Rise of the Cybermen The Age of Steel ★★★

The Cybermen get a storming rebirth on a parallel Earth – but Roger Lloyd-Pack is woefully miscast

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Story 172

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Series 2 – Episodes 5 & 6

“You lot, you’re obsessed. You’d do anything for the latest upgrade” – the Doctor

Storyline
The Tardis breaks down on a parallel Earth where Zeppelins loom in the sky, humanity is controlled by ear pods made by Cybus Industries and more importantly for Rose her dad is still alive. Pete Tyler is a millionaire businessman hosting a 40th birthday bash for his wife Jackie, which is attended by the UK president and later stormed by Cybermen. Cybus boss John Lumic has created a new breed of cybernetic humans and accelerates his plan of world domination, becoming their Controller. The Doctor, Rose and Mickey join forces with a small resistance group, one of whom is Mickey’s double Ricky. They destroy the Cybermen’s emotional inhibitor, which hastens their demise.

First UK transmissions
Saturday 13 May 2006
Saturday 20 May 2006

Production
November 2005–March 2006. Main locations: Lambeth Pier, Battersea Power Station and MI5 in London; Cardiff Docks; Uskmouth Power Station, Newport; St Nicholas, near Cardiff; Brackla bunkers, Bridgend. Studios: Unit Q2, Newport; Unit G12, Treforest, Pontypridd.

Cast
The Doctor – David Tennant
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper
Jackie Tyler – Camille Coduri
Mickey Smith/Ricky Smith – Noel Clarke
Pete Tyler – Shaun Dingwall
John Lumic – Roger Lloyd-Pack
Jake Simmonds – Andrew Hayden-Smith
The President – Don Warrington
Rita-Anne – Mona Hammond
Mrs Moore – Helen Griffin
Mr Crane – Colin Spaull
Dr Kendrick – Paul Antony-Barber
Morris – Adam Shaw
Soldier – Andrew Ufondo
Newsreader – Duncan Duff
Cyber Leader – Paul Kasey
Cyber voices – Nicholas Briggs

Crew
Writer – Tom MacRae
Director – Graeme Harper
Designer – Edward Thomas
Incidental music – Murray Gold
Producer – Phil Collinson
Executive producers – Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner

RT review by Patrick Mulkern
(filed 13 May 2016)
When I was a kid in 1975, returning baddies the Cybermen hadn’t featured in Doctor Who for seven years. Other than some striking images adorning the Radio Times Tenth Anniversary Special, I had almost no awareness of them. No wonder then that in 2006, when the Cybermen had been absent from television for 18 years, Russell T Davies knew that they meant nothing to the vast majority of viewers and that a complete reintroduction was called for. And in order to ditch the baggage of ancient, redundant Cyber-continuity (their two home worlds, ice tombs, an allergy to gold…), what better than to create a new brand of Cybermen on a parallel Earth?

There are still sly nods to the past for any who care – particularly the 1968 classic, The Invasion. The side of a Cybus lorry is emblazoned with the name International Electromatics (the corrupt company from that story); for the 1960s Cybermen roaming the London sewers, there’s the new lot springing to life in tunnels under Battersea Power Station. In 1968, we had Kevin Stoney delivering a charged, immaculate performance as suave supervillain Tobias Vaughn. In 2006, we have Roger Lloyd-Pack as deranged businessman John Lumic. I shan’t mince my words. He’s dreadful. He simply doesn’t have the chops or the charisma to convey the man’s status, his mania nor even his ultimate tragedy.

Lloyd-Pack’s not alone in the mugging stakes. Noel Clarke, normally reliable and likeable as Mickey (as indeed he is here), resorts to ridiculous exaggerated scowling to distinguish his parallel-world counterpart, Ricky. It’s a shame because the numerous set-ups with both Mickey and Ricky in the same shot are technically seamless.

