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.

 

 

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