Doctor Who - The New Series

2.06: "THE AGE OF STEEL"

TX: 20 May 2006

Written by: Tom MacRae

Directed by: Graeme Harper

Running time: 45' 52"

Location: An alternate-universe London, England

Date: February 2, 2007

Monsters and villains: The Cybermen (human brains encased in robot bodies), John Lumic (power-mad creator of the Cybermen), Mr Crane (Lumic's second-in-command).

Tardisode Synopsis: A message from John Lumic demands that all compatible humans "upgrade from flesh, upgrade now". A globe shows that his upgrade plan includes most of the world.

Plot Synopsis: As the world's population mindlessly waits to be converted into Cybermen, The Doctor, Rose, Mickey, Ricky and the rest make a last-ditch attempt to bring Lumic's operation down..

Smug Warning: None. Hurrah!

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry": The Doctor, to a dying Cyberman.

Torchwood spotting: No mentions.

Trivia: (1) In the original script, the bad guys were Jacob Lumic and his son; later revisions transformed them into John Lumic and Mr Crane.

(2) Other differences in earlier drafts included Rose killing her (Cyberised) mother, another Preacher named Esme and the Cyberman that The Doctor euthanises being 11-year-old boy.

(3) The original ending for the episode had the Cyber Controller plunging down a lift shaft rather than off a zeppelin; The Doctor then brought Rose's mother across the time rift to be with the alternate Pete while Rose returned to her own dimension. Davies decided that this would be too serious a decision to burden Rose with midseason and it was shifted to the series's climax.

(4) The production block for this episode, which also saw Harper directing 2.05, "Rise of the Cybermen", 2.12, "Army of Ghosts" and 2.13, "Doomsday", was the longest yet attempted on the new series.

(5) Shots of the explosions during the death of the Nestene Consciousness from 1.01, "Rose", were reused for the episode, the second time that footage from that episode was reused after the lift-shaft scenes from 2.01, "New Earth". The episode also uses previously unseen helicopter footage filmed for 2.05, "World War Three".

(6) Originally Mrs Moore died in the cooling tunnels when squeezing past the Cybermen, but a change in the shooting schedules meant that a scene that would have taken place on the way to Battersea Power Station in which The Doctor euthanises a Cyberman with a broken emotion chip had to take place after the group had split up. For this reason, Mrs Moore was kept alive for that scene, to take the place of Rose, Mickey and the rest of the group.

(7) One of the Cybermen was played by Blue Peter presenter Gethin Jones, as shown during an episode of that show.

(8) Mickey mentions feeling like "the tin dog", a callback to 2.03, "School Reunion". Similarly, his mention of saving the world with a yellow truck is a reference to the events of 1.13, "The Parting of the Ways".

(9) Mickey calls Rose on her mobile and says "I'm coming to get you," which mirrors The Ninth Doctor's promise at the end of 1.12, "Bad Wolf".

(10) Rose recalls seeing a head from one of her universe's Cybermen in van Statten's museum in 1.06, "Dalek".

Spoiler Synopsis: With Cybermen on all sides, The Doctor activates the TARDIS's energy crystal, creating a lightning bolt that bounces from cyborg to cyborg, vaporising them. Mrs Moore turns up in Ricky's van and they climb aboard, The Doctor stopping Pete from trying to rescue Jackie, who is probably already dead. Jake wants to execute Pete for working for Lumic, but Pete says that he is actually Gemini, the undercover agent. The Doctor tells everyone to deactivate their EarPods in case Lumic is listening and says they will drive to the city to warn the authorities.

It's no good, however, as Lumic is using his EarPods to control most of London's population - including Jackie - and forcing them to head towards Battersea Power Station for conversion. Rose suggests taking EarPods off the hypnotised people, but The Doctor warns that this might fritz their brains. The group split up to avoid being caught by Lumic's pre-manufactured Cybermen, who are now swarming through the city, but on the way Ricky is caught and killed while Mickey can only watch.

In the power station, Mr Crane, Lumic's second-in-command, is to be executed for taking off his EarPods. However, he instead elects to be converted but is only buying time enough to damage the life support system on Lumic's wheelchair. He manages this, but is killed by the Cybermen. Now dying, Lumic is taken away - much to his own horror - to be converted himself.

