The Rise of the Cybermen

Part One by Tom MacRae

Review and Commetary by Andrew Panero

There is a darker than usual feel to this episode, but then it is directed by Graeme Harper, veteran of such classic serials as ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ and ‘The Caves of Androzani’. He furnishes us with a brutal murder within the prologue as we meet John Lumic (Roger Lloyd-Pack) who is I guess the Cybermen equivalent of Davros.

The story is set on a parallel Earth which the TARDIS crash lands on after the credits; interestingly it is Mickey who first realises that the zeppelins floating around in the sky must mean they are in an alternative reality. Funny thing about zeppelins and other dimensions, I can think of at least two other fantasy books where airships have a bigger role to play in another universe, so if I see one floating overhead I’ll start to worry.

In this parallel Earth Rose’s Dad, Peter Tyler (Shaun Dingwall), is still alive and has made a fortune from health drinks (see ‘Fathers Day’ from the first series). He and Jackie are still married (just about) and they never had Rose, although there is a fluffy chihuahau that bears her name.

Peter Tyler has just sold his soft drinks firm to Lumic, whose Cybus Industries owns practically every other business in the UK. Cybus Industries make the small circular implants that seem compulsory in this reality; these implants enable their users to directly download stuff from the Internet into their brains. They also seem to enable Mr. Lumic to hack into your brain if you happen to be wearing them.

All of these aspects of the story form an interesting backdrop to the rise of the Cybermen and touch again on the same kind of issues that fed Kit Pedler’s original concept in the 1960s. Here it is updated so that we have all the paranoia about current technology being brought to the surface- from WAP enabled phones to ‘Blue Tooth’ hacking, it is all there. Although paranoia might be too harsh a description, just go and read about post-humanism on the web and you can find all the aspects of the Cybermen that worry us so much. There is an interesting line in the start of this episode where a hapless assistant turns to Lumic and states that they have to register the Cyberman with Geneva, as it is ‘technically a new life-form’. His diligence earns him destruction at the hand of Lumic’s creation.

The decision to give the Cybermen a Davros figure is an intriguing one; in the Big Finish audio-play ‘Spare Parts’ starring Peter Davison, they deliberately avoided having such a figure. The fate of the original Mondasian Cybermen does in many ways seem more poignant as a result, their conversion into cybernetic organisms being an attempt to survive in impossible circumstances. In the parallel Earth we see in this episode the drive to survive is purely that of Mr. Lumic, who we are told is dying; hence his interest in radical upgrades for human beings. However, you might well ask, as I found myself doing, why he deems it necessary to send his henchmen driving up and down the seedier parts of London forcibly recruiting the homeless into his Cyber army? Why not just turn himself into a Cyberman instead if he is really worried about dying?

The answer to this question lies with the UK President (played with characteristic dry humour by Don Warrington) who has decreed that such radical upgrades are illegal and obscene. Nevertheless, as with restrictive regulations about human embryo research and fertility treatment one would imagine that someone in Lumic’s position could probably find another way round this, as Peter Tyler suggests he could go to another country. However it seems that Lumic is a super-patriot and feels very strongly about his homeland, so much so that he is prepared to overthrow the government if need be to get his own way.
Ranged against these sinister forces is Mickey’s parallel self, Ricky, who heads up a rag-tag group of renegades who are distinguished by their lack of implants and their hatred of Lumic. Mickey finds himself drawn into their circle when he is mistaken for his doppelganger and by the end of the episode finds himself pitted against an entire army of Cybermen as they trample over Peter Tyler’s extensive front lawn.
The Cybermen have had a very major upgrade themselves since their last appearance in ‘Silver Nemesis’ all those years ago. Like the Daleks the Cybermen seemed to suffer in the later years of Doctor Who, becoming ridiculously easy to dispatch (I remember particularly the scene involving Ace throwing gold coins at the chests of silver Cybermen who died almost instantly) and were saddled with ‘Mr Blobby’ voices. They seemed a long way from the sinister doll faced creatures that were so frightening in the Troughton era.

So it was good to see that they have upgraded the Cybermen without losing all of their distinguishing features, but as with the Daleks last year they have a heavier, more armour plated feel to them. This effect seems to work particularly well given the right lighting, which is why the scenes near the end of a cyber army tramping the mist are the most amazing scenes in the second series so far. The Cybermen themselves have certainly regained their menace, they have retained the blank eyes and the ear-handles, but now have very skull like faces, glowing teeth and big boots. While it is strange to see cyborgs in flares, you don’t notice such things when they are crashing through your house electrocuting people. The new cyber voices, courtesy of Nicholas Briggs, owe a lot to the Troughton era Cybermen, with just a sprinkling of static over the top so they sound like distorted police radios.

As well as giving Dr Who’s second most popular monsters a substantial upgrade and a Davros like creator, they are also given a catch phrase to challenge the Daleks’ classic cry of ‘exterminate’: From now on you will be ‘deleted’ by Cybermen, not killed or destroyed. I know, not the most original of ideas but enough to serve a purpose it seems.

I suppose my only quibble about this episode is that given the huge amount of info dump that is required of the characters and the situations they are in, there is barely enough time to get your head around the concepts before we are jostled onto the next level where the Cybermen are marching on the lawn. But this isn’t so much a problem I have with this episode but with the new series in general. The director, producers, actors and the writers have made a damn good job of telling this story but they are constricted by the overall format of the show. At least with this story we have a two parter where there is some chance of a complex plot evolving, but the fact that the President of the UK is not given a name is indicative of the problem I have with this. He simply isn’t around long enough to have the luxury of a name, which is a shame for such a potentially interesting character.

But that quibble aside I can only commend this episode; a clever script, great direction, a little bit of hamming it up from Mr Lloyd-Pack as the mad scientist and Mickey finally starts to come into his own. And did I mention it’s got Cybermen in it…?