...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, May 22, 2006

Day 1964: Doctor Who: THE AGE OF STEEL


I do NOT want handles sticking in my big, fluffy ears, so I will NOT be wearing earpods, thank you VERY much.

Here is what Daddy Richard has to say about "The Age of Steel":

Let's Let's get the badness over right away: that was a dreadfully lame way to resolve the stunning cliffhanger from last week. Suddenly, the Doctor is able to shoot golden fire from his fist! (Please, nobody think of the Peter Davison Easter Egg incident!) Worse than that it's all over in a blink-and-you-miss-it instant, surely anyone not following the Internet speculation would be left with a huge sense of "what the…?" And then there is no price to pay for this handy get out of mortal peril free.

How would I have done it?

Well firstly, just a moment for the Doctor to switch from panic to fury, maybe a chance to say "well I tried!" or even just "Sorry!" or to see him hit the thing in his hand (which turns out to be the TARDIS power cell) so that is discharges. Anything at all, really, to cue up that something was coming to make the transition just a bit less jarring.

And secondly, that should have discharged the power cell completely. The price for saving their lives should have been high, too high to let the Doctor do it again lightly – otherwise, why not carry it round all the time in case you need to disintegrate a marauding Dalek or rampaging Yeti?

So I would suggest that the scene in the aftermath in the Preachers' van should have gone:

RICKY: What was that thing?

THE DOCTOR: That was our trip home. The very last bit of the TARDIS. Useless now, all gone. Here you go, Mickey, souvenir for you. [Tosses dead power cell to Mickey]

RICKY: So now we're without a weapon…
[Continue as before]

Yes, that leaves them stranded in the alternative universe – that's kind of my point: the Doctor gives up the chance to get home tomorrow for the chance to keep fighting today – but I can still get them out of there. Roll forward to the moment where the Cybermen catch up with Ricky and kill him. Change that to them both being caught and electrocuted and falling to the ground.

Cut away to some other scenes with the Doctor and then when we cut back, Ricky and Mickey are sprawled on the ground side-by-side, but Mickey groans and sits up. He turns to Ricky to try and rouse him, only to roll him over and discover that he is indeed dead.

Then the later scene overlooking Battersea becomes…

JAKE: So how did YOU survive?

MICKEY: I dunno… but it might have had something to with this. [Takes out TARDIS power cell, now glowing faintly again]

ROSE: What, so the Cybermen recharged it?

THE DOCTOR: No, no not possible… I think… I think that's your life energy, Mickey.

Obviously, that needs a bit of polish but it would, I hope, have added a bit more point to the cliffhanger and the escape and the death of Ricky and even a little touch of poignancy to Mickey staying as he's giving a little of his life to save the Doctor and Rose. Plus the TARDIS seeming to have the power of death and life ties in a little with "The Parting of the Ways" and even the 1996 TV Movie.

Anyway, once you get past that first moment of "gnnng" – and one other little niggle, to which I’ll get back – this is generally pretty brilliant.

It goes like a rocket – I was astonished at how it seemed to blur past, and I wonder what it will be like to watch this and "Rise of the Cybermen" back to back.

Some very strong moments of psychological terror: Cyber-Jackie – it sounds like a camp joke, written down like that, but in the (absence of) flesh it was horrible, tuning the vibrant, charming, caustic, love-her-or-hate-her ALIVE Jackie Tyler into just another Cyberman. Yoicks! And then Sally the Cyberman, when the full horror of what has been done to these people is really brought home to you, so cruel and tragic and irreversible.

Still, if the mind shocks weren't enough for you, there was the screaming-abdab inducing view from the inside of the Cyber conversion, with the mask coming down on the camera at the end! And also the traditional horror movie moments of the dark tunnel full of Cybermen (a nod to "The Invasion" which was famous for "the Cybermen in the sewers".) And you just know that that army of Cybermen will be waking up sometime before the Doctor and Mrs Moore can reach the other end!

Mrs Moore – "ooh," says I the next day, "like, Mrs Moore is a pseudonym does that remind you of anything? "Attack of the Cybermen" perhaps?"

[MM: I have to say, Daddy Alex spotted this twelve hours earlier, like while the show was ON AIR. You will have to forgive Daddy Richard. He can be a bit SLOW.]

"My army awakes!" says the Cyber Leader in "Earthshock" – "Awaken the army" says the Cyber Leader in "The Age of Steel".

Lawrence Miles plays a game in his debut novel "Christmas on a Rational Planet" of referencing (allegedly) every single televised Doctor Who story. Rather less elegantly, John Peel does a similar trick for all the televised Dalek stories in BBC Eighth Doctor adventure "Retcon of the Daleks". I wonder if Tom MacRae has tried a similar trick with the Cybermen here.

