I usually post these on Fridays, but I’m deviating this week for the sake of another post to be made. We’ll be back on schedule next week.
We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Last time, we reviewed Series Two’s School Reunion and The Girl in the Fireplace, which reintroduced some old friends, and gave us a new look at the progress of time. Today, we’re checking out three episodes: The two-part story Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel, and also The Idiot’s Lantern. We’ll also look at the related TARDISodes, mini-episodes which accompany each episode of Series Two. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen these episodes!
TARDISode 05 gives us something exciting: a transmission via internet from an unknown person to a radical group called the Preachers. It orders the Preachers to take down a man named John Lumic before the project he is heading can be finalized.
Rise of the Cybermen opens with the aforementioned John Lumic, a wheelchair-bound mad scientist in bad health (there’s really no other fitting description). A scientist on his staff, Dr. Kendrick, reports to Lumic about a robotic form, declaring it to be alive; but then Kendrick says that if it is life, they must report to the authorities in Geneva. Lumic orders the robot to kill Kendrick; then, he departs for Great Britain.
The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey are in the TARDIS, reminiscing about a past adventure, and generally making Mickey feel left out. Something goes wrong with the TARDIS, and it lands violently, then loses all power. The Doctor declares it dead, and says they have fallen into another universe. The TARDIS draws power from the universe, but this alternate universe is incompatible, like diesel in a gasoline engine. He is shocked, then, when Mickey finds that they are in London. It’s not the same, though; there are zeppelins in the sky, and everyone wears strange electronic pods—earpods—in their ears. Rose discovers that her father, Pete, is still alive in this universe; but the Doctor warns her not to meet with him.
Pete Tyler, as it turns out, works for John Lumic; his own health-drink company was bought out by Lumic’s Cybus Industries. As such his star has risen, and he is acquainted with the President of Great Britain (yes, president—different universe), who will be attending Jackie Tyler’s 40th birthday party that night. In the meantime, Lumic meets with the President, promoting his system of “upgrading” humanity (i.e. the robotic forms seen earlier), but is rejected.
The Doctor finds a single remaining power crystal in the TARDIS, and literally breathes new life into it (using regeneration energy—he claims to have given up ten years of life). In 24 hours, it will be able to power the TARDIS enough to go home. Mickey takes advantage of the situation and runs off to explore. Rose, meanwhile, taps into the local internet—which is run by Cybus—and learns that everyone gets daily downloads straight into their brains via the earpods, which are also a Cybus product, and practically ubiquitous. She also researches her parents, and finds out about Cybus, and about Jackie’s party. Now intrigued, the Doctor takes her to infiltrate it.
Mickey visits his grandmother, who in his own world is deceased (he is otherwise an orphan). She recognizes him, but calls him “Ricky”. He is abducted by two people in a blue van, who also mistake him for his counterpart in this universe, Ricky. They take him to meet the real Ricky, who is their leader after the loss of their previous leader. They prove to be a resistance group called the Preachers, which is opposing Cybus’s plans, although they don’t know exactly what those plans are. They do know that Cybus—via a dummy company called International Electromatics—has been abducting the homeless; they have an informant inside Cybus. And tonight, they will be crashing the party to try to get to Lumic.
Rose and the Doctor have infiltrated the party, and Rose has unsuccessfully conversed with both Pete and Jackie, whose marriage is on the rocks. They are interrupted when a group of the robots crash the party, kill the president and others, and begin rounding up the guests. The guests will be converted into robot forms themselves. The Doctor, Rose, and Pete escape, and meet up with Mickey and the Preachers, but are intercepted by the robots, whom the Doctor recognizes: they are Cybermen.
TARDISODE 06 flashes back briefly, to show John Lumic issuing an order for his Cybermen to commence upgrading of the entire population.
