THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE AFTER THE TV
EPISODE "THE GIRL IN
THE FIREPLACE" AND
TO THE TV EPISODE
"THE AGE OF STEEL."
'THE COMPLETE SECOND
SERIES' CYBERMAN HEAD
AMAZON EXCLUSIVE DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2122)
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
ON A PARALLEL EARTH,
A DEADLY NEW VERSION
OF THE DOCTOR'S OLD
ENEMY IS ABOUT TO BE
13TH MAY 2006
(50-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 1 OF 2)
In the wake of the successful comeback made by the Doctor’s oldest and dead-
liest foes, the Daleks, it was to be expected that this second series would feature his big ‘number two’ enemy, the Cybermen. But how would they return? What would they look like? And what would the story be all about?
In Rise of the Cybermen, Tom MacRae tells not one, not two, but three ‘parallel’ stories, all of which are bound together masterfully. With twice the time that Rob Shearman had to re-invent the Dalek, MacRae is able to slowly crank up the tension on all fronts before ending his first episode on a stupendous cliffhanger. Those who tuned into Rise of the Cybermen expecting a colossal Cyberfest might have been a little disappointed (though I’m sure that they’ll be appeased next week), but I was thoroughly thrilled with the episode. Save for the inexorable transformation of the inhabitants of the parallel Earth into Cybermen, there was not a single aspect of this story that failed to surprise me…
To begin with, given all the hype about the return of
Shaun Dingwall as Pete Tyler, I was expecting this
story to be built almost exclusively around Rose and
her father, who is not only alive in the story’s ‘alternate
reality’ setting, but is actually a successful business-
man; a millionaire, no less. However, whilst much of
the episode does focus on the temptations surrounding
Rose, Rise of the Cybermen is at heart a Mickey
Smith story. In fact, it is the Mickey Smith story. Here
MacRae gives Mickey a tragic past – a past that the
Doctor never knew about because he never asked
and never cared. Abandoned by his parents, Mickey’s
blind grandmother raised him until she died, tripping
on some upturned carpet and falling down the stairs.
I love the scene where the Doctor stands in between
his two companions, Rose rushing off in one direction
to look for her father, Mickey rushing off in the other to
go who knows where. Mickey shouts “go on then, no
choice is there, you can only chase after one of us. It’s never gonna be me is it?”, and he’s
right. And as much as he doesn’t want it to be right, and even as much as we, the audience, don’t want it to be right, the bottom line is that the Doctor loves Rose and Mickey is just a gooseberry; a spare part. Indeed, MacRae could have plausibly called this episode Spare Parts, although that might have raised a few eyebrows, not to mention increase Marc Platt's fee!
Russell T Davies swears that Mickey’s story arc was not planned, and if indeed the whole Mickey / Ricky angle was not masterminded last year, then it is truly one of the best cases
of serendipity that I’ve ever come across; it fits like a glove. In our universe, Mickey starts
off as a spineless idiot. In this universe though, Mickey’s counterpart, the ironically named Ricky (the name that the ninth Doctor would derisively call Mickey), seems to be his polar opposite. He’s a hero. A freedom fighter. A “Preacher of Gospel Truth… London’s Most Wanted!” MacRae is clearly building towards something here, and I can only hope it’s not
the demise of my new favourite companion.
I also enjoyed the explosive opening to the episode. Half-expecting another “oh look, we’ve landed on a parallel Earth” type-of-story, I was thrilled to see that the writer had made this a definite one-off trip – something far outside the TARDIS’ capabilities, at least, outside the TARDIS’ capabilities now that the Time Lords have gone from the universe. In fairness, I’ve always really enjoyed this type of story, but in making this crossover a fluke MacRae could really push the envelope in terms of drama in a way that previous stories never could. Rose can’t just pop in any time she wants to see her Dad, and Mickey can’t just pop in any time
he wants to see his Gran. “Twenty-four hours on a parallel world” is all that they get – and what a parallel world! Zeppelins in the air; Cybus technology everywhere… This episode’s designers have certainly succeeded in making a place as familiar as contemporary London feel both eerie and alien. Undoubtedly beautiful, but irrefutably unsettling.
“You could pop between realities and be home in time for tea.
Then the Time Lords died. Everything became that bit less kind.”
Furthermore, I think I’m right in saying that Rise of the Cybermen is the longest episode of the new series (bar the Christmas special) by a good few minutes – it actually over ran and
I missed the opening seconds of Doctor Who Confidential which I was less than pleased about! – yet it still has the same frenetic pace as preceding episodes. It’s remarkable just how much they have managed to cram in to it – one of Mickey’s earliest lines about every-thing being “the same, but different” sums up what would surely have eaten up at least an episode in the classic series. Even the story of the genesis of the Cybermen (okay, not the Cybermen, but Cybermen nonetheless) is told in around five scenes, without, I should add, the viewer feeling like anything has been left out or glossed over.
Turning to the men of steel themselves, when the Cybermen first hit television screens forty years ago in The Tenth Planet, they played upon viewers’ fears of new technology. For the benefit of the uninformed, Doctor Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis’ “silver giants” originally hailed from Mondas, Earth’s twin planet, and were a non-too subtle metaphor for what many feared could happen to humanity itself. But rather than muck about with decades of messy cyber continuity, the production team quite wisely opted to invent some new Cybermen – human ones!
