The Caretaker

One thing Clara. I’m a soldier, guilty as charged. You see him? He’s an officer.

I am not an officer!

I’m the one who carries you out of the fire. He’s the one who lights it.

Danny Pink and the Twelfth Doctor

Preamble

Gareth Roberts is a deeply problematic individual in Doctor Who currently. Earlier this year, Roberts was dropped from The Target Collection, a collection of short stories, after transphobic and racist tweets came to light. I want to make it absolutely clear that I in no way condone Roberts’ views personally, but my review below won’t take my opinion of his remarks into account.

To be clear, I find the views he expressed to be abhorrent but I feel that it is important to view and evaluate his work separately.

Synopsis

Clara’s personal life and life with the Doctor collide when the Doctor plans to use Coal Hill School as a trap for the Skovox Blitzer.

Review

There comes a time in every series of the revived Doctor Who in which it feels as though the frenetic pace from the opening drops, ahead of tensions being ramped up for the finale. In Capaldi’s debut series, The Caretaker feels like a moment of calm before a storm approaches breaking point in the following episode. Like The Vampires of Venice before it, this feels like it would be more place in the RTD era with the domesticity angle.

The strength of this episode is the trio of performance at its heart. Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Samuel Anderson turn in fantastic performances, which provide some fantastic moments, with the confrontation in the TARDIS between the trio being one of the standouts. Capaldi’s little look and muttered ‘interesting’ when he realises that Clara is lying to him is great, whilst the confrontation between him and Danny is really well done. The underlying central conflict between Danny and the Doctor is different to anything that we have seen previously – we have previously had romantic triangles with the Doctor, Rose and Mickey and Amy and Rory, but this, due to the age of the lead actor is substantially different. There is almost an overly protective paternal vibe around the 12th Doctor when confronted with the fact that Danny is actually Clara’s boyfriend, rather than Adrian, who looks like his previous self. This story also seems to approach the Doctor dealing with his acceptance of the War Doctor following The Day of the Doctor, however, this means that the reason he has a problem with Danny Pink is not solely because he is a soldier, but because the Doctor recognises those same characteristics in himself as well. Meanwhile, Danny is inherently distrusting of the Doctor due to him perceiving the Doctor as someone of social standing and therefore an officer. This relationship is interesting as, under other circumstances, Danny may seem like a ready made hero and companion, however, this potential is snuffed out through a fundamental but unreconcilable perspective on both sides.

With jointly written stories such as this one, it is difficult to attribute credit accordingly, but it is safe to say that some of the strongest moments of the writing are the moments of comedy. The idea of the Doctor making such little effort to actually go undercover, and being astonished when Clara is able to see through it is such a nice moment, and equally the Doctor’s interaction with Courtney Woods is particularly strong, and Courtney seems to really intrigue this incarnation of the Doctor. It’s always interesting seeing the Doctor interacting with children, and this Doctor might seem less child-friendly than his predecessor for instance. However, Courtney has something different and the fact that she readily identifies herself as a disruptive influence seems to appeal to the punk rock aspect of this Doctor. A moment that always makes me smile is when Danny speaks to her parents at parents evening, where they try and take the positive that Courtney has been downgraded from a very disruptive influence to just plain disruptive.

Can’t you read?

Course I can read. Read what?

The door. It says “Keep Out.”

No, it says “Go away humans”

Oh, so it does. Never lose your temper in the middle of a door sign.

The Twelfth Doctor and Courtney Woods

With the focus of the story focussing more on character development and comedy, perhaps the weakest elements involve the villain of the piece, the Skovox Blitzer. This robotic antagonist seems to have potentially leapt up a band from The Sarah Jane Adventures, and it never really feels as though Skovox Blitzer as the Doctor would have us believe. The character design is pretty impressive, however, that’s as much as I can say positively about it. It feels like a very generic villain, but, arguably, the focus of the episode was never really on it in the first place. I do enjoy the stinger on the end of the story, however, with Seb and Missy, which does feel quite ominous.

