Saturday, 16 May 2009

Doctor Who: The Rise Of The Cybermen (1)

Doctor Kendric: 'It's alive!'

Well, after a promising start to the season (and two of my favourite episodes ever), we came down to earth with a bang this week. No TV show's perfect—there's always something to complain about—but tonight, the negatives far outstripped the positives. Which is a shame, because the return of the Cybermen should have been a cause for rejoicing—but as has been the case so many times this season, something went drastically wrong. So I apologise in advance for the negativity of this review.

I quite like Roger Lloyd Pack. I loved him as Trigger in Only Fools and Horses, and he was an absolute treat as Owen in The Vicar Of Dibley—so I know he can act. I'm just not sure acting is what he was doing tonight. His portrayal of John Lumic was a wooden as Pinocchio's arse cheeks—an absolute master-class in how not to play a Who villain. I almost spat out my coffee when he said 'And how will you do that, from beyond the grave?' Admittedly, it was a badly written line, but it was delivered with such vapidity, that it must have had first year drama students looking on in slack-jawed wonder. Is this really how it's supposed to be done?

And Pack wasn't the only one struggling to attain mediocrity. Noel Clarke turned in an equally questionable performance. I've warmed to Mickey these past few weeks, really I have. Making him a part-time companion was, in my view, the best thing that could ever have happened to his character. But Clarke's portrayal of Ricky was bizarre. Where did he get the idea from that screwing up his mouth and frowning a lot would make him look tough? Clarke ruined what was an otherwise terrific character episode for Mickey. Finally they gave him some back story, transforming the hapless Mickey from the 'spare part' of the show, into someone we actually care about. I just wish they'd done it sooner.

And there was a problem with the plot, too. Haven't we had this story before? Didn't 'Father's Day' basically cover the same ground? (Rose meets her once dead Dad, who inexplicably finds himself confiding in her; Jackie behaves like a total cow; Rose tries to meddle with history.) But 'Father's Day' was such an unmitigated success that a retread could only pale by comparison—which, regrettably, it did. According to Doctor Who Magazine, Tom MacRae was also commissioned to write a story for season four, but the episode was delayed on the grounds that it was too similar in tone to another episode. This seems to be a recurring pattern with him.

Was there anything good about this episode? Yes, in part—but for every good bit, there was something awful undoing it. The Cybermen looked excellent—design wise, they're a vast improvement on their former selves, and the alternate history story was plausible, engaging and actually quite fascinating—but they just weren't scary. Their walking in sync made them look silly, and they walked too slowly and too noisily (even on grass for some reason). And them yelling 'delete' over and over again just irritated the shit out of me.

Another thing that puzzled me is: how can there be a Torchwood in the parallel universe? The Torchwood Institute was set up by Queen Victoria in response to the events of 'Tooth and Claw'. Did the parallel universe branch off sometime after that event? Or was Torchwood created in response to a different threat? Or does the Doctor visit this parallel universe at some point in the future, necessitating the formation of Torchwood in the past?

Here's hoping that next week's episode can resurrect this story... from beyond the graaaaave!!!

Other Thoughts:

—I was surprised that they didn't make more out of Mickey being called Ricky. Wasn't Ricky the ninth Doctor's pet name for Mickey? That's some coincidence.

—In Classic Who, the Cybermen came from the planet Mondas. This story, however, is a parallel universe story, so the two origin stories don't necessarily conflict.

—Two references to Torchwood tonight. Once on Rose's mobile phone. The second when Pete calls a party-goer 'the guy from Torchwood'.

—Mickey refers to himself as a 'spare part', a reference maybe to the Big Finish Productions audio drama of the same name (on which 'The Rise Of The Cybermen/Age Of Steel' is based').


Doctor: 'So this is London.'
Mickey: 'Yup.'
Doctor: 'Your city.'
Mickey: 'That's the one.'
Doctor: 'Just as we left it.'
Mickey: 'Bang on.'
Doctor: 'And that includes the Zeppelins?'

Doctor: 'All of these different worlds. Not one of them gets it right.'

Ricky: 'He's flesh and blood. How did that happen?'
Woman: 'Well, it could be that Cybus Industries have perfected the science of human cloning. Or, your father had a bike.'

Doctor: 'It's happening again.'
Rose: 'What do you mean?'
Doctor: 'I've seen them before.'
Rose: 'What are they?'
Doctor: 'Cybermen!'

Cyberman: 'You are rogue elements.'
Doctor: 'But we surrender.'
Cybermen: 'You are incompatible.'
Doctor: 'But this is a surrender.'
Cyberman: 'You will be deleted.'

Cyberman: 'Delete... delete... delete... delete!'

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