I guess it’s a sad fact of life that reviewing something
that you love is much more difficult than reviewing something you hate. Demolishing
a programme when it gets on your nerves is so much easier because the bile
it brings up needs venting. When audiences are happy they tend to stay quiet,
or is it just me? But another pop-psych; why do I think this episode works
so well? Let’s try and break it down:
1 Monsters: Classic, scary, powerful; these Cybermen knock
spots off their forebears. This episode has lots of them, marauding the streets
of London, lying dormant in dark tunnels and generally being very nasty.
2 Body Horror: Not content with just being terrifying
they’re out to make everyone to be like them. We never see the actual process,
apart from glimpses of rotating rotor blades and a cyber helmet coming down
to clamp onto the next victim. However there is also get the shock of seeing
well established characters being turned into a Cybermen, as well as some
genuine pathos when one dies at their hands.
3 Characterisation: At last we get a glimpse into Mr.
Lumic’s true motivations. Although he realises he is dying it is clear that
he wishes to postpone the moment of transformation until the last moment.
After one of his associates attacks his life-support mechanism the Cybermen
makes the decision for him.
4 More Characterisation: Mickey finally kicks some serious
butt and really comes of age. I shall resist the temptation to talk about
his final decision in this story. Let’s just say that it was pay-back time
for all the times we’ve gone ‘ouch’ when we’ve seen Rose reject him time and
time again. The writer obviously has an awareness of Whovian history because
I am sure I am not the only viewer to spot a certain parallel with another
classic story. But that would be telling…
5 Scary Monsters on Cybernetic Couches: The Cybermen get
their very own Emperor (Cyber-Controller) in the shape of the transformed
Mr. Lumic. He may be mad but at least he’s generous in his madness. All he
wants to do is free us from pain and misery and give us life eternal. It just
means we get turned into huge homicidal cyborgs on the way.
I’ll stop there, as lists can be damned annoying things to put together
and to read. Overall this is another potential instant classic. I’m sure
not everyone will agree with me; that is one of the few things you can be
sure of in the world of Doctor Who. There are still many out there who hate
the soap-opera bits and in many ways I actually agree with this, except that
this episode demonstrated the strengths of such an approach. For example there
was one reviewer who found the idea of resurrecting Rose’s father distasteful
and exploitative; they took issue with the show working on it’s own established
mythology. This struck me as a somewhat contrived argument, he seemed to be
criticising the writers for doing what any good storyteller would do. An
alternative reality is the place where you might expect to meet long lost
relatives or crazy doppelgangers. Yes, it was a device to get us into the
story, but at least it was a convincing device. Having listened to the soundtrack
of another old Cybermen story (‘The Invasion’) recently I have an interesting
point of comparison. In that story the reason why the Doctor gets out of the
TARDIS in 1975 is to track down someone who might be able to help him fix
a circuit on the TARDIS. That this seems unlikely is not challenged in the
story and instead the Doctor and his companions walk blithely into another
So a plot device that relies on previously established facts about one of
the major characters is not such a naughty thing to do really. That the Cybermen
in this story are nothing to do with the Mondasian ones is also neither here
nor there; that they were portrayed effectively is enough.
All in this entire two part story has been definitely one of the best so
far of the new series. I am probably one of the few reviewers who doesn’t
think the first part was too slow, on the contrary I thought it was too brisk.
In that sense I am probably a true classicist as far as Doctor Who goes; ‘The
Invasion’ was eight parts long with the Cybermen not appearing until episode
four. That story also concerned a megalomaniac businessman with a huge electronics
empire and a Cybermen invasion of London. In the ‘Age of Steel’ we have similar
iconic imagery and the decision to use Battersea Power station as a base
for Cyber-conversion was truly inspired.
I must also add a few words of praise for Camille Coduri and Shaun Dingwell.
Both were particularly effective playing their affluent alternative selves
and the scene where Rose tries to tell Pete Tyler that she is actually his
daughter in another world was excellent. His reaction was very plausible,
as it was when he found out the fate of his wife.
This story was perhaps least kind to Rose, whose character takes a major
battering throughout, nor is great for the Doctor who finds himself sidelined
by the Preachers (the resistance to the Cybermen) in the second story. He
does get his moment, as one would expect in Doctor Who, to confront the enemy
and tell them why they are wrong. But only so that he can destroy them mercilessly
in the next frame…