When the BBC announced, way back in September 2003, that a new series of DOCTOR WHO was on the way, I made a mental checklist of all the boxes I hoped the new episodes would be able to tick, taking its lead from flashy, character-led fantasy dramas such as BUFFY, ANGEL and THE X FILES. I wanted humour, scares, emotion, romance, thrillsUver thirteen episodes last year the first season just about managed the lot. Here we are, five episodes into season two and each and every one of those boxes has been ticked already along with quite a few others I probably hadn? thought about at the time.

?ise of the Cybermen?is thrills??pills, a rip-roaring adventure in the purest sense of the word, a very old-school DOCTOR WHO story tarted up by all the frills we?e come to expect from the modern production team. This is the first time the new series of DOCTOR WHO has really resembled the old ?at least in terms of its story-telling and, sadly, one or two of its performances which occasionally veered into the ?et?-ham-this-nonsense-up-then?territory of the last few original BBC seasons.

Let? gloss over the pre-credits sequence (written, presumably in a hurry on the back of a napkin, by Russell T Davies when he felt the original sequence wasn? quite up to scratch ?God knows what that sequence was if this was his replacement) and plunge into the episode proper where the TARDIS drops out of the Vortex and crashlands on Earth. But as the Doctor, Rose and ?in dog?Mickey quickly realise from the zeppelins cruising gracefully through the skies, this is a subtley different Earth from the one they usually keep landing on. By a wonderful coincidence they?e pitched up right alongside an animated advertisement which tells Rose ?gasp ?that her father Pete (Dingwall) is alive and well on this Earth and is now a successful entrepreneur raking it in by selling dodgy Vitex health drinks to a gullible public. The Doctor is understandably more perplexed by the state of the TARDIS, apparently now extinct and lifeless in a Universe where it never actually existed. But wait?hat? this! A handy glowing power source, a scintilla of residual energy left glinting in the bowels of the Ship. Hmmm? With a handy bit of new series magic (or creative laziness),the Doctor resuscitates the TARDIS by?r?lowing onto this energy crystal and giving it the ability to regenerate itself so the TARDIS can power up and move off in 24 hours. Just enough time for an adventure! Those hoping for a more sensible explanation for the TARDIS? plight in episode two, next week? ?ge of Steel? are likely to be disappointed?

Rose stomps off to find her father, much to the Doctor? disapproval and Mickey realising he? about as welcome aboard the TARDIS as a robot dog, wanders away to see if there? anything better out there than life as a spare part. Meanwhile the Big Bad Villain is making his plans; John Lumic (Lloyd Pack), the multi-millionaire electronics genius whose Cybus Industries dominates the infotainment world by virtue of his bluetooth-like earlobe attachments (they?e all the rage on parallel Earth) has perfected a new form of cybernetic life and he requires the consent of the President of the UK (Warrington) to allow him to move his project forward. The President? not too keen and he forbids any further experimentation. Lumic, a nutter in a wheelchair whose only hope of life is to become cybernetic, isn? best pleased and starts to lay his plans. These involve gate-crashing alternative Jackie Tyler? fortieth birthday bash at the Tyler? ostentatious country home?n

?ise of the Cybermen?is an odd beast indeed. It? full of what makes contemporary DOCTOR WHO great ?marvellous character stuff from the Doctor, Rose and Mickey (the latter particularly coming into his own here, especially in the scene where he visits his Grandma who perished in an accident at home in Mickey? real world and when he realises that the Doctor will always be more interested in Rose? well-being than his). Billie Piper, sidelined for much of the season so far, gets to emote a bit here ?but we?e seen this before, in last year? ?ather? Day?when she came to terms not only with her father? death but also the fact that she couldn? do anything to save his life. Nice as her scenes are here ?and Piper works well with both Dingwall and Coduri ?there? a sense that we?e revisiting old ground, opening up old wounds which have already been healed. The storyline really just emphasises that, for all the new series?concentration on the humanity of its characters, there? really only so much backstory you can explore for a character whose traditional purpose is to scream and run around a lot. Food for thought for the future?David Tennant seems a bit detached throughout, but that? probably because he doesn? really have a great deal to do as the story sets out its stall and positions its players for its presumably more action-packed second episode. Special mentions too for a quite remarkable performance from Roger Lloyd-Pack as the evil Jon Lumic (we know he? evil because he? stuck in a Davros-like wheel-chair). With the best will in the world it? hard to commend Lloyd-Pack for his ripe performance as Lumic. Perhaps Lloyd-Pack hadn? seen the series since about 1986 and honestly believed it was still full of loud, unsubtle, over-bearing villains spouting creaky bad guy dialogue (although some of this is the fault of writer Tom MacCrae whose scripting isn? quite as smart as we?e become used to in this show). Some of the other performances are bit CBBC too; it? really rather unfortunate that this particular episode followed ?he Girl in the Fireplace? one of the most mature and thought-provoking episodes of DOCTOR WHO ever made.

Putting this all on screen is veteran DOCTOR WHO director Graeme Harper, who added a bit of lustre to the last few years of the original show by actually putting a bit of thought into the direction of the show at a time when just making it and putting it on screen was a bit of a chore for the BBC. Harper? two stories, ?aves of Androzani?and ?evelation of the Daleks?had a pace and energy sadly lacking in many of their contemporaries. But times have changed and while Harper is still dynamic and inventive, he? really no better than other modern DOCTOR WHO directors like James Hawes and, especially, Euros Lyn. Much of what? on screen in ?ise of the Cybermen??at least until the last ten minutes ?is pretty workmanlike stuff.

Ah, yes ?the last ten minutes. This is where ?ise of the Cybermen?really starts to work and becomes breath-takingly tense. Here Harper really comes into his own as his presentation of the new, sleek, metallic Cybermen is faultless. The Cybermen stride through the fog, their heavy footfall reverberating through the air. They crash through the windows, they brutally slaughter people with their touch of electric death, they march remorselessly in regimented rhythmn. They?e simply awesome. One of my favoruties scenes in the history of DOCTOR WHO occurs as the Doctor and Rose escape from the house, run across the lawn and come face-to-face with a line of unstoppable Cybermen marching straight towards them. Trust me on this, it? a scene which will live on in WHO history like the Cybermen striding down the steps of St Paul?, the Daleks gliding over Westminster Bridge and Sylvester McCoy playing the spoons (all right,maybe not that last one). The first two-parter of the series, the cliffhangar is thrilling if contrived?urrounded by Cybermen, the Doctor desperately surrenders but the Cybermen have designated them as not suitable for conversion and he declares that they must suffer ?aximum deletion!?(as opposed toUer?ome lesser form of deletion, perhaps??)

So that? ?ise of the Cybermen? It bounces along, it? never boring, it often raises a smile. The reinvention of the Cybermen ?and their audacious new origin which flies directly in the face of all the previous Cyberstories in DOCTOR WHO ?is a huge success and part two is likely to really up the ante. But ultimately there? something slightly unsatisfying in the mix, a sense that all these ingredients are just a bit warmed-up and there? not much here we?e not seen before, albeit never quite done on this scale.

The DOCTOR WHO production team are quite fond of summing up each new episode in one word at their regular ?one meetings?where they discuss and establish the style of each episode. We?e had epic, we?e had romantic?omehow one particular word seems to come to mind when considering the tone of ?ise of the Cybermen? For me, at least, that word is unsubtle.]]>

More to explorer