Alex and I think we can find links – okay, some of them pretty tenuous ones – to all of them. How about you?

I worried a little bit about the continuity last time so I'll mention it again this. I was surprised at how far they went with the continuity references: mentioning the Cyberman head in Van Statten's museum ("Dalek") seemed a bit obscure to me. But the Doctor makes it clear that these Cybermen are completely separate from the original Cybermen in our universe, so there's no need to worry about any contradictions in origin story. Perhaps a little sadly, he also seems to rule out the possibility that I mentioned last week: that Lumic obtained his Cybertechnology from this universe’s "Invasion".

I mentioned another niggle, and I’m sorry but I’ve slightly got to go all accountant on you but if Lumic’s plan is to "upgrade" the entire population of London to Cybermen using his, er, "scoop and slam" technique, then how exactly does he come to have six million cybernetic bodies to hand? (Or indeed many more as he claims to have similar factories in many other cities.) That’s an awful lot of stock to be laying up. That’s a lot of steel to have bought, a lot of computers to assemble. I don’t think that there’s a company on Earth today that could afford to build, say, six million cars without selling a single one.

It’s very similar to the problem I have with the dramatic twist in "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones" – it’s a huge deal how hard it is to obtain this enormous army, and yet out of nowhere they suddenly have gunships and AT-PE walkers and Star Destroyers, for heavens sake! Seriously, soldiers are the easiest thing in the world to obtain – it’s the hardware that goes with them that is hard, and writers seem to forget or ignore that.

Alex had the same thought that about the Dalek fleet last year. All that fuss about making the Daleks out of recycled dead humans when apparently humanity was also throwing away a lot of tin cans. All in colour co-ordinated brass.

Anyway, accountant hat off again.

The conclusion at the end of the episode was much better handled than the resolution of the cliffhanger at the start. The Doctor uses his brains to work out how to destroy the Cybermen – and it's a very similar solution to "The Invasion" again, where emotion also destroys Cybermen, and of course this is where the similarities to "Spare Parts" comes in strongly, with the reason for the emotional inhibitor: people cannot survive the emotional trauma of being turned into a machine. Well, except for heartless Mr Lumic apparently.

Marvellously, Lumic manages to get his comeuppance not once but twice: first forcibly converted by his creations after Mr Crane the henchman turned to the good; and then dropped of a dirigible. "Bye bye" waved the kids of the BBC's Fear Forecast family, while we were reminded of the conclusion of Sir Ian McKellan's "Richard III". But will the Cyber Controller be back for a third time?

Of course, if you recorded the BBC's three minute season preview from the red button service, you can now play the game of spot-which-scenes-come-from-"Army of Ghosts".

And then, when you think it's all over, it suddenly turns into Mickey's leaving story. We can hope that whilst he was off recovering the Doctor's suit from the Tyler residence, Mickey took the time to drop in on his gran and make sure she hadn't (a) tripped on the stair carpet or (b) taken a one way walk to Battersea, before he drove off to Paris with his new boyfriend.

Ah, so were Jake and Ricky an item? It's hinted at rather than stated – Rickey's reaction to a hug from Rose, not so very positive, and Jake's mourning when it's Mickey who comes back alive – and both actors have said that it was played that way. So you can read it in if you want, ignore it if you don't. (But do try not to react with horror at the very idea as some online fans have done. Sad.) Personally, I rather like the idea, and I'm happier that Rose's alternative in this universe is a plucky freedom fighter and not a toy dog after all.

So, one duff note aside, Graham Harper really delivered the big-movie-adventure business. The script may not have topped "Dalek" or "The Empty Child" but no one's likely to overlook this one for its sheer visual impact.

And this year, the Doctor got to join in with Rose hanging off the bottom of a great big balloon over London!

Next time: The Doctor gets an 'ology.


Jen said...

I also worried about how the entire population of London can fit into Battersea Power Station for converting into a cybermen army.

I've been to London, albeit in our universe not the parallel one, and the population of our London seems to have trouble all fitting into London, let alone one building in the middle.

Paul Gregory said...

Well, except for heartless Mr Lumic apparently.

I assumed that the only plot-logic reason that CyberLumic had a different body was that it had a different emotion-inhibiter override text-vote number thing.

I concur with all other points. Oh, how to get lots of steel: Steal it!

Richard Gadsden said...

If I ever set up an army to conquer the world for liberalism, you're my Quartermaster-General, Richard.

That wasn't accountancy, but logistics; and for about ten seconds there you sounded like a professional soldier: "Amateurs talk tactics, dilettantes talk strategy, but professionals talk logistics".