Verdict: An interesting character piece which slows the pace of Capaldi’s first series down a bit, and the story does lack a decent antagonist. 7/10

Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink), Ellis George (Courtney Woods), Edward Harrison (Adrian), Nigel Betts (Mr. Armitage), Andy Gillies (CSO Matthew), Nanya Campbell (Noah), Joshua Warner-Campbell (Yashe), Oliver Barry-Brook (Kelvin), Ramone Morgan (Tobias), Winston Ellis (Mr Woods), Gracy Goldman (Mrs Woods), Diana Katis (Mrs Christopholou), Jimmy Vee (Skovox Blitzer), Chris Addison (Seb) & Michelle Gomez (Missy).

Writer: Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat

Director: Paul Murphy

Behind the Scenes

  • Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffatt wanted to match the threat of The Lodger rather than that of Closing Time.

Best Moment

The confrontation between the Doctor and Danny in the TARDIS is fantastically performed.

Honourable mention for this though – The Doctor whistling ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ by Pink Floyd (all together now) – HEY! TEACHER! Leave them kids alone!

Best Quote

Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice in 1796.

This is Mr. Smith, the temporary caretaker, and he’s a bit confused.

Not in 1797, because she didn’t have the time. She was so busy doing all the –

Oh, what? And I suppose, what, she was your bezzie mate, was she? And you went on holidays together and then you got kidnapped by boggons from space and then you all formed a band and met Buddy Holly!

No, I read the book. There’s a bio at the back.

Get down.

Boggons?

Go!

The Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald

Terror of the Zygons

TotZ Doctor and Brigadier.jpg

When I left you with that psionic beam, Brigadier, I said that it was only to be used in an emergency!

This is an emergency!

Oil? An emergency? Ha! It’s about time the people who ran this planet of yours realised that to be dependent on a mineral slime just doesn’t make sense.

The Fourth Doctor and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart

Synopsis

The Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry answer the Brigadier’s summons to Scotland, where something has destroyed three oil rigs.  When pieces of the wreckage are found to have teeth marks, the investigation inevitably leads to Loch Ness…

Review

With this kicking off the first series that producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes had full control over, Terror of the Zygons seems to have much more of a gothic angle which becomes synonymous with the Hinchcliffe era.  Like Robot before it, there is the potential to say that this is a Third Doctor story that just happens to feature the Fourth Doctor instead, however, this serves as a much better departure from Baker’s predecessor’s era, with the story feeling all the more different for the slightly more ambivalent and alien Fourth Doctor.

TotZ Doctor and Broton

I really enjoy this story.  Robert Banks Stewart’s debut story is really strong, full of great lines and memorable moments, which is all the more surprising when you take into account the fact that he had never seen Doctor Who before.  His script balances humour and science fiction concepts balance nicely into the script, even despite some Scottish stereotyping – the story is top and tailed by characters talking about haggis, bagpipes and a joke about the frugal nature of the jokes.  This feels slightly less malicious than other nation’s stereotyping in Doctor Who, possibly because Banks Stewart was Scottish.  The story feels like a spy thriller in places, with the audience not being certain who they can trust at times.  The scene in the barn between Sarah Jane and the Zygon duplicate of Harry is superb and it really feels like a much better send-off for UNIT than Robot, even if Harry’s departure from the TARDIS team seems very poorly handled.  However, the Brigadier gets a good part to play in the story and it is fitting that the antagonist in his final appearance is susceptible to bullets.

The titular enemy are hardly original, however, owe a lot to production design and direction, which make them a truly memorable villain.  The reveal of the Zygon during the first part is superbly executed by Camfield, with the appearance of the Zygon’s arm, then the briefest glimpse of the eyes.  This builds up anticipation for their eventual reveal at the end of the first part of the story, which is superbly executed.  The impact of the Zygons owes a lot to some superb production design of both their costumes and their spaceship, which feels a lot more organic than spaceships of this era and certainly makes them look striking.  Sadly, some of their threat is undermined by the Skarasen, with the practical effect look really poorly executed, especially in the climactic scenes of the final part, which ultimately lets the episode down.   It is to the story’s credit that it doesn’t completely derail it.  The story also struggles to regain the pace after Broton tells Harry everything about the Zygons, including their ultimate plan to conquer the World using the Skarasen.  This exposition dump does make the closing part feel particularly anti-climatic.

