Timestamp #180: Love & Monsters

Doctor Who: Love & Monsters
(1 episode, s02e10, 2006)

 

This is the peculiar story of Elton Pope.

He starts his tale by racing across a rocky field to find the TARDIS. He follows the excited voices of the Doctor and Rose, comes face to face with a Hoix, and witnesses a whole Scooby Doo-style chase before he scurries away to the sound of the dematerializing TARDIS.

Or so he tells the video camera anyway.

When he was three (or four) years old, he first met the Doctor in his living room. He was one of the shoppers during the Auton invasion of 2005. A year later, he witnessed the Slitheen ship crash into Big Ben. Following the Christmas invasion, he started looking for information about the Doctor and documenting his journey.

Well, despite the Bad Wolf virus, anyway.

It’s during this investigation that he meets Ursula Blake, a member of the “My Invasion Blog.” Ursula introduces Elton to her fellow investigators Bliss, Bridget Sinclair, and Mr. Colin Skinner, and together they start the London Investigation ‘n’ Detective Agency. Better known as LINDA, for short. The acquaintanceship blossoms into a tight combination of friendship and support group until the arrival of Victor Kennedy, a (supposedly) wealthy gentleman who doesn’t make physical contact due to a skin condition.

Kennedy focuses the group’s efforts back toward the Doctor, courtesy of files from the Torchwood Institute. As Kennedy sends the team on various projects, Bliss mysteriously vanishes. The TARDIS arrives and Elton lives through the events from the opening teaser, though when Elton doesn’t produce the Doctor in the end, Kennedy gets angry. Luckily, Ursula stands up for him.

Kennedy focuses the team toward finding Rose Tyler. Elton does some detective work and runs into Jackie Tyler at the laundromat, eventually ending up at her flat to fix the washing machine. Jackie and Elton sit down for a cup of tea and a relationship develops. Jackie calls Elton for various odd jobs, all the while building up to romantic seduction. The mood is broken as Rose calls home and Jackie comes to her senses. Elton changes tactics by offering friendship instead of romance, driven by the realization that he truly loves Ursula. Jackie finds Rose’s photo in Elton’s jacket and tells him (in no uncertain terms) to leave her alone.

Oh, and Bridget mysteriously vanishes along the way.

Elton tells Kennedy that he has ruined LINDA, suggesting that the remaining members would be better off without Kennedy in their lives. Elton and Ursula leave for a dinner date, but Skinner stays behind after Kennedy tempts him with Bridget’s contact information. Ursula and Elton return in search of her mobile phone, but they find that Kennedy is really the Abzorbaloff, a being that has been consuming their friends and absorbing their essences. Their faces are plainly visible and able to speak on the creature’s flesh. Kennedy wants to absorb the Doctor, and when confronted by Ursula, consumes her as well. Elton pleads for her life, but the process is irreversible. Ursula tells Elton to run, and the Abzorbaloff pursues him into an alley.

Elton nearly surrenders until the Doctor arrives in the TARDIS. Rose bursts out of the time capsule, eager to confront Elton over Jackie, and the Doctor takes the opportunity to interrogate the Abzorbaloff. The creature is from Clom, the twin planet of Raxacoricofallapatorius, and the distraction is enough for the members of LINDA to defeat the threat. The absorbed humans pull the creature in multiple directions and Elton breaks the cane, which was really a limitation field that held the Abzorbaloff together. The creature melts away into the ground, taking the absorbed members of LINDA with it.

The Doctor and Rose sit with Elton, and the Doctor explains why he was in Elton’s childhood home so many years ago: A living shadow had escaped its home dimension and the Time Lord was hunting it. He caught the being, but not before it killed Elton’s mother.

Elton muses that meeting the Doctor is a moment fraught with danger. He had a special group of friends in LINDA, but their pursuit of the Time Lord led to their demise. Death and destruction are what happens to one who touches the Doctor’s world, and Elton wonders how long it will be before Rose and Jackie pay a similar price.

Elton also understands that it wasn’t directly the Doctor’s fault. In fact, the Doctor did save Elton one last time. Using the sonic screwdriver, Ursula is partially restored as a face in one of the paving stones where the Abzorbaloff liquified. Together, they have some happiness despite the trauma, living by a quote from Stephen King: “Salvation and damnation are the same thing.”

It turns out that the world protected by the Doctor isn’t all it seems. In fact, it’s better.

