Released in January 2009 to coincide with the buzz that followed 2008’s The Next Doctor Christmas special, the Ages of Steel line (which seems to be an internal designation since it doesn’t seem to appear anywhere on the actual packaging) is an interesting experiment in blurring the lines between the classic and modern Doctor Who series. With completely unique packaging to match, Ages of Steel is a mini-series of action figures of Cybermen down through the ages. It’s also a thing of beauty.
Speaking as a relatively-old-school collector who began snatching up Doctor Who toys back when Dapol had the action figure license and new episodes featuring Sylvester McCoy were still on the air, I’d be lying if I said I ever thought the day would come when I’d have an action figure of a Cyberman from The Tenth Planet sitting on my shelf. And yet, there it is, and looking incredible, I might add, alongside the various revamped Cybermen from, respectively, Tomb Of The Cybermen and The Invasion, the latter of which introduced the “earmuff” design to the Cyber-headgear that remained a constant in the Cybermen designs for the remainder of the classic series.
Very conspicuous by its absence, however, is the ’80s Cyberman design, introduced in Earthshock and later seen in The Five Doctors, Attack Of The Cybermen and Silver Nemesis. I can’t think of any feature of the ’80s Cyberman that would’ve made it especially difficult to do as an action figure (in fact, if Character Options needs the gauntlet thrown down, the ’80s version is the one Cyberman that Dapol did manage to release – please, gentlemen, feel absolutely free to top that!). Hopefully an ’80s Cyberman is forthcoming, either as an individual release (something I’m beginning to suspect we’ve seen the last of for the classic series figures) or as part of a Davison, Colin Baker or McCoy-era box set (I’d be very happy with this outcome, especially if it got us Ace or Adric in action figure form – and yes, you did just hear me say that I’d buy an Adric action figure).
The fourth figure in the four-figure wave is the Cyber Leader from the 2008 Christmas special, The Next Doctor. This is simply a repaint of the Rise Of The Cybermen Cyber Controller, recalling the “black jug handle” rank insignia of Cyber Leaders past; that in itself would’ve been distinctive enough, except that the em>Next Doctor Cyber Leader inexplicably sports a transparent brain panel, a la the second season’s Cyber Controller, when it seemed as though that was a feature reserved for the Cyber Controller.
The Cyber Controller being the only Cyberman with a visible brain is further backed up by the design of Tomb Of The Cybermen‘s Cyber Controller, with a semi-transparent helmet that revealed a vague, unsettling hint of veins and something organic inside. If you don’t believe me, you don’t have to watch the episode; each of the four Ages Of Steel Cybermen comes with one or more pieces needed to build a Tomb Cyber Controller figure. This retro Cyber Controller is to scale with the other Cybermen and, aside from the lack of a “metallic” finish on its head/helmet, fits nicely alongside the rest of the figures. More and more toy lines are trying to force collectors’ hands with collect-and-build items, and to be honest, this Cyber Controller and the classic Doctor Who range’s K-1 Robot are the only two collect-and-build items I’ve truly felt compelled to complete.
While the 2008 Cyber Leader’s detailing is impressive – since it uses the CAD-sculpted design of the previous new series Cybermen – the retro Cybermen are even more impressive in their detailing, from the “speaker grilles” of the Tomb Cybermen to the near-perfect reproduction of the transparent portions of the classic Cyber headgear to the vacuum-hose-and-ping-pong-ball “joints” of the budget-challenged classic series. The Tenth Planet Cyberman sports an incredible paint job that suggests multiple layers of translucent material, and an incredibly detailed chest ventilator/weapon unit. That figure is also the most surprising in its color scheme, with almost flesh-colored hands and hints of fleshtones in the Cyberman’s mummified head. Character Options and sculptors Designworks Windsor researched the classic Cybermen with meticulous detail, not only from existing photos but from interviewing surviving behind-the-scenes personnel who worked on those TV episodes. In short: in full color, that’s what the Cybermen from The Tenth Planet looked like.
Letting the side down slightly is the Invasion Cyberman – which happens to be one of the better incarnations of the Cybermen. It’s almost perfect, but somewhere along the way, as a concession to molds for mass-production, the jug-handle “ears” took on a shape that doesn’t reflect the original design, introducing a slight angle that makes the top of the “handle” stick out further than the bottom. Other than that one minor flaw, the Invasion Cyberman is near-perfect, replicating almost too well the cheap “diving suit with silver spray paint” look of the original. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Ages of Steel range is a marvelous idea, and one gets the impression that maybe these were planned for a box set before the collect-and-build idea was introduced. Still, since that idea effectively gives you a fifth figure (of an important but relatively obscure character, no less), I’m very happy with this line – perhaps it’ll point the way for future self-contained, multi-era mini-collections. I certainly wouldn’t kick anyone out of bed for doing a selection of old and new series UNIT officers, for example. Silurians and Sea Devils would be another good candidate for this treatment, or, dare I say it, the faces of the Master?