"He's gone home."
Much as it was back in the Hartnell days, in the new series episodes have not only an individual title but also an individual identity. Unmistakably Part 2 of 2, "The Age of Steel" is the action-packed follow-up to last week's "Rise of the Cybermen", but it is also a very different animal. The Cybermen are no longer 'rising,' they are here. We know there are two Mickeys. We know about their Gran and about Pete Tyler being alive in this universe. "Rise of the Cybermen" set the pieces up, "The Age of Steel" knocks 'em down. And what's more, it does it in style.
I found the episode's opening hilarious – after all that hype and all that build up the Doctor just uses that TARDIS battery or whatever it was to disable the marauding Cybermen closing in for the kill. What a cop out! It makes the sonic screwdriver look like a sophisticated plot device! Still, I couldn't really complain as within moments all our heroes were aboard their "Scooby Doo" van and things were really starting to kick off. As with last week the surprises kept on coming, although unlike last week, I was quite disappointed them. Having Pete turn out to be the Preachers' informant, working against Lumic, seemed like a bit of an easy way to get Pete over with the audience. I preferred him as an ordinary, money-grabbing Del Boy – a wide boy, but a wide boy with his heart in the right place. Moreover, having Ricky turn out to be London's Most Wanted "for parking tickets" was equally disappointing, especially considering Noel Clarke's intense performance in the previous episode. I have to admit that a few minutes into "The Age of Steel" I was losing faith… and then it happened. Just like that, he's dead. "Who?" I hear you ask. Exactly!
I guess I was being a bit daft for thinking that they might kill Mickey off, but considering how some companions have fared in previous Cybermen stories it isn't unprecedented! When I saw Noel Clarke running down that road, I really didn't know whether it was Mickey or Ricky that had been 'deleted' by the Cybermen. Thankfully, Mickey hadn't 'done an Adric' and from that point on we were treated to one of the most nail biting, edge-of-the-seat Doctor Who episodes ever.
The design and cinematography on this episode is outstanding. "Rise of the Cybermen" was set primarily in daylight with night only falling as the Cybermen rose, and although last week's visuals were technically more impressive, I found "The Age of Steel"'s darker, grittier look much more appealing. The Zeppelin hovering above Battersea Power Station is a particularly powerful image; it looked like something torn out of the pages of a graphic novel. Even more disturbing were the scenes of London's inhabitants willingly walking like cattle into the Power Station; into their doom! As for the Cybercontroller – wow! As it was shot in 1967 most of us can forgive the original, quite feeble Cybercontroller that we met in "The Tomb of the Cybermen," but by 1985 the show's producers should have learned their lesson. A gigantic dome on the top of a normal Cyberman's head looks atrociously bad. A Cyberman with eyes of blazing light and his gigantic brain visible, however, is far more effective. It's a pity that we didn't get to see as much of Roger Lloyd Pack in the flesh this week, but at least we had the consolation of having him voice the Cybercontroller that Lumic is 'upgraded' to.
"Why am I cold? Why so cold? Where's Gareth? He can't see me. It's unlucky the night before."
Ouch. As well as being an episode absolutely crammed full of action, "The Age of Steel" is also a very moving story. The Doctor realises that the key to bringing down these Cybermen is to find that code that deactivates their emotional inhibitor chips, driving them mad with the knowledge of what they have become. Of course, if he did that he would be dishing out immense suffering on what are, at the end of the day, innocent victims. It's an intriguing dilemma, but in the end the Doctor has to save the world – no matter what. The death of the female Cyberman really tugs on those heartstrings – of all the nights to be robbed of her humanity, she became a Cyberman on the eve of her wedding. It's heart breaking. The story of Angela Price – Mrs. Moore – is equally sad. Mrs. Moore didn't do much last week, but in this episode she really gets drawn into the action and enjoys a fantastic adventure alongside the Doctor before her inevitable demise. Characters like this are what really make this new series of Doctor Who so special – they could so easily be written as throwaway parts; red-shirts who you aren't ever really meant to care about; characters that are only in the story so that they can die. When they are written (and portrayed) as well as Mrs. Moore, Clive, Jabe, Gwyneth, Lynda with a 'y' and the like are, we remember each and every one of them, reminding us that it is death – not Rose – that is the Doctor's constant companion and that this life that he leads is wrought with danger.