 

This story has a lot of echoes to themes we’ve seen since Rose, including conspiracy theory websites and (especially) the tales of those the Doctor leaves behind. Mickey is gone and Jackie is lonely without her daughter and best friend by her side. Her story, particularly the idea that no one cares about her, runs contrary to the feelings of hope that the Doctor and the TARDIS typically inspire.

This episode is also a great self-aware moment for the franchise with respect to fans. All of us, this humble writer included, continue to chase the inherent value of Doctor Who: Sometimes we find truths and inspiration, sometimes we find friendship and love, and sometimes we get taken astray. But we all still find something to capture our passions and imaginations.

Since this story is Earthbound and not explicitly focused on the Doctor, we get an impressive amount of modern culture: Regresa a Mi as covered by Il Divo, The Riddle Song, Brand New Key by Melanie, a snippet of Daniel by Elton John, and a ton of Electric Light Orchestra with Mr. Blue Sky, Turn to Stone, and Don’t Bring Me Down. We also get a notable guest star with Shirley Henderson as Ursula, who I cannot listen to without immediately thinking of Moaning Myrtle because that’s where I was first introduced to her acting talent.

The biggest downside I have for this story is within the last segment where Elton reveals Ursula’s final fate. His revelation of their sort-of love life was true to character and sincere, but it was something I truly did not ever need to know.

Otherwise, it was a fun ride and a well-crafted adventure.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Fear Her

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

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Timestamp Supplemental #6: State of Decay (E-Space Trilogy, Part 2)

Doctor Who: State of Decay (E-Space Trilogy, Part 2)
Earth Station Who: Episode 209

 

Remaining in E-Space for another episode, I traveled to Earth Station Who to joined Mike Faber, Mike Gordon, and Mary Ogle for a discussion of State of Decay, the second part of the E-Space trilogy and a story that I previously covered in Timestamp #113.

As always, I recommend visiting their site and listening to their podcast. They cover everything from the Doctor Who franchise, from the classic and new televised episodes to the Big Finish audio and everything in the middle. During the regular seasons, they review the new episodes on a weekly basis, and during the off-season, they take a look back at some of their favorite (and not so favorite) adventures in time and space.

If you enjoy what you hear, leave a review in all the regular places, and also consider joining their fan community on Facebook. The ESW crew has built a fantastic community of fans, and it’s far more respectful than a lot of places on the internet. They are fans who love the series and want to share that love with fellow fans worldwide.

Earth Station Who is a podcast in the ESO Network, which includes the flagship show Earth Station One.

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #179: The Impossible Planet & The Satan Pit

Doctor Who: The Impossible Planet
Doctor Who: The Satan Pit
(2 episodes, s02e08-09, 2006)

 

“I shall become the manifest.” Er, I mean, ah… welcome back!

The TARDIS reluctantly materializes in a tight room, and while the Doctor is concerned about the capsule, he and Rose laugh at the idea of going somewhere else. After all, since when have they ever cut and run from something unknowable? They explore the area, traversing a corridor to an large chamber. The Doctor identifies the station as a sanctuary base, and after Rose spots “Welcome to Hell” on the bulkhead, the Time Lord is puzzled by text that won’t translate with the TARDIS matrix. That means it’s really, impossibly old. They prepare to leave when they are cornered by tentacle-mouthed aliens holding glowing orbs, repeating a single phrase: “We must feed.”

Our travelers try to leave what looks like an alien buffet, but it turns out that the extraterrestrial speech technology is glitching. One of the aliens hits its orb and the message turns to one of hospitality. The Doctor and Rose don’t get any time to celebrate no longer being on the menu. The station’s human crew – surprised to see guests in their midst – arrives just in time for an emergency, and the travelers are escorted to a control center. The humans prepare the station for a series of impact tremors, still baffling the Doctor at every turn.

Oh, and the aliens? They’re called the Ood, and they are an empathic species who act as servants and laborers. They’re born and bred to be slaves.

After the tremors, introductions are made around the room before the Doctor and Rose are shown that the planet is in orbit of a black hole. That makes this location an impossible planet – ding, there’s the first title – since the laws of physics demand that they should all be dead. The black hole is K37 Gem 5, and the planet is known in scripture as Krop Tor. That same scripture references a demon in the depths of the planet, coincidentally located near a gravity funnel that’s keeping them all alive. The Doctor is stumped. Running some calculations – Time Lords invented black holes, after all – he determines that the gravity field would require a power source with an inverted self-extrapolating reflex of six to the power of six every six seconds.

Yes, you heard that right: Six, six, six.

Impossible and ominous.

And the humans are here to find it to help power their civilization.

