most precious thing on the Earth is
we allow it to die..."
The TARDIS is trapped on a parallel 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.
Anyone for Vitex?
EPISODE FIVE REVIEW Pending
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 cramped.
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
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 to
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?).