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The Age of Steel

Series Two, Episode Six
Eddy Wolverson

“Where’s Mickey?”
“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.

“Just don’t.”

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!

Phil Baron

My enjoyment of this week’s episode was spoilt somewhat by the editorial staff of The Sun’s TV Mag on Saturday who printed the following plot giveaway: “This episode could be Mickey’s last. When his double dies, he’s faced with a huge decision” (ooh, what could that be?). Idiots.

Despite this spoiler I still managed to enjoy Age of Steel, probably more than its immediate predecessor, largely because of the stunning visuals. This one had probably the best effects we’ve seen so far since the series was brought back, the CGI work not letting it down as it did in New Earth, for instance.

That said, has anyone else noticed that the stairwells the Doctor, Rose and Pete climbed to escape from the burning building at the end bore a startling resemblance to ones seen in both New Earth and Rose? Perhaps stairwells are going to be to the new series what quarries were to the original show.

Anyway, getting back to the effects, I particularly liked the zeppelin-rescue that Mickey and that bloke from Blue Peter instigated at the end. I hate to think what was going through the minds of the production team when they read about the explosive finale in the script but they pulled off a blinder, creating a spectacle that would not look out of place in a Hollywood blockbuster.

Talking of the script, I noticed some reviewers making disparaging comments last week about writer Tom MacRae’s relative youth but, in my opinion, commissioning a writer barely old enough to remember the Sylvester Mcoy era is no bad thing as it allows the series to be freshened up. So well done to Mr MacRae for being commissioned in the first place and for managing to offer a convincing new back story for the Cybermen.

That said, I did have a couple of problems with the script, not least that Lumic’s motivations for creating the Cybermen seemed awfully similar to Davros’s reasons for building the Daleks. Also, the resolution of last week’s cliffhanger – the Doctor using a spare piece of the TARDIS to wipe out the Cybermen in front of him – was quite possibly the worst cop out in the entire history of the show.

There was also no element of black humour to match last week’s moments where everyone downloaded their daily joke simultaneously and ‘got it’ at the same time (well it made me chuckle), and The Lion Sleeps Tonight was played to drown out the cries of people being ‘upgraded’. Instead, we had the realisation that Ricky was only ‘most wanted’ for parking offences, which was somewhat laboured to say the least.

But there was much more about the script to like than dislike, especially the Cybermen recovering their emotions and Mickey’s development from zero to hero (as DH Confidential put it). I’m a big fan of Noel Clarke in this show and don’t understand why some fans criticise him.

After all, the original idea of the companion was that he or she should be someone the viewer can identify with. The character of Mickey has developed so well because, as he is often excluded by the Doctor and Rose, he fulfils this role by default – although I have to say it didn’t make much sense that he should aspire to be more like his mildly thuggish counterpart.

The parts where the Cybermen recovered their emotions, and were humanised once more, were brilliantly done. For me, Shaun Dingwall was the outstanding guest performer of last year and, while he has less to do this time, Pete’s horror at the discovery of a Cyberised Jackie, and his realisation that in another world he is a father, show what a great actor he is.

Unfortunately, some of the other guest actors were less impressive, due to simple mis-casting. Andrew Hayden Smith did his job well enough, and I’m sure the ladies loved him, but he looked and sounded more like a Big Brother contestant or a member of a boyband than a resistance fighter. I can understand that the Preachers were supposed to be a motley crew but Helen Griffin, as Mrs Moore, looked as out of place as Beryl Reid did in Earthshock, a Cybermen story from back in the day.

The biggest disappointment for me was Roger Lloyd-Pack, in a potentially great role as Lumic. He totally hammed it up to almost pantomime levels and, while I’m sure he is a great actor in serious roles, it didn’t help that, to me, he will always be dopey Trigger in Only Fools and Horses. Sadly, the transition from road sweeper to evil megalomaniac was not one I feel he handled well and his OTT performance undermined the sinister nature of the character.

It makes you wonder if the show’s makers are going to adopt the 80’s team’s approach of using well known but inappropriate people in guest slots (Reid, Bonnie Langford and the less funny one of the Likely Lads spring to mind).

As for the regulars, David Tennant is so well established in the role already that I really believe he can replace Tom Baker as Official Greatest Doctor. At the start of the season I found some of his mannerisms slightly annoying, such as his tendency to go high pitched for no apparent reason, but I’ve got used to it now. Indeed, his ability to switch from light-hearted to deadly serious so smoothly is what sets him apart from his predecessors.

Billie Piper, though, is another matter. There is something about her portrayal of Rose that I really don’t take to, dating back to Season One. Maybe it’s the way the production team continually indulge her so that everything is about Rose, and how events effect Rose – witness, for instance, Mickey’s farewell scene and the cameras focussing on Piper’s, now familiar, blubbing face despite it being Noel Clarke’s big moment. I’m sorry, Billie is a good actress but not good enough, in my opinion, to warrant such constant camera hogging.

