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By Thomas Wheeler

Before the Borg. Before the Cylons. There were -- the Cybermen.

And now, unless you're fairly well-informed about British science-fiction, you're probably asking yourself, "Who?" And that in itself is almost a pun, because the Cybermen are one of the arch-enemies of -- Doctor Who.

The Cybermen are, arguably, one of two main adversarial groups that have battled the Doctor on any number of occasions. The other group would be the Daleks, robots that look like overgrown salt-shakers with laser rifle barrels on top of their domes.

The Cybermen would be the other group, and they've been pestering the Doctor for something over 40 years.

And now, I suspect some of you may be asking -- "Who's the Doctor?" And that's a fair question. "Doctor Who" is one of the longest-running science-fiction concepts in the known universe. It started decades ago on the BBC, and except for a fairly lengthy break up until a couple of years ago, enjoyed an almost unbroken run in England, with a fair import of episodes over to the United States during that time.

One of the things that has allowed the series to get away with its longevity is the main character's capability for "regenerating" into a new form -- in other words, hiring a new actor when the previous one gets tired of it all. Technically, the title of the show, "Doctor Who", is a bit of a play on words, since the character is never actually addressed as "Doctor Who" in the series. He's simply known as "The Doctor". I once saw his real name spelled out. It looked a bit like Einstein's Theory of Relativity written sideways and using letters from several foreign alphabets. I'd try to spell it out here, but I have neither the reference nor the fonts for it, and if I tried to pronounce it, I'd probably sprain my tongue.

The Doctor is a traveler in time and space, sort of making Earth his home, but really bouncing all over the galaxy. Most of the actors who have played The Doctor over the years have given the character a rather casual attitude, which works surprisingly well. He cares very much about what's going on around him, but there's a limit to how far he'll take it seriously. He's certain there's a solution to any given crisis, so there's really no great need to worry or panic about it.

The Doctor's mode of transportation is called the TARDIS, which is technically supposed to alter its appearance to match its environment, wherever in time or space that might be. However, due to a minor glitch in its system, it is forever stuck in the mose of an old-style Police Public Call Box, about the size of the average telephone booth -- at least on the outside. Due to the considerable (and admittedly peculiar) technology available to the Doctor, the interior of the TARDIS is easily the size of a large apartment. For the record, TARDIS stands for "Time And Relative Dimension(s) In Space".

The show's production values have tended to range from the cheesy to, in its most recent incarnation, which currently airs on the SciFi Channel in the States, pretty darned impressive. And on the whole, Doctor Who has been a truly delightful and remarkable show that has entertained science-fiction fans on quite a few continents for decades.

There have, over the years, been Doctor Who toys. I myself am the proud owner of a Mego-styled Doctor figure based on arguably the best known Doctor, Tom Baker, which I acquired on a trip to England in 1992 that happened to coincide with a sci-fi/toy/comics convention while I was there.

But I wasn't aware that there was a modern toy line -- at least not until a friend of mine in England sent me some items. Included in the package was a whoppingly large Cyberman action figure, designated "Cyber Controller".

This required me to do some research on the history of the Cybermen, which led me to a decently informative article, which I have excerpted here.

The Cybermen are a race of cyborgs who are amongst the most persistent enemies of the Doctor in the British science fiction television series, Doctor Who. Cybermen were originally a wholly organic species of humanoids originating on Earth's twin planet Mondas that began to implant more and more artificial parts into their bodies. This led to the race becoming coldly logical and calculating, with emotions usually only shown when aggression was called for.

They were created by Dr. Kit Pedler (the unofficial scientific advisor to the program) and Gerry Davis in 1966, first appearing in the serial, The Tenth Planet, the last to feature William Hartnell as the First Doctor. They have since made numerous reappearances in their extreme attempts to survive through conquest.

A parallel universe version of the Cybermen appeared in the 2006 series' two-part story, "Rise of the Cybermen" and "The Age of Steel". These Cybermen also appeared in the two-part 2006 season finale, "Army of Ghosts" and "Doomsday".

