I don’t make a habit out of reviewing Doctor Who episodes, but I think I’ll make an exception this week. Don’t read any more if you didn’t catch it last night…
Overall, I’ve been blown away by the Russell T. Davies version of Doctor Who. Unlike people such as Will, Alex or Nick, I don’t regard myself as a particularly hardcore fan. As a boy growing up post-Star Wars in 80s Britain it was of course required viewing. I remember being ridiculously excited by Tom Baker regenerating into Peter Davison, being upset when Adric died and liking the story which sought to “explain” the Great Fire of London, but being somewhat alienated by the oddness of the Two Doctors and severely irritated by the unholy trinity of Bonnie Langford, Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred (who always came across like a plummy childrens TV presenter trying to act “street” which was of course exactly what she was). Overall, my impression was that of extremely self-indulgent and overly complicated storylines interlaced with silliness designed to appeal to the kids. It wasn’t Michael Grade who killed Doctor Who, it was the programme makers themselves.
The last series was a godsend. It didn’t take the lazy path of the TV movie by aiming itself squarely at the US “genre” fanbase, but it wasn’t afraid to take a cold, hard look at what worked and what didn’t. The result was a show that embedded sci-fi ideas in an accessible, yet memorably idiosyncratic, format. My personal highlights were Dalek and The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances.
The latest series, after a faltering first episode (which apart from anything else ended in too similar way to the Doctor Dances), has thus far been one hit after another. Tooth and Claw, School Reunion and The Girl in the Fireplace have all equalled if not excelled the best of the last series. So it was inevitable that sooner or later the quality would falter somewhat, and so it has come to pass.
It is perhaps foolish to review Rise of the Cybermen before the story concludes next week. It could be that the whole thing has been a set up for a big twist, with it turning out that they aren’t in an alternative universe at all, but in some kind of virtual reality prison (possibly generated inside the TARDIS itself). Nonetheless, it has still committed three major sins in my book.
Firstly, it was so slow. In essence the whole episode was exposition. Why did we have to have a long winding narrative to lead up to the fact that there are two Mickeys? Why did we need to have lots of scenes of Rose moping about mulling over whether to visit her dad? Why did we need a whole scene of the President refusing to allow Lumic to turn the whole population into Cybermen: it was obvious he would anyway, so why would Lumic even bother going through the motions?
Secondly, it was too soap opera. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the episodes centering around Rose’s mum and dad in the last series. They were handled well and give the characters an added layer of depth that was absent from most “companions” in the past. More to the point, they were only central to the plot because of their relation to Rose and Rose’s actions. In this episode however we are being asked to believe that not only is Rose’s father a successful businessman with close ties to both the President and Lumic, but that Mickey’s counterpart Ricky is also, by complete coincidence, the leader of the resistence. It’s the most common trap of most parallel universe stories, c.f. Star Trek’s Mirror Universe episodes which get increasingly unbelievable as time goes on: make the core and recurring cast all have prominent roles in the alternate universe require the audience to simply go along with how unlikely that would be. Bear in mind this is an episode in which we are also expected to believe that the vast majority of the population are happy to let cybernetic implants have unfettered access to their brains 24/7, with no explanation given. I’m all for suspending disbelief, but this was too much in one go; the effect was it left me cold. It is too “cute.”
Thirdly, some of the actions of the characters made no sense at all. I’ve already alluded to Lumic’s decision to ask the President permission to turn the whole population into drones, knowing full well he’d say no. But then there is the fact that the resistence were happy to let Mickey come with them on a raid despite having no idea who he was and every reason to be suspicious of him. Finally, am I alone in being disappointed that Rose was so keen to visit her father’s counterpart, despite learning the hard way in Father’s Day that No Good Will Come Of This? Surely the character has grown emotionally over the past year? Why would she rush off i such a brainless, stroppy manner? For me, this was the first time the character became Sophie Aldred-level annoying, particularly disappointing since Billie Piper’s performance was the best thing about New Earth. It was a lazy plot device which didn’t respect the character in my opinion.
Of course, much of this could all be explained away next week. I am particularly intrigued as to how these Cybermen relate to the Cybermen of the classic series. Is Lumic simply following orders? I’m hopeful that there will be some twist next week that will have me spinning. But it still seems like a bit of a waste of a two-parter.
On the plus side, I do like the new Cyberman design, and I also had fun spotting bits of Cardiff I recognise: Rickey’s grandmother’s house was blatantly in Cathays.