“Imagine…an advanced race in a distant planetary system sometime in the remote future. Imagine…that they are dedicated to chronicling the activities of all known civilisations throughout the galaxy. Imagine…that all they know of the Cybermen is restricted to ten Earth documents that have somehow come their way. What you are about to hear is the work of ArcHiveist Hegalia. What you are about to hear has been accessed from the files of the Cyber Hive one of a vast Arc of Hives drifting in space. These ArcHives are intended by the unnamed race to increase knowledge and understanding of the galaxy and of what they term ‘absolute necessity.’”
Thus begins The Archive Tapes: Cybermen by David Banks (or sometimes ArcHive Tapes depending on which version you own.) The Archive Tapes are a curious piece of Doctor Who media. Unlike most audio or book releases they aren’t adventures of any particular Doctor but a in-universe hypothetical history of the Cybermen the second most prolific antagonists in the show’s history. As such the audiobook is laid out like an actual academic history discussing the Cyber Race from numerous potential angles.
The audiobook is based on a section of a Doctor Who reference book from 1988 (and then updated in 1990)simply titled Doctor Who: Cybermen which was written by a man named David Banks. David Banks played the Cyber Leader in all Doctor Who stories broadcast in the 1980s which involved the silver giants. During that time he became fascinated by them and their sporadic and somewhat undefined history. This was because almost every time the Cybermen appeared in the show their appearance changed. Either in major ways such as a complete redesign of the entire body or minor changes such as their facial areas becoming more silver and their vestigial mouths and throats no longer being visible.
As a result of this Banks developed his own personal history (or as it is sometimes known headcanon) for the creatures and had it published alongside a wide array of facts and information and theories. The ArcHive sections of the book were then released in a series of four cassette tapes in 1989 and 1990 narrated by Banks himself in character as ArcHiveist Hegalia and the various other voices. Eventually this release was out of print for quite a number of years until the 50th anniversary year in 2013 when David Banks teamed up with the artist of the original reference book Andrew Skilleter– who has quite the history with Doctor Who art – to release a somewhat altered and updated edition on CD and digital download. Said CD release also includes a bonus interview with Banks and Skilleter and a large poster pullout style thing depicting Banks’s Cyber history in a timeline.
This updated version is the one I happen to have and I enjoy it immensely. Banks has thought this through to a slightly terrifying degree of detail ranging from the cosmological origins of their home planet Mondas, the reasoning for their complete loss of any sense of defined gender to semi-scientific names for the various different Cyber groups (such as Cyber Faction, Cyber Telosian and Cyber NeoMorph) along with referencing and quoting in-universe fictional theories by other ArcHiveists– somewhat similar to Eaters Of The Dead – as well as the actual Doctor Who stories which form the Cyber history.
Due to the time in which the hypothetical history was first written the ArcHive Tapes only discusses Doctor Who stories from the classic era (1963-1989) and does not reference or include any stories from modern televised Doctor Who, the various audio releases staring the Cybermen or even – somewhat surprisingly – the 1993 Doctor Who novel written by Banks and directly stated by Banks in its preface to be ‘in canon’ with the Cybermen reference book which I personally find somewhat of a lost opportunity. Imagine a version of the ArcHive which references the events of Spare Parts, the various conflicts of the Orion War or the alternate universe Cybermen encountered by David Tennant? (But I’m just rambling by this point!)
The audiobook is a fascinating listen for Doctor Who fans of all stripes. For classic fans this was THE tome which was considered semiofficial for a good number of years to the point that the images included in the original reference book were an inspiration for several of the Cybermen designs in modern Who. For fans like myself who are into history, the idea of a ‘scientific’ history of the Cybermen is fascinating and frankly addictive and for modern fans it makes an interesting study of the emotionless giants and it is fun to see where some of the ideas used by modern Who originally came from. I have honestly listened to this so many times I’ve lost count.
Banks makes a very good narrator with the ability to draw you into his theory. His voice is surprisingly relaxing and soothing and as such the audiobook proves rather intriguing listening. However despite my praise for the audiobook I do have one major issue.
Throughout the release there are much sound effects and atmospheric music of sorts which ordinarily would not be a problem for me. Especially as I’m quite the fan of this release. However as you listen there is much ‘Cybermanisation’ of voices which can be distracting at points and make some parts hard to hear such as the opening monologue set up I quoted at the beginning of the article and various other places. All these sections are decipherable but they can be off putting or somewhat irritating. Also another much more minor issue is that as this release was originally a set of four different tapes the ArcHive can seem to stop and start at points especially if you listen to the entire thing over the course of a day as I did for this review.
I repeat that I am a major fan of this audio release and everything negative I’ve mentioned is from the perspective of a first time listener. These few issues I do have listed don’t bother me personally but I can see why they would potentially irritate others. I find Banks’s hypothetical history and his narration an utter joy to the point I know I can’t be objective here.The Cyber Race was always more interesting to me than the Daleks anyway! I just hope I can persuade a few of my readers to make a trip into the Cyber Hive to hear Hegalia’s theories. Who knows? It just may be that the ArcHive may return some day. There is much more to be learned about the Mondasians and their descendants after all.
On a distantly related note: A somewhat similar release was attempted by the BBC themselves in 2006 for the Daleks under the name The Dalek Conquests for the curious.
“We have travelled far. From a handful of Cyber documents we have spun a tale which has stretched back to the beginnings of existence. That spans the breadth of galaxies. That penetrates to the heart of humanity and its anthesis the Cybermen. It Is one of many tales that may be drawn from the documents. What I have done is to take up the isolated fragments of Cyber knowledge and piece them together in a way that makes sense to me. There are other ways the tale can be told. We must not cease discovering the ways and the end of our exploration will be to arrive at the place where we began: The Cyber documents. But we shall know them better. I take up the fragments and scatter them again. It is your turn to pick up the pieces.”