"Imagination? What about that?"

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We're not exactly famous for our adoration of the Cybermen. So when some of our readers predicted we would, wonder of wonders, actually like them in Rise Of The Cybermen/The Age Of Steel, we were sceptical. After all, it wasn't raining frogs or anything.

Well, whaddaya know? They were right. We do like the Cybermen. Yes, indeedy. We like their Cyberflares. We like the way that when they march they sound like the world's biggest staple gun. And most of all, we like their scariness. It's rare in Cyberhistory that they've managed to pose any kind of threat at all, but here they're genuinely menacing. Took 'em forty years, but they got there in the end. It's also nice that they take a good hard look at the process of Cyberfication: we're used to the finished article, but it's about time we found out how they got that way, especially in knife-whirring, screaming detail.

So, great Cybermen (and we don't say that every day). It's also an absolute cracker of a story for Mickey. We couldn't have asked for a better character arc for him. Kudos to the writers who rescued him from a nails-scraping-over-blackboard start, developed him to the point that he was a more interesting companion than Rose, then completed his story with character development that was uplifting without being mushy. Our only complaint is that he left all too soon: we certainly know who we'd rather stayed behind in the parallel dimension.

Unfortunately, however, pretty much everything else stinks.

There are many, many badnesses, but what we object to more than anything else is the fiasco of a plot: less full of holes, more one giant hole. First, and most important: why are the Cybermen necessary at all? Sure, Lumic is dying and wants to Cyberfy himself to live forever. Fair play to him. But why, why, why does he insist on everyone else Cyberfying as well? He doesn't need them to run the world, because he's already got the money and the method, via the earpods, to do that. Not only does he lose his source of income if the whole world's one giant Cyberarmy, he doesn't even need the Cybermen he creates to push the humans around, since (earpods again) he has complete control over them. We know at one point he says “I will bring peace to the world”, but he doesn’t really seem to mean it, and it doesn’t fit in with anything else he says about upgrading humans. What does that leave us with? Misery loves company? It makes as much sense as anything else (which is to say none whatsoever).

So all that Cyberman gatecrashing? All that tromping through the streets shepherding humans into the Cyberfactory? All a complete waste of time. Yes, the bit where they smash through the windows is terrific, but given that all the guests are wearing earpods, it's utterly pointless. And when your Cybermen are a waste of time, that makes the whole Cyberman story a waste of time too.

And while we're on the subject of Cybermen, Lumic must be on some pretty powerful drugs, because he's clearly hallucinating. The brain is welded to the exoskeleton? Um, we don't think so. A living brain has the consistency of custard, and you're not going to be welding it (welding it?) to anything without reducing it to a puddle. This might be forgivable if the brain contents were downloaded, in a science fictiony sort of way, onto some sort of chip which was then welded into place, but we know that isn't the case because Lumic emphasises that it's a living brain in there. Also, the body will never age or die? Huh? Hasn't he ever owned a car?

Then there's the Cyberfeet. Most of the time, they make a racket you could hear from Birmingham - except when that's inconvenient. The Doctor and chums, after running around outside the mansion trying to avoid the Cybermen, then moronically allow them to surround them. Now how did they manage to let that happen without them (or us) hearing the patter of metal feet? Fluffy Cyberslippers? And the same goes for the Cyberman who sneaks up behind Mrs Moore: although it's a genuinely scary moment, it's also a total cheat as the Cyberman doesn't make a sound. Makes no sense at all.

And finally, after getting to see how they get into the suit, we find out what happens when the Cybes work out what the suit looks like. The first go at this is with the chilly Sally: there's no doubt that this is a touching moment, but it's sadly undermined by the horribly cliched "I'm so cold" lines. Then we see the rest of the Cybermen working out what's happened: this should have been incredibly powerful, but what with the exploding heads and the wiggling jiggling Cybermen, instead it descends into farce. What a wasted opportunity.

Enough about the Cybermen: back to what passes for a plot. Mickey and Ricky zap off to distract the Cybermen. But why? What are they distracting them from and what difference will it make? The people continue to shuffle on regardless. Later, Mickey manages to hack into a complex and sophisticated computer system by rattling a few keys very quickly (if he's that good, why is he working in a garage back at home?), then the Doctor, having received the code Mickey has magically managed to discover, transmits the code by shoving the entire phone into the machinery. What? It's like trying to open a door by putting your keys in your handbag and pushing your handbag into the lock. Of course, we shouldn't have been surprised at the cluelessness of this given that the Cybermen call themselves "human .2". Tee hee! For those unfamiliar with software naming conventions, a point something upgrade (as opposed to, say a 2.0 when the previous version was 1.0) is a very minor upgrade indeed, probably containing not much more than a few bug fixes. If Cybermen are humans .2, we can't wait to see what the 2.0 version is going to be. Three miles tall with purple tentacles, probably. Then there's "Maximum deletion!". Er, as opposed to what? Deleting just slightly? Somebody get this writer a copy of Computing For Dummies, quick.

