Monday, 14 January 2013

Review: Doctor Who 2.5-6: Rise Of The Cybermen/The Age Of Steel

Doctor Who - Season 28, Episodes Five and Six - Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel
Written 15/12/12

I love the Cybermen, at least as a concept. For me as a kid, the idea of a race of people driven by adversity to their complete loss of humanity was incredibly fascinating, and a somewhat viable exploration of the mankind's future. In the 60s, this idea was mainly inspired by the fear around artificial organs - if we can make a man's heart out of metal, what else will we find to replace? The Classic Series' continuity regarding the Cybermen got a convoluted with JNT's tenure, and thus to avoid any of that, Rusty chose to completely reinvent them. The result is a two-parter that, while flawed, is still one I rather enjoy.
Alright, dave?
     The Doctor, Rose and Mickey accidentally fall through a gap in the Universe and end up in a Parallel World, in which Rose's father Pete (Shaun Dingwall) is still alive and working for the ridiculously powerful Cybus Industries, headed up by Davros-expy John Lumic (Roger Lloyd-Pack). While they wait for the TARDIS to recover after her stressful trip, they find themselves forced to investigate Cybus Industries' activities. Mickey gets abducted by a terrorist group known as the Preachers, led by his parallel counterpart Rickey, who are investigating Cybus' Cybernetics programs. When The Doctor and Rose investigate her parents' houseparty, they find that Lumic has created a terrestrial version of the Cybermen with which he plans to take over the world. The Doctor, Rose, Pete and the Preachers meet up and head to the central Cybus factory where the brainwashed peoples of the UK are being converted. The Doctor confronts Lumic and, using Mickey's help, manages to destroy the factory and all of the UK's Cybermen. With Rickey dead, Mickey and the last of the Preachers go off to fight the Cybermen elsewhere as The Doctor and Rose return home.
      I'm actually quite glad that Rusty allowed this two parts, because what we get for that time is a quite thorough exploration of the Cyberman concept as applied to the Modern Era. These Cybermen aren't about the primal thirst for survival, they're something much more modern - a commercial idea, a brand, the latest accessory for your existence. Lumic's primary motivations are to remove sickness and difference from the world, but there's that undercurrent of power-madness the allows us to see why the mechanism for such a change comes in the form of telecommunications and the media. We also see a lot of the humanity behind the converted faces; an especially effective moment is when we see the Parallel Jackie Tyler in Cyber-form, and hear an emotified-Cyberman talk about her wedding day. It's all nice seasoning.
     As for the Cybermen themselves... I don't know. In this story, at least, their incredibly robotic and militaristic design seems to work rather well for them, and they fit right in with the corporate image of Cybus Industries. It's a bit unfortunate that this is seemingly the only place where this is true, as elsewhere these particular Cybermen seem a bit too stiff, a bit too robotic. Simply not Human enough. The JNT Cybermen may have looked like people in costumes, but the simple little things like a visible chin made you believe that this could have been a person converted into one of them. Here, the idea is simple brain transfer, and so it's much more of a consciousness thing. How much can we say that a Cyberman is a "person" if all that's happened is that your brain's been put in one? I don't know, I'm not a philosopher.
The Cybusmen make their first appearance.
     Tom MacCrae, the writer, gives us quite a few secondary characters, and they're all actually quite well-written. The Preachers are an interestingly silly group, wanted for petty crimes and all bitter against Cybus Industries for one reason or another. Angela Price (whose nickname, Mrs. Moore, is likely a cheeky reference to the "writer" of Attack of the Cybermen), played by Helen Griffin, is given a surprisingly long period to exposit, and when she dies a few minutes later we actually feel something. CBBC presenter Andrew Hadyn-Smith (another doppelganger of mine) has a weird turn with Jake Simmonds, a character supposed to gay in the script but who subsequently had all of these references written out. Weird, considering the show-runner's openness for such things.
     It's the little touches here or there that make the Rise two-parter so successful. As an execution of concept, it works to its full potential and is an incredibly thorough application of the Cybermen to Noughties Britain. But it's more than that. Its minor characters, and its little explorations of the concept where you wouldn't expect them, they give this two-parter a real soul that's quite inescapable.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: We watch an episode of a long-running television program that makes jokes about the dangers of watching too much television.  

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