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May 13, 2006

RI:SE and shine

I've never been a fan of the Cybermen.  They've always seemed like a generic rent-a-villian, without the cache or iconism of the pepperpots.  Mad illogical schemes throughout their careers as monsters all too easily vanquished by a reversed polarity or small bomb.  I remember visiting the National Museum of Film, Television and Radio in Bradford and loving the opportunity to see the final episode of The Invasion projected onto a big screen and finding myself far more enthralled by the human 'drama' (and Sally Faulkner's legs) than anything the Cybermen were doing.  The nadir was possibly The Five Doctors in which they're all too easily vanquished by the Rastan robot and their own idiotic and slow plan to blow up the TARDIS.  Still they killed Adric which is definitely in their favour.  But really I could have lived without them this time around.

The episode began really rather slowly and not at all like Genesis of the Daleks.  Evil genius in an electric wheelchair?  Yes.  Death of scientist who doesn't entirely agree with said evil genius?  You bet.  Perhaps I'm being too harsh but Roger Lloyd Pack's performance seemed to have been dragged in from a different programme.  The old programme.  Nothing in the world could stop him now I suspect.  Menacing or camp?  Simply couldn't decide.  I did like that the cybermen weren't revealed straight away, a tactic that might have worked if they hadn't already appeared in every magazine and website within temporal orbit of this Saturday.  Again I envy the viewer who manages to ignore the hype so that they view the episode all shiny, new and unspoilt.

In the end, I need not have worried.  Yet again we have an episode with a completely different texture to the previous four and anything from last year.  The pacing was slow because it was taking its time, putting all of the pieces in place.  Writer Tom MacRae was channeling Terry Dicks and basically presenting us with the first two episodes of a classic four parter, spliting the gang up almost as soon as they're trapped on the world and later bringing them together for the big old cliffhanger.  To a degree, oddly, this was a fairly Doctor and Rose lite episode with the supporting players taking up the most screen time, not that it mattered too much, because unlike The Long Game, this screen time was taken up with important things like plot and characterisation.

I didn't spot any eyepatches but it was good to have the Doctor in alternate universe territory again.  In any other series this might have been the whole story (or series -- see Sliders) but instead it was more an opportunity to re-introduce a villian without having to mess about with forty years of convoluted continuity.  But classically they're using it as a springboard to investigate how people can change when presented with a different selection of life options the result being extraordinarily dark, evil Jackie eskewing the usual tendancy in these things to say that we're really all the same, deep down. 

The rehabilitation of Mickey continues with some excellent playing from Noel Clarke, proving once more what an abberation his opening appearance in the last series was.  The scene when we realised how his grandmother had died was heartbreaking and he was truly chilling as his alternative self.  Anyone else notice that he's getting as much screen time as Billie and Dave lately without the big screen credit at the front of the episode?  Unlike US shows like The West Wing which drop a new regular in the opening titles on a whim, here you really know who the stars are.  I have a bad feeling about the next episode you know.  I think they've been building him up for a reason.  Assuming that Joss Whedon tactics are in force I think something really bad is going to happen to our new friend next week.

That said, it was good to see the Doctor and Rose alone together for the first time in what feels like ages just talking.  This is one of the problems the series is still trying to get to grips with, the more characters you introduce to a story, the less time you have to allow for the central dynamic to endure.  Piper gels much better with Tennant than she ever did with Eccleston -- last year seemed like a job of acting, whereas here they seem to genuinely enjoy each others company.  Am I repeating myself?  Probably.  But really, I can't wait for an episode similar to Rob Shearman's audio Scherzo were the whole story is on their shoulders -- a long version of the Pudsy Cutaway -- I'm sure it'd be just as compelling as these budget-sucks that we're being treated to each week.

But what of those pesky Cybermen?  You know, for once, for the first time ever probably, I found them menacing.  Truly.  When Lord Rassilon, sorry The President was sizing him up and the Doctor was suggesting he didn't I was truly worried.  Then with the massive hand and the electric current, I actually sat backwards on the bed.  The entrance was excellent too, as we've seen with Autons, crashing through windows is the right way to go and the execution demonstrated why Graeme Harper's a great director (insert Keith Boak comment here).

