The Time Vortex, it’s gone! That’s impossible. It’s just gone.
Rose and the Tenth Doctor
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.
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.
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.
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.
The direction when the Cybermen enter Jackie’s birthday party is really nicely done by Graeme Harper.
I just gave away ten years of my life. Worth every second!
The Tenth Doctor