The Age of Steel picks up immediately from the cliffhanger. The Doctor uses the power from the TARDIS power crystal to destroy the Cybermen detaining them, and the group escapes. This won’t stop the crystal from recharging, but will set it back by four hours. In the Preachers’ van, the group compares notes; the Doctor explains about the Cybermen, which originated from another source in his universe—a parallel evolution of sorts. Pete wants to rescue Jackie, but can’t. He also reveals that he is the mole that has been giving information to the Preachers. The Doctor declares that the Cybermen will be stopped tonight. Lumic has a cyberconversion factory inside the former Battersea Power Station. There, he broadcasts a signal which will initiate cyberconversion of all of London. It won’t require force—the earpods will take control of their users and cause them to come to the factory. Jackie is among the victims.
The Doctor’s group splits up to escape. Mickey and Ricky run together, but are cornered by Cybermen, and Ricky is killed. Eventually, the group meets again outside the factory and sees the crowds entering for conversion. Rose suggests removing the earpods, but the Doctor declines; it will kill the users.
Inside the factory, Lumic’s chief assistant, Crane, has removed his earpods before the signal. Lumic questions him, and he claims a malfunction, but it is only a ruse to get close to Lumic. He damages the life support systems on Lumic’s chair, sending him into shock. The Cybermen kill Crane, and then take Lumic—against his will—to be converted.
The group splits up again to infiltrate the factory. Rose and Pete go in the front door, disguised as earpod victims, to find Jackie. The Doctor and Mrs. Moore, one of the Preachers, go in through the cooling tunnels beneath to try to sabotage the conversions. Jake, the remaining Preacher, is sent to Lumic’s zeppelin to cut off the signal broadcast. Mickey once again is ignored by the Doctor; but this time he refuses to stay behind and be “the tin dog”. He chooses to go with Jake.
Mrs. Moore tells the Doctor her real name—Angela Price—and that she has a family. She once worked for Cybus, but saw plans for the upgrades, and fled, hunted by Lumic. She joined the Preachers to fight back. The Doctor reveals that the Cybermen have emotion suppression technology; otherwise they may go insane at what has been done to them. He realizes that they can be defeated by overriding the suppression and releasing their emotions; this requires a code, however. They are then confronted by Cybermen, and nearly escape; but Moore is killed, and the Doctor is apprehended. The Cybermen detect his Time Lord physiology, and take him Cybercontrol to be examined. Pete and Rose are also apprehended; but the Cyberman that captures them is revealed to be Jackie, now converted. She takes them to Cybercontrol.
Lumic is revealed to be the new Cyber Controller. Meanwhile, Mickey and Jake successfully cut off the transmission, allowing the unconverted humans to escape. Lumic is undeterred; he has factories around the world, and will force conversion on everyone. The Doctor is aware that Mickey is watching by monitor, and makes a monologue that contains clues obvious to Mickey; Mickey takes the hint and breaks into Lumic’s computer, and finds the code that will unlock the emotion suppression. He sends it to Rose’s phone, and the Doctor activates it, destroying all the Cybermen in the area. The factory is damaged in the process, and set afire. The group flees to the roof and up a rope ladder to the zeppelin; but Lumic follows them. The Doctor gives Pete—the last in line—his sonic screwdriver; Pete uses it to break the ropes, sending Lumic falling to his death.
Later, with the TARDIS temporarily restored, Rose tries to persuade Pete to join them, but he refuses, and rejects her as his daughter. Mickey also chooses to stay. He has found purpose here—there are more Cybermen to be destroyed—and his grandmother is alive as well. Rose no longer needs him, as she has given her heart to the Doctor. The Doctor warns him that they can’t return for him; the hole in the universes must be repaired when they leave. He leaves Rose’s phone with Mickey, for the code in its memory.
On the original Earth, the TARDIS materializes in Jackie’s apartment, and Rose reunites with her mother. In the alternate universe, Mickey promises Jake that he is not Ricky, and won’t try to be him; but will remember him by fighting in his name. They leave for Paris, where another cyber-factory waits.
