Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Age of Steel

After last episode's teasing and time-wasting, finally the Cybermen are unleashed. As a result this episode has some great moments. The Doctor creeping through tunnels filled with dormant Cybermen; the ghost of Sally Phelan rising from a faceplate; "This unit was Jackie Tyler"; the distraught Cyberman pawing at its distorted reflection. A lot of these moments are brilliantly ghastly and horrifically touching, but they all home in on the exact qualities that make the Cybermen different from other villains, each scene witnessed by blank staring faces, unfeeling, imperturbable. Best of all, the Cybermen unequivocally state their mission: to free humanity from pain and weakness. Ignore that Lumic's irksome personality survives his conversion and this episode can be seen as an effective restatement of Cyber-principles.

But if the theory is well presented, there isn't quite enough of the physical menace on show. All the Cybermen actually do is march about and direct human traffic, barely lifting a finger before it's time to blow their fuses. They do loom once or twice, and there are a few notable electrocutions, but my boys got a little frustrated.

"Why aren't they using their arm guns?"
"Why can't they detect the Doctor? Don't they have Heat Vision?"
"Did the sonic screwdriver just shoo them away? That's a bit rubbish."
"Can't they bash through that fence?"

Even here (arguably this is their strongest new series appearance) there's a sense that the Cybermen aren't being allowed to reach their potential. There's no doubt that their increased profile makes this the stronger half of the story - but they still have to share the episode. 

I can't begrudge the time spent on Mickey Smith. In many ways, despite far less screen time, his character has developed and improved far more than Rose's, and his 'arc', from inconsiderate jerk boyfriend to ignored and underestimated sort-of-ex, is as miserable as any in the new series (at least Rose and Donna have a load of fun before their sudden tragedies hit). So his story here is a good one. It satisfies, if only because we see how he doesn't deserve the treatment he receives from Rose and the Doctor. Two questions though. How does the Doctor know Mickey is watching him on the monitor? It can't be clever deduction, only something between blind hope and a lucky guess. And how is it that the Doctor treats Mickey the way he does? At times he completely forgets he exists! It's horribly callous and very out of character.

It makes sense that Rose should take Mickey for granted, however, just as it makes sense that she should then break down in tears at the thought he might escape her. She's never had any problem with abandoning him but she can't cope when the boot is on the other foot. That's very human, and good drama, but is she going to learn from this?

William thought she would. "This story was all leading up to Mickey leaving. Rose will be sad about that for a long time. She might even start thinking about leaving the Doctor herself."

Well, maybe. In the meantime, both boys earned their Hexachromite Doctor Who badges for this exchange during the explosive finale.

"I feel sad for the Cybermen."
"Yeah, I wish there had been another way."

So proud. This was the aspect of the story that really struck them  most. "At the end," said Will, "they weren't Cybermen, they were people. It was really sad."

"Yes," said Chris, "it was a good ending. But not as good as World War III."

He gave it an 8, William gave it a 9.

By the way, if, like me, you are still waiting for the definitive Cyberman story, you could do worse than read The Flood (or, in the UK, The Flood) which is bloody ace. 

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