Rise of the Cybermen
Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel
The Age of Steel

Story No. 180 You will be upgraded
Production Code Series Two Episode Six
Dates May 20 2006

With David Tennant, Billie Piper,
Noel Clarke, Camille Coduri
Written by Tom McRae Directed by Graeme Harper
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.

Synopsis: London has been turned into a massive cyber-conversion zone.


Machine Mayhem! by Joe Ford 23/5/06

What fantastic direction. Hoo boy could I talk about the direction all day. Harper's vision is breathtaking, creating a feel of mechanical hell, highlighting the glistening silver of the Cybermen en mass in the gleaming moonlight. There are thousands of the buggers and they stomp across the screen gathering up the citizens for conversion. I cannot remember when the Cybermen have ever seemed quite as powerful or as totally emotionless; not a hint of ("Excellent!") campness here, just more of the horror and dynamism of the first episode. Had the metal monsters been treated as powerfully throughout their entire timeline I could perhaps understand why they are held in such high regard. Let's put it this way, the Cybermen from this parallel world kick the shit out of the ones from ours and I'm not just talking about their design (which isn't significantly different) but how the writer and director explore their potential.

And yet strangely it is when the Cybermen are doing nothing at all when they are at their scariest. Two scenes spring to mind instantly. The scenes where the Doctor and Mrs Moore exploring the tunnels (brilliantly echoing The Invasion and Tomb of the Cybermen) are marvellously scary. An endless row of motionless Cybermen which the Doctor and Moore have to creep past, with me behind a pillow waiting for one of them to suddenly snatch out and grab them. Secondly, the shot of the Cybermen gazing through the metal fence at Mickey after having murdered his counterpoint. He is horrified at watching himself being murdered but the Cybermen just freeze and stare through emotionlessly. Absolutely haunting.

However the piece de resistance comes when the Doctor and Moore explore the Cyber emotion chip, which is turned off, and a converted Cyberman wakes up, not remembering anything about being turned into this beast. Humanising the Daleks felt wrong because they are the epitome of evil but exploring the horror of being converted into Cybermen is (frankly) essential and (astonishingly) ignored to this point. Whilst it was disturbing to hear this woman talking about her upcoming wedding with her voice modulated and no expressions on her metal face, nothing could hold a candle to the brief scene where a Cyberman stares in a mirror and screams with absolute terror at its image. I cannot explain how happy I was to see some real psychological horror injected into this story; my only regret was that it couldn't be taken even further (and boy could it!). The Doctor standing behind this person realising how he has been a perverted saying "I'm sorry" just makes the poor creature even more pitiful. The conversion process is far more graphic here as well, especially the visually dramatic moment when the mask descends on its victim, the lights shining through the eye holes.

I am not sure if it was because this was directed by Graeme Harper but it felt the most Doctor Who-ish story to date. There was the requisite emotional element but for once this feels like the least important aspect of the story. Sorry guys, your performances are spot-on and the writing is a credit to you but all I wanted to see was Cybermen on the march, people being ripped to pieces and the explosive action as you take them down. It is a credit to Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel that it feels like the old series at its very best (yes I am talking Caves of Androzani): slightly melodramatic, totally absorbing, full of great moments, utterly dynamic and (best of all) a millions times better than anything the competition can think up.

I loved Lumic and his over-the-top dialogue, just the sort of gruff, theatrical villain the series has needed since the start... one with a great motive and a fabulous death scene. What more could you ask for... and Roger Lloyd Pack's much-criticized performance is absolutely spot-on, slightly jarring but purposely so and with a sinister smile and evil twinkle in his eye. His turn as the Cybercontroller is smashing, visually stunning and, with Pack's stilted delivery packed with emotion, very disturbing too. Scenes of characters being chased through the streets by monsters always rate highly in my book, evoking the sort of excited games I would play as a child wishing a fleet of monster would menace me and my friends in my street (and reminiscent of the second Dalek film). Watching the Doctor and his friends do a three-pronged attack on the Cyberman base (hey it's The Daleks!) is really exhilarating television, the sort which this show does so well, old and new.

