Monday, 30 September 2013

Gadgets & Gizmo's Cyberwoman

Torchwood Gadgets and Gizmos
By Mickie Newton


It is very easy for those who dislike science fiction to ridicule it in the worst possible way but it is partly because of science fiction that man is where he is today. It is from the creative imaginations of such writers as Jules Vern, H.G. Wells and Gene Rodenberry that scientists have been encouraged to think outside the box, the planet; to think beyond stars and what was really possible if we put our best minds to it. Because of the inspiration of these Science Fiction thinkers we have visited the Moon and are now going beyond our own solar system. Because of these thinkers, we have mobiles phones and machines that can see into our bodies without using a scalpel or anaesthetic.

So in issue 5s ‘Gadgets & Gizmos’ we will be looking at three such ideas that feature in the episode ‘Cyberwoman’. We look at not only the Cyber-Conversion Unit, but also cybernetics within our own world, at communications and of course the art of picking locks with, what looks like the ‘Reader.’

Cyber-Conversion Unit

Cybermen History:

When talking about Cyber-Conversion Units it is impossible not to stray into Doctor Who. It is also hard to try and avoid writing a small book on the subject, after all, the Cybermen have a 50 year history so making it a massive subject in itself, and something I hope to delve further into at a later date.

In comparison to Cybermen in Doctor Who our Cyberwoman isn’t even a drop in the ocean so I shall try and avoid writing a small book and keep this part as clear and concise as I possibly can.

First we need to talk a little about whom the Cybermen are and where they came from.

Everything has to start somewhere and in the case of the Cybermen it was on a planet called Mondas. This planet, in the Doctor’s universe, is the earth’s twin planet. Here the Cybermen were a group or race of cybernetically enhanced humanoids, and they all would vary in their designs. You can see the variations when you look at the Cybermen before their return in the episode ‘The Rise of the Cybermen.’  There was also various fractions that were scattered around both time and space and all the various versions of the Cybermen were stemmed from two main groups; these are the Mondasian Cybermen who originated from the planet Mondas and the Cybermen that were created in the alternate universe (‘The Rise of the Cybermen’ and ‘Age of Steel’ 2006) by John Lumic and his Cybus Industries. 

And it is these Cybus Cybermen we see come though the void as ghost like beings in the Doctor Who  episode ‘Army of Ghost’ at the Torchwood One base in London; which nicely leads us onto ‘Cyberwoman’ and her scary Cyber-Conversion Unit.

Conversion Unit:

In ‘Army of Ghosts’, the Cybermen used an earth built Cyber-Conversion Unit to create new Cybermen from humans. These were made using materials found within Torchwood One, London and so were not drawn into the void when it was opened by the Doctor and Rose.

 The Torchwood One head, Yvonne Hartman, assumed wrongly, that the Cyberman unit only contained the brain, as with previous Cybermen. When in actuality these Cybermen were full body conversions. This was because the Cybermen needed to create soldiers quickly. Unlike the Mondasian conversion unit that was usually wall mounted, the Cybus earth built conversion unit was an oval like shaped gurney that the newly converted would lay on. There was also an overhead unit that consisted of four mechanical arms with a universal joint. This arm would come down revealing all the tools for a conversion. These were two circular saws, a number of knife-like blades, a syringe filled with a green fluid and a laser. You see this lovely bit of kit when Gwen is placed on the gurney by Cyberwoman and it’s part of such a unit that Ianto removed from Torchwood One when he saved his partially upgraded girlfriend Lisa Hallett.

 {Of course WHERE Ianto kept Lisa between leaving the battle in Canary Wharf and starting his new job in Cardiff is anybody’s guess as this information is never revealed to us – a fact which drives some of us to distraction if we think about it too much.}

Ianto  believed he'd taken enough to make a life support system for Lisa, when in reality he'd taken enough, or so Lisa/Cyberwoman thought, to complete her conversion into a full Cyberman and create a new legion to boot.