Mickey’s decision to stay and help the Preachers in their worldwide resistance against the Cybermen made dramatic sense but made for a bittersweet ending. Unlike a lot of fans, I’ve always thought the Mickey character was extremely likable and of great benefit to the show.

Since he joined the TARDIS crew he has provided both comic relief and, as I mentioned before, he was a character for the audience to identify with.

I just hope that, with Mickey’s departure, we are not going to see more of those cheesy moments between the Doctor and Rose where they look into each other’s eyes in that oh so meaningful way (they’re fond of each other, we get it!).

Anyway, I digress. To sum up Age of Steel, I would say that it was the best looking episode of the new series so far and that it offered a fitting departure for one of the new season’s better regular characters. Who knows, maybe there’s another spin-off on the horizon called Mickey Smith And Geordie Bloke Fight Cybermen In a Parallel World. In a van.

Steev Thulin-Hopper

I hate it because all the mocking derision that I’ve spent the intervening week honing has to be junked and I am left with shamefaced admiration, guilty of second guessing BBC Wales and showing why they produce it and I, er, don’t.

For instance- the clankily butch cybermen of ‘Rise’. Oh, how we laughed. Just robots, surely? An absolute disgrace and an insult to 40 years of cyber-lore. Stomp stomp stomp they went- big clanky boots sounding like they were walking on biscuit tins. Empty biscuit tins, at that. What was laughable last week became a masterstroke of sound design and direction, this. The sheer tsunami of industrial noise that signalled the cybermen marching became their signature beat. Like a mechanised Fourth Reich- the dreams of wartime Germany writ large. Terrifying.

For instance- John Lumic, the “Davros-lite mad scientist” behind these ramped-up monsters. But he wasn’t, was he? He wasn’t just another crippled genius with a grudge, he was a person. And in his death, his ‘upgrading’, we saw the real horror of what he had unleashed… but understood that he never once saw it too. He protested, yes, but after conversion- and with his personality still seemingly intact- he showed no bitter remorse at his fate. Quite the reverse. The cybermen gave their creator a nudge in the right direction after all, like good children should. Thinking it over - why shouldn’t he have maintained his personality? He built the cybermen to conform to his ideals. Part of his brain had already been upgraded… just by biology and philosophy, not cybernetics. Quite right that he should remain as the spokesman. Yes, the cybermen had become a brand- and every brand needs a brand manager.

For instance- the alternates of Jackie, Pete and Mickey. Hasn’t this story been done? Ah, but no. Pete rejected Rose, stumbling away to get on with his life, leaving her open mouthed with disappointment. A cursory dismissal- not what we were expecting. Jackie got upgraded (at last, spectacularly, putting to bed those sniggering queries about ‘cyberwomen’) and Mickey… well, that’s another story. If this year has a running theme, then there it is- loss and disappointment. How many times, over the past six episodes have we been shown characters in mourning- whether it be for a loved one or for the past? How many times have things gone awry, on a small, unexpected and personal level- providing little sharp shocks- like the exile at the end of ‘Tooth and Claw’? Like Rose being confronted with her own future, personified in Sarah Jane? Like Mickey realising he’s “the tin dog”? All of them serving to undermine the Doctor and Rose’s relationship. Last year they swanned around throughout time without a care in the world, having “the trip of a lifetime”… at least until the daleks came back. This year, the fun is over and life in the vortex isn’t just throwing monsters at them. Monsters and threats to the universe we can deal with in Doctor Who, but all this is new- and much, much more serious. This is going somewhere, mark my words. Someone is going to act upon the continual battering of disappointment they are receiving, and do something very silly indeed.

So maybe, this will be remembered as the one where Mickey left. It depends upon your take on this new Doctor Who, as to how you react to that. I’m very, very sorry to see Noel Clarke go- in fact, I was left at the end wishing we could follow Mickey’s adventures- cleaning the world of cybermen, rather than travel with this ever-so-slightly grating and annoyingly overconfident new Doctor. That’s no criticism of David Tennant- I’m positive the performance is expertly judged and is like this for a reason- and I’m sure that, by series end, we’ll all be agog at how marvellously it all becomes apparent. Maybe the show won’t win quite so many awards next year from the Great Unwashed- but in our geeky fan hearts, we’ll love it even more than we did last time. Maybe, at the end of ‘The Age of Steel’ I wanted us to go with Mickey because his future looked positive and exciting and fun. Whereas I have a distinct feeling that life with the Doctor is about to get a lot darker and a lot more troubling.

‘The Age of Steel’, as a second half, outshone its predecessor and whipped it soundly in the process. Everything that *seemed* dubious was given justification and became an important point in the bigger stories going on. Everything that *was* dubious last week- the pacing, some of the dialogue- was improved upon. Slick, action packed, and for only the second time this series- truly scary. The tunnel of ‘deactivated’ cybermen, the many times they lurched unexpectedly into view, cyberJackie, the cyber-mincing-machine, all have the potential to be iconic bits of Who-horror. And to make it even better- it had its fair share of silliness as well: the comedy cyberdancing, exploding cyberhead, the controller’s “Nooooo!!” and subsequent rope ladder escapade, all felt just ever so slightly wrong. And in the case of the extras’ wibbly wobbly “pain” acting, made me spit out my coffee.

