Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel

After a period of several months since I saw “The Girl in the Fireplace”, it’s finally on to the next adventure for David Tennant’s tenth Doctor, “The Rise of the Cybermen”. And if I thought “Fireplace” was fairly good despite its problems, the same cannot be said for “Rise”, which has to set the record for recycled and blatantly ripped-off story ideas.

All together now: we’re on Earth again. And in London, again. We get to watch the Tyler family interpersonal crises, again. Rose wants to see her dead father again. Even Mickey gets in on the act this time, going to visit his dead grandmother. Can we say retread? It’s long since become evident that the series would rather try and tug on the heart strings instead of presenting interesting and imaginative stories. Why travel to an alien world when repackaged Tyler soap is so much easier and cheaper to film? It’s all very tiresome. It’s about to put me off the new series entirely. Thank goodness the Tylers depart at the end of the season.

Apart from yet more Tyler melodrama, the parallel earth scenario seems to exist mainly to allow the Cybermen’s origins to be retold on Earth. I have two main problems with this idea. The first is that the story is nowhere near as interesting as the origins of the actual Cybermen from the original series, which managed to be quite tragic. “Age of Steel” tries desperately to convey a sense of tragedy, but doesn’t really pull it off. Kidnapping bums off the street and forcibly converting them isn’t tragic so much as it is brutal and callous. I don’t feel sorry for the victims, my focus is on the people who perpetrated the crime, who are unfortunately stock, cardboard cutout villains.

And speaking of the cardboard villain, John Lumic, there are inescapable similarities between him and Davros as first portrayed in “Genesis of the Daleks”. Lumic is a mad, murderous, wheelchair-bound fanatical genius who creates a way for humanity to escape death by essentially becoming brains trapped in a robotic body. It’s not all that different from Davros and the Daleks, and I am astounded that a storyline so similar was produced. It’s practically plagiarism! Doctor Who is ripping off its own past storylines. Lumic himself is pretty one-dimensional as a character. A megalomaniac who thinks he should be able to cheat death, he rants and murders without a second thought to achieve his objectives. He even calls the Cybermen his “children”. He’s utterly predictable, and therefore dead boring and as clichéd as they come. When I wrote this I hadn’t yet seen the second episode, and yet it was all too easy to predict correctly that Lumic would beg for his life when his turn for conversion came in part two. As indeed he does.

The Cybermen have been redesigned since they were last seen in “Silver Nemesis”, and the designers seem to be reaching back to the sixties for their inspiration. That’s not a bad idea. These new Cybermen take a number of visual cues from various Cybermen of the Troughton era, including the “teardrop” on the eye, the less-prominent “earmuffs” and the electronic voice. The mouth lights up when they speak, similar to the flap that opened and closed when the Cybermen of “The Moonbase” and “Tomb of the Cybermen” spoke. I’m not sure the electrocution ability is really necessary given the physical strength of the creatures, but perhaps the production team wanted to avoid depictions of strangulation and neck-chopping. About the only thing I don’t care for are the ankle “flares” and the “delete” catchphrase. Sounds like an attempt to mimic “exterminate” to me, and it doesn’t work. Like much of the rest of the story, the catchphrase is just blatantly derivative.

I did enjoy the reference to International Electromatics, as well as the “you will be like us” line as callbacks to Doctor Who’s long cyber-history.

Finally, and sadly, Tennant’s version of the Doctor simply isn’t living up to the hopes I had for him on his first appearance. Like Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy, he simply doesn’t have the gravitas or weight needed for the role. He’s a good actor and still able to pull off the more eccentric aspects of the Doctor’s character better than Eccleston did, but he just doesn’t take charge and grip the viewer with his presence on screen. The Doctor seems positively petulant when telling Mickey and Rose not to chase down their respective temptations in the “gingerbread house”. He seems quite squeaky when trying to surrender to the Cybermen. And like Davison, he is honestly too young for the role. He just doesn’t seem like the elder mentor to his young companions, but more like one of them.

Moving on the “The Age of Steel”, things do improve somewhat, thankfully. Now that the ripped-off origin story has been told, the story shifts over to ripped-off action-movie mode. There’s still not a lot of originality here as our little group of commandos split into various groups to try and infiltrate and shut down Lumic’s Cyber-factory, but at least I don’t feel like I’m watching “Genesis of the Daleks” any more. Instead I’m watching a bog-standard action movie with the small group taking out a far larger and superior force. The story is on safe ground as we get to watch lots of running and shouting and daring escapades as the group try to shut down the Cyber-factory and save the zombified humans who are marching to their doom.

As predicted, Lumic begs for his life as he’s taken for conversion, protesting that he’s “not ready yet”. And like all good (or bad) movie monsters, he’s far more indestructible than his metal minions. It takes a fall from a zeppelin into the exploding Cyber-factory to finish him off.

There are some good moments in “The Age of Steel”, but I’m unenthused about the episode and don’t really care to discuss them. The story as a whole left me very unimpressed. “Rise of the Cybermen” is a retread of ideas from both the old and new series. The episode is entertaining on a superficial level, but pretty unsatisfying in every other way. “The Age of Steel” improves by dispatching Lumic quickly and moving on to some humans versus Cybermen action, but it’s still rather clichéd in its content. In short, this story has very little new to offer and the appearance of the Cybermen is wasted by giving us an alternate-universe version which I have no interest in, and which have no history with the Doctor.

Posted in 10th Doctor - David Tennant

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