Mickey meets up with the others and informs them of Ricky's death - much to Jake's horror. The group head to the power station and Mrs Moore calls up a computer blueprint to look for entrances. The group decide to split into three parties; Mickey will join Jake (despite the latter's protests) to disable the EarPod transmitter hidden in Lumic's zeppelin atop the building, Rose and Pete will go in the front door wearing fake EarPods and The Doctor and Mrs Moore will enter via the cooling tunnels beneath the building.

Beneath the power station, The Doctor and Mrs Moore are forced to squeeze through a narrow corridor full of inactive Cybermen. Despite looking out for tripwires, the pair accidentally trigger a sensor which activates the cyborgs behind them. They escape the tunnel with barely a second to spare and The Doctor uses his Sonic Screwdriver to seal the tunnel behind them. Meanwhile, Rose and Pete are confronted by a Cyberised Jackie who takes them to Lumic. And on the roof, Mickey and Jake gain access to the zeppelin by knocking out two EarPodded guards. Aboard the ship they find a control room with what appears to be an empty Cyber suit.

In the tunnels, Mrs Moore uses an EMP bomb to down a Cyberman. The Doctor takes a look inside and finds a human nervous system wired into the electronics, along with an emotional inhibitor chip that stops them from going mad when they realise what they've been turned into. The Cyberman wakes up - its chip is broken and it begins to talk about how it was converted on its wedding day. The Doctor performs a mercy killing and says that if he can disable all the inhibitor chips, the shock of seeing what they are will probably kill the Cybermen. He is unsure whether this is acceptable, but Mrs Moore convinces him that this is the only way. Just then, a Cyberman appears and kills Mrs Moore. Noting that The Doctor is an alien, he takes him away to be studied.

Up on the zeppelin, Mickey finds that the transmitter is protected by a steel plate. Jake says that they should set the zeppelin to crash and while Mickey is hacking into the controls, the Cyberman behind them activates. Mickey convinces the Cyberman to punch him, ducking so that its fist punches into the transmitter, short-circuiting both machines. As the transmitter fails, the hypnotised humans wake up and flee the factory.

Below, The Doctor meets Pete and Rose in Lumic's office, where he is revealed to have been turned into a Cyber Controller. The Doctor hears the sound of screams and realises that Mickey and Jake have turned off the transmitter. He then notices that Mickey and Jake are watching through a security camera and, while stalling for time, gives them a clue that there is a code that will shut down the inhibitors. He adds that in his drive for technological perfection, Lumic has created a system where everything can link up to everything else. Mickey takes the hint and sends the code to Rose's mobile phone, which The Doctor plugs into the system.

With the code uploaded to the system, the Cybermen's emotional inhibitors shut down and, horrified at what they have become, they collapse and die. Some of them explode, causing a fire that swiftly begins to spread throughout the power station. The team run for the zeppelin and start to climb the rope ladder, only to find the Cyber Controller beneath them and climbing fast. Pete uses The Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver to cut the rope ladder and Lumic falls down into the collapsing factory.

Back at the TARDIS, The Doctor's power cell has managed to fully recharge and he puts it back into the ship. Rose begs Pete to go to her world, explaining about her mother. Pete, freaked out, leaves sharply. The Doctor says that they only have five minutes left and Mickey decides to stay, saying that he needs to take care of Ricky's grandmother and help shut down the other Cyberfactories. Rose begs him not to, but he refuses and they say goodbye. The Doctor and Rose enter the TARDIS, which vanishes. Back on her home Earth, Rose hugs Jackie tightly.

Over on Lumic's Earth, Mickey and Jake share a grin as they head off to liberate Paris from the Cybermen.

Review: Well, it's an improvement on last week's episode - helped in part by the fact that Lumic is off screen for most of it - but ultimately this episode is just as disappointing as its predecessor. I can appreciate the idea behind the two-parter - to make a big, exciting action movie-style story for The Doctor, complete with a 'rebel forces against the evil empire' plot and 'baddie comes back for one last go' ending - but it just falls a bit flat.

