There is a darker than usual feel to this episode, but
then it is directed by Graeme Harper, veteran of such classic serials as
‘Revelation of the Daleks’ and ‘The Caves of Androzani’. He furnishes us
with a brutal murder within the prologue as we meet John Lumic (Roger Lloyd-Pack)
who is I guess the Cybermen equivalent of Davros.
The story is set on a parallel Earth which the TARDIS crash lands on after
the credits; interestingly it is Mickey who first realises that the zeppelins
floating around in the sky must mean they are in an alternative reality.
Funny thing about zeppelins and other dimensions, I can think of at least
two other fantasy books where airships have a bigger role to play in another
universe, so if I see one floating overhead I’ll start to worry.
In this parallel Earth Rose’s Dad, Peter Tyler (Shaun Dingwall), is still
alive and has made a fortune from health drinks (see ‘Fathers Day’ from
the first series). He and Jackie are still married (just about) and they
never had Rose, although there is a fluffy chihuahau that bears her name.
Peter Tyler has just sold his soft drinks firm to Lumic, whose Cybus Industries
owns practically every other business in the UK. Cybus Industries make the
small circular implants that seem compulsory in this reality; these implants
enable their users to directly download stuff from the Internet into their
brains. They also seem to enable Mr. Lumic to hack into your brain if you
happen to be wearing them.
All of these aspects of the story form an interesting backdrop to the rise
of the Cybermen and touch again on the same kind of issues that fed Kit
Pedler’s original concept in the 1960s. Here it is updated so that we have
all the paranoia about current technology being brought to the surface-
from WAP enabled phones to ‘Blue Tooth’ hacking, it is all there. Although
paranoia might be too harsh a description, just go and read about post-humanism
on the web and you can find all the aspects of the Cybermen that worry us
so much. There is an interesting line in the start of this episode where
a hapless assistant turns to Lumic and states that they have to register
the Cyberman with Geneva, as it is ‘technically a new life-form’. His diligence
earns him destruction at the hand of Lumic’s creation.
The decision to give the Cybermen a Davros figure is an intriguing one;
in the Big Finish audio-play ‘Spare Parts’ starring Peter Davison, they deliberately
avoided having such a figure. The fate of the original Mondasian Cybermen
does in many ways seem more poignant as a result, their conversion into
cybernetic organisms being an attempt to survive in impossible circumstances.
In the parallel Earth we see in this episode the drive to survive is purely
that of Mr. Lumic, who we are told is dying; hence his interest in radical
upgrades for human beings. However, you might well ask, as I found myself
doing, why he deems it necessary to send his henchmen driving up and down
the seedier parts of London forcibly recruiting the homeless into his Cyber
army? Why not just turn himself into a Cyberman instead if he is really
worried about dying?
The answer to this question lies with the UK President (played with characteristic
dry humour by Don Warrington) who has decreed that such radical upgrades
are illegal and obscene. Nevertheless, as with restrictive regulations about
human embryo research and fertility treatment one would imagine that someone
in Lumic’s position could probably find another way round this, as Peter
Tyler suggests he could go to another country. However it seems that Lumic
is a super-patriot and feels very strongly about his homeland, so much so
that he is prepared to overthrow the government if need be to get his own
Ranged against these sinister forces is Mickey’s parallel self, Ricky,
who heads up a rag-tag group of renegades who are distinguished by their
lack of implants and their hatred of Lumic. Mickey finds himself drawn into
their circle when he is mistaken for his doppelganger and by the end of
the episode finds himself pitted against an entire army of Cybermen as they
trample over Peter Tyler’s extensive front lawn.
The Cybermen have had a very major upgrade themselves since their last
appearance in ‘Silver Nemesis’ all those years ago. Like the Daleks the
Cybermen seemed to suffer in the later years of Doctor Who, becoming ridiculously
easy to dispatch (I remember particularly the scene involving Ace throwing
gold coins at the chests of silver Cybermen who died almost instantly) and
were saddled with ‘Mr Blobby’ voices. They seemed a long way from the sinister
doll faced creatures that were so frightening in the Troughton era.
So it was good to see that they have upgraded the Cybermen without losing
all of their distinguishing features, but as with the Daleks last year they
have a heavier, more armour plated feel to them. This effect seems to work
particularly well given the right lighting, which is why the scenes near
the end of a cyber army tramping the mist are the most amazing scenes in
the second series so far. The Cybermen themselves have certainly regained
their menace, they have retained the blank eyes and the ear-handles, but
now have very skull like faces, glowing teeth and big boots. While it is
strange to see cyborgs in flares, you don’t notice such things when they
are crashing through your house electrocuting people. The new cyber voices,
courtesy of Nicholas Briggs, owe a lot to the Troughton era Cybermen, with
just a sprinkling of static over the top so they sound like distorted police
As well as giving Dr Who’s second most popular monsters a substantial upgrade
and a Davros like creator, they are also given a catch phrase to challenge
the Daleks’ classic cry of ‘exterminate’: From now on you will be ‘deleted’
by Cybermen, not killed or destroyed. I know, not the most original of ideas
but enough to serve a purpose it seems.
I suppose my only quibble about this episode is that given the huge amount
of info dump that is required of the characters and the situations they
are in, there is barely enough time to get your head around the concepts
before we are jostled onto the next level where the Cybermen are marching
on the lawn. But this isn’t so much a problem I have with this episode but
with the new series in general. The director, producers, actors and the writers
have made a damn good job of telling this story but they are constricted
by the overall format of the show. At least with this story we have a two
parter where there is some chance of a complex plot evolving, but the fact
that the President of the UK is not given a name is indicative of the problem
I have with this. He simply isn’t around long enough to have the luxury of
a name, which is a shame for such a potentially interesting character.
But that quibble aside I can only commend this episode; a clever script,
great direction, a little bit of hamming it up from Mr Lloyd-Pack as the
mad scientist and Mickey finally starts to come into his own. And did I mention
it’s got Cybermen in it…?