So the plot's just plain dumb. And worse than that, it's set in a parallel world which seems completely random. The zeppelins, which are a hoary SF alternate-world cliche, look nice, but we never hear any explanation for them. Nor is there any obvious reason why the toffs live in them (another stonking cliche), since life at ground level looks pretty normal to us. Then there's the mysterious curfew. As everyone knows, parallel worlds must by law have a fascist government, but this seems the only sign of it (the President, in a reliably excellent performance from Don Warrington, seems like a perfectly principled man to us and not the fascist tyrant the curfew suggests). It's as if they pulled a few differences from our world out of a hat, then jammed them into the script no matter how ill-assorted they were.

Then there's the other major plot strand: the Rose and Pete story. Argh! Why? We did all this last year in Father's Day, and we so don't need to go through it all again. Father's Day worked brilliantly: what did they possibly think could be added? Yes, we get to see what happens when Rose's father refuses to accept that she's his daughter, but so what? It's like watching an alternate ending on a DVD: a curiosity, but no more. It can't hope to pack any emotional wallop when we've seen the story before.

As for the rejigging of Pete into a heroic freedom fighter: sorry, but we didn't believe it for a second. Jackie, too, is a horrible failure: we think she's supposed to be Evil Superbitch, but since most of the time she's exactly like our-world Jackie with bling glued on, the bits where she gets all snarly just make her look like she's got some kind of personality disorder.

While we're on snarliness: Ricky. Oh, dear. Sorry, Noel: we love Mickey to bits (especially after that gloriously gratuitous interrogation-in-underpants scene. We have no idea why Ricky et al would deem that necessary, but we're very happy they did), but a frowny face does not a character make. Even more snarly (and even less successful) is John Lumic. He could have been an interesting villain - all angst and twisted idealism - but instead he's a bog-standard Russell T Davies ranty capitalist/Davros knockoff. Horrible, horrible, horrible.

About the only other character we do like, and she takes until the second episode to make her presence felt, is Mrs Moore. A middle-aged techy woman is about as uncliched a character as you can get, and we think she's fabulous. Of course, we knew as soon as she mentioned her husband and kids that she was for the great database in the sky. Shame: she'd make a terrific companion.

And, of course, there's Rose and the Doctor. Despite the uselessness of the Rose plot, Billie Piper soldiers on womanfully: it's not her fault that her story has the impact of a damp haddock. And the Doctor? It's easy to leave him till last, because it's not a story in which he has a great deal of heft. He's good in the Mrs Moore bits - the "I'm so sorry" is a nicely Doctorly moment, even if it is a replay of his response to the diseased people in New Earth. The bits where he's squawking his surrender are not so good, especially when he uses a Get Out Of Jail Free piece of tech to resolve the cliffhanger. (There's a lot of that in this story, and it damps down the impact even more.) The bits where he escapes from the house without trying to help anyone else and gives them up for dead once he's out are appalling. And in the rest he's pretty much just along for the ride.

Love those Cybermen (we still can't believe we're saying that). Otherwise, file under disappointing.

MORAL: Technology. It's coming to get you.



“It’s alive!”? They have got to be kidding us. Hasn’t Tom MacRae ever read or watched any other SF? (See also the Cyberman grabbing the zeppelin’s ladder.)


About three seconds after successfully producing a working prototype, Lumic has Cyberfactories all around the world. Efficient, isn't he?


Doesn’t the Doctor have a telepathic link with the TARDIS? So how come he doesn’t know it’s not dead? And even if the link was on the blink, he should have noticed he was speaking Gallifreyan while Rose and Mickey were speaking English.


Now it’s Rose who’s calling the zeppelins beautiful. (Well, it wouldn’t have been very tactful admiring the Cybermen, would it?)


Earpods? iPods? Geddit? Yes, we thought you would. As a satire on our dependence on technology it’s not exactly subtle.


It’s an excellently freaky moment when they turn the light on and see the row of Cybermen all down the corridor, even freakier as they walk past them, and freakiest of all as the Cybermen start to come to life. But why have they been put on ice in the first place? Why go to all the trouble of converting everybody if you’re just going to put them in the fridge?


If Lumic's so keen on the glory that is Cyberness, why is he so reluctant to be Cyberfied himself? Also, why does he need a tube-ridden chair and dry ice afterwards?


Why does the building start exploding as soon as the Cybermen work out what’s happened to them?


And it's back to the same stairs again as they escape the Cyberfactory. Abandoned factories: the new quarry.


Yes, it handily ties up a dangling plot point and all, but why on (parallel) Earth would Mickey have gone looking for the Doctor’s suit? How would he even know where he’d left it?


One of the reasons Mickey stays in this dimension is that his gran’s still alive, yet the first thing he does is swan off to Paris. Fair enough – after all, there are Cyberfactories to be given the phone treatment - but shouldn’t he at least have fixed that stair carpet before he left?

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