Although they’ve been set up as the Doctor’s new regular adversaries, the Cybermen aren’t just a straightforward swap for the Daleks. Though they’re almost as effective at points in this episode – striding unstoppably through smoke bombs to hunt down the fleeing humans, looking just like an army of Jason Voorhees, they’re also pathetic. Their words aren’t, ‘Exterminate!’ but ‘We will survive’. They talk, without emotion, obviously, of becoming extinct. The Daleks want to conquer existence. The Cybermen just want to exist.
The problem is, their will to survive overrides everything. After hinting at the horrors of Cyber Conversion – the mention of it in The Tenth Planet, and the implication in The Moonbase, this is the first time it’s tackled head on. ‘You will be like us,’ repeats the Cyber Controller, before commanding his minions to throw Parry in the freezer until they’ve got the conversion equipment working. While the first couple of episodes were like a Universal Mummy film, this is more like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with human beings merely meat for the Cybermen’s consumption.
It helps that this is the most vivid (and exotically-accented) bunch of human adversaries the Cybermen have yet faced – so much more vivid than the Snowcap and Moonbase crews. Klieg and Kaftan may be racially problematic, but they’re very much the Bragen and Janley of Telos: obsessed with getting power, and seeing the Cybermen as their short-cut to it. And it’s really fun that the rocket men, Hopper and Callum, don’t bother with the Doctor and Klieg’s symbolic logic puzzles but go for the engineers’ solution of dismantling the control console to work out which switch will open the vault: a beautifully subtle moment of human ingenuity trumping Cyberman logic.
The regulars are all brilliant too. Jamie’s obviously now from 1967 (he immediately gets the ‘metal breakdown’ joke), though he’s very much secondary in the episode, which again focuses on making Victoria gutsy and bossy and very un-Victorian. Plus Troughton and Watling get their clip show moment as they discuss the death of Victoria’s father, whether she’s happy travelling with the Doctor and Jamie (give her a chance – she’s barely spent an hour with you yet), and the Doctor’s own family. It’s utterly charming, beautifully performed and gives Victoria more character building in a scene than most previous companions got in a season. ‘Nobody in the universe can do what we’re doing’ should be printed and on a poster – the ‘trip of a lifetime’ or ‘All of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will’ of the 1960s.
And then they’re confronted by a swarm of Cybermats with gnashing teeth, and Klieg brandishing Chekhov’s Cybergun from last week. The cliffhanger – a firing gun – is so good it’s used several times more in later stories. This is a very good third episode that packs into its running as much plot and character development as The Faceless Ones did in its entire second half.
Next episode: The Tomb of the Cybermen – Episode 4