The Age of Steel
Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel
Rise of the Cybermen
|Production Code||Series Two Episode Five|
|Dates||May 13 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: On a parallel Earth, homeless people are disappearing from the streets.|
Delete! Delete! Delete! by Joe Ford 18/5/06
Great stuff, just the sort of hard-as-nails, no-holds-barred, action thriller the season has needed. This season (so far) has been confident, stylish, emotional, exciting but it hasn't been as punchy as I would like, although the brilliant Tooth and Claw made a damn good attempt (but in the end of the day that was more about atmosphere than frights). Rise of the Cybermen is the sort of Doctor Who you wouldn't be ashamed to show to anybody, with gallons of gloss but a certain steeliness and forcefulness every show needs to unleash every now and again to make sure you are still awake.
Saying that, I feel there was something a little off-kilter about the episode, something about the way it swings so dramatically from the emotional to the violent, trying to cram in as much as possible to keep the viewer off balance. But even that worked to make me feel uncomfortable, almost as if the disturbing scenes here were just a taster for the pain and terror to come. And whilst as a package it felt a bit over-stuffed, I cannot fault any individual scene, so carefully crafted were they. There were loads of standout moments (more on that later) but pretty much every second of this episode feels as though it has been considered and pitched right by a skilful director.
Let's welcome back Graeme Harper to Doctor Who after a lengthly stint away, showing even the best of the new directors how it is done. Caves of Androzani and Revelation of the Daleks are two of my favourite Doctor Who stories for obvious reasons; they are both effortlessly assembled stories with every penny of money on screen, chock-a-block with fabulous performances, exciting acting, genuine emotion and (best of all) clever and inventive directorial touches (such as Morgus talking to the camera and the shots from the security camera's point of view as the Doctor stares straight at it). Gosh this guy understands how Doctor Who works, through and through. He knows how to build up his monster (I was almost salivating with impatience to see a Cyberman), how to pace his episode (hints at the oncoming menace before letting rip in the last five minutes, releasing the tension he has built up), how to get the best of his actors (Tennant hasn't had a better scene than when he was abandoned by both of his companions) and best of all how to shoot his monsters (have the Cybermen EVER been this scary? Me thinks not!). Graeme clearly understands his material; flicking over to Doctor Who Confidential, it was great to see him talking to his actors and not just the regulars; even taking his time with the day players, to milk every nuance from the script. I am so pleased he will be handling the finale; he has the same drive and flair for the dramatic as Joe Ahearne last year that will make that story one to remember.
I am not a huge fan of the Cybermen; anyone who has ever read any of my reviews before will be well aware of that. It is not the concept that disagrees with me but their execution over the years. I can't stand a missed opportunity and the Cybermen were a missed opportunity over and over again, re-introduced, redesigned but never looking that impressive and the producers never having the guts to focus on the one truly scary thing about these creatures: the conversion from people into unthinking robots, not the result, the actual body horror of the process. Add to this the fact that the Cybermen stopped being used creatively; they were brought back because they were good for the ratings rather than for strong storytelling purposes (and given their screen time you would think they would be milked to death by now but the true sadness is the exploitation of their horror has barely been explored). Cybermen were being used because the fans liked them, because they were Cybermen. It frustrated me to hear Russell T Davies saying exactly this in Confidential but he has covered his arse by enforcing a story worthy of them, making sure they are integral to the story and their terror is oppressed.
I cannot tell you how much I adored the sequence with the conversion. Totally, totally brilliant and easily one of the best set pieces in the series so far and the most hilarious thing is the violence is only IMPLIED. The juxtaposition of The Lion Sleeps Tonight (I love that song) and the montage of images (the tramps being lead into the factory screaming, the gadgetry unhooking from the ceiling to start its filthy work, the pan along the oily pipes as the saws slice through flesh, the fade to the night time location...). A visionary piece of direction summing up the sheer nastiness of the Cybermen without showing a thing. Amazingly good. And you gotta love that tune.
I liked the setting as well, just familiar enough to be our world but the striking image of the zeppelins in the sky to remind us it isn't quite our world. Given our slow dependence on electronic monstrosities like mobiles, pocket PCs, iPods etc, it is quite plausible that one man with a dangerous vision could exploit these devices to control and manipulate the human race. The sequence where the street crowd freezes around the Doctor and Rose is unnerving, not just because it would creep you out anyway but the implication that information is being downloaded into their heads and to cap it off the chuckle at the (standard) joke. It suggests the uniformity of the Cybermen is actually not far off already, the people are already controlled and told what to think... all they need is the cosmetic appliances. Are we affected by the media in a similar fashion? Or is our reliance on things like drinking water just one step away from cutting off the supply and forcing the people to adhere to one persona will?
