Throwback – Even a Cyberman Can Cry

There is an article on wikiHow called “How to Be Emotionless”. The article describes that, while emotions play an important role in our lives, sometimes our emotions control us and seriously affect our ability to perform. “When you need to be at your best,” it states, “you need a variety of tools to keep your emotions from controlling you.” The article goes on to list a variety of techniques that could help in those moments such as creating new mind maps to rewire your brain, not anticipating the future and practising meditation. It is telling that the article goes to some length to explain how positive emotions can be beneficial and that you shouldn’t banish them all. Because that sounds tempting, doesn’t it? If you are constantly overwhelmed by emotions and you feel that in an increasingly competitive world, they hold you back from succeeding, why wouldn’t you want to remove them completely?

This is the tragedy of the people of Mondas, the race we are more familiar with as the monsters they became, the Cybermen.

The Cybermen born on Mondas evolved to be completely free of emotions, unlike their parallel universe counterparts that we met in 2006’s Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel. These Cybermen, created on Earth by Cybus Industries, were fitted with an “emotional inhibitor” that would protect each Cyberman from the overwhelming emotions of losing its humanity. Indeed the denouement of that story centres on that happening on a monumental scale. Would a similar thing happen to the Cybermen of Mondas if they started to feel emotions? Can we imagine some Cybermen experiencing emotions that they believed they had evolved from? What would happen to these Cybermen that are effectively evolutionary throwbacks?

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Way back in 1979 such a question was explored in the back pages of Marvel’s new publication, Doctor Who Weekly, in what’s essentially a spin-off from the magazine’s main comic strip. In issue 5, a story debuted written by Steve Moore and drawn by Steve Dillon, Throwback: The Soul of a Cyberman.

With the main strip naturally telling stories about the Doctor, the second originated story (the Weekly also featured US reprint material) would focus on the wider Doctor Who universe, mainly on the Doctor’s enemies. What could have been simple stories involving protagonists fighting a random Doctor Who monster, was, under the guidance of Steve Moore, often something a little different. Throwback was the second story Moore wrote.

The tale opens up on the planet Mondaran where we see a ragtag group of humans resisting an invasion of Cybermen (the planet is rich in an ore the Cybermen want). So far, so typical: the story looks like we’ll be following the resistance as they overcome the invaders. Then we cut to the home planet of the Cybermen, where we meet the Junior Cyberleader Kroton. Kroton is wistfully surveying the planet he is about to leave, a fellow Cybermen is puzzled by this display of emotion, “You act strangely, Kroton. Do you have a malfunction?”.

Kroton reassures his comrade he is fine and off they go to Mondaran, any emotions Kroton may be feeling swiftly forgotten. During the journey, he and his fellow Cybermen are switched off. Say what you like, whatever he may be feeling, Kroton is still a machine that can be turned off at the flick of a switch.

Once they arrive on Mondaran, Kroton is kept busy keeping the resistance down. He has little time to think about the strange thoughts he was having back home. But when one of the resistance leaders, Willoway, refuses to reveal the names of his fellow conspirators Kroton is puzzled. Logic dictates that the survival instinct should make the human reveal all, but it didn’t happen. What is this ‘honour’ that made him behave illogically? Whereas other Cybermen see this as a weakness, Kroton is fascinated. It reminds him of feelings he has had when he was leaving for Mondaran. The sadness at saying goodbye to his home. He wonders if by understanding these emotions he will understand the humans better and maybe stop them from attacking him and his fellow Cybermen.

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Kroton vows to understand the humans more. When he finds a resistance group, rather than gunning them down, he tries to talk to them. Fearing a trick, the humans flee. This puzzles the Cyberman, he expected them to act logically and talk. He does not understand and wonders if maybe “fear has a stronger logic.”

What makes this story fascinating is watching Kroton learn about emotions. After pondering the strength and honour exhibited by Willoway during the interrogation and the fear displayed by the other freedom fighters he meets Zarach, a human who is more than happy to inform on the resistance. Portrayed as a typical sleazy businessman, Zarach is more than happy to reveal where the next attacks will be, for the right payment of course. Kroton is puzzled why he should do this. Why does he not feel like the others? “I’m like you…” comes the reply, “No feelings at all!”

Zarach explains how he wants just two things, safety and riches. The only way he feels he can get these is by removing emotions from his decision making. If he can survive by betraying his fellow humans then so be it. Sadly, this is a trait that some humans have displayed throughout history and why the traitor is such a common archetype.

But what of Kroton? His growing understanding of emotions, his burgeoning emotional intelligence is causing him distress and puzzlement. His programming is just not equipped to deal with this. He realises, after helping the humans find a place of safety on the planet that he is very much an outsider. Too much a machine to live amongst the humans, and with his growing understanding of emotions too human to remain with the Cybermen. So he flies off into space, to float until his batteries drain.

Despite being described as a throwback to a time when Cybermen were still human, Kroton can be seen as something else: an evolution of the Cybermen. A Cyberman that has grown to understand what it truly is to be human, by appreciating emotions for what they are and not as things that should be suppressed or eradicated so we can be rich, safe and successful.

This article is dedicated to the late, great Steve Dillon – a true master of art, and greatly missed. His work continues to inspire and entertain.