Doctor Doctor Who Guide

My overall impression of Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel was of a good, solid, very traditional but not “classic” Dr Who story. Containing many superb and sometimes disturbing sequences and with much to enjoy, sadly this was a notch down from being truly memorable, which isn’t to detract from the return of the excellent director Graeme Harper or indeed from Noel Clarke’s apparent swansong as Mickey (to whom of course the Age of Steel really belonged) whose character has been undergoing a pleasing progression since those rather far off days of Rose; and Clarke himself has proved a good ambassador for the show off screen. Indeed most of the cast were pretty good throughout and it was great to see Colin Spaull as Lumic’s chief henchman, whose character didn’t however display the same loyalty as Nyder did to Davros in Genesis.

Because we have been virtually anaesthetized to the often frenetic pace of the 45 minute single episode format, these two parters can seem nowadays fairly slow affairs, but even though I noted that the Age of Steel’s length stretched to a full 50 minutes the overall length of the whole tale was still 5 minutes short of the bog standard four parter of the old days. However I did enjoy the build up in episode one and the largely successful realisation of parallel London complete with zepplins, and the final five minutes where the Cybermen literally crashed the party was brilliantly done. The setting of the party itself with the Doctor and Rose dressed to serve worked very well and Tennant’s extermination of the Cybermen using a piece of the Tardis showed the Tenth Doctor again taking direct action to solve the immediate crisis rather than rely on others or lament that he didn’t have a plan for dealing with the threat.

Unfortunately Roger Lloyd-Pack didn’t quite do it for me as Lumic. I realise he is a versatile actor who has played many parts since Trigger in Only Fools and Horses but nevertheless his megalomaniac portrayal didn’t seem to work and I was half expecting him to refer to the Doctor as Dave and not just because that’s a slightly shortened version of the actor’s first name. And whilst the Cybermen themselves were brilliantly realised, certainly a notch up from the Darth Vader voice types of the ‘80’s, the ex-Lumic Cybercontroller seemed to resemble an enlarged C-3 PO, hardly a sinister leader of steel giants and when, having spent a good deal of the episode stuck in a chair, thus appearing to forget that he has been upgraded, he finally rips off his wires and abruptly gets up amidst the chaos and walks he is hilariously reminiscent of Andy from Little Britain. However it was a nice plot point that despite all the pain and suffering he has inflicted on London’s population under the pretence that he is actually trying to eradicate it, Lumic himself is forced to upgrade against his will.

I like the idea that one organisation headed by one wayward genius could become so powerful so as to easily exploit our ever increasing dependency on electronic gadgetry for its own end. The story tapped in nicely to the still prevalent fear about technology ceasing to be simply useful but becoming in itself a sinister force. There’s little point in thinking that everyone looked faintly ridiculous with their ear pods on and that this was ludicrously far-fetched as it seems to me as I look around that increasingly people in our world walk or sit wearing ear pieces for one reason or another which has usually nothing to do with their inability to hear properly. Mind you there was something distinctly Luddite about the proceedings not just in terms of the Ricky gang but most particularly in Angela Price’s electro-magnetic bomb which she says has been used against computers!So in a sense this story would have sat well in the Pertwee era, complimenting the Third Doctor’s distrust of them(though he loved his gadgets of course).

Individual sequences stand out, such as the machinery going its grisly work whilst the classic song the Lion Sleeps Tonight plays out- no part of the conversion process is shown, the horror is in what is implied; the Cybermen staring coldly through the meshing at Micky, having just killed his lookalike and thus creating Mickey’s defining moment as the hero in waiting; the rather controversial scene of the lone woman about to be incinerated, with disturbing parallels to the atrocities of the Nazis in WW II; and the last moments of the Cyber(woman)whose emotional inhibitor the Doctor has broken.

Tennant continues to impress with his performance as the Tenth Doctor, but here, whereas Christopher Eccleston’s intensity was perfect for the classic confrontation with the Dalek in Rob Shearman’s brilliant story, Tennant’s debate with the Cybercontroller appeared to have no more gravitas than his words to the Sycorax leader in the Christmas Invasion, and his quick, matter of fact enquiry”Can we do that?” to Angela Price was hardly in the same league as Tom Baker’s “Do I have the right?”speech in Genesis. But no matter-overall Tennant is clearly relishing the role and at times absolutely shining in it.

Overall, standards continue to run high, but for me the stand out story of the season so far remains Tooth and Claw:I watched it again on BBC3 tonight and it really is one of the very best there has been, both past and present; a case of going from the ridiculous to the sublime for its writer.

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