Doctor Who is at its best when it plays on the fears of a world full of uncertainty. When the Cybermen were first introduced, there were fears over the ethics – and consequences of – replacement part surgery. In the modern world, we all know a elderly relative or neighbour with a replacement hip, or a kid on a kidney dialysis machine, or someone with a mechanical limb. On the whole we’ve surpassed these fears and integrated them into out lives.
But all this that you see in front of you now – a monitor displaying a representation of 1s and 0s – this is where the current fears lie. And it’s quite a minefield, stretching from identity theft to copyright theft and hanging around the question of cybernetics quite a bit; because it is a serious question.
Parallel worlds within the Doctor Who universe have often been extreme versions of ours. 1970s Inferno features an England under fascist rule, and similarly Terrance Dicks’ Seventh Doctor novel Timewyrm: Exodus portrays a Britain under Nazi occupation.
Of course, the choices we make in life don’t usually branch off into extremes like that. Instead we can easily imagine what might have happened if we stayed at university longer than six weeks, or avoided a particular pub on a particular night.
Rise of the Cybermen succeeds in revamping the Cyberman legend. It has life again, and reason, and is capped off by astonishing new Cybermen. These creatures look hard. They don’t look like they’re in cheap flight suits, and they don’t have silly voices. They look hard, they sound hard – they are hard. And there are a lot of them!
The story – the first two-parter of 2006 – gives us several strands in the first 20 minutes. The TARDIS – for some reason has fallen out of the vortex and landed in an alternative London, one where everyone with money owns a Zeppelin. Why this is isn’t yet explained. Mickey goes to visit his grandmother who is sadly departed in the original universe, while Rose and the Doctor visit a still-alive Pete and Jackie Tyler. Elsewhere, the slightly unsettling John Lumic is stealing homeless people from London’s wastelands to build into Cybermen.
While I suspect that Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel will be remembered for two things – the Cybermen and Mickey – I can’t help but feel that the re-introduction of Pete Tyler and his horrible wife Jackie is something and nothing. Why exactly? Shaun Dingwall is a perfectly good actor, and his portrayal of the tragic Pete Tyler in last year’s Father’s Day was excellent. Bringing him back is a great idea, and it makes sense to use him once more as Rose’s dad. But why bother with Jackie, exactly? I’ve had no problem with Camille Coduri since Rose, but in Rise she really was awful.
Meanwhile, Billie Piper herself continues to play a withdrawn role in this series. While she and the Doctor explore London and visit the Tyler’s mansion, Mickey is discovering that he has an alternative self, amusingly named Ricky. With two Smiths, Rose Tyler is again pushed aside in favour of the Doctor – this simply wouldn’t have happened 12 months ago, and the series is better for it.
Roger Lloyd-Pack’s John Lumic meanwhile seems to carry the same blinkered conviction that Dalek-creator Davros had. He’s enhancing his species right to survive, using his massive intellect for the good of his people, yet testing on unfortunates who no-one will miss. The parallels are there – but they’re good concepts to re-use. Don Warrington’s President is also worth mentioning – he seems to be a politician with an understanding of morals and typically for such a character meets an unjustified end… although his title explains much more about this alternative Earth than a few zeppelins.
The Age of Steel has many questions to answer. And thanks to the Doctor Who production team, we haven’t a clue about any of the answers because there was no “Next Week” trailer. A masterstroke. We’ve been spoon fed on seven-day spoilers and having them taken away is a bit of a culture shock at first – but we will thank them for it!
One last observation: I pointed out during the week that this series of Doctor Who hasn’t’ been nearly dark enough. Last season we had Aliens of London and it was still darker on an episode-by-episode comparison! Rise of the Cybermen is 100% a step in the right direction, posing questions about our reliance on digital technology as well as our expectations to live forever. This is what Doctor Who does when the show is at its best, and it is yet again another example of how good the series is when Russell T Davies isn’t writing the scripts…
…I really hate to point this out each week, but the show is just so much stronger utilising Davies’ storylines executed by other writers. It’s only fair to praise Tom MacRae at this point. The script was punchy, sinister, and fun – all at the same time, and it fitted the 45 minute timeslot without seeming rushed. Of course that might be because the episode over-ran slightly…
There are many positives in Rise of the Cybermen – not least the terrific Cyberman design. I cannot speak highly enough of how good they look. If you had misgivings following the press release at the end of last year, fear not – wait until you see them move, wait until you year the “dunch-dunch-dunch” of their march. The Cybermen are back again…
Anthony Dry wrote…
Lovely. Loved it from start to finish. I’m not afraid to say I like my action sequences, but although we didn’t see The Cybermen until the very climax of the episode, we were wonderfully introduced to a parallel Earth. Some of the set-pieces of the Zeppelins flying over London where wonderful, the whole sense of wonder of our time travelling team to be able to explore an alternate world where well handled, especially by David Tennant who now seems to be settling in to the role.
I can’t get over those Zeppelins. The Mill really outdid themselves here they looked amazing, whether it was seeing one sail over the Thames or whether it was just a tiny part of the whole shot, moored up against St Pauls, they worked.
And the Cybermen. When I first saw the designs for these metal monsters I was really disappointed, HOWEVER, seeing them on screen they really have grown on me, the design is fantastically art-deco, they look almost design classic. And the bit where they crash through the windows…they look tough as old boots and a real challenge to defeat. How will the Doctor do it…?
I can’t think of a single negative thing to say about the episode that i have had for the others of season two. The pacing was perfect, the casting was again spot on, Roger Lloyd-Pack worked well as John Lumic but I think Mickey finally has come into his own. We learn a little of his history and now there’s two of them, each contrasting. Noel Clarke, considering he’s been a regular background character does really well here, and I’m looking forward to the outcome of his character.
So a solid 9/10 for me. Good pacing, good acting, lovely special effects, plausible plot and a cliffhanger! Yes a cliffhanger in Doctor Who! About time.