The Cybermen are one of the Doctor’s oldest and deadliest enemies, and since their introduction in The Tenth Planet, Doctor Who’s first regeneration story, the Cybermen have menaced almost every incarnation of the Doctor. As they are due to appear in Series 12 in 2020, fan interest in the Cybermen has peaked recently. However, a question that often comes up when discussing them is, how were they first created?
Unlike the Daleks, who get their own origin story in Genesis of the Daleks, the Cybermen were strangely neglected when it came to their origins in the Classic Series. The closest we came to an getting an explanation of their origins is the brief summary of how they came to be that we get in their first episode, as the Cybermen explain that their world, Mondas, was dying and that they needed to adapt in order to survive.
The Many Cyber-Origin Stories
Interestingly, although Classic Who didn’t divulge much about the origins of the Cybermen, the 21st century incarnations of Doctor Who have attempted to explain more about their origins.
Spare Parts, Big Finish Main Range, 2002
Spare Parts, a Fifth Doctor Big Finish Audio from the Main Range, depicts the Doctor and Nyssa arriving on Mondas just as the Cybermen are starting to take over, and although Nyssa is determined to try and save the planet, the Doctor is torn between helping the innocent and keeping history on track. Things are further complicated by the fact that this story is set not long after the death of Adric at the hands of the Cybermen.
This story shows that the Cybermen were created on Mondas as a means of allowing the citizens to survive in the increasingly hostile environment of a frozen, dead world. The Mondasian surgeons believe that they are saving the population, but the monstrous Committee, a unification of minds that acts as a precursor to the Cyber-Planner, sees the population as little more than resources to be harvested.
Rise of the Cybermen, Series 2, 2006
Another alternate race of Cybermen were created on a parallel version of Earth, as seen in 2005’s Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel. Like Spare Parts, this story depicts a scientist attempting to prolong human life by inventing the Cybermen. In this case, Doctor John Lumic created the Cybermen as a means of achieving immortality, due to the fact that he was suffering from a debilitating, incurable disease. Ultimately, he manages to convert a sizeable population of parallel London into Cybermen, and is eventually converted into a Cyber-Controller.
Although the Doctor eventually stops Lumic and destroys his Cybermen, the parallel Earth would continue to see Cyber-incursions for many years afterwards, and some Cybermen from that universe would eventually find their way into our universe and assimilate into the ranks of the Mondasian Cybermen, according to some sources.
World Enough and Time, Series 10, 2017
Another origin story for a race of Cybermen is seen in 2017’s World Enough and Time. This episode shows that, at some point, a colony ship had departed from Mondas with a crew of 50, only to be trapped in the event horizon of a black hole. Due to the time dilation effect of the black hole, the crew lived out their entire lives on the ship and bred, eventually leading to a sprawling city being built on one of the habitation decks. Eventually, however, this city would be corrupted by the interference of the Master.
As the city became more polluted, eventually the Mondasians on board began to convert themselves into primitive Cybermen that would slowly evolve over time into the modern Cybermen. After infesting most of the ship, many of these Cybermen were destroyed by the Doctor, though it is likely that many more survived.
Other Potential Cyber-Origins
These are not the only potential origin stories for the Cybermen. We know that they have sprung up on many planets due to parallel evolution, including Telos, Marinus and Planet 14 as well as Mondas and Earth. Over time the many Cyber-races would coalesce into one, known as the Cyberiad, which would fight many centuries-long wars, known collectively as the Cyber-Wars, against Humanity and their allies. These included, among others, the Orion War and the Tiberian Galaxy War.
So, unlike the Daleks, the Cybermen were not created by one specific person, nor indeed do they have one comprehensive backstory. Although the finer details of how the Cybermen as a ‘race’ came to be are hazy in Doctor Who lore, we can assume that many different versions of Cybermen came together and combined technology as a form of adapting, which explains why in the show there are some Cybermen that look very primitive and others that are highly advanced, and also why some seem to possess physiological differences.
The Real-World Origin of the Cybermen
Interestingly, the real-world Cyberman origin story shares several distinct similarities to their fictional origins. The idea for the Cybermen first came about in the 1960s when Dr. Christopher ‘Kit’ Pedler, the unofficial scientific advisor for Doctor Who, became fascinated with the idea of ‘spare part’ surgery that was becoming increasingly more sophisticated in the 1960s.
Dr. Pedler foresaw a time in which all human beings incorporated cybernetic implants and adaptations into their bodies, and this inspired him to create the ‘Cyber-Men’. Working alongside writer Gerry Davis, Dr. Pedler contributed to the writing of The Tenth Planet, the 1966 debut of the Cybermen, and this explains why in that story the Cybermen look a lot more recognisably humanoid than they would in later stories.
Whilst Dr. Pedler’s predictions about the future have (so far) proved to be incorrect, his vision of the future has lost none of its potency. In fact, with the leaps and bounds that medical science has undertaken since the 1960s, we are closer than ever to having real-life Cybermen, though it will be a long time before we have the capability to create them.
However, the essence of Dr. Pedler’s prediction endures to this day – Humankind must always be wary of the potential for excessive cybernetic enhancements, as whilst so far they are used for purely medical purposes, there is always potential for the good nature of these technologies to be corrupted. Human vanity, greed and lust for power mean that the Cybermen will always endure as villains – as a constant reminder of what we, the human race, could so easily become.