Rise of the Cybermen
Written By: Tom MacRae
Directed By: Graeme Harper
Produced By: Russell T Davies, Phil Collinson & Julie GardnerBroadcast Date: 13 May 2006
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz for The Gallifrey Times
To celebrate Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary and the upcoming broadcast of Neil Gaiman’s Nightmare in Silver, I’ll be reviewing all of the post-2005 episodes featuring the Cybermen, staring with Rise of the Cybermen and ending with Closing Time – and along the way, finding out which episode’s the best of the bunch.
The Cybermen had been gone for a long time. Since their previous appearance in 1988’s Silver Nemesis, the silver cyborgs had been left to rot for almost two decades. But with series two of the revived series, the Cybermen were finally brought back. And first up in this series of reviews, it’s the first of a two-part story, Rise of the Cybermen.
For an era regarded as pretty light on the sci-fi aspects of Doctor Who, the central premise of Rise of the Cybermen, parallel universes, sounds much more suited to the timey-wimey shenanigans of Moffat’s era than the comparatively sci-fi-light Russell T Davies era. But while it’s an idea that is explored fully later on, the actual concept of parallel universes is left alone, so we can focus on the proper plot of the episode.
The eponymous Cybermen are off-screen for a large chunk of the episode, but their presence is felt throughout the episode – there’s a sense of inevitability that the metal creatures will be let off the leash later on in the episode. It’s a brand new origin story for the Cybermen – no longer are they creatures from twin planet Mondas, they’re the inventions of mad scientist John Lumic, which also means a brand new look for the monsters… but more on that later.
Rise of the Cybermen, while absolutely not a Doctor-lite story, does see less screen-time for David Tennant than usual, who takes a back seat to the more personal stories of Rose and Mickey. Opinion on Rose is split, and while I’ve never been a huge fan of the character, her story’s quite an interesting look into the idea of the differences between universes. In the universe where Rise and Age take place, Rose’s father Pete is still alive, working for John Lumic and flogging health drinks, which understandably tempts Rose into going after him… which she does, by infiltrating parallel Jackie’s birthday party as waiters with the Doctor.
Meanwhile in Cybus Industries, who handily have sold earpieces to pretty much every civilian, they’re busy working on making the Cybermen. Exactly why is never made clear, and it’s a little bit of a sticking point that the only reason that Lumic creates the Cybermen is ‘he’s insane’. Sadly, John Lumic is the nadir of this two-parter – the character’s not badly written, but he’s played so over-the-top and campy by Roger Lloyd Pack that it clouds all perceptions of the character.
But finally, the Cybermen are deployed on Jackie’s party. The introduction shot of the Cybermen to 21st century Who is excellently handled (classic Who director Graeme Harper’s direction is excellent throughout the two-parter, but it’s at his best here) – coupled with the imposing stomping sound effect and excellent re-design, the Cybermen are finally scary again.
But by the point that the Cybermen crash through the windows of the mansion, there’s just five minutes left to go: enough for the Cybermen to show what they’re really capable of. Kudos to Tom MacRae for really making these Cybermen as powerful as possible – they haven’t been bettered in 21st century Who just yet, and that’s partially down to the writing.
There’s a great cliffhanger to finish off the episode, too – the Doctor, Rose, Mickey and the parallel universe gang are cornered by the Cybermen… who refuse their surrender, and order ‘maximum deletion’. While giving the Cybermen a Dalek-esque catchphrase might not be original, but it’s every bit as memorable as ‘Exterminate!’ or er… ‘Sontar-ha!’.
So in conclusion: while the villain of the piece is frankly, rubbish, and the plot’s a little thin, Rise of the Cybermen serves as a great introduction of Doctor Who‘s second most famous villain into the 21st century, complete with a new re-design, as well as setting up The Age of Steel‘s all-out Cyber-fest with an edge-of-your-seat cliffhanger.