Previously on DOCTOR WHOz/i>

So here we are, the Doctor and Rose and co are trapped, surrounded by a gleaming squad of deletion-happy Cybermen. How on (parallel) Earth can the Time Lord and his chums get out of this one? With cliffhangers largely a thing of the past in this standalone episode new DOCTOR WHO world, expectations were high for an exciting, clever resolution to this latest bit of deadly peril for our redoubtable hero. So?he Doctor whips out a magic crystal and?r?aps the Cybermen into dust. Oh.

This lazy, ?hat-just-happened??plot contrivance is sadly all too typical of ?he Age of Steel? and it? the sort of thing which, with the benefit of hindsight and after all the ?ohing?nd ?hhing?at the special effects and big screen splendour, scuppers this essentially-exciting little episode and leaves the viewer with a bit of a nasty taste in the mouth and a severe feeling of disappointment. The sense of ?ill this do??permeates the entire slightly-shoddy script and the stink of 1980s DOCTOR WHO-by-numbers, already evident in last week? opener, ?ise of the Cybermen? becomes almost unbearable as ?he Age of Steel?rattles along.

?re you making this up as you go along??Mickey asks the Doctor at one point (or words to that effect). The Doctor cheerfully admits that he is ?and I suspect that, if pressed, writer Tom Macrae would probably have to admit much the same. ?he Age of Steel?offers little of the subtle writing this new version of DOCTOR WHO has become rightly acclaimed for; instead, it layers on set-piece after set-piece, with a collection of tired SF clich?to add a dash of colour. The main problem with this episode that it really doesn? make a lot of narrative sense. Everything has a sense of ?nd they did that why exactly??about it and some scenes are so incredible it? hard not to gasp slack-jawed at the illogicality and unbelievability of it all. New DOCTOR WHO has prided itself on its believability ?even in the most extreme of situations there? been a core of truth in the story-telling, a sense that, however extraordinary the situation the characters are grounded in some sort of real world which, maybe, could just happen somewhere. ?he Age of Steel?throws all this away and reaches for the long-forgotten 1980s DOCTOR WHO template and, as a consequence, it just Does Not Work.

So where to begin? Well, I?e already referred to lazy plot contrivances so let? have a quick look at the Doctor? ubiquitous sonic screwdriver. Russell T Davies has argued, not unreasonably, that if the Doctor? got to have obstacles they?e got to be interesting ones and no-one wants to see the Doctor stuck behind a locked door. Perfectly reasonable; as a result the sonic screwdriver (destroyed in a Peter Davison episode in 1982) was reinstated and it? been used as a ?et Out of Jail Free?card ever since. The new sonic screwdriver doesn? just open doors ?as we?e seen since the series returned it resonates concrete, it conducts medical scans, it fuses metal, it works as a torch. Above all else it can get the Doctor out of any perilous situation without much of an explanation ?and it? lazy. Here are two examples from ?he Age of Steel? Cornered in an alley by a troop of Cybermen and skulking behind some bins, the Doctor simply stands up, points his sonic screwdriver at the Cybermenond they march away. Simple as that! In the exciting denouement, the Doctor, Rose and parallel-world Pete Tyler are clinging to a rope ladder as Lumic? commandeered zeppelin drifts away from the inferno of the Battersea Cyberfactory. The Lumic Cybercontroller is somehow climbing up the rope after them (itself a huge clich?and he? gaining fast. Hey presto! The Doctor passes the sonic screwdriver to Pete Tyler who manages to use it to burn through the rope and send the Cybercontroller spinning in slow motion into the inferno. Yawn.