Of course, the fact that the explorers were curious enough to plumb the planet’s depths really excites the Doctor. The feeling is short-lived when he finds out that the tremors collapsed several storage sections, sending them and the TARDIS into the depths of the planet.  The Doctor and Rose are trapped on the impossible planet, and the crew cannot spare the resources to rescue them.

The team goes back to work, but archaeologist Toby Zed begins to hear voices. The voices spread among the crew – “He is awake.” – and Rose hears some strange stuff from one of the Ood: The Beast will rise from the Pit to make war against God. Toby gets the worst of it as he is possessed by a mysterious presence that causes the old symbols to take up residence on his flesh.

As the power flickers, the crew and our traveling heroes watch as an entire solar system is consumed by the black hole. The crew moves about as Rose and the Doctor watch the maelstrom. Rose considers calling home, but her new superphone doesn’t get a signal here. The dynamic duo discusses their future without the TARDIS, and the Doctor reveals that he has failed Jackie by not being able to get Rose home.

Then the phone rings. A voice says, “He is awake.” Rose tosses the phone to the deck.

The Doctor and Rose rush to the Ood and ask Danny about their telepathic skills. While they are there, the Ood monitors go ballistic, and when Rose repeats the message – “He is awake.” – the Ood reply in harmony, “And you will worship him.”

Maintenance officer Scooti Manista visits Toby’s quarters to drop off a report, but she finds that the archaeologist has gone outside without a spacesuit. Moments later, Toby breaks the pressure glass and kills Scooti via explosive decompression. The breach rocks the base and the crew rushes to fight the casualty. More sections are lost but the base is saved. Scooti is found on the glass above the lounge, slowly drifting into the black, and a once-again normal Toby joins the remaining crew as the security chief Jefferson recites from Horatius by Thomas Babington Macaulay.

And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods.

The drill stops, presumably having reached the planet’s core, and the crew prepares to investigate. The Doctor tags along, convincing Captain Zachary Flane that he needs every bit of help he can get. Danny orders the Ood to stay put as the Doctor and Ida Scott dive into the depths. They emerge into a massive cavern filled with ancient sculptures. The power source is guarded by a large circular disk in the floor of the cavern, which the Doctor believes to be a trap door or a seal.

Oh, and the Ood are experiencing another spike in mental activity, a level which should immediately kill them.

The Doctor and Ida cannot translate the words on the disk, but Toby can. In fact, it’s written all over his face as he rises against the surface team. Communications are disrupted as Toby taunts Jefferson before the presence is transferred to the Ood, now identifying as the Legion of the Beast. The Ood recite demonic verses as they advance on the crew, killing one of the guards in the process. The rest of the crew run as the circular door opens and the planet is pushed out of orbit.

From the depths of the pit, laughter echoes as whatever lies beneath is finally free.

Jefferson orders his team to open fire on the Ood. Rose tries to contact the Doctor as the rest of the crew fights for their lives. Jefferson recommends “Strategy 9” and Zach agrees. Rose finally reaches the Doctor and the Time Lord reports that everything is now eerily quiet in the cavern. Ida ignores the order of Strategy 9 – opening all of the airlocks and purging the base – and asks the Doctor what to do. He ponders the temptation but ultimately decides to withdraw. As the team heads back to the lift, Rose saves Toby from execution, but something prevents the lift from returning.

Zachary addresses the presence as a representative of the Torchwood Archive, opening a dialogue with the being. The Doctor interrogates it, and it claims to be the evil in every faith in every civilization in every time. The Disciples of Light defeated it and chained it in the pit for all eternity. It addresses the Doctor as the “killer of his own kind,” and predicts that Rose will soon die in battle.

As the beast signs off in a jump scare, initiating a panic in the crew, the Doctor calms everyone’s fears. His motivational speech is interrupted as the lift’s cable snaps, destroying the car and trapping the exploratory team in the deep with only an hour of air. With the power outage, Strategy 9 is no longer an option. As the Ood cut through the door, Rose rallies the troops. Zach bypasses the rocket to provide temporary power and Danny develops a plan to disrupt the Ood telepathic signals. The downside is that the telepathic flare has to be broadcast from the Ood habitation monitor.

Rose and her team navigate the maintenance shafts as Zach follows them with an oxygen bubble. The Ood pursue them in a claustrophobic action sequence during which Jefferson is left behind. The security chief is given a merciful death on his own terms. The surviving humans have little time to grieve as they are immediately pursued by more Ood, forcing them to go up, but not before Toby secretly reveals his possession to their pursuers. They end up in the Ood habitat and Danny initiates the telepathic flare. The Ood fall to the deck.