TotZ Brigadier, Sarah and Harry.jpg

The TARDIS team are all on top form here, even if Harry’s departure feels very sudden.  For production reasons, I can see why he may seem redundant, however, I really like the character despite his old fashioned nature, and I really like having two companions as it enables the team to go off and investigate separate elements of the plot more effectively.  For instance, the Doctor is able to go off with the Brigadier, Sarah can investigate the pub and Harry is able to investigate the shoreline where wreckage of the oil rig has washed ashore.  Tom Baker gives a great performance as the Doctor and his performance here really emphasises the difference between himself and the previous actors to play the Doctor.  Whilst Pertwee may have flown off the handle at authority figures to do with the oil rig, this incarnation of the Doctor doesn’t seem quite so fiery or so concerned with human matters and really comes across as an alien.  It sounds obvious, but Elisabeth Sladen is as brilliant as ever, and this is a bright start to a new tone of Doctor Who stories.

Verdict: A slick, well directed story which is let down by a lack of tension towards the conclusion and poor practical effects for the Skarasen.  8/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), John Levene (RSM Benton), John Woodnutt (Broton/Duke of Forgill), Lilias Walker (Sister Lamont), Robert Russell (The Caber), Angus Lennie (Angus), Tony Sibbald (Huckle), Hugh Martin (Munro), Bruce Wightman (Radio Operator), Bernard G. High (Corporal), Peter Symonds (Soldier), Keith Ashley and Ronald Gough (Zygons).

Writer: Robert Banks Stewart

Director: Douglas Camfield

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The last appearance of John Levene and Ian Marter until The Android Invasion and the last appearance of Nicholas Courtney until Mawdryn Undead.
  • Terror of the Zygons was originally intended to close Season 12.
  • The only appearance of the Zygons in the original series, although a sole Zygon would have appeared in Shada.  They certainly made an impression though, especially on a young David McDonald (better known as David Tennant) and they would reappear in The Day of the Doctor.
  • In a weird bit of coincidence, the Brigadier is seen talking to a female Prime Minister – Margaret Thatcher had become Leader of the Conservative Party seven months before broadcast.
  • The first complete story directed by Douglas Camfield – if you discount Inferno, as during the production, Camfield fell ill.
  • Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?: John Woodnutt (Spearhead from SpaceFrontier in Space and Keeper of Traaken) and Angus Lennie (The Ice Warriors)

Best Moment

The scene with the Zygon-Harry and Sarah Jane in the barn is a highlight – it is beautifully directed by Douglas Camfield.

Best Quote

You can’t rule the world in hiding.  You’ve got to come out on the balcony sometimes and wave a tentacle.

Fourth Doctor

TotZ Harry and the Zygons.jpg

The Vampires of Venice

TVoV Vampires

The life out there, it dazzles.  I mean it blinds you to the things that are important.  I’ve seen it devour relationships entirely…It’s meant to do that. Because for one person to have seen all that, to have tasted the glory, and then go back.  It will tear you apart.  So! I’m sending you somewhere.  Together.

The Eleventh Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor brings Amy and Rory to Venice in 1580 to allow the two to focus on their relationship, however, things are not as they seem.  There are reports of plague, despite the disease dying out previously and there are pale skinned girls in Venice who avoid sunlight, attending a school run by the mysterious Rosanna Calvierri.

Guest Reviews (an exclusive feature for this blog only):

“The Doctor shows up and meet Narcissa Malfoy, surprise surprise, she’s a bit of a witch.  Typecasting much?”

“There are vampires, but they aren’t vampires.”

Thank you Rob and Alice for your insights!

Review

When I watched The Vampires of Venice for the purposes of writing my blog, I found myself to be pleasantly surprised.  I’d always regarded this story as being quite fun but throwaway, however, I felt much more positively towards it after this time.  Largely, I think this is down to bringing Rory on-board the TARDIS and Arthur Darvill gives a really strong performance.  The story does feel quite similar to stories in the RTD era to the point of potentially being derivative, however, in hindsight the story acts as part of an effective bridge between these two eras.

TVoV The Doctor.jpg

On the point of derivation, this story does feel quite familiar due to reusing quite a few of the Eccleston and Tennant eras, and even contains quite a few similarities to Whithouse’s first story he wrote, School Reunion.  We have the last of a species hiding on Earth within an institution and looking to make the Earth their new home, the introduction of the companion’s boyfriend as part of the TARDIS team and aliens disguising themselves as humans.  The over-familiarity of these plot elements certainly cause some issues, however, Whithouse and Moffat do something different with these elements to indicate a change in the era.  This most notable way this is done is with how the story treats Rory, and after a couple of series of having the Doctor posing as a romantic interest, it is a nice change of pace to see the Doctor trying to ensure that Amy maintains her relationship with Rory, despite how misguided his efforts may be.  This story really establishes Matt Smith’s Doctor as being an asexual alien rather than the confident romantic presented especially by the Tenth Doctor.  This incarnation doesn’t really understand human romantic relationships or social scenarios, indicated by his bursting out of the cake at Rory’s stag do, and telling Rory what a good kisser Amy is, for instance.