Another thing that is hard to avoid here is how the Cybermen mind works. They work pretty much as a single mind, much like the Borg in Star Trek (I have always felt these were based on the Cybermen) with shared thoughts and knowledge and so it is very apparent that Cyberwoman can't complete a full body conversion. We realise this when her attempt on poor Dr Tanizaki fails and he dies. A Cyberman needs more than just the unit to do conversions. They also need appropriate parts and the shared knowledge of how the conversion is achieved and as this full body conversion is relatively new, and the conversion unit is different from previous versions so it's not ingrained into their psyche - what is ingrained, however, is the knowledge of how to do a brain transference like Cyberwoman did with Annie Botchwell, the pizza delivery girl. 

What is never really seen is how exactly the conversion unit does its’ conversion, we never see it in action in either Torchwood or Doctor Who so it’s impossible for me to explain it. On examining the tools that come down from the overhead unit and how they might relate with one another, it is a wonder it works at all.

We did see the attempted conversion of Craig Owens  in the later Doctor Who episode 'Closing Time' where the Cybermen seal him into a ‘cyber suit’ and attempt to remove his emotions. But there were none of the blades, knives, and green fluid in a syringe or lasers. So we are still in the dark with regard to what they do and how they work.

 What Do We Have On Earth?

Now of course there is nothing on Earth that resembles the Cyber Conversion Unit. So what we shall look at in this section are the Cyborgs themselves.

The cyborg (cybernetic organism) is a subject well visited by various sci-fi films, TV shows and books alike, everything from  the 1927 film ‘Metropolis’ and the anime series/films ‘Ghost in the Shell’ to Asimov’s novel ‘I Robot’  and the ‘Terminator’ cannon and of course the science officer Data in the TV series and films,‘Star Trek: The Next Generation.’

But what are cyborgs and what is the true reality of cyborgs within our world?

Well, firstly what is a cyborg? Cyborg Anthropologist, Amber Case, defined cyborgs, in her TED talk, as “organisms to which exogenous components have been added for the purpose of adapting to new environments.”

From my own understanding, as this subject is massive and complex, cyborgs are a combination of cybernetics, such as computer chips and mechanical parts with organic materials; this can be anything from single cells to whole lifeforms augmented with organic body parts. This doesn't mean if you have an artificial arm, that cannot move, that it makes you a cyborg in the true sense. For this your artificial arm would need to be wired up to your brain so that it would work independently, like your original arm and this is something we know is a reality. Just Google ‘Fully Articulated Prosthetics’ and you will see various articles and videos on the subject. We have also seen that scientists have been trying to create artificial eye’s that work as opposed to just make you look better and feel more comfortable. Then we have the Cochlea Implant for the deaf that is an implant placed directly to the brain.

There are also those, like Amber Case, who see that we are all potential cyborgs as it is merely interacting with technology and allowing technology to improve our lives with such gadgets as smart phones, tablets and the internet.

The sci-fi nut in me prefers the articulated prosthetics and implants notion rather than the Amber Cases beliefs. Although it has to be said that it is also the scariest. If we look at science fiction again and one of my favourite anime films and series, Ghost In the Shell, we see a future where people have computer chips implanted into their brains, something scientists are already working on allowing them to access data, such as the internet or connecting to computers.  Where the danger lies with the idea of brain implants such as these, people can be easily ‘hacked’ and although this is seen as sci-fi, it is a VERY possible reality. And we also see augmented humans with artificial limbs and eyes, not to replace missing or damaged parts, but to improve their physical selves, much like we have plastic surgery.

And to finish off; imagine never losing your mobile/cell phone again because it is always with you! Finding that hard to imagine? Have a read

So what are your thoughts on the possibility of having the internet in your head? Or permanently being attached to your cell/mobile? Why not share with us your thoughts.


Before we get going with the ‘Lockbreaker’, you may remember that I mentioned this very item in issue 02’s edition of ‘Gadgets & Gizmos’ when I spoke of the ‘Reader’ Tosh uses to lift the pages from “The Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, and transfer them to her computer. To make things easier I shall literally lift my words of explanation of its resemblance from my previous article.  “The reason being is that it is thought, by Torchwood, that they share the same alien origins, OR the props department  loved their work so much they used it again and just hoped we wouldn't notice or we'd think the previous explanation I gave.” There,  now you know.

