"...Yes, but I do it brilliantly..."
Present Day but on an 'alternate' Earth.
The planet is under threat from the surgically
augmented Cyberman. Second only to the Daleks, this race of emotionless creatures
(with origins on Earth) is unforgiving.
For the Doctor and Rose this is there most challenging
adventure yet, but they have some familiar friends to help them along the way.
EPISODE SIX REVIEW
Watching this two parter back-to-back, I realised
that it was essentially a 90-minute movie cut in half: the first episode serves
as the build-up, ending on a cliff-hanger that once again felt worryingly like
JNT-era stuff (where was the over-extended cry, "Noooo!")
and the second episode (THE AGE OF STEEL) was
the cluttered pay-off.
This story is the SERIES
2's equivalent to SERIES 1's DALEK -
a classic DOCTOR WHO baddie is reinvented for the 21st century - but this lacks
the flair and originality which flavoured that story: whereas DALEK felt
like a chamber piece, this Cyberman story was an epic that suffered from too
much plot and flawed structure, which is all the more surprising because the
story had two parts across which to spread itself out and yet feels
Still, like all RDT-influenced material, it has
some splendid moments but not enough to make this a bona fide classic.
The terms under which we are reintroduced to the
Cybermen may be tiresomely familiar to sci-fi fans - the parallel universe shtick
has been done to death in every major science fiction TV show, I believe - but
I liked this cheeky touch because it means we have not met the Cybermen
of 'our' universe but rather a version of them (and so RDT can reintroduce
them all over again at some point!).
The new costumes are splendid, the silver-painted
suits and cheap boots consigned to the dustbin of low-budget history, replaced
by a costume that looks solid and heavy: the sound effects which accompany them
when they walk now make them sound like what they are supposed to me,
animated suits of armour. The voices are another neat tweak: they have electronic,
sexless, monotones, reminiscent of the Sixties Cybermen (but not the dire sing-song
voices of their first appearance, thank God). And we at last see large groups of
(large) Cybermen, marching in robotic lock-step: excellent! If you were of a
cynical bent, you might feel that their movement is reminiscent of the Tin Man's
dance in THE WIZARD OF OZ but
let's move on...
Another good move is that (as in DALEK)
we get a strong sense of the beings inside the suits: when the Doctor
'wakes up' the Cybermen, his encounter with the converted Jackie is shocking
and moving but this is unfortunately undercut when he goes through essentially
the same scene with another downed Cyberman who, it turns out, was a bride-to-be.
The conversion process is a suitably nasty visual
- saw blades repeatedly darting down towards the camera in POV mode as the victims
scream in terror and agony - backed by the tune, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".
What were they thinking?? Beats me, but it works! The words used to characterise
the conversion process are also amusing choices: murder (if you are "incompatible")
is "delete" and butcher (what else do you call removing someone's'
brain against their will??) is "upgrade".
Lumic is a Davros-wanna-be all right ("I
have a species of my own"), but the character is another study
in missed opportunities. Roger Lloyd-Pack - JNT-style LE ('light entertainment')
casting, on the face of it (Lloyd-Pack is best known as Trigger in ONLY
FALLS AND HORSES) - does his best in a painfully under-written
part, which is a crime if you consider that Lumic is the prime mover of this
story. He has one great throw-away line, "Where's my Zeppelin?" And
in THE AGE OF STEEL he is replaced
by the Cyber Controller suit: how impressive would Michael Wisher's performance
have been if by episode three of GENESIS
OF THE DALEKS he had been buried inside a Dalek prop? The visual is fab,
granted, but did he have to be seated with all those cables, because the image
is not so far removed from the Emperor Dalek in the first season. And it may
be just me but seeing the Cyber Controller hanging from a rope ladder before
plummeting to his doom seemed a little...silly.
I remember smiling when Ricky's henchman breathlessly
mentioned the "hundreds of cybermen, all down the Thames" -
which we never get to actually see - and I experienced another JNT
bargain basement era flashback. But there is no avoiding the fact that while
this was acceptable (droll) when the show was being made on a shoestring, the
RTD era is a different animal - its Special FX are often very special indeed
- and so when one expects a key visual (to be specific, the depiction of
the progress of the cyber-occupation of recognisable London landmarks. which
was a feature of THE INVASION ) and this is dodged
with a quip, amusing or not, it leaves a sour after-taste. And, yes, I appreciate
that Battersea Power Station is a familiar London landmark but, good grief, it's
not much of one, is it!?
And that's the real problem, for me :
this story is so very much like THE INVASION in feel
(not style or look) that I cannot get past my impression that it does
not transcend its faults to attain the status of a landmark story,
in comparison with the dated Who tale that, while hamstrung by its low budget,
is still an important marker in the shows history because it tried to take the
show outside its 'studio-bound', low-budget-look 'box'. This story underlines
the view that giving DOCTOR WHO a big budget was only half the battle. It is
not a new take on telling an otherwise familiar DOCTOR WHO story (merging GENESIS
OF THE DALEKS and THE INVASION is not a bold
move): it resembles an old story given a fresh coat of paint.
The written characterisations ( not the
performances: the actors do the best they can with what's on the page) seem designed
merely to serve the plot and the visuals. Tennant and Piper show up and deliver
their lines briskly as they rush from one scene to the next. My favourite Tennant
moment is this exchange with Mickey:
MICKEY SMITH: You're making this up as go along!
THE DOCTOR: Yes, but I do it brilliantly.
But the Troughton-esque quip, "I'd call
you a genius, but I'm in the room" is a very close second. And the
moment where Rose tells her dad that she is the daughter he never had followed
by his rejection of her, should have been a show-stopper, but it is
not because the moment is swept aside in a rushed denouement.
The human heart of the story should have
included Rose - her relationship with the parallel universe version of her dad,
and the fate of her parallel mum - and Mickey - his realisation that
he might have a better life on this parallel Earth (which raises the question
just how bad was life on the old one?) - but clumsy writing (poor pacing and
plotting) does not permit the Rose moments to bloom (ahem) and so it is Mickey
and his encounter with his parallel self, Ricky, that really shines. Ricky has
the best comedy line ("I'm London's most wanted - for parking tickets" )
and the shame-faced line reading is spot-on. And I doubt very much if Mickey's
cry, "Hold on, Rose, I'm coming to get you!" was an unconscious nod
Ricky's death is a genuine surprise and a good
twist because it provides convincing motivation, inspiring Mickey to take the
road not traveled: Ricky was the strong man Mickey realises he can and should
be, and this self-awareness is underlined to harsh effect when he tells Rose, "It's
just you and him [the Doctor]". And we know that he is right. Mickey's
departure is all the more poignant because the character finally came into his
own only to be written out (and where have we seen that before?).