Doctor Doctor Who Guide

This story's like a pop music cover version of a fantastic song first done as a demo by an independent band. It waters down what made the original so fantastic, and yet might still go to number 1 on the pop charts because some of the basic ideas that were so good are still basically there and because the production is so stylish.

The most basic idea that is so good is the emotionless Cybermen themselves, and their plans to forcibly turn you into one of them. This comes from the original TV series. The next step after that, the idea that the reason Cybermen make themselves emotionless is to avoid scaring themselves to death and preserve sanity after what's been done to their bodies, that comes from an audio story made by Big Finish in 2002 called "Spare Parts," written by Marc Platt, who is given a thank you credit on the close of both of these TV episodes. Other bits of "Spare Parts" that made sort of made it in were seeing a procession of the population being frog-marched into Cyber-processing plants, and seeing the process happen to someone we knew and cared about, in this case Jackie Tyler. All of the above are very scary things to think about and to see happening on your TV screen, and the story is to be commended for showing this.

The way we see all that happen, with the marching squads of Cybermen moving in formation with that relentless mechanical thumping sound... with the CGI enlarged crowds being herded into the plants... the inventive and almost always moving camera angles...the Zeppelins over London... it all has a look and a gloss to it worthy of a feature film. Graeme Harper always shot the hell out of the stories he worked on in the 1980s, and he's lost none of that touch here. I'm really looking forward to seeing what he does with the season finale now.

And then the story gives us a lot of original material. The alternative Earth stuff is a mixed bag. On the good side of the bag, and it's very, very good, is the alternate Mickey (Ricky) and how he's leading a small resistance unit, and how his grandmother is still alive. Where Mickey tends to shy away from danger, Ricky's much more involved and pro-active, and though it's never explicitly said, it's plain to see why. It's simply because his grandmother is still alive. Our Mickey apparently became very afraid of death after it claimed his grandmother, but for Ricky, to whom that never happened, death and danger aren't going to cow him. I can also completely buy that our Mickey would stay behind and replace dead Ricky so that he can tend and be with his grandmother, and that he finds his bottle knowing that the world he's helping to save is one that has her in it. This is wonderful stuff, and wonderfully played by Noel Clarke. The scenes of he and his grandmother together, and of he and Rose saying goodbye at the end, are quite heartbreaking, and that's totally down to his talent.

On the not-so-good side of the bag is what's been done to Rose's alternative family. Rose's reactions (and Billie Piper's acting) to it are all fine and spot on given what she's been presented, and a successful, living Pete Tyler is also nice to see, but he's just _there_. They never have a payoff like we saw last year in "Father's Day," and while in one sense that's quite right because we already saw that big story last season, it's quite wrong at the same time, because if all you can do with having him there is to, well, have him there, then what's the point? Even worse off is Jackie, who is so different and so nasty a person in the alternative world that we're almost glad to see her get converted into a Cyberman. As the Doctor says numerous times, "she is not your mother," and because she is so not her mother, the whole punch of the scene where we see Cyber-Jackie is completely absent.

And in the really-not-good-at-all stinky, wet, rotting corner of the bag, we have this alternative origin story for the Cybermen of this alternative dimension. The only saving grace we're given is a line in the second episode where the Doctor tells Rose that there were Cybermen from our universe too and that they were from another planet, thus preserving the Mondasian origin story we're used to from the original series as still being valid, and even allowing "Spare Parts" to not come into conflict with what we're told here on TV. That's a saving grace because this alternative is a pathetic bunch of cliches recycled from either 1980s science-fiction films or from different stories in the TV series (chiefly "The Invasion" and "Genesis of the Daleks"). In this universe, the Cybermen are the creation of a madman called John Lumic, an 80s-style businessman confined to a life-supporting wheelchair. Sound like anyone we already know from the original series? That's right, he's a more charismatic Davros, or at least he would be if he were played by a better actor than Roger Lloyd-Pack, who chews scenery in a way that the most cartoonish villains of the original series would've been proud of. Witness how his opening catchphrase "FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE" has already entered into the lexicon of silly lines fans like to quote at each other like "oh no, not the mind probe." I also can't buy into the idea that, even in an alternative universe, that any one businessman could engineer a project on such a grand and horrible scale as this and get away with it as easily as he seems to, at least not without some enormous pressure on that society for it to have to undergo such a change. The origin story of "our" Cybermen, the originals, had that, which was that their entire planet was dying since it had been hurled out of its normal orbit around the sun, and the only way the people could survive the increasingly harsh conditions was to cybernise. Their story is a tragedy of circumstance that was inevitable for those poor people. This alternative story is nothing more than a poorly written comic book or action movie. I can get emotionally involved in the former, and not the latter, and unfortunately, the latter is what the masses have been given in this story.

Fortunately for the masses, they do still have David Tennant as the Doctor to save the day and the story, and he does both, effortlessly bounding around the sets and unravelling the Cybermen's plans without them even noticing.

Filters: Television Series 2/28 Tenth Doctor