Ida gathers the fallen cable for a descent into the pit. The Doctor volunteers to go as Ida remains above to support the cable, and the Time Lord descends into literal wall-to-wall darkness. As he muses with Ida on belief and metaphysics, the cable runs out. The Doctor takes a leap of faith and detaches the cable, falling the rest of the way to the bottom with an unfinished final statement for Rose on his lips.

Rose and Zack restore communication with Ida, but there is no other way to reach her before abandoning the base. Danny, Toby, and Zach start preparations to leave, but Rose elects to stay behind. Zach decides for her by knocking her out and ordering the team to the rocket. The rocket lifts off as Rose wakes up. She threatens Zack with the bolt gun, but the threat is empty. The ship rockets toward safety on Earth.

The Doctor wakes up on the pit floor with a shattered helmet. The walls are decorated with pictographs depicting a battle against the Beast, and the Doctor finds two jars in front of the creature itself chained in a deeper pit. The Doctor pieces together that the Beast’s intelligence has been transferred to someone else, leaving this shell behind. The Doctor considers destroying the prison, but that act would disable the gravity field and plunge the rocket into the black hole. That’s the trap: Killing the beast kills Rose.

But the Doctor has none of it. He believes in his companion, and thus shatters the jars. As the planet and the rocket plummet toward the black hole, the Beast emerges in Toby one more time. Rose picks up the bolt gun, breaks the cockpit window, and releases Toby into the abyss. The humans and the Ood accept their fate, but the Doctor finds hope in a perfectly positioned big blue box.

The Doctor rescues Ida Scott and the rocket, but he regrets not being able to save the Ood as well. Time Lord and companion are reunited, and the humans are sent along their way to Earth. He also tells all of the humans that he doesn’t know what it was that he found in the pit, but they defeated it, and that’s what matters.

As the survivors of Sanctuary Base 6 file their final report, including the humans and Ood who were lost, the travelers – “The stuff of legend.” – fly on to the next adventure.

 

When Doctor Who plays with mythology, it is always a bonus for me. But this story excels because of a pace that never relents. It is a horror story at its core, and the tension is palpable and almost smothering. Even the Doctor is off his game because he’s not the smartest guy in the room this time. In fact, our heroes very nearly get outsmarted by the enemy, and those kinds of stakes really make this story sing.

The big downside for me is the budding Rose/Doctor romance. I’m not adverse to the Doctor finding love, and the relationship with Rose has taken a very natural arc as they have grown closer and closer. But I feel that we have crossed a line at this point: Rose has lost the ability to function when the Doctor is not around or is in danger. She’s lost her independence and adaptability after leaving her relationship with Mickey, two key elements for a companion in the TARDIS, and it’s becoming annoying.

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Love & Monsters

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp #178: The Idiot’s Lantern

Doctor Who: The Idiot’s Lantern
(1 episode, s02e07, 2006)

 

Grandma was right after all.

An electrical storm rages over Magpie Electricals as the owner, Mr. Magpie, despairs over his financials. An arc of red lightning strikes the roof, turning on the television and addressing Magpie before sucking him into the device. Nearby, a family is watching television as the father muses about the coronation and leaves the house in a suit and medals.  The grandmother – guest star Margaret John – tells her family that the television will rot their brains.

Some things never change.

The Doctor and Rose emerge from the TARDIS all decked out for an Elvis Presley concert in Las Vegas, ready to race to The Ed Sullivan Show on a scooter. They are dismayed to find out that they are actually in London, circa 1953. Rose notes that there are a lot of television aerials as they meet Magpie on the street as he delivers a new television. Coming back to that family from before – the Connollys – they’re living in fear of the grandmother and something that happened to her face. Another neighbor is taken away, drawing the attention of the Doctor and Rose who learn that the abductions are happening all over. They pursue the car on their scooter, but the “men in black” get away.

It turns out that Magpie is being driven by the woman in his television. In fact, the message is burning into his brain. At the Connolly residence, the son tries to check on his grandmother, but the father stops him in anger. The berating lecture is interrupted by the Doctor and Rose, posing as government officials. The Doctor provides Mr. Connolly a lesson in gender equality and Rose adds a little spice with a lesson on the Union Jack. As Mr. Connolly works, the rest of the family talks with the travelers about the grandmother. Mr. Connolly tries to bluster about being the master under his roof, but the Doctor has none of it, unleashing his dark side in order to uncover the menace that is plaguing them.

