Saturday, August 17, 2013

Lost in Cyber Space

STORY 176:

*Author's Note: all Two-Part NuWho stories will be collapsed into one title and one review.  As such, the overall story is baptized Rise of the Cybermen Parts 1 & 2.  If referring to a specific episode I shall use either Part 1 or Part 2 to signal whether I'm referring to Rise of the Cybermen or The Age of Steel.

You have a long history to work with on Doctor Who.  You have legendary villains and monsters that have become iconic.  The Daleks certainly are the most famous of the Doctor's foes, but hot on their heels are the Cybermen.  NuWho has brought the Daleks back to menace the Doctor and his Companions so it seemed fitting to have the metal monsters make a comeback. 

The two-part story Rise of the Cybermen is the first to feature the precursors to the Borg, but they aren't your father's Cybermen.  Tom MacRae's screenplay for this two-parter has the Cybermen coming from an alternate universe, which has its pluses in that it does away with having to maintain some continuity with the Classic series Cybermen stories from The Tenth Planet onwards.  Its minuses: it will lead to thorny issues in terms of continuity within NuWho itself as time goes on, but that is for another time.

Part I: Rise of the Cybermen

The Doctor (David Tennant) along with his Companions Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and her boyfriend Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke) are travelling through time and space when an explosion in the TARDIS causes it to enter a parallel world.  However, the TARDIS is outside the Time Vortex and the damage is just too great.  They may have to stay in this world forever.  This world, however, is similar to their own.  Rose and Mickey have doppelgangers of sorts, and Rose's father Pete (Shaun Dingwall), far from being dead, is not only alive but extremely successful, marketing a health drink with the tagline, "Trust me on this".  The Doctor tells Rose this ISN'T her father and to stay away, but of course she won't listen.  Mickey won't listen as much either, sensing that in this parallel universe, his late grandmother may be alive and well.

Can you tell I'm CRAZY?

As it happens, John Lumic (Roger Lloyd Pack), head of Cybus Industries, has been engineering a secret army made up of 'reprogrammed humans'.  The Preachers (as in 'the Gospel Truth'), a group of rebels, have been attempting to bring down this organization.  By sheer coincidence, when Mickey is visiting his alternate granny (and having a chance to stop her from falling down the stairs, what killed her in his world), Jake (Andrew Hayden-Smith), one of the Preachers, finds Mickey and takes him.  Seems he bears a striking resemblance to Rickey, the leader of the rebellion.

The Doctor and Rose crash the Tyler's lavish party.  Rose discovers her alternate a literal dog.  Here, Lumic unleashes his deadly army...The Cybermen.  The Cybermen are in their minds Human Point Two, with everyone in the world be receiving an 'upgrade'. 

Part II: The Age of Steel

The Doctor recognizes the Cybermen and knows he cannot stop them there and then.  Fortunately, Rickey/Mickey and the rebel alliance arrives, helped by a mysterious inside man known as Gemini who has been tipping them off about Lumic's activities.  As it is revealed, Gemini is none other than 1 Percenter Pete.  Now it is up to the Doctor to stop Lumic's mad plan to 'upgrade' the world and make everyone a Cyberman.  Rickey has been 'deleted' (read, killed) in the chaos, and we have now three groups breaking into Cybus Industries HQ.  One group consists of the Doctor and Mrs. Moore (Helen Griffin), a member of the Preachers who has lost her family to the Cybermen.  Group Two is Jake and Mickey (the latter finally forcing his way into the action after being a wimp in every episode).  Group Three is Pete and his 'daughter'. 

Group Three does find Jackie, or the Cyberman who once was Jackie Tyler (to the other Tyler's horror).  The Cybermen have staged a coup of sorts, deciding to take things into their own hands.  One of those results is that Lumic is now the Cyber Controller, receiving an 'upgrade' of his own.  Mrs. Moore is killed and the Doctor captured, but not before discovering an emotional inhibitor within each Cyberman.  If this is destroyed, the emotions within the emotionless Cybermen will destroy them all.  Mickey and Jake manage to destroy the tower sending messages to the population that brought them to the factory via earpieces (a bit like Bluetooth) sending them screaming out of there.  The emotion inhibitors are also destroyed, as is Lumic.

The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey return to the TARDIS.  Fortunately for them, a little light within the TARDIS is still functioning, so with some time it had enough power to reactive everything and get them out of the alternate universe.  Mickey, however, decides to stay on and take Rickey's place to continue the struggle against Cybus.

It's a curious thing that despite having two hours to tell its story, Rise of the Cybermen feels extremely rushed, almost frenetic in its story; as such, no one ever truly stops to wonder exactly not so much what is going on but why something is going on. 

