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Rise of the Cybermen

In the year since I became a Doctor Who fan I've developed some strong preferences. I've come to regard Jon Pertwee's foppish Doctor as a low point in the series' history, and persuading me to watch another Colin Baker-era episode will take some work. I love Tom Baker's Doctor and the quality of the writing and direction that most of that period's work has. I never want to see Davros again and I don't see the big deal about the Master. Daleks can work if done well but when done badly, they're absolutely crap. Cybermen, on the other hand, have been consistently crap in every episode I've seen that they appeared in. Some of these have been fine despite the appearance of blokes in silver suits; Tomb of the Cybermen is very enjoyable for its playing-off of the characters and Earthshock is made worthwhile by the steadfast heroism of Peter Davison's Doctor, the least quirky incarnation but the most righteous one. But even in those episodes, believing that the wooden actors in silver suits were some sort of great menace to anyone took not just willing suspension of disbelief but an active effort of the imagination to pretend that what the acting, costumes and special effects technology couldn't deliver was in fact there on the screen.
So are the new Cybermen any better?
First off, and this is something that continuity enthusiasts and those who do like the original Cybermen will be relieved to hear, the paralell-Earth Cybermen are not the originals. "It's happening again" says the Doctor, as if Cybermen are an idea that turns up in every universe or on every world some time. A repeated meme. But for the purposes of writing and conceptualising them, a fresh start.
Ironically, "Rise of the Cybermen" has more of an old-Who feel to it than any episode of the new series so far. It's slower than the previous few episodes. It's tense, relying on horrors unseen for effect. It's directed by Who veteran Graeme Harper. There's a classic-style crippled, megalomaniac villain (but in keeping with the theme of the new series, he is a man who plays God with human life and intends to extend his own natural life-span by unethical means). And it's the first half of a two-parter. Only in the last five minutes are the tin blokes fully revealed. That means there were 40 minutes that were designed to be rubbish-free, and it shows. In those 40 minutes, we get a fair amount of exposition setting up a rather complex parallel-universe situation, and a good look at a large cast of characters including the members of an underground resistance cell, parellel versions of Rose's parents, a second Mickey and the President of Great Britain, who looked a bit like Colin Powell.
The greater length and slower pace help a lot. Recent episodes have been criticised for going too fast and lacking breathing room. Happily, this one did not have that problem. Nor was the breathing room filled with needless exposition. Everything we needed to know was presented in dramatically meaningful sequences. I am now sold on the idea that, as long as they're given good scripts, two-parters should occur more often.
I'm not yet sold on the tin dudes I've been avoiding talking about in the previous two paragraphs. They look sort of slick and there's a menace to their stomping, military gait, but they're, well, it always boils down to zombies in this series doesn't it? Zombies, zombies, zombies, is all I hear. These are even after brains. They're soulless drones that exist to turn others into drones just like themselves, with no initiative or will of their own. Not even a proper hive-mind like Star Trek's Borg (themselves very derivative of the original Cybermen, but, at least in their original form, better-executed. Why did everything in Trek have to get watered down and wimped out, by the way?). But after only five minutes of screen time, it's too early to tell.
Rise of the Cybermen has at least left me wanting to see more. But with a script, direction and special effects like this one, the Cybermen themselves could be made of Playmobil for all I care.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 14, 2006 8:20 AM.

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