Monday, February 2, 2015

Straightforward Struggle Against The Cybermen: “The Age Of Steel” Completes The Arc.

The Good: Mickey gets a good character arc, Decent performances
The Bad: Somewhat ridiculous special effects, Plot-heavy
The Basics: The second part of the rebirth of the Cybermen, “The Age Of Steel” has the Doctor’s team trying to save the alternate universe Earth!

Doctor Who is a quasi-serialized television show. While the various seasons have varying levels of internal and external continuity, the show did surprisingly few direct two-parters. In the second season, the first actual two-part episode set was “Rise Of The Cybermen” (reviewed here!) and its follow-up “The Age Of Steel.” “Rise Of The Cybermen” introduced an alternate universe’s planet Earth to the Doctor Who storyline and explained to viewers that such an alternate universe divergence was an anomaly since the end of the Last Great Time War. “The Age Of Steel” concludes the arc begun in “Rise Of The Cybermen” and if it wasn’t for the foreknowledge that comes from the fact that these episodes are years old and I have seen the subsequent episodes, I would say that the episode sees supporting character Mickey Smith off in a dignified and interesting way. Instead, “The Age Of Steel” lays the seeds for the second season finale and a number of significant events that play along the long-term character arc of Rose Tyler.

On its own, though, “The Age Of Steel” is a solid Mickey episode when it is not plot-focused action-adventure story. “The Age Of Steel” sees the revitalized Doctor Who getting an origin story for a new race of Cybermen. For those paying attention to internal continuity, one of the nice aspects of “The Age Of Steel” is that Rose Tyler references having seen a Cyberman head in “Dalek” (reviewed here!). Mickey (the idiot) rises to heroic heights in the alternate universe and the process allows “The Age Of Steel” to infuse the story with some of the humor that “Rise Of The Cybermen” lacked.

Using the power supply from the TARDIS to wipe out the nearest Cybermen, the Doctor, Rose, Mickey, Ricky, and Pete Tyler manage to survive the Cybermen encircling them long enough to be rescued by Ricky’s revolutionaries. While the Doctor’s team flees and regroups, witnessing all of the earpod-using citizens willingly marching toward their “upgrade.” Realizing Lumic will betray everyone and attempt to convert all of the citizens, including him, Crane rebels only to be killed by Cybermen. Finding the Cybermen-manufacturing factory in London, Rose and the Doctor commit to shutting down their operation. Rose and Pete opt to infiltrate the facility through the front door in an attempt to rescue Jackie from cyber-conversion.

The Doctor and Mrs. Moore infiltrate the factory through the basement. In the process, The Doctor learns about the weakness that this version of Cyberman possesses: an emotional inhibitor which he comes to believe can be reprogrammed to psychologically devastate the Cybermen. Soon, though, Pete and Rose discover that Jackie has been converted and they are captured, as is The Doctor. With Lumic converted to Cybercontroller, only Mickey can save the world from the Cybermen!

Rather early in “The Age Of Steel,” Ricky is killed and Mickey has to grow to take the place of the fallen leader. While the death of one of Noel Clarke’s two characters seemed pretty obvious, that Mickey’s arc has him rising to the challenge of replacing Ricky is presented in a decent and compelling way. Writer Tom MacRae and director Graeme Harper actually seem to care about Mickey and doing justice to the character. Mickey gets a heroic exit (for a time) and the potentials that will be realized in his character’s future are hinted at well in “The Age Of Steel.”

As well, Rose Tyler is presented with a more reasonable motivation than in “Rise Of The Cybermen.” “The Age Of Steel” has Rose rushing to try to save the alternate universe version of her mother and that tracks as more realistic than her obsession with meeting Pete Tyler in the first part. Rose is realistically horrified when she and Pete encounter the Cyber-converted version of her mother and as one of two of the episode’s big plot problems, it makes no sense that the blatant show of emotion in that moment does not result in the Cybermen “deleting” them.

The other big issue for me is the abrupt turn involving The Doctor and Mrs. Moore being surprised by a legion of Cybermen. Cybermen are not stealthy creatures: they are lumbering, loud, metal entities. There is an impossible rupture of suspension of disbelief when Moore and the Doctor are ambushed. Carried over from the prior episode is a special effects issue that also does not track as realistic: the cyber conversion process on the alternate Earth involves several fast-moving, rotating cutting implements. There’s no real legitimate reason why people (even those brainwashed by cell phones) would stand still while their brains were removed forcibly in an open room without any restraints.

All that said, “The Age Of Steel” is a solid resolution to the plot begun in “Rise Of The Cybermen” and a good seeding episode for larger arcs that dominate David Tennant’s tenure as The Doctor.

[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 alternate universe films and television shows, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Donnie Darko
“Parallels” - Star Trek: The Next Generation


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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