Doctor Who

Saturday, May 13, 2006 by

An old showman trait is to keep the audience wanting more – a key aspect to Doctor Who, new and old. However, this theory has much less effect when you are perfectly able to shrug off 35 minutes you’ve already invested in a story and its characters, as with this week’s much touted installment of David Tennant’s adventures through space and time, or, to be more accurate, his unfortunate crash-landing into a weird little dimension somewhere in between the two.

Unpredictably, the TARDIS, the Doctor, Rose and the increasingly wide-eyed Mickey find themselves in central London, were central London dominated by an industry akin to a Nazi version of Apple. Citizens are all treated to imbedded earpieces, feeding them a daily news stream, the weather, lottery results, everything you could need. The real movers and shakers (for example Rose’s alternate mother, married to a very rich version of her, generally, dead father), have diamond encrusted additions with superb radio frequencies. Meanwhile, the very powerful hover about in ominous, shiny Zeppelins on the skyline. We’ve had plastic surgery, commitment issues, lost love, but this week, Russell T Davies and first time Who writer Tom MacRae, somewhat cynically approach consumerism and the modern class system.

However, such musings can only get Saturday evening television so far, and Britain tunes in to see this so called “rise” of the Cybermen. Doctor Who is always well-written, and the show gets slicker every week. MacRae’s episode, the first story of two, was no different in style, but really, there wasn’t all that much rising going on. When the Cybermen did arrive, their sturdy shape punching through mansion windows and cruelly annihilating the upper classes, the show burst with excitement and energy. Before this, we had to suffer an extremist group, whose fairly pointless efforts were nearly put to heed, when the cronies of alternate world Mickey – the cunningly named Ricky – found “our” Mickey, lingering outside the home of Rickey’s nan, who unlike Mickey’s dear old relative, hadn’t perished falling down the stairs.

Much mugging and confusion abounded, but soon the van of this “truth preaching” group was on its way to the Tyler household, where the Doctor was posing as house staff with Rose.

Meanwhile, John Lumic, a dying, wheelchair bound entrepreneur, bizarrely played by Roger Lloyd Pack, intended to release his new “breed”‘ upon the planet. In a show in which a police box travels dimensions to alien planets and the main character can entirely regenerate from time to time, it’s surprisingly hard to swallow a hopelessly evil genius portrayed by Trigger from Only Fools and Horses.

Regardless, it was not an eye opening performance, with Pack hamming it up beyond a level of acceptability even for Doctor Who. Opening an episode with, “But how can you protest … from beyond the grave?! ” is a contextual mistake worthy of any lazy fantasy writer. Equally ridiculous and off-putting was the wide mouthed cockney “geezer” who popped in and out of the episode rounding up gullible homeless people into a van, for some unseen modification, in which they screamed in agony. Indeed, the spookiest moment of the episode was a point of view shot that offered viewers a look in at just how many high velocity tin openers were involved in transforming a hungry, hopeless tramp into “human steel”.

This was easily the most bombastic, high concept episode so far. Rose’s opportunity to see her father, an idea which went disastrously wrong in an emotional episode from last series, provided some subtle food for thought, but apart from this, all we were offered in terms of character development was more of the Doctor/Rose/Mickey jealousy and commitment saga.

It’s regrettable that the stock in trade in terms of layers in Doctor Who seems to be to make any brief character either gay, lovelorn or tragically well meaning – as demonstrated by tonight’s “president” of Great Britain.

Stomping and racing angrily all over the show, the Cybermen’s brief appearance was amplified by some pretty nifty and imposing direction and sound work, and softened as soon as they uttered a word to the inquisitive Doctor – who seemed relieved to finally be given something to do. Yet the Cybermen were still frightening, despite their new design appearing in seemingly every publication in the country over the past week – something the production team might have considered before filming endless shots of them obscured by curtains or light mist. Nevertheless, despite being made of titanium steel, even advanced cyber technology wobbles slightly whilst standing still.

We were left on a tantalizing cliffhanger – two alternate Mickeys (or, Rickys, depending on which way you look at it), Rose, her long dead father and an unintentionally hilarious faux-butch Irish freedom fighter and his gruff lesbian chum, all in a huddle, circled by evil, emotionless killer robots. Not to mention the Doctor himself, pleading for surrender.

“You are not compatible. Delete, delete, delete …” And nicely on the BBC’s part, we were offered no glimpse of next week’s (hopefully) thrilling conclusion, “The Age of Steel”. An age, we can only hope lasts the whole 45 minutes, rather than about 10.


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