The Cybermen look fabulous. Gone are the silver-sprayed boiler suits of yore, the Doc Marten boots, pointless tubing, clunky chest units and practice golf balls at every joint. The redesign by Neill Gorton’s team looks the business: solid, sleek and well articulated as they clomp in unison. If the robo-voice is dreary and the catchphrase “Delete!” weak, they still convey might, uniformity and in close-up a tinge of the sadness lying beneath. These are Cybermen we can pity.

Despite the silliness of the swishing overhead blades that represent and sanitise the Cyber conversion process, what Davies and his protégé writer Tom MacRae emphasise here is the horror of what has happened to these people as human beings – ordinary folk who’ve let themselves become slaves to technology and receive an upgrade further than they bargained for.

The most poignant incident comes when the Doctor and resistance fighter Mrs Moore fell a Cyberman and switch off its emotional inhibitor. They discover that only a day earlier this was a woman looking forward to her wedding. “Why am I cold?” asks Cyber-Sally, suddenly able to feel again, before the Time Lord extinguishes her last vestige of life. Gulp.

Similarly affecting is the moment when Rose and Pete finally catch up with Jackie in Battersea – albeit too late to rescue her. She’s become a Cyber“man”. Irreversibly. They look away for a second and she’s merged back into the Cyber ranks. “Where is she? Which one was it? Which one was her?” cries Rose, ramming home the appalling notion of loss of identity.

Some dislike the ongoing saga of the Tylers. Not I. Camille Coduri and Shaun Dingwall excel here, as does Billie Piper. And the family aspect works in the writer’s favour, involving the viewer and galvanising the story. Back in 1970, in the all-time classic Inferno, Jon Pertwee’s Doctor visited a parallel Earth and faced fascistic counterparts of his Unit allies. In 2006-vintage Who our earthly touchstones are the Tylers. David Tennant’s Doctor is powerless as Rose and Mickey, quite naturally, can’t resist seeking out their “parallel” relatives. Mickey is delighted to find his gran, who’s dead in our world but alive in this one. Their reunion is hugely touching. Rose has even more to contend with. Her dad is not only alive but a tycoon, splitting up from Jackie, and they have no daughter; the only Rose in their life is Jackie’s Yorkshire terrier. I snorted like Tennant does when I first heard that one.

The fact that Mickey’s path (blind gran, resistance fighters, doppelganger Ricky) converges on the same night with Rose’s (big-shot dad, country-house party, presidential assassination) is a convenience we can overlook. The spectacle of the gatecrashing, window-smashing Cybermen is all-consuming – a release of tension after some textbook build-up and the decision to keep the Cybermen a-blur. They finally come into focus for the TV viewer when they do for the Doctor as he peers through a window and realises the threat he’s facing.

Seasoned director Graeme Harper (back on Who after 21 years) handles all this expertly. There’s a sense of a baton being passed on, because his friend and mentor, Douglas Camfield, directed The Invasion and Inferno all those years ago. Although I’m not putting Rise of the Cybermen in the same league, it’s astonishing what Harper and his crew achieve here, filming this two-parter in the depths of winter back to back (in fact pretty much concurrently) with the season finale.

At the time, the audience had no idea that seeds were being sewn for the finale. It looks like Mickey is gone for good, constantly left out, not needed by either the Doctor or Rose, but with a role to fulfil on this other Earth. Pete scuttles off after Rose reveals that, in her own dimension, she is his daughter. Her sadness pricks as both these men walk out of her life.

Overlooking a few thumbs-down aspects, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this two-parter a decade later. (Tom MacRae has only come back to Doctor Who once since, in 2011, for The Girl Who Waited – an episode I adored.) This story still looks polished and delivers on its promise to revitalise the Cybermen for a new generation.

*

RT Archive

In 2006, RT heralded the return of the Cybermen with a special cover.

Inside the issue, Doctor Who Watch showcased the new-look Cybermen, explained the Anatomy of a Cyberman and spoke to the writer Tom MacRae.

For part two the following week Noel Clarke spoke to RT about playing Mickey.

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David Tennant and Billie Piper – rare RT photos from 2006

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