Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Making Cell Phones Scary As Shit, “Rise Of The Cybermen” Reinvents Another Doctor Who Adversary!

The Good: Decent plot, Good performances, Moments of character
The Bad: Novelty wears off quickly, The Doctor is surprisingly unlikable for most of the episode’s beginning
The Basics: “Rise Of The Cybermen” finds the Cybermen being developed on an alternate Earth where Rose’s father is still alive!

In science fiction, there are any number of conceits that were once audacious, but now are somewhat passé. While time travel in otherwise straightforward (or realistic) science fiction stories is one of those conceits, in more extraordinary narratives, the alternate universe concept is sometimes used to fill the same niche. The concept of the alternate universe made it into the popular vernacular thanks to the popular Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror” (reviewed here!). In the newer Doctor Who, the alternate universe idea is re-introduced with “Rise Of The Cybermen.”

As one who is still very new to Doctor Who, “Rise Of The Cybermen” is remarkably comprehensive for newbies. While prior Doctor Who might have explored alternate realities fairly regularly, the Doctor establishes early on that with the fall of the Time Lords, such travel no longer occurs. As a result, “Rise Of The Cybermen” is created as a deliberate anomaly, one that has consequences. This is a rare episode (so far) with a “reverse ticking clock” conceit; instead of a countdown to a critical event, escape is not possible from this alternate universe because the damaged TARDIS will not be repowered for twenty-four hours.

The wheelchair-bound inventor John Lumic succeeds in creating a cyborg, which he knows Geneva will never accept due to its restrictions on creating life forms (or, apparently, modifying human life). Lumic kills his assistant and heads off in his zeppelin for London. The TARDIS crashes in London, where the zeppelins in the sky and an interactive advertisement on the street informs The Doctor, Mickey, and Rose that they are on an alternate universe’s Earth. While The Doctor implores Rose not to go look for her father, Pete Tyler prepares for his wife’s 40th birthday party. Rose contemplates looking into her father’s life while Lumic overrides Jackie’s earpods to get security arrangements to the Tyler Estate before his assistant, Mr. Crane lures local hungry and homeless people into his mobile laboratory for experimentation.

With The Doctor’s hope renewed that the TARDIS could be repowered when he and Mickey find a spark left in one remaining power cell, Peter Tyler and the President visit with Lumic at the Cybus Industries zeppelin. Rose and The Doctor witness the populace freezing up when they all receive a daily update through their earpods and the Doctor grows suspicious of the influence Cybus has over this world. Mickey visits his grandmother, who calls him Ricky and is (much to his pleasant surprise) still alive, where he experiences some self-doubt before he is abducted by an anti-Cybus group. After a demonstration to Lumic, Crane upgrades the captured homeless people into true Cybermen . . . who are then set upon the party at the Tyler Estate!

As are typical in such alternate universe stories, the Earth that the Doctor, Mickey and Rose find themselves on is close, but not quite our Earth. While there are substantive changes like the existence of the nefarious Cybus Industries, “Rise Of The Cybermen” is chock full of novelty alterations that separate our universe from theirs. The references to New Germany, Rose being a dog in the alternate universe and the leader of Great Britain being a President instead of Prime Minister are cute-enough to be entertaining. “Rise Of The Cybermen” also managed to beat Fringe (reviewed here!) to the punch of creating an alternate universe packed with zeppelins, so that was pretty cool.

Fortunately, novelty is not the name of the game for “Rise Of The Cybermen.” In the midst of a plot that seems to force an inorganic Rose motivation – outside “Father’s Day” (reviewed here!), she has not seen her father most of her life and she seems pretty fine with that, so her obsession with meeting her adult father in this episode does not quite read right – the episode finally does something substantive with Mickey on his own. Relegated to sidekick for the bulk of his appearances on Doctor Who, in “Rise Of The Cybermen,” Mickey is given a bit more backstory (he was abandoned by his father, raised by his grandmother until her death and has been on his own since) and a credible tie that binds him and Rose. Mickey’s arc in “Rise Of The Cybermen” also gives rise to his alternate universe persona, Ricky, which plays off a hilarious joke from the first season of Doctor Who. Ricky is smarter, more confident and a leader as opposed to the pushover follower Mickey.

Outside the revelation of Rose in the alternate universe, “Rise Of The Cybermen” is virtually devoid of humor. The episode is one of the more deliberately frightening episodes and the title spoils the revelation as the Cybermen proper pop up at pretty much the last minute. Despite the idiocy of Dr. Kendrick, who seems unable to realize that he is about to get killed in the teaser, “Rise Of The Cybermen” is a smart episode and an engaging set-up to the second part. The enemies of Cybus Industries, with whom Mickey falls in, are revolutionaries who disdain the ethics of Lumic and that plays well as more than making a novelty universe.

The performances in “Rise Of The Cybermen” are good. David Tennant is energetic, though many of his lines are surprisingly douchey. While Shaun Dingwall makes an auspicious return to Doctor Who as Pete Tyler, “Rise Of The Cybermen” is dominated on the performance front by Noel Clarke. Clarke plays Mickey and Ricky and he seems to delight in being given the chance to play a more assertive character. He succeeds to such a degree that when Rose encounters Ricky, she is the only one surprised by the alternate.

“Rise Of The Cybermen” might have been a thrill for Whovians to see a “next generation” approach to Cybermen, but the episode succeeds because it is a compelling set-up and exploration story without simply reverting to novelty.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of the Tenth Doctor here!

For other works with Roger Lloyd Pack, please check out my reviews of:
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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