Sadly, Lumic is a frighteningly real sort of chap, a visionary who enforces his anger at his disabilities on others, forcing them into an image that would suit him and his condition. It is nice to see Roger Lloyd Patrick playing a serious role (I'm sure he does all the time, but he is best known for his unique dual comedy performances in Vicar of Dibley and Only Fools and Horses) and he is ideal to bring gravity and chills to the part. I have always thought his performances have been a bit off-putting; something about how he deals out his dialogue so his static, almost metallic (chortle chortle) performance in this episode is ideally suited. His gruff laugh after he cracks the joke about crashing the party is hilarious and terrifying. The gleam in his eye as he first spies one of his creations in the flesh is spine chilling ("Flesh of metal!") and gives him a Davros-like moment whilst he is actually nothing like him at all.
I am so glad the Doctor is learning from his stupid mistakes last year and his insistence that Rose does NOT go and see her dad feels very right. I was cheering! Whilst the Doctor takes something of a backseat after hogging the limelight last week, there are still more than enough moments where Tennant knocks everybody else off the screen. His angry, desperate orders for Mickey and Rose to stay with him rather than trying to seek out loved ones who have died in their reality was powerful stuff, wonderful to see some real severity in his performance after acting like he was on a steady course of drugs last week.
Billie Piper gets some lovely moments in this story too, reminding me why she is such an integral part of the Doctor Who experience at the moment. Her reaction to "Rose" in this alternative Earth was priceless but nothing could top her moonlight conversation with "Jackie", beautifully performed by both actresses to get you relaxed in their engaging chemistry before twisting uncomfortably to remind both the viewer and Rose that this is NOT our Jackie ("Don't you dare to talk to me!").
But the episode thief belongs to Noel Clarke as Mickey who has been something of a spare part since Parting of the Ways and fully deserves the limelight. His shadowy conversation with the Doctor is about as civil as they get to each other and his reaction to his alter ego mirrors our own (and the sight of his tied up to a chair with only his underwear on is just the way to get on my good side). His scene on his Grandmother's doorstep was the best Mickey scene to date, opening up a world of hurt and history for the character and giving Clarke a moment to break our hearts. Call me a pessimist, but I forsee a nasty surprise for Mickey fans in the next episode and if this is his swansong I will be devastated.
What else is there to say? Camille Coduri is divine as the super-bitch Jackie, Don Warrington makes a fine silky voiced President, Shaun Dingwall makes a decent return in a episode far superior to the emotional mush he was forced to play last year... and it was a joy to see Lilt from Revelation of the Daleks, the undoubtable Colin Spaull as Lumic's chief common-as-muck thug. Another mention for Murray Gold's bombastic score; although there were a few too many stings from previous episodes, his original music in this episode is perfectly suited and excellent at gearing up the tension.
It's a great cliffhanger for a great episode, a teensy weensy bit disjointed, clearly a first part of a two parter as this is all set up and with a final five minutes to die for, taking us back to the moments of dizzy excitement of Doctor Who at its height... I want to watch it again for all the details I missed. I might be in the minority but I much preferred this to last week's romantic character piece, a bit of rough and tumble that will surely go down in the history books as a triumphant return for the Cybermen.
And gee, weren't they sexy?
Making the Upgrade by Steve Cassidy 5/3/07
It doesn't happen often, but once in a while Doctor Who presents me with an image in my mind that gives me the chills.
In Inferno it is the earth slowly cracking open and everyone being destroyed by magma, in Seeds of Doom it is body conversion, plant platelets literally turning someone into "vegetable soup" from the inside. In Rise of the Cybermen it is the satanic image of the conversion factory. The world-famous Battersea Power Station now turned into a place of hell and menace. A place wracked with the screams and cries of those going through a terrifying cybernetic process. The power station lit up at night like a satanic mill belching black smoke like some South London Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Rise of the Cybermen is great at imagery. Although it is no way in the same league as the two adventures I mentioned above, it is a good 45 minutes of Who. It's a traditional adventure where the Doctor is up against a menace that seems overwhelming. It's not that deep and those who are looking for another Girl in the Fireplace or School Reunion will be disapointed, but those wanting a good old fashioned adventure of thrills and derring do will enjoy this one. And sometimes that isn't a bad thing. Who has always been a family show and sometimes it is right just to do a monster tale for the kids. Take a break from the usual "emotional journeys" that categorised this season. Children of the noughties generation will enjoy an adventure of stomping Cybermen just as I did back in 1983 in what can only be described as a very cinematic adventure.
