Friday, November 1, 2013

Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel - "You will perish under maximum deletion."

Rise of the Cybermen (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #172a)

It's not called a Charged Vacuum Emboitment this time, but having just watched "Full Circle" it sure felt like we were getting kicked into E-Space again at the beginning of this story. Unlike "Full Circle" though, where we gained a companion fans cruelly abused, this story sets us up to lose (for a while) a companion people generally liked, who was being somewhat cruelly treated by his fellow travelers. Mickey's quite the sad sack at the start of this one, made to feel left out by the Doctor and Rose -- who are so full of themselves and each other, their exclusion of Mickey is downright heartless. Tennant plays to it as well, making it clear that the Doctor, if not Rose, realizes what they're doing to Mickey.

The thing is though, Mickey needs to stop feeling sorry for himself and get on with it. Luckily, he'll meet Ricky soon enough. (That name's a nice touch and another dig at the Mickey character, remember all the times he was called "Ricky" by the Doctor.)

The accidental slip into the parallel universe apparently kills the TARDIS and, while not as poorly played as when the TARDIS was apparently destroyed in "Frontios," it's barely more than an acknowledgment. "There's nothing to fix. She's perished. The last Tardis in the universe. Extinct," the Doctor says morosely. OK, that seems like a good place to start. Then it's off to explore with hardly a care in the alternate world. At least this time they're not in the far future on a planet being bombarded with meteors with the straggling remnants of humanity struggling for survival. But, still. You'd think the death of the TARDIS would be a bit more of devastating blow to all of them.

Mickey's geek background as a comics/sc-fi fan serve him well here, he knows how to wrap his head around parallel universes, even if he seems to think it ought to be a cakewalk to get home. The Doctor sets him straight about this and backdoors in a lot more power and knowledge for the Time Lords by explaining that it used to be easy, back when his people were in control and you could pop between realities and be home in time for tea. Which, given they could already go anywhere in time and space in this universe, seems like an extraordinarily generous extra bit of power for the author of this one to have granted them. (Nothing from the TV series I can think of offhand hints at that ability to hop between realities, though I'm sure if we dig through the novels and audios we're bound to find something about it.)

In this universe, the origin of the Cybermen takes a decidedly "Genesis of the Daleks"-type turn, introducing us to Lumic, who's more than a little Davros-ish, though placed in the context of being a wealthy magnate in zeppelin-filled alterna-Britain. (I detected more than a little Sydney-Greenstreet-as-Kasper-Gutman in Roger Loyd-Pack's portrayal of Lumic; but, I'm about as obsessive about The Maltese Falcon as I am Doctor Who, so take that cum grano salis.)  These Cybermen then take on a bit of the Daleks' cachet by extension, seemingly being the Cybermen in this universe which may, or may not, have Daleks of its own. (There is a Torchwood though, so that hints at the possibility of it also containing a version of the Doctor and all that entails ... )

But that's all sort of abstract, where the rubber hits the road for Rose and Mickey is in the existence of an alternate Tyler family (sans a [human] Rose equivalent) with a Pete. So the emotional groundwork laid by "Father's Day" gets built upon. A bit of humor thrown in as well as we get to meet this universe's canine Rose, and see the Doctor's inability to restrain a laugh at that. Mickey, too, gets a chance to meet a lost relative, but not for long once he's mistaken for Ricky by his alternate's mates. Much of the emotional punch in this story comes from the desire to belong to a family -- whether it's Mickey not fitting in the TARDIS and wanting to care for his gran, or Rose wanting to see her father again.

While we're drawn in on an emotional level by the exploration of the desire to feel accepted as part of family, and our nerd sensors are beeping as we look for parallels to "Genesis", we're also looking at a world where bluetooth sporting humanity is fed information by corporate interests (shades of "The Long Game" & "Bad Wolf") and prompted to reflect on how unhealthy the lack of an effective free press is for a society.

A richly layered story builds to a proper cliffhanger as Lumic's Cybermen go on the move, crashing Jackie's birthday party, zapping the President, and it looking like it might be the dawn of The Age of Steel ...

The Age of Steel (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 6 (Overall Series Story#172b)

The Scooby gang (that's Ricky's posse of so-called Preachers, preaching the truth you can't get from this universe's version of the lamestream media) arrive just in time to save the fleeing party guests and now we're in a full-on Resist the Occupation story. Rose's story splits off from the Doctor's here as she and Pete try to inflitrate a Cyber-processing plant to rescue Jackie, the Doctor will get a sort of temporary companion in Mrs. Moore, who becomes the heart of this episode), and Mickey will replace Ricky and team up with Jake to do some hacking inside Lumic's zeppelin.

The Doctor and Moore's trip through the air tunnels is the most tense, nail-biting scene the revived series has presented up to this point. Probably not until "Blink" will we get this level of suspense again. Creeping past the dorman Cybers is bad enough, but once they start activating ... this is one I wouldn't blame anyone for watching from behind the sofa. Moore and the Doctor also are the team that encounters the Cyber with it's emotions un-suppressed, and we again get to hear Ten say his poignant "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." As the kids on the internet say, Oh, the feels. But really, it's touching. And the realization that the emotional inhibitor is the key to defeating these Cybers make the scene more than just an excuse for the Doctor to be moved, and moving.

Always looking for an excuse to have Rose hang from a balloon, it's Mickey and Jake that sweep in zeppelin-style after foiling Lumic's Cyber army and save the re-united Doctor, Pete, and Rose. (Mrs. Moore, tragically, didn't make it ...) The tools Lumic used to enslave humanity, it turned out, were able to be used by the oppressed to regain their freedom with a bit of hacking. Hard not to see this story through the lens of Wikileaks and Snowden with the benefit of hindsight. We'd better hope the internet remains open and the signals can get through whatever barriers governments and corporations try to use to wall in the truths we need to know. As long as people committed to the truth and shining a light in the dark places have a way to get the information out, we'll have a way to fight back against the Murdoch's ... errr ... Lumic's, I mean, of the world.

Oh, nearly forgot, there's a brilliant piece on the Cybermen and the Borg up over at Shabogan Graffiti. Highly recommended reading.

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