So now I have reminded you of that little titbit, what does the ‘Lockbreaker’ do? Firstly the lockbreaker was salvaged by Suzie Costello in around 2006 and she claimed it could open a lock within 45 seconds. This is simply done by holding the lockbreaker  over the lock. It then runs, one assumes, various combinations until the lock opens. The locks Tosh uses it on are electronic digital locking systems that can be opened manually or via a keypad at the computer (again this is an assumption as we're never privy to all combinations of opening the cog door). What is unclear is whether or not it would work on an, what I’d call a manual locking system, ie. A conventional lock, like your front door, but given it is a digital hand held system, it’s unlikely.

Before I go any further I think I need to mention some of the different locks. I call them manual (using physical keys) as a way of differentiating from the electronic locks. But what we have are: Warded, pin tumbler, wafer tumbler, disc tumbler and lever tumbler locks. There’s more about the different locks here

Now if we dip back into Doctor Who and the Doctors Sonic Screwdriver, we know, with the exception of wood, it will open any lock, either digital or analogue. As the Sonic is a computerised gadget, we believe is linked both to the Doctor and the TARDIS, it is able to run through the various sequences of an electronic digital lock to find the code to open it. Of course not all electric locks work using a keypad code. Some work by using a swipe card, voice, iris, biometric (very Doctor Who) and hand prints. There’s more about these locks here  So each type of lock will need a different type of ‘Lockbreaker’. So it would be interesting to know how the ‘Lockbreaker,’ let alone the Sonic Screwdriver, would open some of these different electronic locks.

Where as with an analogue the Sonic probably scans the lock and then uses sonic waves to vibrate the lock in such a way it opens much like a lockpick would. This would make sense when you consider it "doesn't do wood!" Wood responds differently to the vibrations sound creates and so it would absorb or at least distort the Sonic waves omitted by the Screwdriver, whereas most metals are excellent conductors of sound and so will vibrate at varying degrees, depending on pitch, tone and frequency.

The lockbreaker gives no indication, other than some pretty lights and bleeps, as to how it works. If it was sonic in some way I am very sure, given Captain Jack Harkness' connection with the Doctor, that it would have been mentioned.

What Do We Have On Earth?

During my research on the subject I found various lock picking devices, from the usual 'lock picks' to lock picking guns (though I couldn't find how these worked). But I only found devices for picking manual locks and nothing for the variety. This could be for security purposes, possibly. But we have seen hand-held devices, not unlike the lockbreaker, used in such films as 'Mission Impossible' and TV shows like 'NCIS'. We have often seen characters open up a keypad lock and hook-up a hand-held computer, via cables, and run through numeric sequences until, like the Lockbreaker in Torchwood, the code is found and the door is opened. But as I said earlier, not all electronic locks work in the same way. So the hand-held computer probably wouldn’t work with ALL locks.

I think I shall now leave the locks now as it means going into so much security information, and I’d prefer not to go down that road. It’s also a massive subject. Possibly even bigger, if it is at all possible, than Cybermen!

So now on to the next thing, Bluetooth (I thought this may have got easier…

I was wrong!)

Bluetooth (COMS) Communications

The COMS worn on the ear is the communication system the Torchwood team use to stay in touch with one another when out in the field. These are Bluetooth and as Bluetooth only works over a very short range, 100 meters or 328 feet, by using short-wavelength radio, they must be connected to the individual team member’s mobile/cell phone, which in some ways makes it funny as they always manage to connect straight away. In my experience I don’t always manage to do that and I find myself being interrupted at the most inopportune moments by unwanted phone calls!  What also throws me a little with the idea of the device being connected to the phone is that when Rhys rings it’s her phone that Gwen goes for, not a quick click of her earpiece. So did the writers decide to make the ‘Torchwood’ Bluetooth devices different from the norm? Are these, like many of the Torchwood gadgets, upgraded using alien tech?

Given the limitations of Bluetooth with regards to distance and the fact you have to use a mobile phone in conjunction, we must assume that this is the case. So maybe they’re not ‘linked’ to mobile phones, but possibly the SUV and in Jacks case, his VM (Vortex Manipulator). The VM link I think is very possible as Jack has also used this to communicate with the team as well as his earpiece.