Watching Harper in Doctor Who Confidential he looked like a man who'd been handed a massive toy set.  I suspect he felt that he was finally directing the series in the way he would have wanted to in the seventies, actually having a whole army of Cybermen to play about with, no wimpy controlled explosion on an abandonded airfield here boys.  Witness the lovely handheld as the Doctor and Rose enter the party and the sweeping shots of the dead TARDIS.  Again I'll say, each director does have a different vibe even if you can't quite put your finger on what it is.  I'm hoping that the commentary will include some talk on how different the experience was.

So on the whole a great first episode continuing the high quality of this series, not at all disgracing the taxi-cab logo -- and with a proper cliffhanger without a trailer for the following week at all.  On a slightly off topic note, have you noticed how Russ and the gang have consciously/unconsciously developing a political landscape for that universe.  After positively identify Thatch in Tooth & Claw, when Mickey helpfully outlining the concept of alternate realities so the Doctor didn't have to, he mentioned that there, Tony Blair wouldn't have been elected.  Which means in his universe the current Prime Minister he must have been.  Does this imply that indeed Blair was the man deleted last year by the Slitheen last year?

Comments

On the DVD commentary for "Aliens of London", Phil Collinson says that the man they hired to play the dead Prime Minister was supposed to be a Tony Blair lookalike. However, when he turned up they were disappointed by the resemblance and decided not to show him clearly.

"But what of those pesky Cybermen? You know, for once, for the first time ever probably, I found them menacing."

Nice review : Yeah, in the stills they looked kind of camp, as though wearing flared trousers. In the episode though, the really worked for me.

Watching the flashbacks to earlier Cybermen in Confidential and seeing some of the earlier designs was nice. The heavy industrial nostalgia look was cool and worked really well with the steampunk vibe of the blimps and such, thinking about the themes - mobile phones, invasive gadgets and upgrade obsession, it might have been neat to see a Cyberman design looking more like something that Sony or Apple would knock out. Or it might have looked a bit obvious. Hmmm..

Inspired by the Confidential episode, I kind of hope that they'll bring back that other classic Doctor Who motif and have the showdown between the Doctor and the Cybermen in a dusty quarry somewhere.

Paul: I forgot about that!

Paul: I think they wanted to keep the iconic shape -- although I did like some of those concept drawings even if they did look a bit too much like Ultron from Marvel Comics.

Stu - yeah, you're right about Ultron! I was thinking that they could keep the shape, but change to white and transparent plastic, but I quite like what they've done with the design and there would have been a serious risk that they'd end up looking more like an IKettle than a proper menace...

No matter how hard I try, I can't bear to sit down and watch AOL/WW3 again, commentary or not, and that's a very interesting point you raised.

Something bad happen to Mickey? Nooo....never. That might, MIGHT, just take Ten and Rose down a peg, you think? And let's not forget, during the deluge of spoilerific trailers and press material, we haven't seen past (apparently) part 1 of the Cybermen episode. Maybe that's why. Maybe they didn't want us to see clips of later episodes _without_ Mickey in them, or we'd start thinking something happened to him...(ellipses)...

"I kind of hope that they'll bring back that other classic Doctor Who motif and have the showdown between the Doctor and the Cybermen in a dusty quarry somewhere."
After the Cybermen have planted a Cyberbomb of course.

Re:Mickey
Either he dies, or Rickey dies and Mickey takes over his life.

Or Mickey dies and Ricky joins the crew.
Or his gran does...

Ricky dies, Mickey lives and stays on to look after his beloved Gran...aaahhhh!

Mickey dies, Ricky dies, and Rose and the Doctor are devastated until they travel to another parallel universe, where they pick up Nicky.

Who dies.

But what about his other alternate self from the Eastenders universe - Vicky?

"After the Cybermen have planted a Cyberbomb of course."

You realize that alone will take a serial the length of Planet of the Spiders, right?

Micky, Ricky, and Vicky die, to be replaced immediately by Nicky, who(since this IS a parallel universe) is played by Xander Harris, long lost second twin of Nicky Brendan of Buffy fame, and (since this is all turning into a bad Sliders storyline), the Doctor then regenerates into Jerry O'Connel, Rose is subsequently played by Kari Wuhrer, and Nicky is mysteriously the Doctor's brother from an Amish alterniverse.

*whew*

Oh, and the TARDIS is now voiced by Jonathon Ryhs-Meyers.

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