Doctor: [To the Cyberleader] ‘You’re nothing but a pathetic bunch of tin soldiers skulking about the galaxy in an ancient spaceship.’ Cyberleader: ‘Cybermen can survive more efficiently than animal organisms. That is why we will rule the galaxy.’

Revenge of the Cybermen

And that is what it boils down to. The Cybermen are second only to the Daleks in their desire for domination, but whereas Skaro’s most insane desire to utterly destroy anything different to themselves, the Cybermen will subjugate and convert their conquests, thus bolstering their own ranks. This is the true horror of the Cybermen. Convinced that flesh will fail, that their way is best, they surrendered emotion and eventually individuality in the name of survival.

So, for the uninitiated, what is a Cyberman? Their history is one of sadness; the inhabitants of the planet Mondas – Earth’s lost twin – the original Cybermen were like us until they found that replacement surgery was necessary to prolong the life of their dying race. Their respiratory system was replaced by the prominent chest place, and their strength increased ten-fold. With their planet lost, wandering through the galaxy, the Cybermen conquered many worlds but Mondas was eventually destroyed following an attack on Earth (The Tenth Planet). Few of the remaining Cybermen are true Mondasians, but their aim is still the same – survival. Eventually, some settled on Telos and built their own tombs in order to draw those humans that would see them reanimated into their lair… and convert them.

This, of course, isn’t an entirely new concept; every story in existence has the concept of survival wove into it one way or another. In a Universe where anyone can be met at anytime by the Doctor, it is no surprise that many of the races he meets are threatened with extinction. Take the Kaled/Dals, the Ice Warriors, and the Zygons as prime examples from the original series – then add what has happened to the Autons world following the Time War and the effect of the war on the Gelth’s world. And just look at what the Master was prepared to do to stay alive!

Survival is a word that also commands our daily existence. We work – or otherwise acquire money – in order to survive. We buy food that we might survive, and pay rent or mortgage so that we and our families have shelter – in order to survive. Doctors and scientists spend their lives working so that we might survive.

This was something that co-creator of the Cybermen Dr. Kit Pedler recognised. In 1966 when he was employed by the Doctor Who production team to give the series a stronger scientific grounding, the Cybermen were born. A real-life doctor, Pedler was fearful of the ghastly possibilities that the proposed replacement-part surgery likely to be available in the future would create for mankind. Survival was one thing – but what if we lost our humanity?

As the Cybermen were eventually able to develop into a force capable of challenging mankind’s place in the galaxy, their image as silver-clad cadavers was replaced with an image of an unstoppable force. Thanks to writer Eric Saward, the already overused Nazi metaphor applied with varying degrees of obviousness to all of the Doctor’s adventures with the Daleks were shoehorned in to Cyberman mythology in the 1980s, no doubt to assist with their desire for conquest. But surely survival is enough?

Pedler and Davis’ original vision of the Cybermen back in the 1960s was perfect. Done-to-death Nazi parallels were meaningless in the 1980s, and even more so now as imperialism rears it’s ugly, destructive head once more. But a human-like race, fearful of it’s impending doom, fighting nature for survival and using whatever means be they mechanical or whatever – that is genius. And the parallels with real life are far more interesting. Governments have risen and fallen for the last 4000 years – aggressive fascist policy isn’t going stop mankind whether it be fictional or real. But a dying race would stop us, and make us face up to these very real decisions.

A mechanical heart or one grown in a lab?

Once upon a time, there was a very old man who lived with his granddaughter. One day, he fell out with his family and colleagues and was made an outcast by his society. With no reason to stay, he left his home planet with his granddaughter in a disused, antique TARDIS.

The TARDIS was a space-time machine, the amazing technology developed by the Doctor’s people. Escaping his world and his time in a vehicle that they could barely control, the Doctor and Susan travelled through the Fourth Dimension before happening upon Earth, where they would learn of its history and make new friends.