Rory! That’s a relief.  Thought I’d burst out of the wrong cake. Again.  That reminds me, there’s a girl standing outside in a bikini.  Could somebody let her in and give her a jumper?  Lucy.  Lovely girl.  Diabetic.  Now then.  Rory.  We need to talk about your fiancée.  She tried to kiss me.  Tell you what though, you’re a lucky man.  She’s a great kisser.

The Eleventh Doctor

Arthur Darvill is a definite highlight of this episode, as the story forces him front and centre, with Karen Gillan taking a slightly reduced role.  Rory is somewhat different to other characters since the revival, as someone who is not afraid to question and challenge the Doctor, and unlike Mickey’s initial portrayal as a bit of an idiot, is clever and curious enough to research things like faster than light travel.  His dynamic with Matt Smith is really lovely too, and I especially like how deflated he looks when Rory states that he understands how the TARDIS is bigger on the inside.  Rory’s reaction to travelling with the Doctor obviously has an impact on the Time Lord, evidenced by the Doctor telling Amy to go back to the TARDIS towards the episode’s conclusion.  Despite Rory’s cowardice, he is shown to be brave too, challenging Francesco with a broom to protect Amy, and it is nice to see how differently Amy reacts to Rory’s decision to join her and the Doctor to how Rose reacts at the end of School Reunion to Mickey deciding to do the same.

TVoV Amy Rory Francesco.jpg

As mentioned above, the Eleventh Doctor’s attitude to relationships is a drastic departure from his predecessor, and Smith characterises this perfectly.  Whithouse’s script really allows Smith to shine, showing both decent humour and some real steel.  His interactions with Rosanna Calvierri are superb, aided of course by the acting ability of his counterpart, Helen McCrory.  I like the fact that the Saturnyns know of both the Time Lords and the Doctor and are aware of his actions in the Time War as it makes this new villain feel much more of an equal to the Doctor.  I particularly like that indignation that leads the Doctor to state that he will bring the aliens down – they do not even remember the names of their victims.

This ends today.  I will tear down the House of Calverri stone by stone.  Take my hands off me Carlo.  And you know why?  You didn’t know Isabella’s name.  You didn’t know Isabella’s name.

The Eleventh Doctor

The Saturnynes are a suitably creepy villain too, which owes a lot to some stylish direction and high production values.  The relationship between Rosanna and her son, Francesco, is played with explicit incestuous overtones, adding to the idea of Vampires as being quite a sexual creature anyway.  The “vampire” teeth are suitably creepy and the converted Venetian girls are quite scary and are made to look quite striking.  The ultimate tragedy of the fates of the gondolier Guido and his daughter Isabella really cements the Saturnynes as a real threat, and the suicide of Rosanna at the close of the episode is quite dark for this story, with her ultimate fate being torn apart by the remaining Saturnynes.

Verdict: A good fun, if slightly derivative, story, The Vampires of Venice is better than I remembered, with it being a really strong story for Rory. 8/10

Cast: Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), Helen McCrory (Rosanna), Lucian Msamati (Guido), Alisha Bailey (Isabella), Alex Price (Francesco), Gabrielle Wilde, Helen Steele, Elizabeth Croft, Sonila Vieshta & Gabriela Montaraz (Vampire girls), Michael Percival (Inspector) & Simon Gregor (Steward)

Writer: Toby Whithouse

Director: Jonny Campbell

Behind the Scenes

  • This story is notable for being filmed in Croatia, making it the first episode of Doctor Who to be filmed in a former Communist country.  It is the third episode to be filmed overseas since the revival, after The Fires of Pompeii and The Planet of the Dead.

Best Moment

It feels like a cheat to have my best moment be another quote, but it has to be

The people upstairs are very noisy.

There aren’t any people upstairs.

See, I know you were going to say that.  Did anyone else know he was going to say that?

