Doctor Doctor Who Guide

I hate it because all the mocking derision that I’ve spent the intervening week honing has to be junked and I am left with shamefaced admiration, guilty of second guessing BBC Wales and showing why they produce it and I, er, don’t.

For instance- the clankily butch cybermen of ‘Rise’. Oh, how we laughed. Just robots, surely? An absolute disgrace and an insult to 40 years of cyber-lore. Stomp stomp stomp they went- big clanky boots sounding like they were walking on biscuit tins. Empty biscuit tins, at that. What was laughable last week became a masterstroke of sound design and direction, this. The sheer tsunami of industrial noise that signalled the cybermen marching became their signature beat. Like a mechanised Fourth Reich- the dreams of wartime Germany writ large. Terrifying.

For instance- John Lumic, the “Davros-lite mad scientist” behind these ramped-up monsters. But he wasn’t, was he? He wasn’t just another crippled genius with a grudge, he was a person. And in his death, his ‘upgrading’, we saw the real horror of what he had unleashed… but understood that he never once saw it too. He protested, yes, but after conversion- and with his personality still seemingly intact- he showed no bitter remorse at his fate. Quite the reverse. The cybermen gave their creator a nudge in the right direction after all, like good children should. Thinking it over - why shouldn’t he have maintained his personality? He built the cybermen to conform to his ideals. Part of his brain had already been upgraded… just by biology and philosophy, not cybernetics. Quite right that he should remain as the spokesman. Yes, the cybermen had become a brand- and every brand needs a brand manager.

For instance- the alternates of Jackie, Pete and Mickey. Hasn’t this story been done? Ah, but no. Pete rejected Rose, stumbling away to get on with his life, leaving her open mouthed with disappointment. A cursory dismissal- not what we were expecting. Jackie got upgraded (at last, spectacularly, putting to bed those sniggering queries about ‘cyberwomen’) and Mickey… well, that’s another story. If this year has a running theme, then there it is- loss and disappointment. How many times, over the past six episodes have we been shown characters in mourning- whether it be for a loved one or for the past? How many times have things gone awry, on a small, unexpected and personal level- providing little sharp shocks- like the exile at the end of ‘Tooth and Claw’? Like Rose being confronted with her own future, personified in Sarah Jane? Like Mickey realising he’s “the tin dog”? All of them serving to undermine the Doctor and Rose’s relationship. Last year they swanned around throughout time without a care in the world, having “the trip of a lifetime”… at least until the daleks came back. This year, the fun is over and life in the vortex isn’t just throwing monsters at them. Monsters and threats to the universe we can deal with in Doctor Who, but all this is new- and much, much more serious. This is going somewhere, mark my words. Someone is going to act upon the continual battering of disappointment they are receiving, and do something very silly indeed.

So maybe, this will be remembered as the one where Mickey left. It depends upon your take on this new Doctor Who, as to how you react to that. I’m very, very sorry to see Noel Clarke go- in fact, I was left at the end wishing we could follow Mickey’s adventures- cleaning the world of cybermen, rather than travel with this ever-so-slightly grating and annoyingly overconfident new Doctor. That’s no criticism of David Tennant- I’m positive the performance is expertly judged and is like this for a reason- and I’m sure that, by series end, we’ll all be agog at how marvellously it all becomes apparent. Maybe the show won’t win quite so many awards next year from the Great Unwashed- but in our geeky fan hearts, we’ll love it even more than we did last time. Maybe, at the end of ‘The Age of Steel’ I wanted us to go with Mickey because his future looked positive and exciting and fun. Whereas I have a distinct feeling that life with the Doctor is about to get a lot darker and a lot more troubling.

‘The Age of Steel’, as a second half, outshone its predecessor and whipped it soundly in the process. Everything that *seemed* dubious was given justification and became an important point in the bigger stories going on. Everything that *was* dubious last week- the pacing, some of the dialogue- was improved upon. Slick, action packed, and for only the second time this series- truly scary. The tunnel of ‘deactivated’ cybermen, the many times they lurched unexpectedly into view, cyberJackie, the cyber-mincing-machine, all have the potential to be iconic bits of Who-horror. And to make it even better- it had its fair share of silliness as well: the comedy cyberdancing, exploding cyberhead, the controller’s “Nooooo!!” and subsequent rope ladder escapade, all felt just ever so slightly wrong. And in the case of the extras’ wibbly wobbly “pain” acting, made me spit out my coffee.

But- enough! These are small things. Easily the second best episode of the year so far, probably the best action adventure programme the BBC has ever made, and up there in the top few episodes of this whole marvellous revival.

Mickey, we’ll miss you. Lumic, I feel we’ll be meeting you- or something very like you- again very soon.

Filters: Television Series 2/28 Tenth Doctor