Take Lumic for example.  What exactly is his motive for his Cyber Army?  It might be for having him walk again, and while that might be a bit cliché at least he would have had some reason for his mad plan.  The fact that he wants to because he just wants to seems to be a non-starter.  Another question I have involves the population's earpieces.  Are they compulsory?  It seems like everyone had them, but what if a person didn't want it?  As such, they wouldn't be under the Cyber-spell.  People can easily remove them (I imagine they don't sleep with them), so I kept wondering about those who would either reject them or not use them as much.  Would they fall prey to upgrading?  I figure that once Lumic's Cyber-Army had control of the world, they would fall prey, but again, why did Lumic not bother with the Preachers' meddling?

Finally, and this might be odd, I wondered what exactly were Lumic's plan post-conquest?  That age-old question of what a mad scientist does when he achieves his dream of world conquest remains unanswered. 

Going further into the 'rushed' business, the identity of Gemini seems to come out of thin air: oh, Pete is Gemini almost just because Pete is there.  We never get a suggestion that he is involved in some sort of revolution, we never hear the Preachers getting some kind of message from an inside source, and if memory serves correct we never get a sense that there WAS an inside source at all.  This is contrary to the parallel Rose's identity. 

I can't help thinking that it might have worked better as a story if we didn't find who (or what) Rose's replacement was until later in Part 1.  It would have given both Rose AND the audience something of a surprise (and a chuckle).  I also think it would have worked better if the Revolution had been properly introduced rather than just almost thrown in there, especially when one considers how much time was spent on Rose's somewhat whiny need to see her dad...yet again.  Given we'd spent an entire episode on this, what exactly was the need for her to basically do it again?

I'm going to touch on another aspect of Rise of the Cybermen that displeased me the second time round.   We're told that the TARDIS is basically stuck in this parallel universe, no way out.  Then, almost out of the blue, we get a little light of ours to give us hope.  Shades of the fireplace from The Girl in the Fireplace (a convenient way out of a particular time)?   IF the Doctor had said it needs a certain part or material that might be found in Cybus Industries, THEN we might have something, but the 'little light to lead us home' business fell flat.

In terms of performances, I think Dingwall came off best since he now had to play a variation on Pete Tyler.  He actually managed to pull of the "I'm Gemini" bit much better than it comes off on paper, and his farewell to his 'daughter' was moving. 

As a side note, Rise of the Cybermen aimed to be one of those NuWho episodes that sets fans to crying with its constant plugs at emotional heartstrings-pulling (Mickey's grandmamma, Mrs. Moore's family, the farewells between Rose and Mickey).  Fortunately, I don't cry at Doctor Who.

Clarke's performance was interesting.  He had to play two characters and aimed to play Rickey as a tougher, grittier person than the inept wimp Mickey.  I don't think he quite pulled it off but he gave it as good a go as possible.  Piper's Rose is who came out of it the worse.  Her Rose, who started out as this tough and adventurous sort, here came off as whiny (I want to see my Dad!  I want to fix their marriage!  I...I...I am going to cry at every street corner!)  I found her annoying, which is a strange departure from the Rose I first met. 

Tennant still does well as the Doctor, and Camille Corduri's Jackie Tyler was good but not all that different from her doppelganger.  Lloyd-Pack's performance as Lumic I thought wasn't menacing but downright comic.  His gruff voice and wild-eyed look made him look ridiculous rather than dangerous.  It was a bit too hammy and laughable for me to take seriously, bordering more on spoofing Dennis Hopper's Frank Booth in Blue Velvet than on a mad genius.  I'm surprised he didn't ask for his Mommy...

If there are some good things within Rise of the Cybermen, it is the visuals.  The initial invasion is quite effective and tense, and the 'upgrading' of the humans in Part 2 is equally frightening.  However, that is not enough for me to feel that, on the second viewing (the first since the two-parter premiered) I could not muster as much enthusiasm as I had the first time round.

Finally, let me address the issue of continuity.  IF this is a parallel universe where they cannot cross into 'our world', what will become of the Cybermen should we see them again?  They can't be from the parallel world (unless they somehow do manage to 'cross over'), but will the Cybermen who will menace the Doctor in the future (should that ever happen) be the ones from Mondas as first seen in the First Doctor farewell story The Tenth Planet?  Since I suspect future Cybermen will look like the ones from this parallel universe, there is a lot to be answered.

Visually splendid but frantic and rushed, Rise of the Cybermen Parts 1 & 2 simply could have been better.  We could have reintroduced these iconic Doctor Who monsters in a better vehicle.  Yep, the Cybermen still are a muddled affair: sometimes appearing in some of the best Doctor Who stories and sometimes the worst Doctor Who storiesRise of the Cybermen Parts 1 & 2 falls somewhere in the middle.

In the end, I suggest we reboot rather than upgrade or delete...  

Say "Cyber-Nara"...


Next Story: The Idiot's Lantern


  1. Because I haven't seen the episode since it first aired, I cannot accurately give an opinion about it. Just curious, who was the first Doctor that you watched a lot of and got you interested in the franchise?


  2. The first Doctor I remember is Davison (5th Doctor), and then going through Colin Baker & Sylvester McCoy. I was really small when I started watching but I'd say Davison was my first Doctor.


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