The son takes the travelers upstairs to meet the grandmother. Her face is completely missing, but the investigation is cut short as the men in black arrive, abduct the woman, and knock the Doctor for a loop with a helluva right hook. The Doctor pursues the men in black on the scooter as Rose notices the red lightning around the television. She notes the manufacturer – Magpie Electricals – and departs with one last jab at the Connolly patriarch.

The Doctor chases the car up to a staged roadblock, forcing him to sneak in a back way. He finds a cage filled with faceless victims, but they soon swarm around him like a mindless horde. The men in black soon apprehend him. Meanwhile, Rose interrogates Magpie about his bargain televisions and the business boom for the pending coronation. The intelligence inside the television tells Magpie that it is hungry, and the proprietor obliges by feeding it. Unfortunately, the Wire’s next meal is Rose.

The men in black, actually the local police, interrogate the Doctor. He points out the Detective Inspector Bishop’s team is simply sweeping the victims off the street in order to keep things quiet before the coronation. When Bishop –  “It’s written in the collar of your shirt. Bless your mum.” – admits that he has no idea what’s going on, the Doctor joins the team. Their discussion is cut short when a newly faceless Rose is brought in as the newest victim.

The Doctor gets angry. Very angry. Okay, downright enraged. There is nothing now that can stop him.

As the new day dawns, the Connollys gather around the television to watch the coronation. The Doctor and Bishop arrive at the Connolly home, and the patriarch blusters as his son Tommy sets him straight. Mr. Connolly values his reputation and image above everything else, flaunting his military service and standing in the neighborhood as his shining attributes. His wife, however, is disgusted to learn that he turned the grandmother over to the authorities, calling her husband a monster as she tells Tommy to help the Doctor.

Tommy leads the Doctor and Bishop to Magpie Electricals. The Doctor discovers the alien influence as the televisions all light up with the captured faces of the Wire’s victims. When Magpie returns, the Doctor is introduced to the Wire and learns that it is looking for energy to restore its corporeal body. The coronation is the perfect time to feed with millions of faces glued to their television sets. It attacks Tommy, Bishop, and the Doctor, but the threat of a sonic screwdriver causes it to release the Doctor and Tommy early. It jumps to a portable receiver and Magpie takes the Wire on the road.

The Doctor and Tommy leave a faceless Bishop at the shop and rush to the rescue. The Doctor builds a device from parts in the shop before tracing the Wire to Alexandra Palace, the largest transmitter antenna in the area. They arrive to find Magpie climbing the transmitter and spoof their way in as the King of Belgium. The Doctor leaves Tommy with the gadget as he climbs the tower with a spool of wire, but Magpie beats him to the top. As the Wire begins its feast, Magpie begs the Doctor for help and the Wire attacks the Time Lord. The Wire vaporizes Magpie, leaving the Doctor open to connect his device. Unfortunately, it short-circuits but Tommy comes to the rescue and defeats the life-sucking menace.

All of the victims have been restored to their normal selves, and the Doctor reveals that he trapped the Wire’s essence in a Betamax tape – presumably pulled from the Doctor’s infamous bottomless pockets since it wasn’t available until 1975 – effectively inventing the home video thirty years early. Families are reunited and Mrs. Connolly kicks her abusive husband out of the house. It’s in grandma’s name after all. The Doctor and Rose take advantage of the coronation party in the street to enjoy history, and the Wire will be taken care of by simply taping over her.

That’s a deep cut given the BBC’s history of erasing tapes!

The Doctor leaves his scooter to Tommy and Rose encourages the boy to make amends with his father. New monarch, new age, new world, but there is always time for kindness and love. Our travelers raise glasses of orange juice in a toast as the adventure comes to a close.

 

The highlight of this episode is the dark Doctor. His ruthlessness, when pushed to the limit of his patience and mercy, is an artifact of the Ninth Doctor, something that makes sense given that this episode was originally written for Series One. The enemy was both menacing and humorous and reminded me of the killer plant in The Little Shop of Horrors.

On the downside, there were far too many Dutch angles for my liking. I get why they’re an important part of cinematography – they are a visual representation of unease, disorientation, tension, and so on – but there seemed to be a lot of them. There was also a missed opportunity to highlight the Doctor’s fear of heights at the transmission tower.

Otherwise, the mystery and the action really kept this one going.

I’ll wrap up with two trivia notes: First, Margaret John returned to Doctor Who after thirty-eight-years since her last appearance in Fury from the Deep; Second, the Doctor seems to share a fandom with Michael French, a friend of the Timestamps Project, as he quoted “Never Too Late” by Kylie Minogue.

