This week’s announcement that the original Cybermen will return in the new series of Doctor Who is great for fans but does nothing for a general audience. The plethora of television channels, dwindling attention spans and streaming of favourites make it harder than ever for established shows to attract new viewers.
Between 1966 and 1988 the Cybermen appeared in ten stories. Since the show returned in 2005 they have featured as the main adversary in six stories. The frequency of their return, along with other monsters and supporting characters, indicates an over-reliance on a brilliant and varied history. This has not affected production standards with Series 9 receiving critical acclaim. However, despite the changing nature of television viewing and the fact that it says nothing about quality, the archaic ratings system is still used to judge success. Only one episode, the Christmas special, had over 5 million overnight viewers. The last season with every story below that figure was Season 26 in 1989, the final run before cancellation.
One of the reasons for Doctor Who’s longevity is its ability to define each era with new and memorable adversaries. From the Daleks in 1963 to the Weeping Angels in 2007 the monsters discussed in the playground have driven a popular appeal. The people who want old monsters to return will probably watch anyway. What Doctor Who needs now is a new monster to terrify and inspire the next generation of fans.