The original Cybermen return to Doctor Who after an absence of over 50 years. Unsurprisingly none of the original costumes have survived having been quickly discarded for more practical suits and helmets for ‘The Moonbase’. Reimagined for a modern audience they remain close to the original design. But how do the two versions differ?
The Tenth Planet
Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis’ original script described the Cybermen as ‘tall, thin, clad in a silver link one piece suit’. Whilst this is largely how they appeared onscreen other details proved too expensive to realise. For instance, instead of flesh the forearm was supposed to contain shiny rods and lights, whilst beneath the hairline was also a metal plate. Similarly a moveable arm was scripted to be mounted onto the chest unit. These aspects were dropped as being too impractical and would’ve been incredibly expensive to deliver on a Doctor Who budget.
Costume designer Alexandra Tynan (credited as Sandra Reid) used a stretchy silk jersey to cover the head and a similar wool formed a full body stocking. The head stocking was tied at the top, a feature which seems to be returning given the evidence of the trailers for the next episode. Covering the body a further material, a transparent polythene called ‘crin’, added an additional layer, ribbed with supporting metal rings. These multiple layers made the costumes incredibly hot for the actors inside. Wellington boots sprayed silver were where sweat pooled, just as would be experienced by many other Doctor Who monster actors. Metal shoulder pads, apt for 1986 when the story was set, and plastic tubing were fixed together with nuts and bolts. Further weight was added with the chest unit and of course the sizable headpiece.
On top of the head the actors had to wear a large lamp, fixed to the head on the left, the right and behind. It had initially been hoped to illuminate the halogen bulb but on the first attempt the bulb exploded. No doubt to the relief of the Cybermen actors this idea was abandoned. The heavy headpiece hid the tied jersey covering and was attached with clear adhesive tape. Unfortunately under the glare of the studio lights this tape did not always hold the earpieces of the headgear in place. This can be seen during Episode 3 where the Cybermen are shot down. Eagle eyed viewers will see one headpiece ear attachment flapping around with the movement of the actor. Time constraints no doubt prevented the scene being reshot.
With the exception of the head, the most noticeable pieces were the substantial chest units. These big and bulky units utilised a lot of clear plastic, housing mechanisms and lights powered by an internal battery. Later revisions of the Cybermen quite rightly reduced the size of these chest units. However throughout the remainder of the classic series some form of unit over the chest appeared to act like an external cardiovascular system for the creatures. In addition the Cybermen’s weapons were also carried beneath the original chest units. These no doubt added to the physical toll of the Cybermen actors.
The Human Beneath
Part of the horror of the Cybermen is the humanoid trapped beneath. Later upgrades to Cybermen design have since veered away from that concept. However the Tenth Planet Cybermen were truly horrific. Most notably the human eyes glistened from behind the blank face. Humanoid hands were also seen, as if reaching out from the machine it was trapped inside. Monochrome television sets however don’t reveal their true colour. Although it is widely assumed that the Cybermen hands were of skin tones, accounts suggest that they were actually coloured with a silver-blue tinge by makeup designer Gillian James. The desired effect was achieved with the Cybermen cementing their place in the pantheon of Doctor Who monsters built upon the body horror element.
Over 50 years have passed since the Cybermen’s original design in ‘The Tenth Planet’. For ‘World Enough and Time’ Alexandra Tynan’s costumes have been recreated for a modern audience. But how similar are they?
The Cybermen in this week’s episode of Doctor Who are a return to their original portrayal. Labelled Mondasian Cybermen by an overexcited marketing department, the appearance is deliberately kept recognisably close to the original source. Generally the look is identical but when we analyse the details there are subtle changes that have hopefully made the costumes more bearable for the actors inside. The suits are now silver, consistent with the general look of the Cybermen which has long been established, but they do retain the metal rings over the limbs even if the colour of the suits does differ slightly.
These new costumes are constructed to be more robust than the original. For example, the attachments to the side of the head appear to be more solid. After all no flapping about of loose pieces can be afforded in the age of High Definition television and endless repeats. The headpiece has been slimmed down. Those large lamps have been reduced in size and will certainly have been lighter to wear than the originals. The handlebar attachments are also a much tighter fit, mounted closer to the head. Similarly, the chest unit which had once been so cumbersome has been replaced by a smaller, more practical piece of equipment. However the shape of the unit remains consistent with a reuse of plastics and lights.
The human skin tones still remain visible on the hands but they have been covered by some sort of material. Time will tell if the glint of a human eye will also be seen behind the blank face. Similarly we will have to wait to see if the piece of equipment attached below the chest unit is a weapon once again. A little more detail has also been added to the outline of the mouth. As with other aspects of these returning Cybermen fans are anticipating how their portrayal will be seen during the finale. Will these Cybermen also have names? Will we learn how they have were created? Only a few days left to find out…