THIS EPISODE TAKES
AFTER THE TV EPISODE
"RISE OF THE CYBERMEN"
AND PRIOR TO THE
SHORT STORIES IN THE
'THE COMPLETE SECOND
SERIES' CYBERMAN HEAD
AMAZON EXCLUSIVE DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2122)
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
THE CYBERMEN TAKE
CONTROL OF LONDON
AND START CONVERTING
THE POPULATION WHILE
THE DOCTOR AND HIS
20TH MAY 2006
(45-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 2 OF 2)
Just as it was back in the days of William Hartnell, in the new series of Doctor
Who episodes have not only an individual title but also an individual identity. Unmistakably Part 2 of 2, The Age of Steel is the action-packed follow-up to last week’s epic Rise of the Cybermen, but it is also a very different animal. The Cybermen are no longer ‘rising’, they are risen. We know that there are two Mickeys. We know about their Gran. And we know about Pete Tyler being alive in this universe. Rise of the Cybermen set the pieces up, and then The Age of Steel knocks ‘em down. And what’s more, it does it in style.
“Which one are you?”
As with last week, the surprises kept on coming, although this time I was initially a little less impressed with them. Having Pete turn out to be the Preachers’ informant, working against Lumic, seemed like a bit of an easy way to get him over with the audience. I preferred him
as a good old-fashioned, money-grabbing Del Boy – a wide boy, but a wide boy with his heart in the right place. Moreover, having Ricky turn out to be London’s Most Wanted “for parking tickets” was equally disappointing, especially considering Noel Clarke’s intense performance in the previous episode. In fact, a few minutes into The Age of Steel I was rapidly losing faith… and then it happened. Just like that, he’s dead.
“Who?” I hear you ask. Exactly!
I guess I was being a bit daft for thinking that they might kill Mickey off, but considering how some companions have fared in previous Cyberman stories it certainly gives one pause. And so when I saw Noel Clarke running down that road, I really didn’t know whether it was Mickey or Ricky that had been ‘deleted’ by the Cybermen. Thankfully though, Mickey had
not ‘done an Adric’ and thereafter we were treated to one of the most nailbiting and fraught Doctor Who episodes to date.
The design and cinematography on this episode is truly outstanding. Rise of the Cybermen was set primarily in daylight with night only falling as the Cybermen rose, and although last week’s visuals were technically more impressive, I found The Age of Steel’s darker, grittier look much more appealing. The huge Zeppelin hovering above Battersea Power Station is a particularly powerful image; it looked like something torn out of the pages of a graphic novel. Or alternatively, replace the Zeppelin with a pig and you have a Pink Floyd LP cover. Even more disturbing were the scenes of London’s inhabitants willingly walking like cattle into the Power Station.
And as for the Cyber Controller – wow! As it was shot in 1967 most of us can forgive the original, unconvincing Cyber Controller that we met in The Tomb of the Cybermen, but by 1985 the show’s producers should have learned their lesson: a gigantic dome on the top of
a normal Cyberman’s head looks atrociously bad. A Cyberman with eyes of blazing light and his gigantic brain visible, however, is far more effective. Naturally it’s a pity that we did
not get to see as much of Roger Lloyd Pack in the flesh this week, but at least we had the consolation of having him voice the Cyber Controller that Lumic is ‘upgraded’ to.
And as well as being absolutely crammed full of action, The Age of Steel is also a very moving story. The Doctor realises that the key to bringing down these Cybermen is to find the code that deactivates their emotional inhibitor chips, thus driving them mad with the knowledge of what they have become. Of course, if he did that he would be dishing out immense suffering on what are, at the end of the day, innocent victims. It’s an intriguing dilemma, but in the end the Doctor has to save the world – no matter what. The death of
Sally Phelan, the female Cyberman, really tugs on those heartstrings – of all the nights to
be robbed of her humanity, Sally became a Cyberman on the eve of her wedding (“why
am I cold? Why so cold? Where’s Gareth? He can’t see me. It’s unlucky the night before.”) It’s just heart breaking.
The story of Angela Price – Mrs Moore – is similarly sad. Mrs Moore didn’t do much last week, but in this episode she is drawn into the action and enjoys a fantastic adventure alongside the Doctor before her inevitable demise. Characters like this are what make this new series of Doctor Who so special – they could so easily be written as throwaway parts; red-shirts who you aren’t ever really expected to care about, but when they are written (and portrayed) as well as Mrs Moore, Clive, Jabe, Gwyneth, Lynda and all the others are, we remember each and every one of them, reminding us that it is death – not Rose – that is
the Doctor’s constant companion and that this life that he leads is wrought with danger.
