As readers will have worked out by logical deduction (very fitting for this particular foe) there can only be one candidate for top villain in my countdown – the villainous silver menaces from Mondas. Immediately of course we step into a wave of controversy. Unlike the Daleks who (bar the horrific but mercifully short-lived ‘new-paradigm’) have largely remained the same, the Cybermen have constantly evolved during their time on the show – in truth partly due to the fact that it’s significantly easier to create more modern designs with modern modern materials! The consequence however is that fans tend to only like ‘their’ Cybermen – whether the incarnation they first encountered, or the incarnation they most like.
So let’s start with the abstract rather than the specific. The Cybermen are genuinely frightening – unlike the Daleks, who are a little pantomime with their battle cries and pedantic in their reasoning, the Cybermen are usually portrayed as coldly logical – Daleks are motivated by hate, where Cybermen are motivated by reason, devoid of any kind of emotion. They frighten us because it is so shockingly unhuman, and yet so eerily akin to what humans become when they suppress any kind of emotion or moral conscience. As humanity progresses even further in technical skill, it is not difficult to imagine humanity choosing to upgrade itself – Rise of the Cybermen was scarily accurate in that regard.
The pity is, that they ought to be unstoppable – in actual fact, I greatly enjoyed Nightmare in Silver because it returned that sense of ominous doom to Cybermen. In a weird way, we do not feel afraid of an utter madman, however powerful, because being unhinged there is the possibility they might do something foolish. The coldly rational Cybermen do everything with a reason, and will not do something without a reason – which will include killing you if there is no need to keep you alive.
The last reason is personal to myself, but I would be curious to see if it is true for anybody else. None of the other villains in Doctor Who give me nightmares – and that includes some pretty bad-ass dudes like Sutekh the Destroyer. One of my occasional recurring nightmares is to be caught in Tomb of the Cybermen – not necessarily in the ice tombs of Telos, but certainly in an enclosed environment, with no means of escape, and the Cybermen slowly but purposefully coming after those trapped inside. Is my preference for this enemy coloured by my appreciation of that serial? Perhaps, but I was equally thrilled by The Tenth Planet, and The Moonbase, and The Invasion. Even the slightly unhinged Cybermen from Revenge of the Cybermen onwards still evoke a strong sense of dread. Properly used, there is no recurring enemy to beat them.