Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Rise of the Cybermen"

Good grief.
One thing I think I ought to say from the outset is that I like the Cybermen. I might even like them more than the Daleks under some circumstances. Maybe it's because I think Cyborgs are cool. Maybe I think they have a nice aesthetic. Maybe it's the fact that they killed Adric, I just don't know. But you know who the Cybermen are, these classic Doctor Who villains that I have a soft spot for? I'll tell you. They're aliens from the planet Mondas who began replacing parts of their bodies with cybernetics to make themselves stronger to survive their orphan planet's conditions who in the process abandoned emotions and strove to gain power in the galaxy. They're sneaky, they're cruel, they're calculating and they represent the dangers of sacrificing one's soul for logic and ruthless cunning in the quest for power. You know what they aren't? The brains of people from a parallel universe Earth in gigantic robotic bodies stomping around with a noise like pistons wrestling shouting "Delete!" like they wish they were the Daleks but have a slightly lamer catchphrase. The Cybermen in the classic stories were manipulative schemers with an unpleasant 'cruel but fair' sort of ambition, who would engage with the Doctor in debate over the value of emotion. These "Cybermen" are little more than stooges who march around looking intimidating and zapping people.
This is because everything is masterminded by evil wheelchair-bound businessman John Lumic, aka Roger Lloyd Pack, aka Trigger from Only Fools and Horses. He is probably the biggest ham to be a villain since the series resumed, sitting around in a wheelchair with a life support device so that it's completely clear that he's at least partially a rip-off of Davros, cackling madly and uttering every line in a booming staccato voice accompanied by bulging eyes which is clearly meant to make him seem machine-like but actually makes him seem like a panto baddie, full of dastardly cliches. I'm surprised he never ties Rose to the railroad tracks or twirls a moustache because he makes Ainley's version of the Master seem restrained and subdued.
Clearly this episode tries to riff on the apparent dangers of widespread and proliferate consumer items, represented with typical New Series subtlety by the "EarPods", because we all know Apple is an evil corporation which is trying to destroy individuality and personal identity. Of course iPods allow anyone to listen to whatever music they want, don't they? You can cherry-pick your favourite songs, you can make playlists that appeal to specifically you, and so on? That's pretty individualistic, isn't it? So I'm not sure what kind of point this is trying to make. Of course it does seem slightly ironic in the wake of the iPhone, because everyone seems to have them these days and they do make people a bit drone-like at times. But I don't have an iPhone. I don't even have an iPod. I'm not saying that in an "Ooh look at me I'm so different" way, I'm just saying it in a "this message really isn't getting across" way. Of course apparently mass media and mass communication are being satirised too, aren't they? The telephone downloads everything straight into people's heads. How they accomplish that with things you stick in your ears I'm not sure, and the Doctor has a pithy moment of claiming how not everything is different in this parallel world. Well there may be a point in the idea that big corporations can be dangerous and that there is a crisis of identity in the modern age, and if I really wanted to make it seem like my English qualifications were paying off I'd say that the whole Mickey/Ricky thing further exemplifies a loss of individuality in an industrialised society, but that would be reading too much into things because the point is never made in a meaningful way. Before the episode can really say anything, the Cybermen are zapping everyone, there's screaming and that's it. Maybe Part 2 will hold wonders for us.
Anyway there's lots of other stuff to talk about. The Doctor/Rose situation has changed again because they're now busy alienating Mickey and he's hoping he might find something better in this parallel world. I can't blame him, I wouldn't want to ride around in the TARDIS with the Tenth Doctor and Rose the way they are acting.
Speaking of the TARDIS, it dies because apparently it 'draws its power from the universe'. No one knows what that means, but the Doctor finds a disused prop from Blake's 7 under the floorboards and uses up 'ten years' of his life to restore power to the TARDIS. No one knows what this means either, because a Time Lord's lifespan is essentially indefinite, which is lucky because this is a cheap cop-out to escape the situation, as we are rapidly becoming accustomed to in this series like the feeling of someone's warm sick running down your shirt.
Meanwhile Trigger has sent Michael Caine out to round up some hobos and the like to turn into Cybermen, and he's in an International Electromatics truck because they thought it might be nice to sully the reputation of Second Doctor serial "The Invasion" in this dirge of an episode. He stands there making a speech like a raconteur about all the lovely food in the van despite the fact that the hobos have all run inside already and he's seemingly not even aware of the one remaining hobo who is briefly wracked with indecision. Trigger turns them into emotionless remote controlled drones for absolutely no reason considering that he just wants to be immortal and then, in one of the weakest attempts to force a shocking contrast, Michael Caine listens to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" to block out the sound of people screaming under Cyber-conversion, which apparently involves a whole load of the most unnecessarily sinister-looking blades ever conceived spinning around and going up and down on retractable arms. Pointless nonsense designed to make the drooling masses think that they're watching 'clever telly', it's solely for cheap laughs and the cheapening of the Cybermen from motivated aliens to motiveless moron drones, much like the people watching.
Of course out of the infinite possible parallel universes they could have encountered, the Doctor, Rose and Mickey have dropped into one where it just so happens that Rose's dad is still alive, is wealthy and successful, and somehow married the same woman, and Mickey's grandmother inexplicably lives in exactly the same place in spite of the apparently vast political, cultural and technological differences between this universe and theirs. Now remember how much of a drag all the daddy stuff was in "Father's Day"? Let's do it all again! Rose has to see her childless parallel parents for some reason, it's incredibly convenient because all the corporate people the Doctor wants to talk to about the information downloads are at their big party, and Mickey gets abducted by two Welsh people in a van.
The Mickey/Ricky thing is not that bad, I suppose, especially considering it's Mickey seeing a new side to himself and you get to see the ways he's changed with the Doctor and so on, as well as what he could become. Nonetheless it's played a bit for laughs and the classic 'mistaken identity' scenario and the freedom fighters seem incredibly arbitrary. Rose tries to bond with her non-parents in spite of the fact that they really have nothing to do with her and it was all done before in "Father's Day" and she discovers with cumbersome predictability that in spite of their wealth and power they're unhappy, and that they don't have a better life for not having her. It's all very textbook and safe, from the mass conformity technology to the freedom fighters to Rose. They are terrified of saying anything more because that would mean a little intelligence would have infilitrated the programme. The Doctor does absolutely nothing besides run around, shout a bit and use a computer, and they get cornered by the Cybermen. One thing I'll say in it's favour is that upon this rewatch I found it to be reasonably pacey and the narrative flows in such a way that you don't get bored despite its stupidity. Nonetheless it's completely by-the-numbers and it's a terrible way to reintroduce the Cybermen. They may have become a bit of a joke towards the end of the classic series but that doesn't mean they needed to be replaced with this infinitely less interesting origin story and overly-commercial toy-marketing robotic design to replace the sleek semi-organic look. Hopefully we will get the Mondasians back one day.
Oh, and whoever thought that "Human Point Two" was some kind of clever, trendy, up-to-the-moment computing joke/reference has absolutely no idea how software versions work. Forget deleting rogue elements unsuitable for Cyber-conversion, they should hop in the TARDIS, go back to when this episode was written and delete the script.

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