The Eleventh Doctor and Guido

Best Quote

You know what’s dangerous about you?  It’s not that you make people take risks, it’s that you make them want to impress you.  You make it so they don’t want to let you down.  You have no idea how dangerous you make people to themselves when you’re around.

Rory Williams

The Mind of Evil

The Mind of Evil Master Jo Doctor.jpg

We believe what our minds tell us to, Jo.

The Third Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and Jo Grant investigate the Keller Machine at Stangmoor Prison, which is being used to remove any malicious elements of prisoners’ personalities. 

Meanwhile, the Brigadier and UNIT are being stretched as they are responsible for security for the World Peace Conference, as well as having to deal with the decommissioning of a Thunderbolt Missile.  Things only get more complicated for the Doctor and the Brigadier when they discover that the Master is behind the Keller Machine.

Review

The Mind of Evil could be seen as a quintessential story of the Third Doctor’s era.  All of the elements are present; Jo and the UNIT family, Roger Delgado’s Master and the Earth-bound nature of the story, however, this has a truly international flavour and feels as though it could be a Bond movie in places.  Some time has passed since the events of Terror of the Autons, clear by the fact that there has been some improvement in the relationship between the Third Doctor and Jo, and the Master developing the Keller Machine, and unlike other six part stories, it feels as though there is enough going on to warrant the story’s length and the direction works well to ensure that the viewer remains engaged. That is not to say that the story is perfect, however, as the story does fall down if you think about the Master’s plan too much and I feel that there is not enough done with the creature inside the Machine.  However, by and large, thanks to the direction, this feels like a fun romp through a story with a truly international feel.  I feel compelled to complement the work done by Stuart Humphyres to bring the first part back to life in colour – I’m sure that it was painstaking work and it really looks fantastic.

One of the strongest elements of this story is that there is enough plot to go around.  In the beginning, the three different plot strands appear to be relatively separate, with the Doctor and Jo off investigating and UNIT in a bit of a panic about the Peace Conference and the destruction of the missile, however, Houghton ties the story together nicely in the end by introducing the Master, and the plot feels quite grand and Bond-like in scope.  Delgado’s Master is suave and menacing in equal measure and adds a great deal of glee to proceedings and a gentlemanly charm to boot.  The scene with him and the Doctor meeting in the Governor’s office in Part 3 feels very much like a confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty, complete with a Bond villain style chair swivel.   There is certainly a sense of swagger and confidence in the production, which certainly helps the story along in its more shaky elements and this is probably due to Combe going over budget.  It certainly feels as though there are loads of extras, especially in the prison break scenes, which is rare for Doctor Who.

The Mind of Evil Prison.jpg

Something else I really liked about this story is that the core cast of the Doctor, Jo, the Brigadier, Benton and Yates get quite a lot to do and there are some lovely moments between some of the characters.  When the Brigadier shows up just in the nick of time to save the Doctor and Jo from Mailer and the Doctor berates him, Courtney has a little smile on his face which makes the viewer think that he knows that the Doctor appreciates it really.  Equally, there’s a really nice moment between the Brig and Benton after the former tells the latter that he is now acting governor of Stangmoor Prison and almost immediately, the Brigadier warns him about getting delusions of grandeur which is quite an amusing moment.  Having spent some considerable time in their company, the writers now feel as though they can flesh out these kinds of interactions here.  The Doctor seems to have become much more favourably disposed towards Jo too, perhaps thanks to continued offscreen adventures in the six months that have elapsed between Terror of the Autons and this story.  The Doctor and the Brigadier seem to have developed a rapport, demonstrated by Courtney’s smirk when the Doctor delivers the following line:

Do you think for once in your life you could arrive just before the nick of time?

The Third Doctor

This isn’t to say that this story is without flaws.  The Master’s plan, for one, feels very generically villainous and not really in keeping with the Master’s modus operandi.  The Master wants to use the missile to destroy the Earth and rule over any survivors, which does feel a bit like it’s been lifted from a Bond movie.  Equally, I would have liked to have seen more development of the creature contained within the Keller Machine.  Some of the best moments are when the Doctor and the Master are subject to it’s psychic impact so it would have been interesting to know where the Master had found it and captured it for this story.  These elements do bother me slightly, but thanks to Coombe’s direction, my mind perhaps didn’t linger on these issues for longer.