Tennant gets his most traditional role to date, being offered a great scene where he confronts the Controller and explain why the Cybermen are so totally and utterly flawed in conception. Being the consummate actor he is perfectly willing to take a back seat to his co-stars who are far more important this time around. He's just there to be the Doctor, to fight the bad guys and save the day (it's nice to see this for a change with some sort of terrible emotional experience for the guy) whereas Mickey and Rose are on hand to deal with all the juicy domestic stuff.

Piper is such a star I could watch her in any show. Fortunately she is currently acting in my favourite show which is doubly good and doing a damn fine job of it too. Who would have ever thought we would be seeing "Because we want to!" Piper strolling along with a bunch of Cybermen? Certainly not me and it is to her credit that she now fits into this series so totally that it is no longer an issue accepting a celebrity in this science fiction show. I enjoyed the scenes between Rose and Pete because they were so restrained, far superior to the horrid manipulation of Father's Day. Rose's loyalty to her parents (even in this world) feels right (and her stubbornness when accepting the job of rescuing Jackie is a great moment) and her reaction to the Jackie Cyberman mirrors our own (total horror). It was her final moment with her father on the Embankment which impressed me the most though, Rose desperate to take him back with her (to the point of calling him Dad) but he doesn't want to know the life he has missed out on. Great stuff and all the more emotional for what isn't said (so much work is done with the actors' faces).

I think Noel Clarke has come such a long way as Mickey, coming to understand the show and the style of acting it entails. He started off in Rose as something of an OTT buffoon and a bit embarrassing to watch, but won our hearts in World War Three where he saves Jackie and blows up Downing Street. He ups his game for Boom Town with a remarkably emotional performance before providing some stability for the show over its change of leading man, his presence proving quite relaxing during that turbulent time. His comic potential is explored in School Reunion and The Girl in the Fireplace in time for Mickey to come of age in this two parter.

As I said his scene with his Grandmother in Rise of the Cybermen develops his character beautifully and now he gets the chance to save the world. Watching himself die clearly affects him greatly and it is fantastic to see him finally stand up to the Doctor, telling him he wants to help out and refuses to be the spare part (Tennant plays this scene beautifully too, looking at Mickey as if he has just noticed him for the first time). I'm not sure I'm as convinced about the ending, which pushes a little too hard to make Mickey the hero and make everyone go, "ahhh, I really liked him" because frankly we all liked him anyway. The chemistry between Rose and Mickey has never been better and Rose's typically selfish comment ("What if I need you?") is rebutted beautifully ("But Rose... you don't") but the last scene with the two guys driving off to liberate Paris feels a bit too manipulative. A shame, but most of the work in redeeming Mickey's fortunes is spot on. Clarke is exceptional and the episode belongs to him. Just watch his face, as his other half is killed and then tell me this kid can't act.

It is the first episode ever where I felt Murray Gold's music drowned out the drama. At some points it was agonisingly loud (Simon made me turn the telly down about three times!) but saying that, he provided some great stings, just shock Cybermen moments to get you jumping out of your seats. It's almost as if Murray is as excited by what's going on as we are and cannot control his music as a result!

Did I want more action? Yes, because what we get is sooooo good. Did I want more exploration of Cybermen? Yes, because they started it off brilliantly but other matters swallowed up the screen time. Did I love this two parter with a passion bordering on insanity? Oh yes.

The Age of Steel is a mighty fine conclusion to some dramatic set up. It really doesn't disappoint at all and tells us quite a bit about the Cybermen that we didn't already know. It's not quite my favourite two parter (those gas masks are still fabulous) but it is spine-tingling television of the highest order and solid proof of why this show got so much recognition at the BAFTAs.

A Review by Donna Bratley 10/5/07

I wanted more action. Tom Macrae certainly delivered. He had to get the talking in last week, because there's no time to draw breath in The Age of Steel.

How disappointing was the getout? I wanted the Doctor to fast-talk his way past the looming Cybermen; get his companions out by guile, not a whizzy piece of technology. What was all that nonsense at the end of the last episode? Why mention surrender when you've got that up your sleeve?