?he Age of Steel?is just bulging with such clumsy, unimaginative plot devices and they?e all just as irritating. The redoubtable freedom fighter Mrs Moore (Griffin) just happens to have concocted a few handy explosive devices which she pulls out of her pocket just when the going gets tough; faced with the task of incapacitating a couple of guards Jake (Haydn-Smith) whips out some handy smelling salts Mrs Moore has previously created. Meanwhile the Cybermen have been noisily clump-clumping their way across London deleting everyone in sight ?apart from the one which somehow manages to tippy-toe noiselessly up behind Mrs Moore and electrocute her to death ?it? a shock moment (pardon the pun!) designed just to make the audience jump but it plays fast and loose with the story? own already-dodgy logic. There? so much more to wonder about; Lumic? motivation ?and indeed his entire mad scientist plan ?leaves a lot to be desired. Bearing his mind that his earpod devices are capable of hypnotising everyone in London, why does he need to attack the Tyler? party with his army of Cybermen instead of just turning on their earpods? Why, for that matter, did he need to read Jackie Tyler? mind in episode one to access the party? security arrangements when he was going to gatecrash it with rampaging Cybermen anyway? The whole climax of the story leaves a bit to be desired with the Doctor leaving an enormous amount to chance in assuming that Mickey is watching over the zeppelin? security system as he manages to rustle up the code which will override the Cybermen? emotional inhibitor.

?he Age of Steel?clearly doesn? stand up to detailed scrutiny ?and maybe it? not really supposed to. The story makes little real sense and, for maximum enjoyment, it? best just to turn off the critical faculties for once and just get carried along with the verve and enthusiasm of it. And despite the cheesiness of the storytelling there? a lot to enjoy here, at least on a superficial level. There are some fine emotional moments which come as welcome respites from the gung-ho stuff; Rose and Pete? discovery that parallel-world Jackie has been turned into a Cyberman is devastating stuff, as is the sequence where the Doctor and Mrs Moore incapacitate a Cyberman only to find that the human mind inside the machine has become human again and the Doctor? painful mercy-killing is chilling. There are other great visual moments, including the scenes in the Cyberfactory (with the Mill? FX maestros turning ten Cyber costumes into literally hundreds) and the destruction of the factory (although I? not quite sure why the place blew up ?apart from the need to end the show with a ?ang?.

?he Age of Steel?ultimately is a bit of a mess. Removing the Cybermen from their classic series history and recreating them as human ?pgrades??brains in boxes not unlike the Daleks ?takes away much of the body horror which has always been their stock-in-trade. Now they?e just unthinking, inhuman robots powered by a brain and that? really not nearly as interesting. This is a parallel Earth and the stakes really aren? high enough; the story goes to great pains to show us that Rose? Jackie Tyler is still alive and well and living in her tracksuit and there? still no explanation as to why the Time Vortex disappeared in ?ise of the Cybermen?and the TARDIS found its way to a parallel world. The Doctor? announcement that ?e fell through a crack in Time?really won? do because it doesn? make any kind of sense.

The episode is just about redeemed in its last five minutes when Mickey, realising he doesn? have a place aboard the TARDIS and that it? all about the Doctor and Rose, decides to stay on the parallel Earth to look after his gran (this is before he perversely decides to chase off to France,of course). This is Noel Clarke and Billie Piper? moment and they wring maximum emotion out of it as they remember their childish daydreaming days as kids and how they never saw life with the Doctor coming. Even here the moment is almost lost by Murray Gold? score, themes he? already used in times of Great Emotion; here he repeats them over and over on a loop, as if he just couldn? be bothered to come up with anything else. I? a huge supporter of Gold? music ?he? written some rousing, cinematic scores for DOCTOR WHO but sometimes he lays the emotion on with a trowel and he? clearly never heard of the expression ?ess is more?

So there we have it. The first crushing disappointment of the new era of DOCTOR WHO ?and what a shame it had to come at the expense of the long-awaited return of one of the most iconic of DOCTOR WHO monsters. Still, maybe they?l get a chance to redeem themselves one day, eh?

In the absolutely final analysis ?ise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel?failed because it tried to do too much, it tried to be epic when we really prefer our DOCTOR WHO intimate these days. The shadow of similar 1980s stories loomed large and dark over this one and I can only assume that Russell T Davies and script editor Helen Raynor were on an extended holiday when these two scripts were deemed suitable. Sure it? watchable and of course it stands head and shoulders over almost everything else on British TV nowadays ?that? how high DOCTOR WHO? bar has been raised ?but episodes like ?chool Reunion?and ?irl in the Fireplace?have made stuff like this pretty much redundant.

So, what else is on TV right now? Ah, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II?nterestingU

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