Review: Rise of the Cybermen

Last Alteration: Monday 08 May 2006


Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz- Until the last five minutes when things finally kick in.

NO SPOILERS (unless you've somehow avoided the well publicised return of a character from last series- and of course the episode's title goes for obvious) BUT SOME DETAIL

There was some doubt as to whether the Daleks would work with a twenty-first century audience- but they did. Their classic design captured a fresh batch of fans, the monsters were wonderfully re-defined in Robert Shearman's story and for long-time viewers, the Daleks were more powerful than they'd been since first playing second-fiddle to Davros.

So the return of the Cybermen has a lot to live up to. The good news is they look great. The re-design which is as camp as C3P0 joining The Village People, works brilliantly with effective sound design- all stomping metal feet beating out a storm-trooping tattoo- and choreography of movement succeeding to make the Cybermen finally seem like an unstoppable force that could sweep away entire planets.

It's this relentlessness that makes them so chilling and more reminiscent of those marching hammers from Pink Floyd's The Wall rather than men in BBC robot suits.

Sadly, especially given that clips of the Cybermen in action have been proudly screened for some weeks now, it seems stupid that we have to wait till the close of the episode before we finally see them in full force.

The story is far more concerned with goofing around on a parallel earth and while it's fun to see the London skyline chock-full of dirigibles, one's left feeling the production team just wanted an excuse to bring back Pete Tyler.

Without spoiling the plot, we also get one other fairly easy to predict piece of parallel earth stuff, but by the end of this episode this merely seems like padding. In fact my big criticism of the story is that all of the events featured here could have been covered in fifteen or twenty minutes.

Now this is of course a two-parter, so I'm more than willing to back down if the conclusion really shows that aspects of the opening half were necessary, but I'm not convinced so far.

A constant schism between fans regarding the new series is whether forty-five minutes is long enough to tell a WHO story. My feeling is that single episode stories have generally been a great move, one that has forced writers to work harder, has cut out any amount of capture, escape, re-capture & twisted ankles, and made each fresh week a new event.

The two-parters so far have been less successful and while I realise I'm in a massive minority here, for me only the Slitheen tale justified this length. As with School Reunion, the first episode was more concerned with how travelling with the Doctor had affected the life Rose left behind on earth. The standard alien attack fun was merely something ticking away in the background, though it was handled very well. The second part was frantic action and delivered on the show's adventure remit as well as nicely concluding Rose's story. Whether or not you accept farting aliens or easily hacked submarine defences is unimportant here, what I'm saying is the story was well structured to fit its running time.

While The Empty Child was brilliant, The Doctor Dances dragged five minutes of shuffling zombies we'd already seen the previous week to fill out a whole episode.

Bad Wolf was an entirely separate story to Parting of the Ways and really just ensured that the series' finale had enough of a run up.

Rise of the Cybermen similarly feels like a warm-up act before the main event and I don't feel it can afford to be. It assumes considerable good faith that audiences will be so delighted at seeing Pete Tyler and the alternative Jackie that they'll happily sit through their charming sit-com antics rather than getting righteously irritated that the titular bloody Cybermen still haven't stomped in.

While Pete Tyler was a hit last year, there's a real danger that bringing him back again will weaken the original impact of his return from the dead, the point of which was of course that it was supposedly Rose's ONLY chance to ever meet him.

Basically then, once again, the alternate, affluent Pete & Jackie plot feels like padding.

Roger Lloyd Pack does well to be so entirely dissimilar to his famous role in Only Fools and Horses, here instead doing an uncannily authentic sounding turn as Christopher Lee. His character is nothing more than Michael Gough in that Avengers episode with... oh yes, The Cybernauts- perhaps that was deliberate. While his performance is good, Lloyd Pack isn't given much to do beyond getting miffed when, as with all good mad scientists, the blind fools won't listen to him. Again, I hope he is better served in the conclusion.

Other guests including Don Warrington are fine, though Revelation of the Daleks stalwart, Colin Spaull is especially well cast as the understated but deeply unpleasant sidekick.

The only other major problem here is the population's magic earplugs. These are so stupid looking as to be a constant distraction, looking particularly ridiculous when in 'fully engaged' mode.

So, sorry I've gone on a bit, but to summarise, even if part two is a knock-out, this first half shouldn't take so long to actually do anything. This is in no way director Graham Harper's fault as he certainly manages to get the Cybermen- and let's just remember that they're the reason most people will be watching- to look impressive.

In closing, Marc Platt gets a credit at the end, but don't ask me how similar this is to his Big Finish story, Spare Parts, as, erm, I haven't heard it.

Torchwood reference? Yes.

Jim Hall

  • Read Jim's review of The Girl in the Fireplace.