Season 28 Episode 5 – Rise Of The Cybermen, by Tom McRae

May 9, 2008

review by Martin Odoni.

As is so often the case with the Cybemen, I quite enjoyed the episode, but wasn’t besotted with it.

Starting with the Torchwood plugs, I missed the first reference, so I said to my brother with about ten minutes left, “This is great! We’ve gone nearly two full episodes without a cheap plug…” And then right at the end of that very scene, Rose’s para-Dad asks one of the guests about what’s happening at Torchwood and I nearly screamed, “STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT, STOP IT, STOP IIIIIIITT!” We know Torchwood starts soon already, give it a rest!

The plot felt, and indeed looked, a bit like something that was lifted from an episode of Sliders. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Sliders is a series I’m very fond of, but it niggles that it seems to be the be-all and end-all of the scenario. There just wasn’t any exploration of the way the society worked.

I wish the story had focused on Lumic and the alternative society he lives in, and left Rose’s parallel family out of it. For one thing, it was really just recycling stuff from Father’s Day; that bit when para-Daddy asks Rose why she seems so familiar and he feels he can confide in her is almost an exact carbon copy of one of their conversations from last year. For another, it kind of just got in the way of the real storyline; I for one think it would’ve been far more interesting if they’d used that time to develop the details about, say, Ricky’s resistance group a lot more. Still, maybe these things will work a bit better once we’ve seen the story as a whole.

I don’t agree with many of the complaints about Roger Lloyd-Pack’s performance as Lumic. First couple of scenes, that peculiar nasal whine he has at the edge of his voice kept filling my head with images of Owen from The Vicar Of Dibley, and Trigger from OFAH, but I soon got over that, and I thought he conveyed the humiliated desperation of his character quite well. However, am I the only one who gets the feeling Lumic’s just a rather lazy rehash of Davros? He has a vaguely similar voice, the same sinister fanaticism, he even has an over-elaborate wheelchair, and the way he develops the Cybermen is too reminiscent of the way Davros invented the Daleks.

Indeed, the whole episode feels like a fusion of cliches. The Britain the Doctor and chums arrive in, for instance, is clearly another of those corporate-dominated oligarchical societies that British sci-fi has an inexhaustible supply of. The use of Zeppelin airships suggests it might have been a world where the Nazis won the Second World War, although the presence of a black man as President, and Britain’s apparent existence as a distinct, independent country, make that look a bit unlikely.

The final scenes kind of rescue the episode, not least because they manage to revive aspects of Dr Who history without being nostalgia-for-the-sake-of-it. They’re also darn scary, as are the moments when we get glimpses of people being converted. For sure, the Cybermen look far more intimidating than they used to be, although I still don’t think anyone’s managed to come up with an ideal voice for them yet; bringing Nick Briggs back from Dalek-limbo to do the Cyber-leader’s voice was a bit strange. The cliffhanger at the end was scary enough to disguise how similar the “Delete! Delete!” chant is to “Ex-ter-min-ATE! Ex-ter-min-ATE!” – but only just. Mechanical drones repeating a militant catchphrase over and over as they advance on a cornered enemy are of course another awful cliche.

I thought the name ‘Cybus Corporation’ was a bit of a blatant giveaway, although whether I’d have spotted it if I hadn’t known in advance that the Cybermen were going to appear is an interesting question. It’s also a bizarre coincidence that Lumic just happens to invent a new race of cyborgs that are substantially the same as the race from Mondas in our universe.

The bit when the scientist plays The Lion Sleeps Tonight on his mp3 player to drown out the noise of people screaming perhaps says more about the character than you might imagine. I think he secretly hates himself for what he’s let Lumic persuade him to do; he wants to pretend the screams of agony aren’t happening, and what greater contrast is there to the pain of unnatural, mechanical agony, than a song that appeals to the most natural environment and atmosphere of the jungle? Nature is the antithesis of the cyborg, and it’s clear that he prefers nature. Could he turn traitor in the next part?

Overall, it’s tense, atmospheric as ever, and healthily it’s less zany than some episodes over the last fourteen months have been. It’s also probably the scariest episode so far this year. But the story has weaknesses that bring it down a long way, the main ones being that far too many ideas are lifted from elsewhere in series history. And I cannot excuse the Torchwood plugs this time; even at a stretch they can’t justify it, there wasn’t even the most tenuous link to Torchwood in the story here.

Bottom line; 6/10. I would’ve given it 7, but with the overplugging of Torchwood it’s probably lucky not to get downgraded to 5.

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