Of course, this allowed them to completely redesign the Cybermen and rewrite their evol-ution, effectively putting their own stamp on what has, over the years, become quite a fluid concept. Best of all though, thanks to this re-imagining, the audience now knows that locked inside that monstrous metal casing is a human being, which I think has much more dramatic punch than knowing that it is a faceless Mondasian inside. And along with the new design; the new catchphrase (“you will be deleted!”); and even the new voices (better than the 1980s voices, but worse than the originals) MacRae has also updated the technology that we are
to fear - the Cybermen of the noughties use earpieces to download information directly into the human brains, which if you think about it, is only a step or two down the road from Blue-tooth.
That said, one integral facet of the Cybermen concept has remained the same and that is the sheer horror of cyber conversion. I was particularly interested to see how the production team would portray this here, given the broadcast slot. A few messy shots of Lytton in Attack of the Cybermen is about as gruesome as it ever got on television before the revival, but in the expanded universe of novels and audios – particularly in stuff like Killing Ground and Real Time – the gore is really quite outrageous. Personally, I feel that the writer and director did everything right here – a few screams, a brief flash of some menacing machinery, and then everything drowned out by The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Sublime.
“Skin of metal and a body that never ages. I ENVY IT!”
And then we come to John Lumic – the man who is to the new Cybermen what Davros is to the Daleks. Roger Lloyd Pack is unbelievably intense; having only seen him in comic roles prior to this (I’m an Only Fools and Horses nut) I was completely taken aback by his grave presence. His chair; his respirator; and those wide-open, completely insane eyes conjured up images of Davros, Darth Vader, and even the Master’s calcified incarnation. On paper, I suppose he’s a fairly run of the mill Doctor Who villain, but when you see him on screen he’s just so imposing. He has a very definite menacing charisma that just holds you; no small feat considering that his character is almost devoid of humour.
And in the President of Great Britain, Lumic
has a superb foil. Don Warrington is certainly
not new to playing powerful figureheads in
Doctor Who, having appeared as Time Lord
founding father Rassilon in several Big Finish
audio productions, and in this episode his gutsy
President does not disappoint – it’s just a shame that his role has been limited to just this episode thanks to the electric shock of a Cyberman!
“You’re a fine businessman John, but you’re not God.”
Throughout the episode, everything builds towards Jackie Tyler’s “thirty-ninth” birthday party, and despite the fact that it is obvious to anyone with half a brain cell what is going happen, you could still cut the tension with a knife. Rose’s thread of the story is handled well, even though the Pete stuff does feel a little anti-climatic after Father’s Day. I actually found the alternate Jackie more fascinating than her husband – whilst she may share certain traits
with our universe’s loveable Jackie, this woman is more belligerent (which really says a lot) and comes across as being arrogant and spoilt, whereas Pete is portrayed more or less as he was in Father’s Day, only older and perhaps a little more seasoned.
What made the party scenes so enjoyable for me though were those lovely little Doctor Who touches that just seem to flow throughout this series. Moments like where the Doctor laughs out loud when he discovers that this universe’s Rose Tyler is a Yorkshire Terrier, or where Rose’s blatant jealousy comes to the fore when the lady-killing tenth Doctor gets friendly with the fellow kitchen staff (“According to Lucy…”).
The episode’s climax is nothing short of spectacular, but despite all the cinematic splendour of these beautiful new art-deco Cybermen iconically bursting through the glass windows, for me it was a line of dialogue that lingered longest. Someone asks the Doctor why the Cyber-men don’t have emotions, and he simply replies “because it hurts”. That’s what is at the core of the techno fear that surrounds the Cybermen, but no-one has ever framed it so succinctly before. We are scared of Cybermen, but we are more scared of becoming Cybermen. That is why they worked in 1966, and that is why they work today. The rest is just dressing. The Age of Steel has begun.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? In this story, the parallel Jackie states that she shares her ‘official’ birthday with the actor Cuba Gooding Junior, who in our universe was born on 2nd January 1968. We are presuming that he was
born on 2nd January 1968 in the parallel world too, given that Pete, Jackie and ‘Ricky’ all appear to be the same age as their counterparts in our universe.
As Jackie is hosting a birthday party in Rise of the Cybermen, then it follows that her party must take place on or around 2nd January 2007 in the parallel universe, which Mickey confirms is synchronous with our own universe when he picks up a newspaper.
However, School Reunion must take place between The Christmas Invasion (Christmas 2006) and this story as Mickey considers the date that he sees in the newspaper to be “today”, as opposed to in his recent past. As such, Jackie’s birthday party cannot plausibly have taken place on 2nd January 2007 as – even though
the Krillitanes were slave drivers in the truest sense – this would mean that their school was open during the Christmas Holidays, which is extremely unlikely.
We therefore take the view that Jackie’s birthday party takes place on Saturday 6th January 2007, with the events of School Reunion taking place in the week leading up to it (i.e. between Tuesday 2nd January 2007 and Friday 5th January 2007). After all, who celebrates their birthday on a school night?
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