The Mind of Evil Jo and the Doctor


Verdict: A really ambitious story with some lovely direction and character moments, which is let down by a few small niggles.  I really like this story, maybe because it reminds of Bond films of this era.  8/10

Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Richard Franklin (Mike Yates), Pik-Sen Lim (Captain Chin Lee), Raymond Westwell (Prison Governor), Michael Sheard (Dr. Summmers), Simon Lack (Professor Kettering), Neil McCarthy (Barnham), Fernanda Marlowe (Corporal Bell), Clive Scott (Linwood), Roy Purcell (Chief Prison Officer Powers), Eric Mason (Senior Prison Officer Green), Bill Matthews, Barry Wade, Dave Carter & Martin Gordon (Prison Officers), Roger Delgado (The Master), John Levene (Sergeant Benton), William Marlowe (Mailer), Hayden Jones (Vosper), Kristopher Kum (Fu Peng), Tommy Duggan (Senator Alcott), David Calderisi (Charlie), Patrick Godfrey (Major Cosworth), Johnny Barrs (Fuller) & Matthew Walters (Main Gate Prisoner).

Writer: Don Houghton

Director: Timothy Combe

Parts: 6

Behind the Scenes

  • Timothy Combe went so over budget that Barry Letts banned him from working on the programme in the future.  Exceeding of the budget was largely down to the use of a helicopter in the final part.
  • The third story not to feature the Doctor’s TARDIS, although the Master’s TARDIS appears briefly at the end of the story.
  • There is no surviving colour print of The Mind of Evil.  Part One was recolourised by Stuart Humphryes (better known as Babel Colour), whilst the remaining parts were recoloured using chroma-dot restoration.
  • The only story to date to see the Doctor’s dialogue subtitled whilst he is speaking Hokkien.
  • Pik-Sen Lim, who played Captain Chin Lee, was married to Don Houghton.
  • Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?: Michael Sheard (The Ark, Pyramids of Mars, The Invisible Enemy, Castrovalva and Remembrance of the Daleks.


Best Moment

I really like the reveal of the Master in the tent outside UNIT’s headquarters.  I think it is really nicely directed by Combe.

Best Quote

Science has abolished the hangman’s noose, and substituted this infallible method.

People who talk about infallibility are usually on very shaky ground.

Professor Kettering and the Third Doctor

 

Rise of the Cybermen

Rise of the Cybermen

What happened?

The Time Vortex, it’s gone!  That’s impossible.  It’s just gone.

Rose and the Tenth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor, Rose and Mickey land on an alternate version of the Earth where Rose’s father is still alive.  However, one of the Doctor’s greatest enemies have been reborn and are waiting to strike.

Review

After the success of Dalek, it is perhaps easy to see why the production team wanted to bring back the Cybermen in a big way.  Normally thought of in the same breath as Skaro’s finest and the Master as one of the Doctor’s Grade A antagonists, the Cybermen had started to become a bit of a joke towards the end of the original run, and so a clean break is a good idea in theory.  Sadly, where Rise of the Cybermen falls down is in this attempt to essentially tell the same story twice.  Lloyd Pack is essentially this iteration of the Cybermen’s Davros, even confined to a wheelchair and the fact that the story feels less than original.  The returning Graeme Harper does sterling work, but he can’t improve on what feels like a lacklustre story.

Lumic

One of the major problems with Rise of the Cybermen is that many of the characters are so damn unlikeable or unbelievable.  Whether this is Roger Lloyd Pack ensuring the scenery remains thoroughly chewed throughout as a pseudo-Davros, the marginally more unpleasant Jackie or the unnecessary Ricky, there’s nothing compelling enough about them to care enough about them or their eventual fate.  Lumic feels as though he has come straight out of a Bond film, a feeling which is not helped by some thoroughly unconvincing dialogue, but it takes a villain who should be relatable as someone who is afraid of death and makes them completely one dimensional.  Ricky seems to be characterised solely by scowling, meanwhile, the parallel Jackie Tyler seems to be pretty similar to the Jackie we’re supposed to like, but with money.  The story attempts to use this as shorthand to make us feel something for these characters, but it ultimately falls down.  There is a potentially much more interesting story to be told here, but it seems to fall into the same old trappings and perhaps the fact that it is set on a parallel world numbs some of the stakes.

