Monday, 18 January 2010

Doctor Who: The Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel

Rise of the Cybermen

“And how will you do that… from beyond the grave?”

It’s an odd beginning- Roger Lloyd Pack, in a wheelchair, unveiling a new creature which is part machine. The echoes of Davros from Genesis of the Daleks are difficult to ignore. Still, this megalomaniac has a much better sense of humour. And I think this scene is funny even if a lot of people didn’t at the time.

This is the first time since the RTD era started that I’ve found myself knowing very little about the writer. I have no idea who Tom MacRae is or what he’s done. In fact, I could almost claim to be coming to this story with no preconceptions if it weren’t for the small detail that I’ve already seen it several times.

The story’s notable for the return of the you-know-whats, of course, but also to the foreground is Mickey, his character arc, and his relationship with the Doctor and Rose. The first TARDIS scene has Mickey still being the outsider of the gang, the butt of the jokes. And while the Doctor later worries about Rose going to find her father, it hasn’t occurred to him that there might be a parallel situation for Mickey, or indeed that he might have a hinterland at all.

It’s a good story for him, fittingly enough. It’s the sci-fi savvy Mickey who’s the first to realise that they’re on an alternate Earth, and he deals with the situation a lot better than Rose does in something of a role reversal. He also tells us that Tony Blair exists in “our” timeline, sadly. Or did, presumably, before the Slitheen got him.

Rose’s dad is alive here, in another fascinating plot thread which reaches backwards and forwards and, like the Mickey arc, is far more significant and fascinating in the context of the Marathon than it was at the time. To digress, though… both Jackie and Pete exist in this reality, and given that the chances of the same sperm fertilising the same egg as in our reality are vanishingly small I have to assume that events must have diverged from our reality less than forty years previously, after they were both conceived. That seems quite a tall order, given the zeppelins, the fact that Britain is a republic, and so on.

It’s fun exploring this world, where Jackie is rich, a bit nasty, and has a dog called Rose, Don Warrington is the President, and everybody’s wearing silver ear things that bring up Cybermen-style jug handles when Lumic wants to take control.

The Doctor states quite clearly that, with no more Time Lords around, “the walls of reality are closed,” and that travel between different realities is impossible, except for just this once. I wonder why he’s emphasising this so much? It’s almost as if something’s being foreshadowed.

The moment where Rose and the Doctor see everyone just stop and receive their “downloads” is just as horrible, once you think about it, as the forced Cybernisation to the sounds of Tight Fit that happens shortly afterwards. An entire society is just allowing one private monopoly to get inside their heads and “download” its own stance on politics, culture and everything, and hardly anybody seems to question it. Could this be the second dig at Rupert Murdoch from the “New Series”, I wonder?

Mickey finds that his Gran is still alive, and then things start happening rather quickly as he’s bundled into a van by people talking about “International Electromatics” (Now where have I heard that before?). But at least he manages to, ahem, find himself. Heh. Sorry.

There’s a nice bit of dialogue from Lumic which I only noticed this time round, as he says to Crane that he’s governed by greater laws than those represented by the President- “The right of a man to survive.” What a very Cyberman mentality.

The Doctor and Rose infiltrate the party, where Rose, interestingly, has a conversation with Pete that closely parallels their conversations in Father’s Day; Pete instinctively trusts her. Jackie’s reaction to her is quite a shock, though. This is not the Jackie that we know and love, and we know that be the narrative laws of the programme she’s going to die.

It’s a fantastic ending, showing us that Graeme Harper’s still got it; not only do the Cybermen look fantastic, but they’re brilliantly shot and, best of all, brilliantly choreographed. Again we get an outstanding cliffhanger.

The Age of Steel

“I’d call you a genius, but I’m in the room.”

Actually the cliffhanger resolution is quite good, I thought. A bit convenient in hindsight, perhaps, but I didn’t see it coming at the time. And from this point on it’s pretty much all epic movie action stuff.

There’s a bit of exposition in the van first, though, in which Pete makes two earth-shattering revelations. Firstly, he’s been spying on Lumic for the preachers, and secondly, they have Scooby Doo in this world.

It’s fascinating to see that here, as so often, the Doctor just takes charge of these people he’s just met and is questioned by no one, and yet the script manages to make this entirely plausible. It’s also interesting to see how Mickey and Ricky are shown to be more similar than the might have first seemed, with Ricky not being quite the freedom fighter we imagined and Mickey constantly showing himself to be more brave and resourceful than even he realises.

Of course, we can’t have two of them, and it’s only polite of Ricky to be the one to bite the dust, what with him not being a regular character and all. And Jake not only has to deal with the loss of his boyfriend (interesting angle on Mickey here, and also our first glimpse of a proto-Torchwood take on sexuality) but has his doppelganger hanging around apologising. But Mickey comes up trumps with his magnificent speech about how he’s going to help, dammit.

The Doctor and Mrs Moore re-enact the hatch scene from Tomb of the Cybermen and then, in a scene which brilliantly shows us the horror of Cybernisation, they examine an immobilised and dying Cyberman and the Doctor accidentally damages its emotional inhibitor. We find out that she was called Sally and tomorrow was going to be her wedding day. Meanwhile, Pete and Rose are spotted by a Cyberman who turns out to have been Jackie but then, even more effectively, she disappears into the crowd and they have no idea which one she was. This is brilliant; never before has the nature of Cybernisation and the existential dilemmas it raised been dramatised so well.

Lumic, of course, is forcibly Cybernised by his underlings and becomes the Cyber Controller. I suppose there’s grounds for criticism in that we’re not told how or why he seems to retain a bit of emotion while other Cybermen don’t (rather hypocritically, given his boasts to the Doctor), but I don’t really mind as the character fulfils a dramatic need for a chief villain who can cut it in a verbal showdown scene.

And it’s a pretty damn good showdown scene, too. The Doctor echoes Peter Davison’s speech from Earthshock but also emphasises the New Series’ themes of change versus stasis and human potential. And, of course, it’s Mickey who saves the day. I love the way he apparently learned to fly a zeppelin via Playstation.

There’s an interesting role reversal at the end, though- when finally tells Pete who she is things don’t work out as they did in Father’s Day; this time he can’t deal with it. And Mickey’s leaving scene is brilliant as he finally unloads his dependence on Rose. And his last line is perfect.

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