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Impossible Planet & Doctor Who: The Satan Pit

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp Supplemental #5: Full Circle (E-Space Trilogy, Part 1)

Doctor Who: Full Circle (E-Space Trilogy, Part 1)
Earth Station Who: Episode 208

 

I traveled to Earth Station Who one more time. This time, I joined Mike Faber and Mary Ogle for a discussion of Full Circle, the first part of the E-Space trilogy and a story that I previously covered in Timestamp #112.

As always, I recommend visiting their site and listening to their podcast. They cover everything from the Doctor Who franchise, from the classic and new televised episodes to the Big Finish audio and everything in the middle. During the regular seasons, they review the new episodes on a weekly basis, and during the off-season, they take a look back at some of their favorite (and not so favorite) adventures in time and space.

If you enjoy what you hear, leave a review in all the regular places, and also consider joining their fan community on Facebook. The ESW crew has built a fantastic community of fans, and it’s far more respectful than a lot of places on the internet. They are fans who love the series and want to share that love with fellow fans worldwide.

Earth Station Who is a podcast in the ESO Network, which includes the flagship show Earth Station One.

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #177: Rise of the Cybermen & The Age of Steel

Doctor Who: Rise of the Cybermen
Doctor Who: The Age of Steel
(2 episodes, s02e05-06, 2006)

 

A classic enemy finally returns, but in a slightly different way.

Opening in a laboratory shrouded in darkness, a wheelchair-bound man named John Lumic gazes upon a new creation with pride. The scientist in charge, Dr. Kendrick, voices his ethical objections to the project, and Lumic orders the creation to kill the scientist. Lumic tells his staff to set sail for Great Britain as the Cyberman electrocutes Kendrick.

I have no problem just admitting that the monster is a Cyberman. That surprise is lost during the opening title sequence. No one looked at “Rise of the Cybermen” in the red vortex titles and said, “Hey, I wonder if this episode is about the return of Aggedor.”

Anyway…

On the TARDIS, the Doctor and Rose laugh about their adventures as Mickey keeps a switch on the console depressed. He could have let go a few minutes before, but the Doctor seems to have forgotten him. Mickey’s irritation is sidelined as the time-space vortex dissipates, tossing the TARDIS all about, and pretty much destroying the console. The TARDIS is dead, but they appear to have touched down in London.

Unfortunately, it’s not their London. In fact, the fleet of zeppelins in the air means that it’s not even their world.

Oh, and Rose’s dad? He’s alive here.

The Tylers don’t live in an apartment complex on this Earth. Pete has done quite well with his food schemes and has a large mansion. He arrives home with a bouquet to a grumpy wife. Jackie is preparing to celebrate her 40th – although she claims it’s her 39th – birthday, and the banner is all wrong. Jackie snuggles with Rose, her dog, while she tries out her new EarPods. Pete calls Lumic to thank him for the EarPods, and moments later Lumic activates them, overrides Jackie’s brain, and gets himself an invite to the party. He also orders his henchmen to gather up some extra staff, which turn out to be the local homeless population with a promise of free food. One of them refuses and films the events as the others begin screaming inside the truck.

Rose takes a walk on this new Earth as Mickey and the Doctor stare at the dead TARDIS console. She sees a broadcast from Lumic and Cybus Industries on her mobile. Meanwhile, the Doctor explains to Mickey that the TARDIS draws power from the universe, but this universe is incompatible. It was apparently easier when the Time Lords were in power, but now there’s no one to help. His spirits rise when he sees a single green glowing light under the console, giving them approximately twenty-four hours. Mickey and the Doctor find Rose with their news, but she’s depressed because she doesn’t exist in this universe. Mickey and Rose decide to split from the Doctor: Mickey wants to find someone who values him more than the Doctor, and Rose wants to see Pete Tyler. Reluctantly, the Doctor gives them twenty-four hours and chases after Rose.

The players get in position: Pete meets Lumic’s airship as it touches down; Mickey discovers military checkpoints and a curfew; Rose tells the Doctor about Mickey’s history before wandering into a crowd of drone-like people all wearing EarPods. Those people are all receiving a daily download from Cybus Industries, including news, lottery numbers, and a funny joke. Now that there’s a mystery afoot, the Doctor is interested in meeting Pete Tyler.

Mickey ends up at his grandmother’s house. In his reality, he was abandoned by his parents and raised by his grandmother until she tripped and died on the stairs. Mickey meets her counterpart in the new universe, and after promising not to disappear, beating him over his lack of contact, and calling him Ricky, she welcomes him in for a cup of tea.