The genesis of Doctor Who in the early 1960s was one which has been revised over and over – both the onscreen development of the character and the behind-the-scenes production. Above are the basic facts. Various people over the years have been awarded – and claimed – credit for the shows initial success, such as Verity Lambert, Sydney Newman and Waris Hussein, as well as Terry Nation, John Lucarotti and Anthony Coburn. One man, however, can claim and be awarded the biggest accolades for ensuring the show’s initial success. Who? Doctor Who – William Hartnell.

The actor’s previous credits – running back to 1932 – involved the typecasting of cockney hard cases and servicemen. Popular and rarely out of work in the British movie industry during the 40s, 50s, and 60s, Hartnell’s career-defining moment came when producer Verity Lambert saw the actor in the Richard Harris picture “This Sporting Life” (1963). While not a dead-cert for the role (there were apparently other contenders), William Hartnell nevertheless took the part of Doctor Who, and defined the character for all time.

We first met the mysterious traveller on a miserable November evening in 1963. It was a Saturday night – a day that would become synonymous with the show. We meet the Doctor as his granddaughter Susan is followed from school by her teachers, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright. They encounter him in his bizarre police box, which appears to be larger on the inside than on the outside! For viewers in 1963, this introduction (An Unearthly Child) was bizarre and chilling – who was this mysterious Doctor, and how did his granddaughter know so much history and maths?

It wasn’t until the following month of course that the show became the stuff of legends, as the Doctor and his three companions stumbled upon the Daleks on their home planet of Skaro. It is often reiterated that Verity Lambert was under strict instructions not to employ anything that could be described as a Bug Eyed Monster or BEM, yet here they were in what was ostensibly a children’s television drama with an educational bent. Perhaps the early episodes strayed too far from the original aim of the show – but viewers tuned in week in and week out to watch the irascible, grumpy old Doctor defeat despots across time and space!

Moments of pure brilliance are found in the middle of Hartnell’s run as the Doctor. Experimental stories (Inside the Spaceship, The Web Planet) were taken in his stride, as were the introduction of numerous companions – eight permanent and a few short term – and weekly one-take recordings, as well as the recurring appearance of the Daleks that might have overshadowed the actor and his co-stars.

So much however exists in Hartnell’s portrayal of the Doctor that subsequent actors have all been able to draw on various aspects, such as costume (almost all of them), idiosyncrasies (“Hmmm?” – most often employed by the Fourth and Fifth incarnations) and developing whole personas from off the cuff phrases such as

“I am a citizen of the Universe, and a gentleman to boot.”

William Hartnell, The Daleks’ Master Plan

How much of this is apparent in Pertwee’s interpretation of the role? We should steer away from thinking that Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks and Jon Pertwee in any way directly built the Third Doctor around this remark – the shape of the Doctor’s character was already in place by 1970. It is safe to say that as the series progressed and the production team and star decided how the character was to be played each week, that the character and his morals sunk into the British consciousness.

But what of his morals? The First Doctor is recognised above all of the others (until the war-weary Ninth) to be a little ambiguous in that department. Most of this is due to his actions early in the series – in the first serial in fact. An Unearthly Child is followed by three episodes of a story commonly known as 100,000 BC (although there are other titles in use). In this, the TARDIS crew are transported to the Palaeolithic era and at one point the Doctor begins the act of “putting down” an injured caveman. This type of action would have been unthinkable for the Doctor just 3 years later, but here at the beginning of the show he is a man cast out alone, with trust for no one.

William Hartnell’s talents as an actor were unquestionable, and his portrayal of televisions most popular anti-hero ensured that he would be remembered for generations to come. Perfectly at home in space adventures (The Daleks’ Master Plan), comedy (The Gunfighters), historical drama (Marco Polo, The Crusade) and Earth-based takeover stories (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The War Machines), Hartnell not only forged an unforgettable character who was endeared to millions of children, but also took those same children on fantastic journeys through time and space.

While David Bradley’s interpretation of Hartnell’s Doctor has drawn some criticism from some quarters (more caricature than homage?), we can at least be reassured that the original (you might say) continues to be available to enjoy on DVD and streaming services.