Episodes | Cybernauts | The New Avengers
It moves in the dark, it leaves no mark, it's as hard as steel.
The Avengers (1961-1969) and sequel The New Avengers (1976-1977) were British spy-fi television series that followed the adventures of dashing, daring dandy John Steed and his glamorous companions1. Unlike other television series, recurring villains or familiar foes did not feature, with the enemy's endeavours inevitably extinguished at the end of each and every episode. Yet there was a foe that the Avengers faced on no fewer than three occasions; the unstoppable killing machines known as the Cybernauts.
The Cybernauts were strong, overwhelming robotic killing machines. Part of their particular appeal may have been because of the fact that their debut appearance, in 'The Cybernauts', was the first episode of The Avengers to be broadcast in America2. The Avengers was the first show made outside the US to be given a prime-time slot.
The Cybernauts were not the only robotic foe that John Steed faced, with others including the monstrous machine created by Dr Frank N Stone, played by Christopher Lee, in 'Never Never Say Die', and a mechanical marvel was the centre of a murder mystery in episode 'Whoever Shot Poor George Oblique Stroke XR40'. Yet despite these rivals, it was the Cybernauts that captured the audience's attention and threatened Steed and friends on three memorable occasions.
The Cybernauts were built as humanoid robots. They were over six feet tall with metallic faces and cloth coverings over other visible parts, such as the back of their heads. Electronic circuits were fitted into the Cybernauts' heads, and a layer of gauze was placed where a human's eyes would be. In order to remain inconspicuous, a Cybernaut when first encountered typically wears black gloves, a black suit, black shoes, a black hat and thick, black shades. Other, more complex Cybernauts, programmed for maintenance, wear a boiler suit and a flat cap. The maintenance Cybernaut is capable of corresponding with its creator Dr Armstrong using punch card technology.
A Cybernaut in its inactive state is completely harmless unless programmed to kill, although they can also be instructed to kidnap. They are capable of killing by emulating a karate blow, accompanied by a whip-like noise, which typically creates either a fractured skull or broken neck in their victims. This method is also used to gain entry into the room in which their victim is hiding. As they home in on radio signals hidden in pens planted on their intended victims, Armstrong boasts they are 'as accurate as a guided missile'.
Curiously, although Cybernauts can open and close car doors normally when they are driven to just outside their victim's locations, they are incapable of opening the doors found in buildings, which they prefer to open with a karate chop.
Dr Armstrong - Who's a Cybernauty Boy, Then?
The Cybernaut was developed by Dr Armstrong (Michael Gough), a scientist described as a 'human computer' who once was employed by the Ministry3. Against orders, he constructed a strong, robotic machine that could be used to clear radioactive areas. However, it malfunctioned during testing, and in the accident Armstrong lost the use of his legs.
After losing his Ministry job, Armstrong founded United Automation, a company dedicated to his crackpot ideal of replacing mankind with machines. Aided by Dr Benson, Armstrong lived as a recluse, his only contact with the outside world being either via punch card invitation or through his videophone. He used his company to create what he called 'the age of the push button' in which everything, every door, every gust of air and his very wheelchair, were all controlled by electronics. He felt that humans were fallible, temperamental and unreliable, while he could make machines obedient and more competent than mankind. However, this does not prevent Steed from outwitting his electronic security with a piece of cardboard and a pair of scissors.
Armstrong had a vision in which he could construct the ultimate Cybernaut. He planned to create solar-powered models strong enough to be able to withstand an atomic blast, which would act as the army of an electronic computerised government by automation. Steed described this as a 'Cybernetic police state' enforced by 'push-button bobbies'. However, Armstrong's ideas would only be practical if there was a smaller alternative to transistors, as otherwise he would not be able to fit his fully-formed artificial brain inside a Cybernaut's head. When Armstrong learned that Hirachi had developed such a component and planned to grant a monopoly on the British licence to manufacture, he used one of his Cybernauts, named Roger, to kill the competition by ensuring each of his competitors had a special pen. These secretly contained a radio homing device that the Cybernauts used to pinpoint targets for assassination. As long as the intended target was next to one of these pens, a Cybernaut would seek, locate and annihilate the correct victim.
