2.5 & 2.6 – “Rise Of The Cybermen”/”The Age Of Steel”
The TARDIS crash-lands on an alternate version of Earth in which Rose’s dad, Pete Tyler, is not only alive and well but mega-rich. In this alternate universe, Trigger from Only Fools And Horses turns out to be an evil genius called John Lumic, whose company, Cybus Industries, has designs on upgrading humanity by encasing people’s brains in metal. Upgrading is compulsory and those who refuse will be deleted.
Ever since “Dalek” brought back the deadly enemies of the same name, Whovians had been wondering when the dreaded Cybermen would return to the screen. In “Rise of The Cybermen”, they finally did. The episode opens with a man declaring that the “prototype is working,” before John Lumic (played with villainous joy by Roger Lloyd-Pack) comes into view in his wheelchair. We see that familiar silhouette; the Cybermen may have developed and changed over the years, but they still have the power to send shivers down a viewer’s spine. Of course, a shadowy figure isn’t enough to really get the pulse racing so when Lumic’s scientist tells him that they need to report their new form of life to government officials, Lumic orders his Cyberman to kill him. The credits roll and…
…I have to stop here and make a confession. This episode is around the time when I stopped being such a fan of Rose Tyler. Yes, it’s sacrilege to some, but whilst I thought she kicked untold amounts of backside in series 1 of New-Who, by midway through series 2, she was…getting on my tits a bit. We see her in the TARDIS after the opening credits, laughing and joking with The Doctor about the adventures they’ve had. Mickey is sitting close by and is clearly left out of the conversation. I’m giving The Doctor a pass here because he’s not human and goodness knows he gets excited chatting about space-y wace-y stuff, but Rose is meant to be the character the viewer identifies with and experiences things through. It was annoying that she talked to The Doctor about this stuff in front of Mickey, rather than include her friend in the conversation. Consequently, when Rose sees an advert featuring her father and is overcome at the idea that he’s alive in the parallel Earth they’ve landed on, a tiny part of me thinks “Stay here, then!”
We soon meet the living, filthy-rich version of Pete Tyler and discover that he’s planning a party for his wife, Jackie. I like the idea of a wealthy Jackie Tyler; her character has always seemed as though she’s yearning for the finer things, so it was fun to see her have them for a change. The only trouble is that it’s not the “real” Jackie Tyler and so any emotional connection she should have with Rose just isn’t there. That, for me, detracts a little from the story but maybe I’m nitpicking. I liked that Pete was still a seemingly decent guy, though.
I also thought the earpods, wired directly into everyone’s brains and delivering information from Cybus Industries were a very cool touch. The moment when everyone stops in unison to “download” information was delightfully sinister, especially when they all laugh as one at the joke at the end. This worked well as a subtle dig at modern society’s obsession with smart phones and downloads etc. News and entertainment sent direct to our brains? SIGN US UP!
Rose is determined to meet Pete and Jackie Tyler in this version of Earth, despite The Doctor warning her against it and she throws a bit of a wobbly (have I mentioned I was going off her by this episode?!). I find myself empathising much more with Mickey than Rose in this two-parter. Without a great deal of dialogue, we’re shown just how downtrodden Mickey has become, feeling that he’s competing with The Doctor for Rose’s affections and how much he longs to prove himself. Credit to Noel Clarke for that; he shows it brilliantly. Speaking of brilliant, it was a clever nod to the previous series to have Mickey’s alternate universe counterpart be called “Ricky.” The Ninth Doctor would have thought that was fantastic.
Speaking of which, the new, modern Cybermen are tall, powerful and definitely scary. Whereas the image of the Dalek was too iconic to mess with, Cybermen have had something of a revamp since the classic era and I love their rather ghostly faces and the jerking, mechanical way they move as a unit. They waste no time in crashing a party at the Tyler residence, deleting anyone who stands in their way. As The Doctor, Rose and Pete make their escape, Jackie is left inside the house and is upgraded. “Rise of The Cybermen” ends with The Doctor, Rose et al surrounded by Cybermen. It’s a classic cliff-hanger and works well as a hook for “The Age of Steel”.
After their inevitable rescue, we discover that Pete is working for the Lumic Corporation (something most viewers could have guessed from the first episode, to be honest, so it’s hardly a shock). The rebel gang Mickey has been hanging out with know this because they have a government mole who sends them information. That mole? Pete Tyler. Quickest killing of an interesting plot twist ever. Hands up who’d have liked to have seen an evil Pete Tyler? *raises hand*
It all gets a bit deathy after that. Ricky is killed by a Cyberman and Lumic undergoes a compulsory upgrade. But fear not; the scary bits are interspersed with emotional ones. The issue of Cybermen having once been real people is brought to the fore in this episode. Some would argue that it’s overdone, but I think, for the most part, it straddles the line between schmaltzy and emotive pretty well. In my mind, it’s good to remind the audience that the scariest thing about these particular monsters is that they were once humans, who’ve had all trace of emotion removed.
The rest is pretty standard fare; The Doctor saves the day (with help from Mickey). Rose tells Pete that in another universe, he’s her father; Pete can’t handle this information and walks away. Then Mickey, tired of being “the tin dog,” opts to stay in this universe rather than leave with Rose and The Doctor. Mickey’s decision to stay cements him in my good books, whereas Rose’s “but what about me?” line merely sends her lower in my estimation. However, Murray Gold’s stirring composition for this moment works beautifully with the scene and I for one am glad that Mickey was given a fitting ending to his story (well, kind of – we know he features in future episodes, but ssh, spoilers).
It’s a tough one. Parts of this two-parter are really great. Other bits just grate. Although the alternate version of Pete Tyler will become an important character later, in this episode I was much more interested in Mickey’s emotional journey than Rose’s. Still, it was good to have a classic enemy back and I liked the focus on the humanity behind the Cybermen. It gets a respectable 7/10.
Written and edited by Emma Tofi