Steven King has returned to Popgun Chaos with a great Whovian article! Let’s keep the debate going in the comment section!
The Daleks first appeared in Doctor Who in 1963, and they were undeniably a success. The Daleks are the most popular monsters on Doctor Who. They are the Wolverine of Doctor Who: include the Daleks and your ratings go up; your sales go up. For years afterward, writers and producers tried to come up with another successful monster, one that didn’t require the expensive licensing agreements from Terry Nation, the Daleks’ real-world creator. The Mechanoids, the War Machines, all failed to live up to the glory of the Daleks. But one monster succeeded where all others failed: the Cybermen!
Debuting in 1966, the Cybermen were popular and they constantly locked proverbial horns (or handles) with the Second Doctor. They continue to bring chills to children around the world. And they are far superior to the Daleks.
So here I present the evidence. While the Cybermen have had their share of crap episodes (many of which were in the 80s), they still prove to be the better monster conceptually.
1. The Cybermen are inherently more visibly frightening than the Daleks.
Robotics professor Masahiro Mori coined the term “uncanny valley.” This valley refers to the level of comfort humans have for things that appear human but are not. Essentially, at what point does something with a human appearance stop being cool and start freaking us out? Zombies look human but freak us out, thus putting them in the uncanny valley of strong human likeness and strong discomfort for the observer.
The Daleks look nothing like humans. They are pepper pots. They look like they store condiments, at least until they decide you are not useful to them and they blast you. The Cybermen look, by varying degrees, more human. The current crop of Cybermen from “Nightmare in Silver” still look quite robotic, but the Cyberleader inhabiting the Doctor’s body was chilling. He looked like someone familiar but behaved against type. Similarly, the Cybermen in their 1964 debut, “The Tenth Planet,” were some of the most humanoid versions ever created. The design was wetsuit with tech, but the faces were blank and emotionless holes. When they spoke, they opened their mouths and words just came out. Their mouths didn’t move in time with the words, they just stayed open until the words ceased, then the mouths closed. The voices were erratic, slowing down and speeding up. The portrayal was completely unnerving. The design of the Cybermen always has to be conversant with the essential human form, which makes them more frightening when applying the uncanny valley lens. The Daleks are not humanoid, and even when they tried it out in “Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks,” they decided it was too far away from their genetically pure roots. They rejected evolution. The Cybermen embrace it.
2. The Cybermen are upgradable.
In 2010 the Daleks were redesigned for the Eleventh Doctor story “Victory of the Daleks.” From fan reaction you would think Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss had kicked a puppy. The redesign changed the Daleks from tarnished copper to bright red, white, yellow, and orange. The Daleks had always had some variation in color to denote function and rank, so this wasn’t a huge deal, but the basic shape of the Daleks was altered away from the largely unchanged design of Ray Cusick in the 1960s to a more hump-back design. Again, foot meets puppy.
The Cybermen, on the other hand, have changed numerous times since their debut. Sometimes they have handles on their heads, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they resemble men wearing wetsuits with tech stuck on. Sometimes they resemble men in silver tunics and trousers and moon boots. Sometimes they eliminate all the trappings of clothing and go straight for a robot aesthetic. And it isn’t just clothes that change; the Cyber-voice has shifted from an erratic cadence to a modified voice box effect to a deep, booming voice that shouts “Excellent!”