Dr Armstrong was killed by his own creations before he could put his vision in place. However, thanks to his assistant Benson, his vision lived on. Armstrong's brother, financier Paul Beresford, allowed Benson to further develop a surviving Cybernaut, rectifying the relying-on-radio-pens problem. Instead, the Cybernaut could be told to trace the distinctive, unique cardiogram or heartbeat pattern of the intended victim and would be pre-programmed to either kidnap or kill as appropriate. Tragically Beresford was also, like his brother, killed by a malfunctioning Cybernaut.
It is later revealed that Armstrong was working on a more advanced model Cybernaut at the time of his death, and had stored several of them in a secret storehouse known only to himself and Frank Goff, the engineer who assisted in their construction. Those Cybernauts could be either pre-programmed or controlled by remote. After Goff was released from jail, where he spent a decade for his role in their creation, the location of this storehouse was revealed.
Although the Cybernauts were a purely robotic creation, on two occasions they led to a blurring of the line between man and machine and into the realm of Cyborgs. In 'Return of the Cybernauts' a small device was created which could overpower the will of the wearer and make them susceptible to someone else's control, effectively turning them into mindless automatons. In 'The Last of the Cybernauts...??' the line between man and machine was blurred further when Kane, a man who had been severely injured following a crash into a petrol tanker, had his missing limbs replaced and supplemented by their mechanical equivalent, identical to the limbs found on a Cybernaut.
Here is a brief description of the three episodes to have featured Cybernauts. Please be aware there are spoilers.
'The Cybernauts' (1965)
Tusamo (Burt Kwouk) works for Hirachi, a Japanese electronics company that has developed the replacement for the transistor in electronics. Many top business executives who are interested in acquiring the licence for this die sudden, violent deaths, apparently the work of a bullet-proof assassin who kills with a karate blow. Mrs Peel investigates the local karate scene and learns that a karate expert is the head of a toy company interested in the technology. Steed, meanwhile, uses a camera hidden in his umbrella to discover that another company interested in Hirachi is United Automation, run by Dr Armstrong.
After meeting Armstrong, Steed is given a pen that he is told contains solid ink that melts when held in the hand but otherwise cannot leak, but he then lends it to Mrs Peel. The pen is secretly a homing device for one of the two Cybernauts that Dr Armstrong had constructed, which homes in on Mrs Peel and pursues her as she returns back to United Automation. There, Steed has been captured and is about to be killed by the second Cybernaut when Mrs Peel, and the Cybernaut pursuing her, appear. Steed plants the pen on the Cybernaut that was after him, resulting in the two Cybernauts attacking each other. Armstrong is killed while trying to separate his creations and the Cybernauts are both destroyed.
'The Cybernauts' was written by Philip Levene and directed by Sidney Hayers. It starred Patrick Macnee as John Steed, Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, Michael Gough as Dr Armstrong and Frederick Jaeger as Benson. It was made on black & white film.
'Never Never Say Die' (1967)
Mrs Peel sits down to watch some telly, only to see a few seconds of 'The Cybernauts' before Steed interrupts the programme to tell her that they're needed4.
'Return of the Cybernauts' (1967)
Beresford: Surely Steed can handle this alone?
Mrs Peel: He could, but I mustn't let him find out...
Several scientists have been mislaid5, with Steed in charge of the investigation. Mrs Peel, meanwhile, has befriended a charming, witty and intelligent financier named Paul Beresford (Peter Cushing), the sort of man you would expect to see charmingly fighting vampires in Transylvania, but secretly he is harbouring inhuman monsters. For Paul is secretly really Dr Armstrong's brother and, aided by Armstrong's assistant and returning character Benson6, seeks revenge for his brother's death.
