Shiny Shelf

Doctor Who: The Age of Steel

By Eddie Robson on 17 May 2006

For once we’ve been able to peep at an advance copy of this week’s ‘Doctor Who’: however, you’ll find no spoilers here: if that’s what you’re looking for, away with you. Keep the surprises for Saturday. Have you no will-power, man?

In common with many of the Cybermen’s previous appearances, Tom MacRae’s two-parter held off on introducing the creatures themselves until well into the story. Any viewers who felt cheated by this (and they shouldn’t have done, because it was dramatically the right way to play it) will quickly forget it, because this features plenty of hot Cyber-action. Unlike many of the Cybermen’s previous appearances, however, it’s really good.

As monsters, the Cybermen always promised more than they delivered. It’s ironic that one of the key aspects of the Cybermen was that they were utterly dependent on logic, given that their plans often made no sense. I say ‘ironic’: in fact, it was rather stupid. (Anyone who wishes to counter this claim will need to first explain away the gallumphing great plot holes of ‘The Moonbase’, ‘The Wheel in Space’ and ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ – and why, in ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’, they appear to have sealed themselves in a survival chamber that doesn’t unlock from the inside.)

The nature of ‘The Age of Steel’ means that the story doesn’t have to be complicated – it’s an origin story, and the mere emergence of the Cybermen is a threat in itself without any hugely elaborate plan – so MacRae doesn’t make it complicated. This means that he avoids the severe logical flaws that affect so many other Cyber-plans. And, with some credited borrowings from a recent ‘Who’ audio play, certain aspects of the creatures now make sense in a way they never did before.

The Cybermen were always fond of claiming that emotion was weakness, but (quite apart from the fact that they often appeared to act in an emotional manner) it was never clear how they had arrived at the conclusion that the good side of emotion was not worth suffering the bad, as it seems quite obvious to us. Here it’s satisfactorily explained in a way that adds to the plot, and also brings out the much vaunted body-horror aspect of the Cybermen which, in truth, rarely came off in their previous appearances.

All of which makes ‘Rise of the Cybermen’/‘The Age of Steel’ the Cybermen’s most effective TV appearance, and arguably their most effective in any medium. But it’s not just a great Cybermen story, it’s a great ‘Doctor Who’ story full stop: very well designed, energetically directed by Graeme Harper and with several fine performances (if this doesn’t finally answer Noel Clarke’s ever-diminishing band of critics, nothing will). Its sense of scale is probably the biggest that ‘Doctor Who’ has yet achieved (only last season’s ‘The Parting of the Ways’ is a challenger) and again marks the show as the most ambitious currently on British TV.

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By Eddie Robson

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