It was announced today that Doctor Who series 10 would feature the return of the Mondasian Cybermen, in a series finale penned by Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay.
But what does that actually mean? After all, we’ve seen Cybermen make appearances in Doctor Who on and off for years now – what’s so special about them now, and why do they look different this time?
Essentially, the Mondasian Cybermen are the original Cybermen, from way back in the beginning.
In 1966, the story The Tenth Planet was first broadcast. It was significant for two reasons – as the first regeneration story, featuring the transition from William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton, and also as the introduction of the Cybermen.
The Cybermen in The Tenth Planet were from the planet Mondas – a hidden planet from our solar system, and a ‘twin planet’ to Earth before Mondas drifted away into deep space. Those living on the planet, now faced with increasingly harsh conditions on their planet, began to augment their bodies to survive, becoming Cybermen. However, because the conversion process was done in a gradual way with limited technology, the Mondasian Cybermen were not the sleek silver giants we’ve seen in recent years; rather, they were cloth-faced mummies, still with visible flesh and organic parts on show. In many respects, that’s part of why they’re so creepy – and why their memory has endured.
Over the course of the classic series of Doctor Who, the design of the Cybermen was updated several times. So, while they were still intended to be Cybermen from the same planet, they didn’t have quite the same resonance – nor strike the same fear into viewers.
When Doctor Who brought back the Cybermen in 2006, showrunner Russell T Davies elected to avoid a depiction of Mondas – he thought the idea of a twin planet was a little too unbelievable. A germ of the idea still remained, however, as we were introduced to a new group of Cybermen from a parallel world. The Cybermen during David Tennant’s time as the Doctor were all from this universe; it wasn’t until Matt Smith’s time as the Doctor that we’d see Cybermen from ‘our’ universe again, although they retained a similar design to the Cybermen from a parallel Earth.
Nightmare in Silver, Neil Gaiman’s 2011 story, updated the Cybermen once more, presenting a group of Cybermen with an adaptive AI, super-speed, and a whole host of other powers. Neil Gaiman had hoped to include a return from the original Mondasian Cybermen, but the budget didn’t stretch to include this. Some years later, in 2014, we saw Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor face off against the Cybermen for the first time, then under the control of Missy.
The original design of the Cybermen has been a long-time favourite of Peter Capaldi’s; whenever he was asked about which classic monsters he’d like to see return, Capaldi pointed to the Mondasian Cybermen. “They were absolutely terrifying, with cloth faces. That was really creepy”, commented Capaldi a few years ago; he’s also indicated he’d perhaps like to see a ‘Genesis of the Cybermen’ style story, exploring the origins of the Cybermen.
That about sums up the Mondasian Cybermen, then; essentially, what we’re going to see in Series 10 is Doctor Who bringing one of its oldest monsters back to their beginnings, to a point when many – including Peter Capaldi – think they worked best.
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