The Doctor and Rose have really been taking him for granted.

Before he can settle in for his tea, however, a blue van drives up and takes him away. The occupants, part of the resistance, believe that Mickey is their Ricky, a man who is London’s most wanted. As night falls, they arrive at their hideout to find Ricky, leaving Mickey in a tight spot.

Pete Tyler and the President of Great Britain meet with Lumic to hear his proposal on how to extend human life by capturing the brain in a cybernetic suit. The President turns down the project and Lumic dismisses Pete before checking in with his henchman Crane. Lumic orders the project to proceed without permission, and Crane begins processing the homeless victims, drowning out their screams with The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

It seems that the band Tight Fit exists on this alternate Earth too.

Rose and the Doctor arrive at the Tyler mansion and pose as waitstaff to crash the party. After all, if you want to know what’s going on, work in the kitchen. The Doctor fills Rose in on all the scuttlebutt as they work the floor, only stopping as Pete Tyler presents Jackie to his assembled guests. Rose is a bit miffed that she shares her name with the dog.

As Lumic prepares his metal soldiers to begin their invasion, Ricky’s crew investigates the mystery of Mickey. Ricky’s crew – Jake and Mrs. Moore – take Mickey with them as they tail the Cybus truck to the Tyler estate. At the estate, the Doctor does some poking into an open computer as Rose gets her moment to talk with Pete. After things get a little personal, the conversation turns odd as Pete feels a strange connection with Rose and veers off to talk to someone who works at Torchwood. Rose later finds Jackie and has a moment with her, but it turns sour as Jackie takes offense to Rose’s comments on her personal life.

The truck arrives and deploys its malicious cargo. Rose watches the march of the Cybermen as the Doctor uncovers the truth. They meet up as the Cybermen literally crash the party, and as the President confronts Lumic, the Doctor explains who they are. The Cybermen offer to upgrade the party guests, but the President refuses. The Cyberman kills the President in response, and then begin to slaughter the party guests. Jackie is trapped in the cellar as Rose, Pete, and the Doctor run. Our heroes find Mickey and the rebels, and the Doctor offers their surrender.

Unfortunately for him, that tactic will not work on this Earth. These are not the Mondasian Cybermen that the Doctor has encountered in his normal universe, and the interlopers are considered inconvertible. Thus, the travelers are inferior and subject to maximum deletion.

So, an explosive resolution presents itself.

The Doctor pulls out the TARDIS crystal and channels its energy into the Cybermen, vaporizing them and allowing a chance for Mrs. Moore to rescue them in the van. The crystal will recharge in four hours, giving the resistance time to regroup and strategize. They find out that Pete Tyler is Gemini, their secret informant inside Cybus Industries, and the Doctor warns that talk of executing Pete will make the resistance his enemy. They don’t want that. The Doctor takes charge and promises to end the threat tonight.

Back at his factory, Lumic deploys the EarPods and starts bringing all of the citizens (including Jackie) to him for conversion. The resistance finds a group of stumbling drone-people, but they cannot remove the EarPods for fear of destroying their minds. The Doctor mentions the Cybermen of his normal universe, drawing the conclusion that these Cybermen are attempting to start their own Mondas from this ground zero. The Cybermen march on them, so the team splits and runs. In the chase, Ricky is killed in front of Mickey by the Cybermen. He brings this news to the assembled resistance, and Jake is furious with grief.

Crane comes before Lumic after having ditched his EarPods, requesting an upgrade. Crane disables Lumic’s life support chair, and after killing Crane, the Cybermen begin the upgrade process on Lumic. Across the river, the resistance plots their assault, and Pete and Rose decide to go in the front door with fake EarPods. The Doctor tasks Jake with destroying the EarPod transmitter, then teams with Mrs. Moore to enter through the cooling tunnels. Mickey refuses to be the tin dog and accompanies a reluctant Jake on his explosive mission.

The Doctor and Mrs. Moore find the cooling tunnels lined with dormant Cybermen. Mrs. Moore used to work at Cybus Industries as Angela Price, but she was apprehended for reading about the plans for Cybermen. When she escaped, she joined the resistance and took her alias. As they move through the tunnels, they trip a motion sensor and awaken the sleeping army. They barely escape into the factory. Moments later, they are confronted by a Cyberman and Mrs. Moore disables it with an electromagnetic grenade. The Doctor investigates the Cyberman’s construction and finds the emotional inhibitor. Unfortunately, it was broken in the confrontation, and the human side of the encased brain dies a frightened death as the Doctor disables the electronic heart. The two discuss the morality of killing the entire cyber army before Mrs. Moore is ambushed and killed. The Doctor is escorted away to Cyber Control.