Okay, so it's nice that Mickey gets to bow out with a bit of bravery and smarts, the general pacing and structure of the thing can't be faulted but... I don't know. It just doesn't gel. It doesn't help that the episode contains some embarrassingly poor logical leaps. How come the Cyberman that kills Mrs Moore manages to sneak up on her when every other Cyberman makes a noise like a pair of dumpsters mating? Why does the Cyberman in the zeppelin try to punch Mickey when all of the others just touch people? And why do some of the Cybermen explode when The Doctor disables their emotional inhibitors? I can accept nonsense science when we're dealing with aliens and their technology but a metal helmet containing sensors and a human brain exploding like a bomb? That is bullshit. Then you've got Rose's new phone (where did that come from?) which somehow manages to interface with Lumic's controls despite being from another dimension and, presumably, having one of those unique proprietary sockets that only works with a certain type of phone charger. I'm not asking for a 'Rose goes shopping' subplot, but some kind of internal logic would've been nice - say, Rose getting an alt universe Cybus Industries phone cheap because everyone has EarPods. Or The Doctor could have used Bluetooth or something. Again, I can handle nonsense science provided it's divorced from things I actually understand, but this kind of thing drags me out of it.

A similar lack of care shows with the Lumic character, who can't seem to settle on any one motivation. First he wants to force scientific progression at the expense of morality, then he wants to stop himself from dying, then he wants to take over the world, then - when Crane damages his life supply - he suddenly doesn't want to be converted into a Cyberman any more. And if his plan was always to take over the world - hence the 'ultimate upgrade' program - why did he bother trying to get The President to sign off on it. I know he's supposed to be mad, but even mad people follow some skewed logic and I can't see any of that here.

Moan, moan, moan. Where's the good? Well, it's here and there, all right - Mrs Moore is an interesting character played well (in contrast to Jake Simmonds, who's a bit of a bland nothing); the scene where she and The Doctor squeeze through the cooling tunnels is grand; the direction is largely solid; the ending is mostly satisfying and the new Cybermen look fantastic.

Actually, the brightest light to shine out of these episodes is the new Cybermen design. The Cybermen were always my "favourite" Who villains, although when I say that I mean they're the ones that scared the most crap out of me. Oh, the Daleks could kill you, sure, but that's hardly unique in The Doctor's universe. Everything from moss to window shop dummies can kill you in Doctor Who. What made the Cybermen different is that they wouldn't kill you; instead they would make you into one of them.

Of course, the fear of transformation is a key factor in all of the best monsters. Think of the three biggest monster types in modern horror. Thought of them? Five'll get you ten, you thought of zombies (Romero-style, not voodoo), vampires and werewolves. Why? Because of that fear of change, of knowing that soon you too will be taken against your will and turned into something that will hunt and kill your former friends and family. So it is with the Cybermen. And so it was that my childhood was spent hiding behind our patio curtains only peeking out until The Doctor had once again stopped this metallic menace.

So yeah, I was all prepared to be uppity about them screwing up the Cyberman concept but thankfully it worked out just fine! Yes, replacing the foil suits with plate 'steel' makes them seem more like robots than cyberised people, but the script does a good job of emphasising that these are human beings despite their transformation and though it's hardly David Cronenberg-level body horror, it's still very effective. And those Cybes! Clomping, blank-faced brute force monsters that they are, they are certainly more threatening than their predecessors and have a pleasingly movie-esque solidity to them. Great stuff.

But enough of that: back into the moaning. Oh yes, there's more! For a start - literally - there's the intro sequence, in which The Doctor zaps them all with a magical bolt of lightning from the TARDIS's fuel cell. First of all: how did The Doctor do that? Secondly, this is a lame, lame way to pick up a cliffhanger - where's the wit or imagination in it? It just feels like a cop-out. Finally, how come the lightning bolt only hits the Cybermen? What kind of sense does that make?

This lack of imagination also shows up in a scene where The Doctor, hiding behind some bins, uses the Sonic Screwdriver to turn a Cyberman patrol away from him. Now, the Sonic Screwdriver has had some stick in the new series for basically doing whatever the writers want it to, but I generally don't mind so long as it's purely functional; if it's being used to unlock a door or analyse something or otherwise get through boring plot mechanics as fast as possible that's fine with me.

But having it do something as direct as mindwipe the Cybermen? Why doesn't he just do that all the time, then? I had a similar problem with the way he blew up the Christmas tree in "The Christmas Invasion", but at least there it was just a mechanical device - these are supposed to be human brains!

I only have one more thing to say about this episode, but I'm aware of the fact that this write-up has gone on for far, far too long. Instead, take a look at my Cybermen write-up for some commentary and a little light criticism of their new origin. Because it's not like you've had enough criticism by now, right?

5/10

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Sources:

http://www.gallifreyone.com - Outpost Gallifrey http://www.physics.mun.ca/~sps/9doc.html - A Brief History of (Time) Travel

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