Since I’ve already discussed changing the way that Cybermen behave I think we should also look at their appearance. Since their introduction in ‘The Tenth Planet’ the Cybermen has changed drastically.
Currently they are completely robotic, each one identical. They are thick set, their armour giving the impression that they would be invulnerable to most weapons. The only indication of their organic background is that Cyber Leaders have a transparent panel to show their brains.
The problem is that these Cybermen are quite slow and lumbering. Even in close quarters their movements are inaccurate, as if they’re struggling to control their own bodies. Visually their appearance doesn’t reinforce their nature.
To make Cybermen scary I suggest removing this uniform conformity. To explain changes in design it would be simple enough to say that the versions we have seen recently are soldiers and that the race is actually quite diverse in design.
The most horrible thing about the Cybermen is the body horror, the idea that these people have mutilated their bodies by plunging machinery into their flesh. They must invoke the same feelings that seeing an amputated stump attached to a plastic limb does. It might have a practical purpose but it is still unsettling to see.
Key to this is that the organic part of the Cyberman should be easy to see. Rather than being completely covered in metal there should be gaps, revealing the skin beneath. The chest units should have pipes that clearly puncture the Cyberman’s neck, their strong metal arms should have pins securing it to scarred shoulders.
I’d like to see a return to the soft fabric covering the face, to suggest bandages wrapped around a disfigured face. Those that do have the familiar Cyberman face plate would indicate that person has particularly extensive implants, rendering their features unrecognisable.
When you see a group of Cybermen you shouldn’t see a unified army but people recovering from horrifying surgery, where all sense of cosmetic beauty has been sacrificed to allow the patient to survive. The very idea of what has been done to them, what organs might be replaced beneath their metal chest plates, should turn the stomach.
Not only would this inspire terror when facing the Cybermen it would also inspire pity. Even if they did it to themselves they have turned themselves into freaks. No matter how powerful they now are the player characters would still view them with sympathy.
The greatest untapped potential in the Cybermen is their capacity for customisation. This is a race that will reshape and redesign the human body to best fit the current situation. They can go anywhere and do anything.
Cybermen assigned to work underwater could be fitted with artificial gills to breathe, their legs removed and replaced with fish like tails or motorised engines. Those working on the exterior of buildings or among mountains might be fitted with claws to allow them to allow them to climb without fear of falling.
They need not be limited to human form either. Imagine the player character’s shooting down a flying metal drone only to find the Cyberman wired in at it’s core, reduced to just a head and torso.
Think of Cybermen turned into gun platforms. With their lower half removed they are fused to a cannon, drugs keeping them conscious as they tirelessly scan their surroundings for a target.
The animal kingdom could also serve as inspiration for the Cybermen. Would attaching spider legs to a Cyberman make it easier for it to move through tunnels or scuttle across desert sand? Is there an advantage to replacing their hands with razor sharp claws and attaching a tail filled with poison like a scorpion?
They could even modify a Cyberman to work more closely with Cybermats. A chest cavity could be transformed into a hive, holding the poisonous creatures until the Cybermen signals them to attack, emerging from his body.
In ‘The Girl In the Fireplace’ the Doctor and his companions are disgusted to find the malfunctioning repair droids have used the crew as spare parts. This is exactly what the Cybermen would do.
Cyber-planners already illustrate that the Cybermen are willing to reduce one of their members down to a single brain to act as an organic computer. Would they use others in a similar manner such as linking digestive system to filter chemicals or optic systems to act as surveillance?
As long as a Cyberman is alive in some way then it can serve a purpose. Without emotions the poor Cyberman being stripped for parts wouldn’t even object. This would make a repulsive sight for the player characters and drive home how differently Cybermen think.
These physical transformations might seem drastic but they need not be permanent. If the Cyberman needs to be moved to a new environment their body is simply fitted with new parts.
To ensure there is some continuity in form I think the most important feature of a Cyberman is the iconic head handle bars. They are distinctive and can serve a practical purpose, acting as a communication device.
If you wanted to push the computerised angle of the Cybermen these devices could link them together. This doesn’t have to produce a hive mind mentality but if one Cyberman sees something then those in the local area will as well.
This would be an interesting complication for player characters. If they fail to sneak past a Cyberman then all of them will be aware of their presence. Should they attack then the Cybermen will know where they are and what they are doing.
This could also be used against the Cybermen, using this link to overwhelm their senses or spread a computer virus. You may wish to establish that they have safe guards that allow them to cut off Cybermen from the network should their security be breached.
The end goal of all this modification is to shake up the player characters. When they encounter the Cybermen they won’t know what to expect, except that it will be unpleasant.