Out front, Rose and Pete join the line of drone citizens marching toward upgrade. They witness the operations firsthand as unwitting victims are cut apart and transformed. When one Cyberman recognizes Pete, it confronts him and reveals that it was Jackie Tyler. Pete and Rose and taken to Cyber Control.

Jake and Mickey find the airship guarded by two men, and Mickey demands that they should not be killed. They disable the guards and enter the airship, finding what they think is a display Cyberman on the bridge. Mickey sets to work in hacking the ship’s navigational systems. The Cyberman comes to life and is tricked into destroying the transmitter. The citizens are awakened, and they run in terror.

In Cyber Control, the Doctor is reunited with Pete and Rose, and together they meet Lumic, the new Cyber Controller. The Cyber Controller tells the Doctor that he is too late, and that even if he is thwarted here, his factories around the world will take humanity by force. The Cyber Controller challenges the Doctor about his emotions, and the Doctor responds by sending Mickey (the “idiot”) a coded instruction to disable the emotional inhibitor. Mickey sends the disable code to Rose’s mobile, the Doctor plugs it into the mainframe, and the entire cyber army selfs destructs under the pain of their restored emotions and souls.

With the factory falling apart at the seams, Mickey takes command of the airship – he learned to fly on Playstation – and directs the Doctor, Rose, and Pete to the roof. He lowers a ladder and the heroes climb to safety, but the Cyber Controller grabs the ladder. The Doctor tosses his sonic screwdriver to Pete, and in Jackie’s name, the elder Tyler cuts the rope and sends Lumic to his demise.

The Doctor returns to the TARDIS and installs the charged crystal, bringing the TARDIS back to life. Outside, Rose and Pete say their farewells, and Pete decides to destroy the remaining factories as part of the resistance. He’s also unable to process the fact that Rose is his daughter in another universe. Mickey and Jake return, and the Doctor tasks Jake with telling Mrs. Moore’s family about her sacrifice. Mickey also reveals that he is staying behind as this universe’s Ricky. He acknowledges that his relationship with Rose has been broken since she started to travel with the Doctor, and the Doctor reminds both of them that they can never return.

The Doctor wishes Mickey luck, proud of what he has chosen to do. The two humans say their tearful farewells, and a reluctant Rose boards the TARDIS one more time. Mickey and Jake watch the TARDIS disappear, and then set their sights on Paris.

The TARDIS rematerializes in this universe’s Tyler apartment, and Rose rushes to her mother’s arms. Meanwhile, a universe away, Mickey remarks that he once saved the universe in a big yellow truck, so using a van is no challenge at all.

 

As noted before, the tension surrounding the return of the Cybermen was spoiled within minutes by the opening titles. It doesn’t seem like a big deal nearly thirteen years later, but it is obvious from the cinematography – blurred backgrounds, tight shots, the air of mystery around the monster – that director Graeme Harper (the first and only classic era Doctor Who director to cross over to the revival era) intended to make the reveal into a big deal.

In terms of the mythos, this return was a big deal. It’s the first full return for the Cybermen (excluding the quick nod in Dalek) and was a (sort of) 40th-anniversary celebration of their premiere in The Tenth Planet. It was also a return to form, restoring the iconic teardrop to the Cyberman masks after a 31-year absence.

I appreciated the fact that this made the Cybermen scary again by restoring the tragic nature of their origins. Throughout their existence, they have evolved from the almost-human species of The Tenth Planet to little more than a marauding horde of sentient robots. By playing with both Jackie’s assimilation and the emotional inhibitors – Sally Phelan’s death in the cold Cyberman armor was particularly poignant – the underlying empathy of the unemotional menace was restored.

Of course, since I originally started watching Doctor Who in the revival era and have seen what’s to come, rewatching this story reminded me that (in my opinion) this is as good as the Cybermen will get until the Twelfth Doctor’s finale.

Finally, I was impressed with Mickey’s sacrifice for the greater good. He fully admits that his relationship with Rose has been rocky since she first met the Doctor – This is another link in her continued dependence on the Doctor: Is she losing her humanity as she immerses herself without question in the Doctor’s universe? –  and decides to fulfill his counterpart’s mission while spending time with Ricky’s grandmother in an attempt to heal his own emotional wounds. I admire him for stepping up, and I credit his evolution to his discussion with Sarah Jane Smith.

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Idiot’s Lantern

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.