Still, it gathers Our Heroes together, where the true similarity between Mickey and Ricky is revealed. It's as if Macrae regretted making the duplicate such a thug in part one, and overcompensates by making him a prat in part two. Noel Clarke makes a good enough job of differentiating between his two roles, leaving doubt only at one crucial moment, but I could have done with a few less facial twists.

Of course, the moment we realise which one is dead, it's obvious where the other's destiny lies; aided by the cliched understanding that grew up between them, and the "You'll never replace him!" posturing of Andrew Hayden-Smith's Jake, possibly the only character thus far to emote as prettily as Rose Tyler. Jake's whole purpose is to gradually come to appreciate what he's spent two episodes denying. It's a waste of a character; the Preachers could have done with a second fighter, like Mrs Moore.

Mickey's development has been a definite plus this season, a compensation for the clingy, immature side we've been shown to Rose. His learning to fly the zeppelin on Playstation is a nice touch, and his "Rose, I'm coming to get you!" compares favourably with the Ninth Doctor's original declamation. It's good to see he has scruples, preventing the murder of Lumic's staff; he's bright enough to catch the Doctor's hints from Cyber Control; and it's ironic that he's the only character mature enough to acknowledge the truth of his position with the girl he still loves.

It's a pity the focus on what should have been his grand farewell was given to the leading lady. We've seen enough of Billie Piper's upset acting to know it's good. There's no need for the director to play up to the series' casual concept of the universe revolving around a brattish shop assistant. It's great work from Billie (again), but it doesn't make the character likeable. The muted goodbye from the Doctor, laced with an affectionate "Mickey the Idiot" was far more impressive.

As for the action leading up to the goodbyes: Rose shows her better side, determinedly taking her place beside Pete; the Doctor finds a worthy accomplice in Mrs Moore, who was doomed the moment she gave away her proper name. And Series Two delivers its first shocker of a big vista. I'm sorry, but the interior of the conversion factory didn't match up to the terrifying image of mindless humans marching in to a terrible fate. Overlaid with the portentous music of Murray Gold, the image of whizzing blades and descending helmet made me laugh, not cringe.

How obvious was the Pete story? Making Rose's alternative daddy a villain would have been interesting, but was never likely. Shaun Dingwall obviously relishes "What do I get, Scooby-Doo and his gang?" but his reactions inside the factory, faced with the remnant of his wife, are better than the comedy, and the frightened rejection of Rose rings completely true. And as for seeing what his boss has become...

What on Earth was the design department thinking of with the big silver pipe-cleaner chair? I know Lumic must've taken some persuading, the creator of an inhuman race being reluctant at the last to surrender his own humanity, but was that really an incentive? How did the Doctor keep a straight face while expounding the wonder of humanity to a creature that has lost its own?

That exchange, with its sly glances to the camera and throwaway "genius" line, is superb, delivered with gusto by David Tennant who, though again slightly sidelined for much of the story, manages to dominate given half the chance. The Tenth Doctor echoes the Fifth in his emotional honesty, the Second in his glee at winging his way through a crisis, and the Fourth in his command of the screen. If that's not a winner, I don't know what is.

He also gets a leading role in possibly the most shocking scene yet; at the end of the truly claustrophobic stroll through the cooling tunnels, an encounter which hit me in the guts as the equivalent scene in Dalek never did; I couldn't feel comfortable empathising with one of those things, but the Cybernised woman is a tragic creature. Of course, the Doctor does the right thing - the courageous thing - just as Mrs Moore is right to remind him, Lumic's creations have to be stopped at whatever cost. But has the full horror of the Cybermen's origin ever been more forcibly portrayed?

It begs a question, though, that bugs me no less than the cop-out from the cliffhanger. How does Cyber-Jackie remember Pete? Her emotional inhibitor's not damaged. That the Controller retains some knowledge of his past I can accept, but an ordinary footsoldier of his army?

In the end, it's a strong second part to a good, old-fashioned Doctor Who story; not matching the brilliance of three preceding episodes, but worth watching again. If RTD invites Macrae back in future seasons, I won't be objecting.