New Who in conversation: Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel (S02E05/06)

Watching New Who – in conversation with David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all. We’re going to work our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, as our blogging points. Just for fun! We have already talked about:
“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04

“The Rise of the Cybermen” / “The Age of Steel” – Season two, episodes five and six
The Doctor – David Tennant
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper
Mickey Smith – Noel Clarke

TEHANI:
I thought the early part of the first episode was notable for Ten’s high school nastiness to Mickey in the beginning of the episode (and really, throughout). Although perhaps there’s some change in his attitude as the two-parter progresses.

David would have been pleased to see the return of Pete!

TANSY:
Yes, I think this is an uneven story in some ways, but it has some great moments in it and the return of Pete (and departure of Mickey) make it worth us paying particular attention, even if it wasn’t Hugoworthy.  It’s in many ways Mickey’s story, the one where we see him come into his own, not just as a hero worthy to travel in the TARDIS, but one independent of the Doctor, whose future lies elsewhere.  I was sorry to see him go so soon because, as with Jack, it felt like the threesome crew were being given short shrift, but happy to see him find his future.

Pete gets plenty of time too, and it’s so cool to see him return, albeit another version of himself. Goes to show that in Doctor Who, there’s no such thing as never say never again.

DAVID:
It was great to see Pete back, but his role didn’t have the same weight to it as it did in “Father’s Day”. Of course, that was going to be a hard act to follow! Was it just me who found his farewell to Rose a little odd?

TANSY:
Yes, I think Pete of Season One is definitely a different man, and of course the main difference is that he is actually Rose’s father, whereas this one really isn’t.  I did like that it made it clear that, whereas old Pete was a bit of a loser in the making money department, that’s not the only measure of a man – otherworld Pete certainly doesn’t seem any happier, for all his wealth and power.

DAVID:
Mickey was brilliant in this episode! I have felt sorry for him on more than one occasion, constantly the third (or even fourth!) wheel and treated pretty nastily by the Doctor. In this episode, though, we get to see a whole other side of him. I thought the part with his grandmother was particularly poignant, and it was great to get more of an insight into his character, rather than him just being the comic relief.

Noel Clarke (and I wish I hadn’t looked up the name online as it has ruined a surprise for me!) deserves major props here, he put in a sterling performance and actually made you believe that it was two different people. I loved seeing a harder, tougher version of Mickey and it is interesting who seeing Rickey seems to inspire Mickey to believe he can be something more than the “tin dog”.

It has been one of the strengths of New Who, how the writers have given the actors a chance to stretch themselves (Billie Piper playing Cassandra is another example), and to their credit they have really seized their opportunities.

TANSY:
Noel Clarke is a brilliant actor, who has quite a mighty career (as a writer and director as well) away from Doctor Who, and I do think he got much better material in this season.  This is my favourite of his stories, and the dual Rickey/Mickey role is so cleverly handled, with drama and comedy all bundled together.

TEHANI:
I thought Rickey was great too – love seeing more than one aspect of an actor’s ability. Having said that, not at all impressed with the way Jackie is portrayed here, but it’s an interesting “sliding doors” extrapolation. Actually, all the women in this are given a pretty short shrift.

TANSY:
Yes, good point.  There are some potentially cool female characters – I have a soft spot for Mickey’s Gran, and I think Mrs Moore was an unusual and compelling figure in her handful of scenes – but Jackie is supremely awful.  I don’t think it’s completely unfair to suggest, though, that it’s quite a realistic potential Jackie who has been taking unlimited wealth for granted for decades, a husband who pays her no attention, and no Rose to connect her to reality.

TEHANI:
Fair call – Jackie can be a bit of a cow in the “real” world, so it’s a reasonable projection.

TANSY:
But Other!Jackie’s fate is pretty grim, and it’s disappointing that she’s mostly killed off so we can see how Pete (and Rose) deal with it.  But there isn’t much sign that Rose is affected by the end of the episode – she’s so wrapped up in her Dad.

DAVID:
Jackie is very unpleasant in this! I was actually really shocked by that moment (where she blows up to Rose for having the temerity to forget her place as one of the hired help), it was definitely not what I was expecting. But, I do agree that it is a realistic possibility of how she could have turned out, given different circumstances.

Mrs Moore was one of my favourite characters in this storyline. I loved the whole idea of her being just a normal person who finds herself a freedom fighter, rather than being some gung ho type. It was an interesting departure from the usual stereotype, and the scenes they she did have are some of the ones that stuck with me. It was quite sad to see her die!

Mickey’s Gran was wonderful, and I found that scene where he knocks on the door deeply moving, especially when we see the torn carpet and it becomes evident he blames himself for her death. Was great writing, great acting and one of those moments where you have to blink a bit!

TEHANI:
The ordinary people in this double were the best part of it I thought. I thought the villains were a bit rubbish. I find the Cybermen boring as villains, to be honest. Sadly, we see a bit of them in episodes to come. What is interesting is the set up for later in the season (and for later seasons) – not sure how much we can/should say in front of David!