My money was on Pete for the chop after Ricky bought the bullet, but in retrospect I can see exactly why MacRae killed off the alternate Jackie instead. Not only do we have to see her as a Cyberman – how weird is that? – at the end of the episode we are left with a widowed Jackie in our universe and a widowed Pete in another. Hmmm. In the old Cybermen stories, whenever a character we knew became a Cyberman (Lytton, for example) we never saw them 'finished', for want of a better word. We'd always see their face. Hear their voice. There would always be some clue. "The Age of Steel" comes at things from a completely knew angle – the "which one was it?" angle. We met the Jackie Cyberman, and then she vanished into the crowd and could have been any one of their uniform number. It's one of the most frightening Cyberman scenes ever – forget Star Trek's 'Borg' and the like, the Cyberman represents the complete loss of self. Even your face.
The ending was absolutely fantastic. It was so rewarding to see Mickey absolutely kick ass! He pilots a Zeppelin (all those hours on the Playstation came in handy!), baits a Cyberman, hacks into a computer and saves the world. On top of that, he even demonstrates a different type of courage, standing up to Ricky's friend Jake and refusing to leave without the Doctor, Rose and Pete. And so the idiot saves the world. Of course, the Doctor helps – luckily his spiel about "ordinary, stupid, brilliant people… some idiot…" didn't fall upon deaf ears!
In terms of suspense, you can't beat having the Doctor, Rose and Pete dangling from a Zeppelin over an exploding factory with the Cybercontroller grabbing at their ankles! I was sure Pete was dead, especially when the sonic screwdriver didn't work immediately; it was so, so well done. I also enjoyed the shot of the Cybermen looking in the mirror and letting out a painful, mechanical howl. MacRae did everything right with his script. Doctor Who stalwart Graeme Harper, the first classic series director to return, did everything right and more. As for the actors… there's not a bad performance in there. Tennant, Piper, Pack, Dingwall, Coduri and Helen Griffin (Mrs. Moore) all give 110%, Andrew Hayden Smith (Jake) isn't bad, and Noel Clarke completely steals the show – just as he should if this is indeed his swansong. Somehow though, I doubt we've seen the last of Mickey.
Or Pete, for that matter. Unable to cope with Rose's revelation that she is his daughter (of sorts), "The Age of Steel" concludes with Pete slipping away into the night, his understated exit overshadowed by the departure of Mickey, who decides to stay behind to look after his Gran and fight the remaining Cybermen from his van.
"Nothing wrong with a van. I once saved the universe with a big yellow truck…"
Out of six episodes this year, half of them have ended on tearjerkers. I have no objection at all to pathos and such 'soap' elements in Doctor Who; I feel that the 'real life' element they bring to the show only add to the magic and somehow make it all much more real. Rose obviously doesn't want to leave Mickey behind because they've been through so much together and probably because subconsciously, he's her backup. "What if I need you?" she selfishly asks him, but the time has come for him to stop playing second fiddle to the Time Lord who turned his life upside down.
"We had something a long time ago, but not anymore."
Gags about the Cybermen's marching sounding like Wallace's "Wrong Trousers" aside, this two-parter has certainly been handled brilliantly by all involved. To be fair, I was never a massive fan of the Cybermen in the classic series, but after a trip on this phenomenal roller coaster ride I cannot wait until they come back. That final shot of the episode, the shooting star or whatever it was… something following in the TARDIS's wake, perhaps? I have a funny feeling that Mickey, Pete and the Cybermen will all be back in our universe before long…
Until then, we'll have to make do with "Gatiss by gaslight…"
It's such hardship being a Doctor Who fan these days!