Real care, money and attention have been given to this one as it probably was to be the flagship of the season. Cybermen are "news"; if you put their return on the front cover of the Radio Times then people will reach into their pockets to buy it. They are somewhere at the back of the national consciousness. Adults vaguely remember them from their own childhood while children wonder what all the fuss is about. But these are not the old men in costumes of old. No room for tubby cyberleaders here. These have a kind of art-deco feel, a set of stomping stormtroopers with cheekbones to beat those of Peter Cushing. And they are not the old Mondasians/Telosians; the space scavengers that we are used to are a different breed from these. The new series occasionally, shall we say, borrows the best ideas from Big Finish. The superb Dalek was influenced heavily by the audio Jubilee and here RTD goes back to Marc Platt's smorgasboard of ideas that was Spare Parts.
RTD gets to show the creation of the Cybermen but on his terms. Marc Platt is credited on this adventure but the producer has taken the choice plums and discarded the rest. One of the reason I love Spare Parts is that it shows a planet dying. The slow death of a culture that has no alternative to resort to cybernetics to prolong its species. The contrast between the howling winds on the surface of Mondas and the slightly fifties feel of the underground cities created an environment that was utterly alien and believable. I had envisioned the giant cavern that houses the city in my head and always wanted to see its CGI creation on screen. Instead, in RoTC we get an alternative London; instead of the populace turning to cybernetics out of desperation, we now have them in the hands of a meglomaniac - John Lumic - who is controlling them via earpieces. There is nothing wrong with this (I like a good meglomaniac) but it does sort of take away some of the tragedy of the original Cybermen. Aha, you say, but these are not the original Cybermen. I think they are being lined up to be so. With the cracks appearing between the two dimensions in the last of the series it look like they will soon be our universe and used for any cyber adventures on this side. No bad thing as they certainly look more effective then the old Cybermen. But I can't help but feel that the opportunity to do a really haunting but completely faithful version of Spare Parts has been missed. That to me was the true genesis of the Cybermen.
Roger Lloyd-Pack as John Lumic got widely criticised at the time as a yet another mad ranting lunatic in a wheelchair being played with a large slice of ham. Sometimes that is necessary. This was an adventure on a grand scale: armies of silver meanies, gunfights and hundreds of airships floating above London. To portray him another way would have made him rather forgettable. You needed a big character in this one; unfortunately, people who take over the government of large chunks of the world dont tend to be shrinking violets. But it is true that some lines fall flat and the line "How will you do that? FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE?" is unforgiveable. I particularly like Colin Spall as his head honcho, a man who organises the nuts and bolts of his London operation. He stands out because he is like nothing else in the adventure: over fifty, salt of the earth and pocessed of a sense of humour. Certainly "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" scene is one of the most chilling. No wonder it was cut when shown on the American Sci-Fi Channel.
The regulars are present and correct. The standout is Noel Clarke as Mickey Smith. The business in the first scene where they laugh at him still keeping the button down is horrible to watch as it is Rose and the tenth Doctor at their most cliquey. But it is Mickey Smith who gets the character development in this one. We learn about his very difficult upbringing and the fact that he truly is alone due to the loss of family members. He is a boy with no purpose, no family, no one who really cares for him. A man who has taken his troubles on his broad shoulders and carried on without complaint. We do get to meet his grandmother (I'm sorry, but that street was not London, I know a Welsh street when I see one). But in many ways she was pretty physically abusive to him, and he is still wracked with guilt over the stair carpet. He is in the same position Rose was in at the start of series one; the only way he can go is up.
And then there is Rose. She really needs Ricky's grandmother to smack her upside the head. All the pain and heartbreak and healing that happened during Father's Day... did she learn nothing? Nothing at all? I don't expect seamless continuity from Doctor Who, I'm not inhuman, but Father's Day was one gigantic anvil of Thou Shalt Not Meddle. If Rose doesn't get the clue after that - well, what can I say? Tennant as the Doctor looks natty in a dinner jacket and his despair at the TARDIS "dying" at the beginning is well played but he really has no authority, has he? The scene on the Thames at the beginning where his travelling companions saunter off, disobeying him, as they try to find their alternative families shows what little presence the tenth Doctor has. Certainly they wouldn't have done it with the first and third Doctors - although the fourth probably wouldn't have noticed if they had gone.