TANSY:
Say nothing about that!  I think this isn’t a great outing for the Cybermen, but I’m rather fond of them as a concept.  There have been some brilliant classic stories!  The thing I found it hard to wrap my head around was this reinvention – the original Cybermen were not from Earth, and of course New Who likes to keep things close to home.  I think putting them in this alternate Earth is probably the best compromise, but I miss the old Telos/Mondas continuity.

TEHANI:
But wasn’t Mondas an alternate Earth? (Did some Googling… :) ) So that sort of fits…

DAVID:
My understanding was that Mondas was the Tenth Planet (hence the title of the first Cyberman adventure, and back when poor old Pluto was a planet!) of the Solar System and virtually identical to Earth. For some reason it broke free of its orbit and ended up drifting through space.

TANSY:
I think I like the clunky stompy new design (there are some gorgeous YouTube vids using music to make them look so impressive) but I agree that the script here is lacking something – the Cybermen should be more chilling and tragic figures than they are. The loss of Jackie is quite a shock but not enough to really make them scary.

TEHANI:
Link please!

TANSY:
I couldn’t find the ones I remembered (damn you, YouTube) but these are pretty good:

I do think it’s good they chose to tell a story about how the Cybermen began, something never seen in TV Doctor Who before, and there are some clever details about how humans are embracing and interacting with technology on a daily basis, but somehow the script doesn’t quite pull together for me.  It feels like an over-edited action movie that has missed out too many establishing scenes.

TEHANI:
Which is interesting, because it’s a two-parter. I kind of wish they’d pared it back and made it a single (would have preferred “The Girl in the Fireplace” be two!). Might have had a bit more dramatic tension that way.

DAVID:
I was a little disappointed with the Cybermen. It’s a bit hard to explain, it’s not so much how they were used in this episode, there was actually quite a bit to like and I will get to that in a moment,. It’s more that I would have liked to have seen such a classic Doctor Who monster used in a more traditional manner at some point. As a species of villain the Cybermen would have to be second only to the Daleks in terms of significance in Doctor Who, and it would have been nice to have a new Cyberman story that used the Telos/Mondas version. So, I guess I was excited at the thought of a Cyberman episode and felt a bit let down that they were not the real thing. Though the Doctor did mention that the Cybermen he had met were from a “world like this one” which I assumed meant Mondas?

But, as I said above, I think there was a lot to like about them. I didn’t think that the pod technology was too far fetched (except for people stopping in the middle of the street), we can already see the start of it now with the way technology is becoming an integral part of our life.So, the idea of someone taking the next step into cybernetics made sense in terms of that universe.

The design was great, I liked the look of the Cybermen themselves, but they way they walked was a bit cartoonish to me. I don’t think they were portrayed as formidable as they could have been, they should have been able to rip down a chain link fence or stop a bunch of humans from running past, but they did have an air of menace to them. And the processing machines? Creepy.

TEHANI:
The design didn’t bother me – I think their motivations were what I didn’t buy into.

DAVID:
The scene with the Cyberman that was originally the young bride was touching, and reinforced the point that they were not merely machines, but human beings. I was glad that the Doctor didn’t treat their deaths as inconsequential; he has been a bit to cavalier for my taste in other episodes.

TANSY:
Something I think they went out of their way to do in this story was to show that Cybermen didn’t have to necessarily be men – and it felt like these moments, with the bride and Jackie – really brought home the shocking alteration in a way that maybe, with male characters, wouldn’t have been so strong?

TEHANI:
Because the creatures themselves are very masculine, so it’s probably something that needed to be shown.

DAVID:
Lumic himself was interesting character. The actor playing him didn’t miss any chance to chew on the scenery, but that was kind of fun, and there were more than a few echos of Davros, not just the wheelchair but they way he spoke and the words he used. His offsider was very Michael Caine, wasn’t he? The motivations of Lumic were very believable, you can imagine a visionary like that being confronted with his mortality and bending all his gifts towards finding away to live on, and going insane.

TANSY:
I think Lumic is one of the least successful parts of the story – the wheelchair is ridiculously Davros-like, and it would have been nice if they had gone with a less obvious type of villain.  I really didn’t like many of the choices they made with him.  The whole point of the Cybermen is not that they need a powerful evil leader, but that once created, they become self-replicating.  I would have liked it if there had been more of a sense of them being created out of altruism and it all going horribly wrong, rather than selfish obsession.

TEHANI:
Nice to have Mickey save the day. And totally be the better man.

TANSY:
Mickey is an excellent man, and so much better off without Rose.  They were no good for each other.

DAVID:
I agree, completely. It was great to see Mickey changing from a passive character who was largely defined by his relationship with Rose, and really just tagging along like a intergalactic third wheel, to one who was strong enough to make his own choices and, in the end, choose his own destiny. Really, the way that Rose and the Doctor treated Mickey a lot of the time did neither much credit.

TEHANI:
The interactions with those fifth wheel characters are really very interesting throughout New Who. Let’s go watch some more of them! :)

42 Comments

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42 responses to “New Who in conversation: Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel (S02E05/06)

  1. Grant

    Lumic is only in a wheelchair because the actor broke his leg shortly before filming.

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