One of the criticisms often made about the original Doctor Who series is that the costumes and special effects were frequently a bit ropey. Defenders of the “classic” show tend to point out that at the time Doctor Who had a budget of around 5p and that the “science” of special effects wasn’t just in its infancy, it was still wearing nappies. Most of the time the SFX crew had to invent things from scratch.
It is quite easy to criticise some of the effects, props and monsters on the old show. By today’s standards they do often look rather rough. But really the only sensible way to judge such things is in the context of what else was on TV at the same time, not by comparing them to last week’s CGI animated, mega-budget episode made with the best high-spec computers available today. In the context of what was on TV 30 or 40 years ago, Doctor Who special effects and monsters at the time were just as “cutting edge” then as they are now. Probably by 2050 today’s shows and monsters are going to look remarkably basic.
But perhaps some monsters more than others…
In “The Next Doctor” Cyberfans had the treat of encountering a new Cyber-Creature – the Cybershade.
The basic premise for the Cybershade was good enough as far is it went :
Sometime during the 19th century, prior to 1851, the Cybermen of a Parallel Earth broke out of the Void. Needing a larger work force, they created the Cybershades as guards and scouts. At least 16 Cybershades were created.
The basic idea behind the Cybershades was pretty reasonable. The Cybermen, stranded on Earth with limited resources and in an era with technology less advanced than that which they are used to set about using available materials to manufacture a Cyber slave-race. Using animals has a precedent – the Cybermats – so the basic idea of the Cybershades was pretty much in keeping with established Cyberman behaviour.
The design of the Cybershade helmet was really rather good – I have no complaints on that. The rest of the costume was however just a little too cheap and basic and rather spoiled the overall effect.
Here is the background to the Cybershade design :
How I designed the Cybershade
10 December, 2008
To design the Cybershade – a type of Cyberman made from 19th-century materials
Doctor Who has a habit of throwing up delicious design briefs.
The script for this year’s Christmas special called for the return of the Cybermen, one of the programme’s longest running and most popular villains.
The Cybermen made their return in series two of the new run and had gone through a major design overhaul by me, my team at Millennium FX and the design team of Doctor Who led by Ed Thomas.
Our Art Deco-inspired “full metal jacket” Cybermen had proved a great hit with old and new fans alike so it was only natural they should make a return after a couple of years floating in the void.
But with Doctor Who there’s always a twist and this time the Cybermen have landed in Victorian London and have tried to swell their numbers by building new Cybermen using only the technology and materials available in the mid 19th century.
So this was the design brief for the Cybershade, as these new characters would become known. Budget is always a concern with this series and my initial stab involved simply taking the existing Cyberman design and producing it in a copper finish with rivets.
Although the result looked terrific and would have been enormously cost effective, it was deemed the wrong approach by executive producer Russell T Davies, and when he has an opinion he’s usually right.
He can strip a story or design idea down to its basics and expose the core. Added to this, he can also draw very well (damn him!). This combination comes in very handy when you’re in a terrible rush. He is very respectful of the individuals around him and would happily allow me to explore the ideas for the Cybershade until we came up with something that satisfied us both.
In this case I was right up against a deadline and also had a small army of Cyberman costumes to refurbish, so I went back to Russell and said: “Please, do me a drawing.”
His style is very cartoony and depicted a crude version of a Cyberman, all angular and blocky, with its trademark handlebars set at a jaunty angle and shrouded in flowing black robes.
After a little help from Russell, it was a collaboration between myself – manufacturing a simple fibreglass mask that could be clamped to the heads of the performers – and costume designer Louise Paige, who produced voluminous flowing robes still light enough to not restrict movement, that brought the physical Cybershade costumes to life.
– Well, did RTD have the right idea?
In my opinion, no, he really didn’t. A weathered bronze, brass and copper version of the Cybus design perhaps with more human showing here and there and a few glued on cogs and rivets would have looked, to quote the 10th Doctor, “brilliant”. The Victorian setting for “The Next Doctor” offered the perfect opportunity for “Steampunk” style Cybermen of the kind much admired in fan art.
Not only that, basically respraying the existing Cyber-costumes and adding a few twiddly bits would have been, as was said in the interview above, remarkably cost effective. Instead the chosen option was to go with a good new Cyber-helmet, but a really rubbish body.
While the Cybershade helmet was great, the overall effect was a remodelling of a cyborg gorilla like the one from the Sci-fi B Movie “Robot Monster”
This film famously kept its budget low by using a gorilla costume topped with a diving helmet…
It is quite bizarre to think that modern Dr Who copied the same basic idea for the Cybershades…
– Perhaps just a touch of influence on the Pandorica Cyber-head too?
While the effect on screen was probably good enough, it could so easily (and cheaply) have been so much better…