has taken over - this figure completes the set of essential Cyberman designs that a collection really must contain. Now, with luck, they'll set about all the minor variations that my collection would just like to contain as well.

-- 06/20/10


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