Doctor Doctor Who Guide

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). The 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 too 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 cameras 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 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 duel 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 dies 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 Grandmothers 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 weeks 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?

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