My money was on Pete for the chop after Ricky bought the bullet, but in retrospect I can see exactly why MacRae killed off the alternate Jackie instead. Not only do we get to see her as a Cyberman – how weird is that? – but at the end of the episode we are left with a widowed Jackie in our universe and a widowed Pete in another. Interesting, that.
What I really like about Jackie’s “upgrade”
though is that she is shown to completely
lose her identity. In the old Cybermen stories,
whenever a character we knew became a
Cyberman (Lytton, for example) we never saw
them ‘finished’, for want of a better word. We
would always see their face, or hear their voice. There would always be some clue. The Age of Steel comes at things from a completely new angle though – the “which one?” angle. We
met the Jackie Cyberman, and then she vanished into the crowd and could have been any
one of their uniform number. It’s one of the most frightening Cyberman scenes ever – forget
Star Trek’s ‘Borg’ and the like, the Cyberman represents the complete loss of self. Even
“Ordinary, stupid, brilliant people…”
Furthermore, I thought the episode’s climax was absolutely extraordinary. For one thing,
it was just so damned rewarding to see Mickey finally kick ass! He pilots a Zeppelin (all those hours on the Playstation came in handy); baits a Cyberman; hacks into a computer; and then, just to finish off, saves the world. And on top of all that, he even demonstrates a different type of courage, standing up to Ricky’s friend Jake and refusing to leave without
And in terms of suspense, you can’t beat having the Doctor, Rose and Pete dangling from
a Zeppelin over an exploding factory with the Cyber Controller grabbing at their ankles! I
was so sure that Pete was going to die, especially when the sonic screwdriver didn’t work immediately; the scene really was so, so well done. I also enjoyed the shot of a Cyberman looking in the mirror and letting out a painful, mechanical howl. Incredibly arresting.
However, the episode’s dying moments are not punctuated with explosions or effects; they are quiet and brooding, and really quite moving. Rose obviously doesn’t want to leave Mick-ey behind in this universe because they have been through so much together and perhaps even because, subconsciously, he’s her backup. “What if I need you?” she selfishly asks him, but the time has come for him to stop playing second fiddle to the Time Lord who turned his life upside down.
“We had something a long time ago, but not anymore.”
MacRae really did everything right with his script, and Doctor Who stalwart Graeme Harper, the first classic series director to return, truly did it justice. And as for the actors, there is not a bad performance to be found in this episode, although it is Noel Clarke who completely steals the show – just as he should if this is his swansong. Somehow I doubt that we’ve seen the last of Mickey though.
Or Pete, for that matter. Unable to cope with Rose’s revelation that she is his daughter
(of sorts), The Age of Steel concludes with Pete quietly slipping away into the night, his understated exit overshadowed by the departure of Mickey, who stays behind to look after his Gran and fight the remaining Cybermen from his Scooby Doo van.
“Nothing wrong with a van. I once saved the universe with a big yellow truck…”
And so gags about the Cybermen’s marching sounding like Wallace’s Wrong Trousers aside, this pivotal two-parter has been handled superlatively by all involved. Though I was never an enormous fan of the Cybermen before the revival, after a trip on this phenomenal rollercoaster ride I can’t wait until they come back again, and given this story’s dangling threads I’m sure that it’s only a matter of time before they do, hopefully with both Mickey
and Pete in tow. Until then, we’ll just have to make do with “Gatiss by gaslight…”
It’s such hardship being a Doctor Who fan these days, isn’t it?
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? In this story, the parallel Jackie states that she shares her ‘official’ birthday with the actor Cuba Gooding Junior, who in our universe was born on 2nd January 1968. We are presuming that he was
born on 2nd January 1968 in the parallel world too, given that Pete, Jackie and ‘Ricky’ all appear to be the same age as their counterparts in our universe.
As Jackie is hosting a birthday party in Rise of the Cybermen, then it follows that her party must take place on or around 2nd January 2007 in the parallel universe, which Mickey confirms is synchronous with our own universe when he picks up a newspaper.
However, School Reunion must take place between The Christmas Invasion (Christmas 2006) and this story as Mickey considers the date that he sees in the newspaper to be “today”, as opposed to in his recent past. As such, Jackie’s birthday party cannot plausibly have taken place on 2nd January 2007 as – even though
the Krillitanes were slave drivers in the truest sense – this would mean that their school was open during the Christmas Holidays, which is extremely unlikely.
We therefore take the view that Jackie’s birthday party takes place on Saturday 6th January 2007, with the events of School Reunion taking place in the week leading up to it (i.e. between Tuesday 2nd January 2007 and Friday 5th January 2007). After all, who celebrates their birthday on a school night?
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