Doctor Who 2.5: Rise of the Cybermen review

Review

Rise of the CybermenRise of the Cybermen review

Rose Tyler: They’re people?
The Doctor: They were. Now they’ve had all their humanity taken away.

Production Code: 2.5.
Doctor Who Season: S28 (Ep5).
Story Number: 172a.

In 2005 “Series One” – in re-establishing Doctor Who as one of the nation’s favourite Saturday primetime TV entertainments – also re-established the Daleks, spotlighted as they were in a story halfway through the season and the finale story…

As with that earlier story – Dalek – this episode Rise of the Cybermen is very much a “what it says on the tin” kind of title. Dalek didn’t bother with explaining the origin of the Daleks, it was just a Dalek (just as the Classic Series went a decade without feeling the need for an onscreen origin either). “Series Two” set about reinventing the Number Two Doctor Who monsters for a new era by giving them a new origin, their “Rise”, or rather a new origin for new Cyberman. Number Two Doctor Who monsters? Certainly, though the ranking after these guys becomes a little hazy. Five full “series” into the 21st Century, and five “big” (which I’m going to define as appearing in 3 or more stories) Classic Monsters had returned, with only Ice Warriors and the Yeti of this club of monsters yet to appear.

Although this is the first proper appearance of the Cyberman since the DW revivial, they did have a micro-cameo at the start of Dalek which underscores their importance to the programme. Like Dalek, the proper reveal of the main monster only occurs halfway through the episode. Just as the fading up of the lights after “DOK-TOR!” is rather epic in own way in Dalek, busting through the windows is a less subtle big reveal for the Cybes. They’re present from the very start of this episode though, seen through a haze of light. “Set sail for Britain!” Lumic declares after we see, from the Cybes point of view, the threat they pose.

There’s a bass note of melodrama with the vibe of a Flash Gordon serial in this beginning, as Lumic pronounces his “And how will you do that – FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE?” line.
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We join the Doctor and Rose and Mickey as they explore this parallel world after the TARDIS crashlands. Parallel world? They haven’t landed on Mondas in its early days – the Cybermen equivalent of Skaro – though Mondas was a kind of “twin Earth”. There are multitude of possible reasons for the parallel world – a way of having a conquered Earth without actually having a transformed Earth; not having the production-worry of having to create believable “alien” landscape; the parallel universe thing is important for the arc of the season; the opportunity of being to ignore the convoluted continuity of the Mondas-Telos Cybermen. If the Time War between the Time Lords and Daleks were a way of refreshing the status quo for a new era of those elements of the show, then the plot device of the parallel world was the equivalent for the Cybermen.

It’s another story where the emotional lives of the characters vie for the audiences attention as much as the monster-plot, with some good lines, especiall the one gently highlighting Rose’s jealously and possesiveness of the Tenth Doctor, saying of who she regards as a rival for his attention, “Maybe Lucy’s just a little bit thick”. (The delivery of that line is wonderfully comic.)

“Our greatest step into Cyberspace!”

What this story is seemingly trying to do is some “proper” Science Fiction in the tradition of the original Cybermen scripters, Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler. Meaning, that just as the original Cybermen were a “logical” extension of the then-new human organ transplants, this story has some sort of commentary on our society’s increasing mobile connectedness to the Internet.

Rose’s phone automatically connects to the Internet on this new world, and there’s the “daily download” with the “shared joke” among thousands, but really this was broadcast before smartphones were widespread – before the iPhone! Also before the social – and crucially,the open and shared – connections created by new media Twitter. (Actually Twitter began about the time of broadcast of this story, but took time to become widely used.)

Social Media existed before the rise of Twitter, but the “shared joke” didn’t really exist on any large scale before Twitter and it’s meme-for-the-day and trending hashtags.Rise of the Cybermen reviewCybus Cybermen are connected and unified, as Cybermen always are, though this topical “always on the Internet talking about the same thing” aspect of our society can be commented upon by this readymade aspect of Doctor Who Cybermen. As the next episode shows, unplugging Cybermen from the unified idea of emotion-control gives “total perspective” to their minds, in much the same way that some Twitter users are suprised with a jolt with how many tweets they’ve actually produced; the fact they’re permanently plugged in.

So this reading of this episode makes sense in 2011 – curiously though at the time of broadcast of 2006, with mobile technology not really having any sort of comparable wideranging connected “Cybersociety”, this aspect maybe seemed sort of thin. However, what I’m saying (probably) is: Rise of the Cybermen predicted the popularity of Twitter.
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So Lumic is a Davros for the Cybermen – Davros’s motivation was fascism, the Kaled race would conquer all others starting with Thals no matter what. There’s an obvious Nazi undertow to Genesis of the Daleks, and there’s a hint here too with the exchange “New Germany?” No as, “This is the homeland, the birthplace!”

Lumic though is trying to conquer mortality, and Cybermen seem programmed to “help” the humans’ suffering. These motivations are sort of clear, but the cliffhanger seems shoehorned into this worldview of the Cybermen – there’s no real reason given for the Doctor and the others not to be carted away for conversion, and there’s the immediate jeopardy of “deletion”, but shouldn’t they want to “help” them instead? Although the mobile-technology aspect makes even more sense as subtext in 2011, this cliffhanger remains a rather unsatisfactory one.

Rating: 3/5 (for this part of the story).
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(The Rise of the Cybermen on bbc.co.uk/programmes/)

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