Behind the Daleks, the Cybermen are easily Doctor Who's most iconic villains. For over fifty years – ever since their first appearance in the classic Who serial "The Tenth Planet" – the Cybermen have threatened death and assimilation to the Doctor and his many companions. Recently, the metal monsters have gotten the short end of the stick, appearing rarely and often only to serve as punching bags for whatever larger threat the episode writer wants to puff up in the process.
Next year, we may see a reversal of this pattern. It looks, as previously reported, that noted genre author Neil Gaiman has scribed an upcoming episode of Doctor Who that will (hopefully) restore the Cybermen to their classic, creepy glory.
In a post featured on their Doctor Who blog, BBC announced that Neil Gaiman has penned an episode that will feature a new appearance by the Cybermen. This is the second script by Gaiman, who wrote the season 6 installment "The Doctor's Wife" – an episode that netted Gaiman the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. The episode will be directed by Stephen Woolfenden, who makes his Doctor Who debut after a career as second-unit director on many feature films, including the last four installments of the Harry Potter series. The episode will also sport guest appearances by Warwick Davis (Harry Potter, Willow), Tamzin Outhwaite (EastEnders), and Jason Watkins (Being Human).
Since Russell T. Davies revived Doctor Who from its decade-long dormancy in 2005, Cyberman-centric episodes have been something of a mixed bag. They've ranged from the flawed-but-decent "The Age of Steel" to the eye-rolling filler of "Closing Time" (their most recent appearance). As noted earlier in this article, the writers of the past six seasons have had the habit of treating the cybernetic creatures as second-tier villains. In several episodes, the Cybermen have either been defeated by ridiculous plot developments or placed in the path of stronger enemies to be steamrolled in a naked attempt to oversell the new danger.
As such, one has to ask whether this new appearance by the robotic hordes will be able to sell them as a credible threat. Fortunately, I have faith that Neil Gaiman can pull this off. The author has created some rather iconic villains of his own during his long career. For example, during his run on the comic book The Sandman (one of the all-time great graphic novel experiences), he introduced readers to nightmare creatures such as The Corinthian – a serial killer with gnashing mouths for eyes. Despite being a novel for young readers, Coraline presented a rather grotesque antagonist in the False Mother/Beldam. And more germane to the subject at hand, Gaiman's previous Who outing "The Doctor's Wife" brought us House, an unsettling extra-universal horror whose sadism matched its immense power.
All this is to say that if anyone can take the time and care to craft an effective new interpretation of the Cybermen, there are few writers as qualified to do so as Neil Gaiman. It will be very interesting indeed to see how he goes about it.
Doctor Who will travel back to television on December 25, 2012 for its annual Christmas episode and appear again in Spring of 2013 for the remaining eight episodes of season 7.