Rise of the Cybermen was event television. It was the new series' flagship adventure. Some people didn't like it; they preferred the deep emotional pieces that preceded it as it really is a traditional piece. The attraction here is the menace of the Cybermen and how they have been reimagined for the 21st century. There are some pretty unpleasant themes here: body conversion, oppression and the abuse of mass media to control the people. London is in trouble. The President refers to it as a sick world. There are curfews, black marketeering, a president (no Royal Family then?), soldiers on the streets and of course everyone is linked up via the earpeices. Although these are staples of the science fiction genre, imagine if you are an eight year old girl/boy; these ideas would be new and exciting. Something to stick in your mind and make you a fan.
I like to think that as the first taste of the Cybermen this one is as addictive as a cyber conversion process - without the "Tight Fit" music of course...
A Review by Donna Bratley 18/4/07
What an odd beast. Not the episode, but its villain. John Lumic could have been - perhaps ought to have been - a figure of pathos. Instead, he's a pantomime dame without the wig. What was Roger Lloyd-Pack playing at? Before the opening titles roll, you know he's a megalomaniac. A bit of restraint would have made his God-complex terrifying.
The Rise of the Cybermen looks and feels more like traditional Doctor Who than almost anything Series Two has offered; it's got a classic cliffhanger of an ending, and it's very obviously a set-up episode, instead of a story in its own right. As such, it works well enough, but it feels oddly unbalanced. Maybe I've got too used to a breakneck 45 minutes. There's plenty to enjoy, though.
Primarily, there's the new-look, bulked-up Cybermen. That's what I call an army, crashing in through the windows and thumping their way through the mist; no vulnerabilities in Lumic's metal men. Beginning afresh, not loading them up with 40 years of RTD's precious "backstory" helps. A parallel version for a parallel world; a quick nod to the series' past, and on with the present, making use of the creeping encroachment of technology into human existence. Upgrade, delete, who'd have thought such commonplace concepts could turn so macabre?
The means of trapping the crew wouldn't fool a five-year-old, but it effectively breaks up the Doctor and Rose's blissfully selfish little huddle, and it looks wonderful, too; I adored the oxygen masks, while the Doctor's "she's perished" effectively conveys both numb shock and genuine horror. That Mickey realises where they are faster than the more experienced Rose is a first nod to his status in the story; this is as much his episode as Piper's, and more so than Tennant's, as the Doctor has to chase events and wrestle with the refusal of his friends to do what he wants. Of course he follows Rose; she's the one most likely to do something stupid when anything resembling her father is thrown into the equation, but does Mickey have to respond like a petulant boyfriend? Last time I looked, it was the Doctor's place in Rose's affections he resented, not vice versa.
Poor old Mickey; the butt of his companions' humour, slapped around by Gran and tied up by a thuggish double with a penchant for facial contortions; wherever he goes, things go wrong. You've got to like him better than Ricky Smith, though, whose posturing is neatly undermined by Mrs Moore, evidently the best man among the Preachers, and no mere devoted follower like Jake. Helen Griffin's delivery of "or your father had a bike" in the middle of a tense encounter is a deadpan gem. And that really is a very nice kitchen the Preachers are using. It wouldn't look out of place in the splendid Tyler residence.
Camille Coduri obviously had a ball playing rich Jackie. It's her best performance yet, complemented by Shaun Dingwall's rueful Pete, trying to offend neither wife nor boss. Their differing reactions to the inquisitive waitress desperately hoping for some glimmer of recognition are touching, and perfectly played by all three actors.
Billie Piper hasn't had a chance to shine like this since New Earth, and while Rose's father-fixation grates, she gives it a sincerity that almost makes up for the character's ever more absurd possessiveness toward the Doctor. Sarah Jane and Reinette both had claims on his affections she might fear, but Lucy? A fellow employee he's only known for five minutes? Please!
At least the Doctor proves he has learned from past errors, giving in to the inevitable rather than actively encouraging an emotional visit; and Rose retains enough common sense to accept that these are not her parents, even while complaining about the Doctor's cautious use of the psychic paper. Sir Doctor and Dame Rose wouldn't have got past the door, celebrities nobody could identify, especially with Mr President in attendance. Don Warrington is superb, whether recoiling from a madman's scheme or trying to reason with his creations, a genuinely human face of power.
The pandemonium his death unleashes creates a noisy end to a strangely quiet episode, though much of the exposition is tidily managed: Mickey's history, the Doctor's explanation of how the worlds came to be sealed, the daily download by Cybus Industries are quick, straightforward dialogue-heavy interludes that manage to hold the attention with snatches of humour. It's the up-and-down pacing that detracts from the whole. Ever get the feeling all the action's getting squeezed in to part two?