While the Doctor's other old enemies, the Daleks, were on the whole unchanged during the original series' twenty-six season run, the Cybermen were seen to change with almost every encounter. The Cybermen are humanoid, but have been cybernetically augmented to the point where they have few remaining organic parts. In their first appearance in the series, the only portions of their bodies that still seemed human were their hands, but by their next appearance in "The Moonbase" (1967), their bodies were entirely covered up in their metallic suits. As they are relatively few in number, the Cybermen tend towards covert activity, scheming from hiding and using human pawns or robots to act in their place until they need to appear. They also seek to increase their numbers by converting others into Cybermen, a process known as "cyber-conversion".

It is presumed (and often implied) that beneath their suits still exist organic components and that they are not true robots: in "The Tenth Planet", a Cyberman tells a group of humans that "our brains are just like yours", although by the time of "Attack of the Cybermen" this seemed to have been replaced with electronics. In "Earthshock" (1982), the actors' chins were vaguely visible through a clear perspex area on the helmet to suggest some kind of organic matter. In "The Tomb of the Cybermen" (1967), veins were visible through the domed head of the Cyberman Controller and similarly, in "Attack of the Cybermen" (1985) and "The Age of Steel", the Cyber-Controller's brain is visible through the dome. However, in "Revenge of the Cybermen" (1975), the Doctor says they are "total machine creatures".

Although the Cybermen often claim that they have done away with human emotion, they have exhibited emotions ranging from anger to smug satisfaction in their confrontations with the Doctor (although this is only clearly present during their appearances in the 1980s). Some Cybermen in the early stories were even given individual names such as "Krang". Some parallel Earth Cybermen did retain some memories of their pre-conversion lives, although their emotional response varied.

Cybermen have a number of major weaknesses, of which the most notable is the element gold. Initially, it was explained that, due to its non-corrodible nature, gold essentially chokes their respiratory systems. For example, the glittergun, a weapon used during the Cyber-Wars in the future, fired gold dust at its targets. However, in later serials, gold appeared to affect them rather like silver affects werewolves, with gold coins or gold-tipped bullets fired at them having the same effect. Cybermen are also rather efficiently killed when shot with their own guns. Other weaknesses from early stories include solvents, gravity based technology, and excessive levels of radiation.

Their weakness to gold has not been mentioned during the 2006 series, although the Cybus Industries tie-in site makes reference to earlier prototypes having an "allergy" to gold, stating that this was eliminated after further improvements of the Cyberman body. In "The Age of Steel", however, an EMP grenade is shown to disable a Cyberman and shut down its emotional inhibitor. It should be noted that their aversion to gold was not mentioned until their attempt to destroy the planetoid Voga (the so-called "Planet of Gold") in "Revenge of the Cybermen" (1975). Since their design changed repeatedly between appearances, perhaps only certain groups of Cybermen were affected, though this is conjecture.

And here we come to one of the particulars of the figure that was sent to me, since he is specifically listed on his box as the "CYBER CONTROLLER". So let's see what the an online article has to say about him:

Some Cybermen are given titles, being credited as "Cyber Leader" (or variants thereof), "Cyber Lieutenant", "Cyber Scout" or the "Cyber Controller". The Cyber Controller in particular has appeared in multiple forms, both humanoid and as an immobile computer, and has also been referred to as the "Cyber Planner" or "Cyber Director", although these may not be the same being. The Controller seen (and destroyed) in various serials also may or may not be the same consciousness in different bodies, as it appears to recognize and remember the Doctor from previous encounters. In "Iceberg", the first Cyber Controller is created by implanting a Cyber Director into the skull of a recently converted Cyberman.

The Cyber-Controller in "The Age of Steel" used the brain of John Lumic, the creator of the Cybermen in that parallel reality. In "Doomsday", a Cyber-Leader appears, and when he is destroyed, mention is made of downloading his data files into another Cyberman unit, which is then upgraded to Cyber-Leader.