Paul plans to kidnap Ministry scientists specialising in weapons and destruction as he wishes to create a 'rhapsody of suffering' for Steed and Mrs Peel, offering £200,000 to them to help with his revenge. These important scientists are kidnapped - without even an appointment first - with the aid of a single surviving Cybernaut that is controlled by Benson. This Cybernaut has been upgraded from Armstrong's original design. Instead of relying on the victim keeping a pen with a hidden transmitter nearby, the Cybernaut has been pre-programmed with cardiogram data of the victim that has been taken from the Ministry files. As each person's heartbeat is as distinctive as a fingerprint, the Cybernaut can use this to home in on even if the target is in a crowded city. To get them, the Cybernaut kills various guards but only knocks Rosie (the lovely Aimi MacDonald), the scientists' secretary, unconscious.
One of these scientists, Professor Chadwick, comes up with a small, fiendish device. This is hidden inside a watch and will override the wearer's will and effectively turn the victim into a helpless spectator, powerless to prevent what his or her own body does while they are remotely controlled by others. Overloading the control device with too many commands creates stress for the victim and causes a heart attack. Mrs Peel is given one of these watches and comes under Paul's control. Incredibly, the device is sophisticated enough for Paul to control her well enough to drive her Lotus sports car at high speeds along narrow country lanes, despite appearing to contain only six buttons and an on/off switch. Paul makes Mrs Peel knock Steed unconscious. Yet when Paul tries to use the Cybernaut to put a control watch on Steed, the watch is placed on the Cybernaut instead, causing the Cybernaut to go haywire. It kills Beresford while Mrs Peel, finally freed from the watch, shoots Benson.
The Cybernauts are thus defeated once again in an adventure that could perhaps be more accurately titled 'Return of a Cybernaut'. 'Return of the Cybernauts' was written by Philip Levene, directed by Robert Day and made on colour film. It starred Patrick Macnee as John Steed, Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, Peter Cushing as John Beresford, Frederick Jaeger as Benson and Fulton Mackay as Professor Chadwick. Terry Richards played the Cybernaut.
'The Last of the Cybernauts...??' (1976)
Cybernaut: Steel robot, man made, man shaped, radio-controlled, a kind of walking missile. Capable of shattering doors and riding roughshod over any kind of guard. Impervious to bullets. And very, very deadly.
Steed, Purdey and Gambit once investigated a mole in the Ministry, which resulted in the presumed death of the traitor Felix Kane after he crashed his car into a petrol tanker. A year later Frank Goff, the mechanical engineer who helped Armstrong build the Cybernauts, leaves prison after serving ten years for his minor role in creating them. Goff is abducted at gunpoint and hired by a disfigured man wearing a mask and in a wheelchair who seeks revenge on Steed, Purdey and Gambit. Goff is persuaded to reveal Armstrong's secret Cybernaut storehouse, where numerous Cybernauts are kept. These were Armstrong's most advanced design and can either be pre-programmed or directed by a radio-controlled interface which provides a video linkage as well as a control joystick.
After Goff is killed by his enigmatic employer who felt that he was unable to develop the idea any further, cybernetics expert Professor Mason is kidnapped and his equipment, that had been stored securely in the Ministry's research lab, is stolen. Purdey and Gambit suspect that someone working at the prison must have tipped off whoever kidnapped Goff and, when they investigate further, encounter a Cybernaut which they defeat by making it topple down several flights of stairs. When analysed, the Cybernaut's remains reveal the fingerprints of Felix Kane, who is not dead after all.
Felix, like a phoenix, has risen from the ashes and forces Mason to develop the Cybernaut concept further by making it possible for a human to become a human/cybernaut hybrid. He wears the Cybernaut's armoured body and controls a new pair of mechanical legs through electrical impulses attached to his muscles, combining his hatred of those responsible for his injuries with the Cybernaut's fearsome strength. After attacking Purdey, Kane is defeated by Steed, Purdey and Gambit using spray cans of plastic skin on him, which cause him to completely seize up.
'The Last of the Cybernauts...??' was written by Brian Clemens and directed by Sidney Hayers. It starred Patrick Macnee as John Steed, Joanna Lumley as Purdey, Gareth Hunt as Mike Gambit, Robert Lang as Felix Kane, Basil Hoskins as Professor Mason and Robert Gillespie as Frank Goff. Rocky Taylor played the Cybernaut.