The Age of Steel

 THE AGE OF STEEL – 20th May
Part Two by Tom MacRae

Review and Commetary by Andrew Panero

I guess it’s a sad fact of life that reviewing something that you love is much more difficult than reviewing something you hate. Demolishing a programme when it gets on your nerves is so much easier because the bile it brings up needs venting. When audiences are happy they tend to stay quiet, or is it just me? But another pop-psych; why do I think this episode works so well? Let’s try and break it down:

1    Monsters: Classic, scary, powerful; these Cybermen knock spots off their forebears. This episode has lots of them, marauding the streets of London, lying dormant in dark tunnels and generally being very nasty.

2    Body Horror: Not content with just being terrifying they’re out to make everyone to be like them. We never see the actual process, apart from glimpses of rotating rotor blades and a cyber helmet coming down to clamp onto the next victim. However there is also get the shock of seeing well established characters being turned into a Cybermen, as well as some genuine pathos when one dies at their hands.

3    Characterisation: At last we get a glimpse into Mr. Lumic’s true motivations. Although he realises he is dying it is clear that he wishes to postpone the moment of transformation until the last moment. After one of his associates attacks his life-support mechanism the Cybermen makes the decision for him.

4    More Characterisation: Mickey finally kicks some serious butt and really comes of age. I shall resist the temptation to talk about his final decision in this story. Let’s just say that it was pay-back time for all the times we’ve gone ‘ouch’ when we’ve seen Rose reject him time and time again. The writer obviously has an awareness of Whovian history because I am sure I am not the only viewer to spot a certain parallel with another classic story. But that would be telling…

5    Scary Monsters on Cybernetic Couches: The Cybermen get their very own Emperor (Cyber-Controller) in the shape of the transformed Mr. Lumic. He may be mad but at least he’s generous in his madness. All he wants to do is free us from pain and misery and give us life eternal. It just means we get turned into huge homicidal cyborgs on the way.

I’ll stop there, as lists can be damned annoying things to put together and to read. Overall this is another potential instant classic. I’m sure not everyone will agree with me; that is one of the few things you can be sure of in the world of Doctor Who. There are still many out there who hate the soap-opera bits and in many ways I actually agree with this, except that this episode demonstrated the strengths of such an approach. For example there was one reviewer who found the idea of resurrecting Rose’s father distasteful and exploitative; they took issue with the show working on it’s own established mythology. This struck me as a somewhat contrived argument, he seemed to be criticising the writers for doing what any good storyteller would do. An alternative reality is the place where you might expect to meet long lost relatives or crazy doppelgangers. Yes, it was a device to get us into the story, but at least it was a convincing device. Having listened to the soundtrack of another old Cybermen story (‘The Invasion’) recently I have an interesting point of comparison. In that story the reason why the Doctor gets out of the TARDIS in 1975 is to track down someone who might be able to help him fix a circuit on the TARDIS. That this seems unlikely is not challenged in the story and instead the Doctor and his companions walk blithely into another adventure.

So a plot device that relies on previously established facts about one of the major characters is not such a naughty thing to do really. That the Cybermen in this story are nothing to do with the Mondasian ones is also neither here nor there; that they were portrayed effectively is enough.

All in this entire two part story has been definitely one of the best so far of the new series. I am probably one of the few reviewers who doesn’t think the first part was too slow, on the contrary I thought it was too brisk. In that sense I am probably a true classicist as far as Doctor Who goes; ‘The Invasion’ was eight parts long with the Cybermen not appearing until episode four. That story also concerned a megalomaniac businessman with a huge electronics empire and a Cybermen invasion of London. In the ‘Age of Steel’ we have similar iconic imagery and the decision to use Battersea Power station as a base for Cyber-conversion was truly inspired.
I must also add a few words of praise for Camille Coduri and Shaun Dingwell. Both were particularly effective playing their affluent alternative selves and the scene where Rose tries to tell Pete Tyler that she is actually his daughter in another world was excellent. His reaction was very plausible, as it was when he found out the fate of his wife.

This story was perhaps least kind to Rose, whose character takes a major battering throughout, nor is great for the Doctor who finds himself sidelined by the Preachers (the resistance to the Cybermen) in the second story. He does get his moment, as one would expect in Doctor Who, to confront the enemy and tell them why they are wrong. But only so that he can destroy them mercilessly in the next frame…