The Age of Steel


Let’s say there’s two sorts of cliffhangers. The sort where the regular cast are in danger, and the sort where you don’t know what’s going to happen next. I understand that there’s a lot of nostalgia attached to the first sort, but honestly, if all you can think of to resolve it is “the Doctor had a random piece of the TARDIS that destroys monsters” then frankly it’s not worth it.1 Also — now all sorts of smart arses are going to be asking why the Doctor doesn’t destroy monsters with TARDIS bits all the time. ‘The Age of Steel’ definitely wins the “Worst Cliffhanger Resolution Ever” prize.2

Luckily, after it’s lame beginnings, the conclusion to ‘Rise of the Cybermen’ actually works pretty well. They say the TARDIS travels from genre to genre, and these stories have taken us firmly into blockbuster movie world, which was a bit of a shock to the system after the sentimental, emotional preceding episodes. It’s also lifted a little from the Patrick Troughton serial ‘The Invasion’3 which is reasonably justified given the parallel setting. After running from the Cybermen, our heroes decide to attack the Battersea Power Station, Lumic’s Cyber-conversion facility4 from three different entrances. Lumic meanwhile is summoning everyone in England to the plant via his nifty earpods, and converting them all. Who will be converted? Who will be deleted? Who will get captured and yet cleverly save the day?

‘The Age of Steel’ has two big strengths. The first is the Cybermen. It was about this time last year that we felt sorry for a Dalek for the first time; it’s happening again, but for different reasons. When a lone Cyberman wails at its reflection, while the guilty Doctor looks on in horror, it’s one of the best moments in the series. And the other side of the process, the actual slicing, dicing cyber-conversion, is probably as brutally scary as the series can ever get. Those nasty little tools, cutting away, were fantastic. And who could not be shocked when the humans regain control of themselves, only for a few of them to find that they’re about to be ripped into pieces?

The action is good too. Cleverly, they’ve realised that we’re pretty sure that Rose, the Doctor and Mickey won’t die; so after killing one guest character, they continue to put the others in danger. Don’t get trapped on the ladder Mrs Moore! Don’t get pulled off the ladder, Pete! Nice work. Everything here is far in advance of the cartoonish antics in ‘World War Three’ last year — nicely paced and convincingly filmed. And to top it all off, one of the more convincing plot-resolutions so far this year. Amusingly, I’ve even seen people online calling the emotional inhibitor a deus-ex-machina, which as we all know is latin for “That seemed convenient”. I don’t see what anyone’s problem with it is; as weaknesses go, it makes sense and is perfectly justified given that the Cybermen had only just been created. I’m sure Human.2.1 would have blocked the network’s ability to remotely disable the inhibitor.

If I had a problem this week, it was only that at the end, the story was trying to make us cry again, and it just felt out of place. One sorrowful goodbye I could have taken, but two seemed like a deliberate attack on my tear glands, and a rather weak one. Part of my problem was the music; with all the soppiness, the ‘Rose theme’ had time to go around and reach its climax three times before the TARDIS left, which seems excessive. With two genuinely sad endings preceding this story, I wasn’t about to cry because Mickey had found his place in the universe. I’ll miss him, but I’m really glad for the character, and for Noel Clarke, that he came this far.

So the Cybermen have risen, and it was good. It lacked the freewheeling sparkle of a Davies script, or the romantic feel of a Moffat tale, but it was genuinely exciting, scary and fun, and we shouldn’t be taking that for granted. In the end, I just wish I was a kid in the playground again — with their regimented march and easily reproducible killing motion, these Cybermen were perfect for imitating in the playground.

  1. Give us more like ‘Bad Wolf’, or even Battlestar Galactica‘s season two gem, ‘Pegasus’. The sort where you’re thrilled rather than not-scared.
  2. Though it must be said, it was a cute touch to have the effect be similar to the TARDIS-Rose destruction of the Daleks in ‘The Parting of the Ways’.
  3. I read the novelisation to ‘The Invasion’ in primary school, which was awesome. Particularly exciting was the escape from a building by grabbing onto a helicopter’s rope ladder. Imagine my disappointment when I bought the video, and found that the episode with the helicopter was missing from the BBC’s archives. If nothing else, I’m grateful to ‘The Age of Steel’ for finally letting me see it in some form.
  4. I’m not sure if you’ve all caught on yet, but in Cybermen episodes, you just add “Cyber” to the start of every word you see. Cybercontroller, Cybercontrol, Cyberconversion, Cyberkitchensink.
We think of the humans. We think of their difference and their pain. They suffer in the skin. They must be upgraded. — Cyberman

2 Responses to “The Age of Steel”

  1. I totally agree. Especially on the resolving-cliffhanger thing. It’s up there with scolding the cybermen and telling them to “Go to your room!”

    What happened to Doctor Who plotlines that went on for three-or-four episodes?? This set itself up so well, and then resolved itself far too quickly!

  2. The cliffhanger resolution was a heinous crime against cliffhanger-kind. Here’s hoping that the upcoming 2-parter does the idea more justice.

    That said, I don’t think a three or four part episode is the way to go. That’s a six or eight-parter in the old money, and traditionally they were always 2 parts padding, 4 parts good. ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ not withstanding.

    If they hadn’t spent so much time running about the streets randomly at the start they could have packed a bit more in. Someone on the Outpost Gallifrey forum was saying that as long as there’s a twist in the middle of a 45 minute episode, it’ll feel way longer. This episode didn’t really have that.