So, let's consider the figure. It's produced by a company basedin England called Character Options Ltd. I really don't know all that much about them, but I can certainly say that they make an impressive product. This is no small-scale action figure -- it's a 12" scale Cyberman, and he is superbly well-crafted.

The box, essentially a large window box, is colorful and nicely done. The basic outline of the Cybermen on the back reads as follows: THE CYBERMEN: Tall, gleaming, metal giants, the Cybermen were once human like us but have received the ultimate upgrade. Their human brains are welded into their cybernetic bodies which have been adapted so that the Cybermen are utterly devoid of emotion. The number one priority for the Cyber race is to conquer all adversaries and convert them to create yet more Cybermen. All opposition which cannot be upgrades is designated for deletion.

This latest incarnation of Cybermen manages to bear enough of a resemblance to previous versions, and yet still have a decided modern and up to date look to him. The head has a sort of angular face, with large round eyes. Part of the human brain can be seen in a clear dome in the very front of the helmet. There is a narrow, ridged slit for a mouth. Two small sets of pipes, characteristic of most versions of the Cybermen, run from where the ears would be to the top of the head.

The figure overall is well-armored, with a metallic silver armor with a limited amount of dark highlighting in certain areas that is so expertly applied I honestly wasn't even sure it was there or if it was a trick of the light. Although I generally dislike any sort of "weathering", this is a superb example of it being used at a truly masterful level to enhance the molded detailing, rather than to gunk it up as is too often the case. On this Cyberman figure, it works astoundingly well. The armor itself has a truly superb metallic silver finish. It's not chrome, but it's an overall amazingly smooth metallic finish that is honestly more impressive than I usually see in a lot of action figures.

The box advertised 14 points of articulation, but looking at the figure in package, I honestly couldn't see many. This concerned me until I got the figure out of the box and realized just how much work had gone into producing this figure. The figure is actually wearing a cloth bodysuit underneath the armor! This tight-fitting suit has been made out of a stretchable dark silver fabric, and has had vertical stripes imprinted on it somehow that make the fabric appear more solid. It's really an amazingly intricate patternm even though the places where the fabric suit shows through are relatively limited.

The body armor has been places over this fabric undersuit and is not removable. The armor pieces are all solid, but do not in any way hinder the articulation of the figure. This Cyber Controller Cyberman is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. Range of motion is a little restricted, and might not entirely be what some action figure fans expect. There are no real "swivels" here, except in the wrists and ankles, which ONLY swivel. Still, for a figure of this size, wearing this much armor, he's still VERY poseable, and the aspect of the figure wearing a cloth undersuit over which the armor is attached is very impressive from a design standpoint. A lot of work went into this figure.

The only other parts of the figure that "move" are the six little -- whatever they are -- on his chestplate. I'm not entirely sure if they were designed to be moveable, or if that's just a result of the fact that they were snapped into place during assembly.

On the whole, the Cyber Controller Cyberman figure seems very well made and quite sturdy. And he looks extremely cool, too. This figure is really very well-made and well-done. I can think of several large American toymakers that could take some quality lessons from this Character Options company.

This figure is obviously not available in the United States, and I'll be honest, I have no real idea of how extensive the line of figures is or, short of having a generous friend in England, how any of them might be acquired outside of their native land. I suppose it's possible that there may be an online store here or there that carries them, but unless you're reading this review in England, I can pretty well assure you that you're not going to drop down to Toys "R" Us or Wal-Mart and find them.

That having been said, if you ARE a major fan of Doctor Who, and he certainly has no shortage of followers in the United States, and also if you happen to be a collector of cool and impressive action figures, then I would make it a point to try to track down this 12" (30 cm) Cyberman figure!

The DOCTOR WHO 12" CYBER CONTROLLER definitely gets my enthusiastic recommendation, with sincere thanks to my friend in England for sending him to me!