There is another link that is between the Bluetooth earpieces in Torchwood and with Doctor Who and Cybermen. In the episode ‘Army of Ghosts’  and ‘Doomsday’ you see Freema Agyeman as Adeola, wear one after she has been taken over by the Cybermen at Torchwood One. A similar device was also seen again in ‘The Next Doctor.’

Ok quickly getting away from the Cybermen again…

The curious thing I do find is their sudden disappearance in series 2 where all we see is the team touching their ear and nothing physically visible in their ear. (This is something we see in the CBS TV series ‘Person of Interest’ where John Reese opens communication with his ‘boss’ Finch by touching his right ear and terminates it by touching it again – with the contact left open, Finch can hear everything Reese can. For more info on Persons of Interest visit!)  So had it become something that is smaller or more internal?  Again another alien tech upgrade? I would say very possibly. But again this is pure congenital as we are never given any indication about this.

The only conclusion I can draw, with regards to the usual Bluetooth device vanishing by series 2, is that the actual props were problematic in the fact they wouldn’t stay in place. I have worn one myself and always had problems getting them to stay in. This is mostly due to not having a very big opening to my ear canal. So if this was the case and the props department found themselves constantly having to create or replace, then it would be easier to just drop them altogether. Jack’s earpiece also changed from the sleek black device; warn by all the team, to a metallic device.

By series three the Bluetooth device has gone completely and without explanation. They seem to communicate purely by mobile phone – which does imply a time-step backwards technology wise!

What Do We Have On Earth?

This is probably one of the easiest of all the gadgets and gizmos of the series because it is what it is. Bluetooth is part of everyday life and is a wireless communication system for computers; I include mobile/cell phones in this, as modern phones are as computerised as our home desktop computers. Bluetooth, created by Ericsson, was designed back in 1994, originally as a wireless alternative for the R2-232 data cables. And so this system frees us of cables that can get in the way, and in the case of hands-free, break. One of the most commonly used Bluetooth devices is the earpiece, like the ones we have seen in Torchwood.

Bluetooth is also a way of sharing data without physically connecting devices together with cables, so we can share, documents, music, photo’s, as well as phone numbers with other users; sending it from one phone to the next, as long as you are relatively close (100 meters or 328 feet). We can also have other Bluetooth devices such as the mouse and keyboard, so ridding you or the clutter of cables.

And if we were to contemplate an implanted device, like we see in sci-fi, we need to consider a variation on the Cochlear Implant created to give deaf people a degree of hearing – a device which still only has a limited level of success.

Finishing Off…

It must be said that this issues Gadgets and Gizmos has been both varied and thought provoking.  It’s also the first time I have had to do such intense research due to the subject matters. What I find interesting is how, although, seemingly very different subjects, that the subject of Cyborgs and Bluetooth manage to meet in the middle when we think of the potentials of the future.  Both subjects also make us question our possible future with regards to the potential of implants and body and cellular augmentation. What are the potential dangers of these? How could they be abused? What would the pros and cons be of such things? But I shall leave these concerns to you and allow you to mull over all these possibilities. And do by all means share your thoughts with us at Project: Torchwood. As the good Captain says “the 21st century is when everything changes, and we have to be ready!”


General Recourses:

Project: Torchwood – Gadgets & Gizmos Issue 02

Torchwood: The Encyclopedia by Gary Russell

Doctor Who: The Encyclopedia by Gary Russell

Torchwood Items: Wikipedia

Resources for the Cyber Unit:

TARDIS Data Core

Cyborg:  Wikipedia

The Full Wiki

TED Speaker Profile of Amber Case - Cyborg Anthropologist

NB: I didn’t use this, but it makes very interesting reading!

Resources for Bluetooth Comms:

Bluetooth: Wikipedia

Cochlear Implants

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this very much, very informing, especially about the cyber(wo)men and other cybernetic creatures in the scifi-universe. Though I thought that the Cybermen and the Borg, despite their similarities, differ at some points, as for me the Borg are more like a collective, where every member is needed to keep it up, to form a cycle, which i didn't see with the Cybermen in that way. Also, the Borg let incomplete, teenage or children human beings mature in certain chambers, unlike the Cybermen who only took adults. (?)

    And I always thought that many gadgets in TW, who not seem to be alien in the first place, had been upgraded using alien technology. Completely agree with that here in the article. ;)