I can’t overstate the importance of this story to the new series. First, it reintroduces the Cybermen to the series, much as Dalek and Bad Wolf did with the Daleks in Series One. These aren’t your father’s Cybermen, though; the original Cybermen came from the planet Mondas (and later Telos), the rogue twin of Earth, as far back as the First Doctor’s The Tenth Planet. Interestingly, we will see later that the Cybus Cybermen, once established in the main universe (or N-Space, to borrow the classic series terminology), will eventually encounter and merge with the Mondasian Cybermen, yielding the version we see in Nightmare in Silver. These Cybermen lack the oft-exploited breathing apparatus of the classic series; their primary weakness is in their emotional suppression. Mondasian Cybermen share this feature (as seen as far back as The Invasion), but it is much more emphasized here. The use of electricity as a literal hand weapon dates back to Tomb of the Cybermen. As well, International Electromatics is a reference to The Invasion, where a company of the same name was used by the Cybermen; it is unclear whether this is the same company, or just a reference for the audience.
Second, this story sets the groundwork for Rose’s eventual departure. I won’t say too much, as we’re approaching that story soon; but this is not the last we’ve seen of Pete Tyler or his universe. It also sets the groundwork for every Cybermen story for the next several seasons, as all future appearances are either Cybus Cybermen or the hybrid version I mentioned earlier. Interestingly, it’s not actually the first we’ve seen of them in the new series; a Mondasian Cyberman head was seen in Henry Van Statten’s museum in Dalek, and Rose comments on it here.
This is Mickey’s goodbye story, as he chooses to stay behind. It’s the fulfillment of his character growth from the whiny coward of Rose, to a strong and capable man and—dare I say it?—warrior. When next we see him, he will be an accomplished hero. It’s unfortunate that he was never able to get respect from the Doctor—he certainly deserves it—but this is a good route for him, and a great exit. (It’s also the culmination of the running “Ricky” joke from Series One—turns out he really is Ricky, in a sense.)
Torchwood gets not one, but two references, implying it exists in Pete’s world as well. That’s odd, as there are no Time Lords, and Torchwood was (in N-Space, anyway) established in response to the Doctor. On the subject of Time Lords, the Doctor states that travel between universes was once possible, but that with the death of the Time Lords, the walls of the universes closed, and now it is mostly impossible. This is also the first story since Black Orchid to feature no extraterrestrial elements other than the Doctor and the TARDIS, given that the Cybermen here originate on Earth. There’s also a reference to The Five Doctors; the Doctor refers to approaching the factory “above, between, below”, which is a reference to the nursery rhyme about the Tomb of Rassilon in that story. The Doctor asks if he has the right to destroy the Cybermen, echoing a similar dilemma with the Daleks in Genesis of the Daleks; there’s a further similarity with that story as well, in that John Lumic very much resembles Davros, with regard to his physical condition and his goals.
This story was directly inspired by a Big Finish main range story: Spare Parts, #34 in the main range, written by Marc Platt (author of Ghost Light and the novel Lungbarrow). That’s not to say the ideas were stolen, however; Platt was paid a fee for the reuse of his concepts. That story covers the origin of the Mondasian Cybermen in N-Space; and I think it’s worth a look in comparison with this episode. Therefore, my plan is to review that audio drama tomorrow, with an eye toward comparing the two.
TARDISode 07 shows us an elderly woman, whose face is stolen by a strange energy from her television. In the episode, she will be revealed to be Mrs. Connolly’s mother. The Idiot’s Lantern takes us to London, 1953, the day before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. A brief flashback introduces us to Mr. Magpie, owner of Magpie Electricals, a failing electronic shop that specializes in televisions. Mr. Magpie is attacked by an energy from the television; it seems to be alive.
The Doctor and Rose, expecting to land in New York for the Ed Sullivan show, instead find themselves in London. They witness a blanket-wrapped person being swept into a car by several men in black. They follow the car, but lose it at an apparent dead end, leaving them bewildered. Meanwhile, Mr. Magpie is seen in his shop, and is unharmed; but the announcer on the screen is speaking to him, saying her time has come.