The story is a strong one for Mickey but also contains some of the worst characterisation for the Doctor and Rose.  We finally get to delve into Mickey’s backstory, finding out that he was raised by his grandmother after his dad left and his mother “couldn’t cope”, see the basis of his insecurity and the fact that Mickey feels guilty for his grandmother’s death  The story does effectively show how much Mickey has developed since Rose.  However, we also see the Doctor and Rose treat him pretty shabbily throughout – highlighted by the way they leave him holding down a button on the TARDIS console, whilst they reminisce about past adventures.  Additionally, the moment where the Doctor has to choose whether he follows Rose or Mickey, he seems utterly incredulous that there might be something on this alternative Earth that might tempt Mickey, and of course there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that he’ll follow Rose.  In many ways, Mickey is the modern series’ Harry Sullivan.  Billie Piper does her best here with Rose, but she feels as though she is ultimately treading water until the ultimate conclusion of her arc at the end of the series.  The jealousy that she shows when the Doctor even mentions talking to another woman is really ugly and is perhaps symptomatic of writers not being sure what to do with her beyond her being the companion to see viewers through the first regeneration of the modern era.  The story does feel like a retread of a lot of the issues that were a central narrative surrounding Father’s Day and the ultimate conclusion seems very predictable.  David Tennant’s performance is largely good, but he is affected with the smugness that seems to be insidious in series 2.

The Cybermen are perhaps the best part of this story.  They are used very sparingly in this first part of a two part story, with the story and direction keeping them out of focus or out of sight.  They are shown to be quite effective and a serious threat, even if I’m not a massive fan of the stomping boots and the Cybersuits.  The shots of the Cyber Conversion are fantastically creepy, even if they do feature some of shaky CGI.  I think that the benefit of having an experienced returning hand like Graeme Harper is that he really knows how to handle enemies like the Cybermen.  However, I am not a fan of how the story deals with the basic concept of the Cybermen.  One of the scariest things about the Cybermen in the classic series is how humanity has been given the agency to make the choice to become more and more synthetic.  In this depiction, the choice is taken away by Lumic exploiting the vulnerable of society to be amongst his first converts.  Even despite the more privileged members of this alternative society have purchased Cybus tech which will ultimately be used to convert them, there is no suggestion that they were aware of this.  Despite the fact that the Cybermen are well used here, this does make their threat seem lessened somewhat.

The Cybermen

Verdict: Rise of the Cybermen, sadly, is somewhat underwhelming.  Mickey gets some nice moments, but the story is largely flawed. 5/10

Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Shaun Dingwall (Pete Tyler), Roger Lloyd Pack (John Lumic), Andrew Hayden-Smith (Jake Simmonds), Don Warrington (The President), Mona Hammond (Rita-Anne), Helen Griffiths (Mrs Moore), Colin Spaull (Mr Crane), Paul Antony-Barber (Dr Kendrick), Adam Shaw (Morris), Andrew Ufondo (Soldier), Duncan Duff (Newsreader), Paul Kasey (Cyber-Leader) & Nicholas Briggs (Cyber-Voice)

Writer: Tom MacRae

Director: Graeme Harper

Behind the Scenes

  • Russell T Davies wanted to reintroduce the Cybermen but was aware of the complicated backstory they had in the Classic series and decided to set the story on a parallel Earth.
  • The idea of the Cybermen being a response to fears of organ replacement was viewed as being outdated, with Davies wanting the story to focus on the idea of humanity wanting to constantly upgrade instead.
  • The story is loosely based on and inspired by Spare Parts written by Marc Platt.  Platt received a credit and was paid a fee for using the basic concepts.
  • The story aired during the 40th Anniversary of the broadcast of the debut of the Cybermen, The Tenth Planet.
  • Graeme Harper became the first director to work on both the original series and the new series by working on this story.
  • Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?: Colin Spaull previously played Lilt in Revelation of the Daleks (which was also directed by Graeme Harper), Don Warrington played Rassilon in several Big Finish audios. Helen Griffin later appeared in Cobwebs, while Paul Antony-Barber appeared in The Magic Mousetrap.

Best Moment

The direction when the Cybermen enter Jackie’s birthday party is really nicely done by Graeme Harper.

Best Quote

I just gave away ten years of my life.  Worth every second!

The Tenth Doctor

The Preachers