The Doctor and Rose pose as royal inspectors, and return to the home of the Connollys, neighbors of the kidnapped person. Mr. Connolly is something of a bully, and verbally assaults the Doctor; the Doctor outmatches him, and forces Mr. Connolly to allow him to see the old woman in the attic—who has no face. They are interrupted when the men in black return and force their way in, stealing the woman away. The Doctor chases them, and this time finds his way into the place where they have gone; inside, there are a large number of faceless people locked in a cage. He is suddenly captured by the men in black, who are police investigators.
Rose has seen something strange from the Connollys’ television. Mr. Connolly ejects her from the house, but not before she sees the Magpie label on the television. She goes to Mr. Magpie’s shop and confronts him; but he allows her to be captured, and her face stolen, by the thing in the television, which calls itself “the Wire”. It feeds on brainwaves; the face theft is a side effect.
The inspectors question the Doctor, who turns the interview around and convinces them that he can help. However, Rose is brought in at that time; the Doctor swears to get to the bottom of it. They return to the Connollys’ house, where Mr. Connolly’s son, Tommy, reveals that his grandmother was watching television when her face was stolen. They go to Magpie’s shop, and find him absent. The Doctor finds a bank of televisions, which display the missing faces. Magpie returns, and the Wire appears; it states it was executed by the people of its world, but survived in this energy form. Now, it wants to absorb enough mental energy to reconstitute its body—and the televised coronation will give it the opportunity, courtesy of the altered televisions that Magpie has been selling at discount prices. It tries to absorb the Doctor, Inspector Bishop, and Tommy, but flees when it detects the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver; it realizes he is also an alien, with superior technology. However, it absorbed Bishop before fleeing.
Magpie transfers the Wire to the television broadcast antenna at Alexandra Palace, so that it can absorb all the coronation viewers. The Doctor hastily assembles a device that can stop it, but he must get there. At the antenna, he climbs its tower, and confronts the Wire; it has already killed Magpie. With Tommy’s help, he traps the wire on a Betamax cassette tape (which is thirty years ahead of its time). With the Wire defeated, its victims are freed and restored.
The Doctor tells Rose he intends to record over the tape, ending the Wire forever. Meanwhile, Mrs. Connolly has had enough abuse; she reveals that her mother, rather than her husband, owns the house, and kicks him out. However, Rose encourages Tommy to forgive his father and go to him; if the boy can save the world, perhaps he can save his father, too.
While this story is usually not rated highly—and indeed, it’s not particularly great; I’d call it average at best—it does establish some concepts that will be revisited. The idea of wirelessly absorbing people will be used to greater effect in The Bells of Saint John, where the true villain is the Great Intelligence. Magpie Electricals will long survive its founder, appearing in a great number of stories, such as The Magician’s Apprentice; Before the Flood; The Runaway Bride; Day of the Moon; The Sound of Drums; Voyage of the Damned; The Beast Below; and the audio story Hunters of Earth, as well as The Sarah Jane Adventures. In fact, it becomes something of an inside joke for the crew, as the Magpie label appears in ever more unlikely places.
We have a secondary villain in Mr. Magpie, though it can be argued he’s more victim than villain. More interestingly, there’s a tertiary villain in Mr. Connolly. While he himself is a rather sad figure, he does give us the prominent “I AM TALKING!” line, which will be used to far greater effect by the Eleventh Doctor in The Pandorica Opens.
Overall, not a great episode, but not terrible, either. My main complaint is that there’s no logical reason that the faceless people should be restored when the Wire is defeated; it would be akin to having the Absorbaloff from the upcoming (and much-maligned) Love and Monsters regurgitate its victims upon death. Still, it’s a decent story with a fair bit of human interest.
Next time: Tomorrow, I’ll post a review for Spare Parts (out of order, but relevant). Next week, we’ll look at two of my favorite episodes: The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit; and if there’s time, we’ll check out the aforementioned Love and Monsters! See you there.
All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.