But- enough! These are small things. Easily the second best episode of the year so far, probably the best action adventure programme the BBC has ever made, and up there in the top few episodes of this whole marvellous revival.

Mickey, we’ll miss you. Lumic, I feel we’ll be meeting you- or something very like you- again very soon.

Steve Ferry

So we had ninety minutes of a very trad Dr Who story in many ways. Parallel Earth, Cybermen, evil supervillain but so much more than that. No previous Cyberman story has gone into such detail about the mechanics of the monsters and what happened to the people who become them. And Cyberwomen! The poor woman who became a Cyberman the day before her wedding and Jackie. You should have been able to spot the CyberJackie from the lashings of make up.

There were minor problems like the fact it was difficult to make out what the Cybermen were saying without subtitles and the usual James Bond thing about the baddies HQ blowing up for no particular reason but as usual with new Who the plot and everything else is subordinate to character development.

Roger Lloyd Pack didn't have much to do in The Age of Steel. His assistant Colin Spaull sabotaged his wheelchair and off he went to be converted. Battersea Power Station looked like the head of a Cyberman in one shot. The moon as a theme showed up again. A bright red moon was visible behind the Cybermen at one point.

The episode was apparently Mickey's swan song. Despite everyone doubting him he came good and saved the day. It's nice to see an assisstant having an arc and developing. Not many characters have. Sarah Jane and Leela did but all that happened to Mel was that she turned from a shrieking mororn to a shrieking moron who ran off with a mercenary and Adric developed from a live idiot to a dead one.

The episodes looked great, all grey and black. It was also genuinely creepy as the doctor and Mrs Moore walked through the tunnel. The cybermen stamping about was brilliant. I wouldn't like to see too many more trad stories this season because I would prefer to get thrown another curve ball like The Girl in the Fireplace. Anyway thank god for a decent Cyberman story at last. As a homage to the old stories they should have had one of the Cybermen with a beer belly but you can't have everything!

Joe Ford

What fantastic direction. Hoo boy could I talk about the direction all day. Harper’s vision is breathtaking, creating a feel of mechanical hell, highlighting the glistening silver of the Cybermen en mass in the gleaming moonlight. There are thousands of the buggers and they stomp across the screen gathering up the citizens for conversion. I cannot remember when the Cybermen have ever seemed quite as powerful or as totally emotionless, not a hint of (“Excellent!”) campness here just more of the horror and dynamism of the first episode. Had the metal monsters been treated as powerfully throughout their entire timeline I could perhaps understand why they are held in such high regard. Lets put it this way the Cybermen from this parallel world kick the shit out of the ones from ours and I’m not just talking about their design (which isn’t significantly different) but how the writer and director explore their potential.

And yet strangely it is when the Cybermen are doing nothing at all when they are at their scariest. Two scenes spring to mind instantly. The scenes where the Doctor and Mrs Moore exploring the tunnels (brilliantly echoing The Invasion and Tomb of the Cybermen) are marvellously scary. An endless row of motionless Cybermen which the Doctor and Moore have to creep past, with me behind a pillow waiting for one of them to suddenly snatch out and grab them. Secondly the shot of the Cybermen gazing through the metal fence at Mickey after having murdered his counterpoint. He is horrified at watching himself being murder but the Cybermen just freeze and stare through emotionlessly. Absolutely haunting.

However the piece de resistance comes when the Doctor and Moore explore the Cyber emotion chip, which is turned off, and a converted Cyberman wakes up, not remembering anything about being turned into this beast. Humanising the Daleks felt wrong because they are the epitome of evil but exploring the horror of being converted into Cybermen is (frankly) essential and (astonishingly) ignored to this point. Whilst it was disturbing to hear this woman talking about her upcoming wedding with her voice modulated and no expressions on her metal face nothing could hold a candle to the brief scene where a Cyberman stares in a mirror and screams with absolute terror at its image. I cannot explain how happy I was to see some real psychological horror injected into this story; my only regret was that it couldn’t be taken even further (and boy could it!). The Doctor standing behind this person realising how he has been a perverted saying “I’m sorry” just makes the poor creature even more pitiful. The conversion process is far more graphic here as well, especially the visually dramatic moment when the mask descends on its victim, the lights shining through the eye holes.

I am not sure if it was because this was directed by Graeme Harper but it felt the most Doctor Who-ish story to date. There was the requisite emotional element but for once this feels like the least important aspect of the story. Sorry guys your performances are spot on and the writing is a credit to you but all I wanted to see was Cybermen on the march, people being ripped to pieces and the explosive action as you take them down. It is a credit to Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel that it feels like the old series at its very best (yes I am talking Caves of Androzani), slightly melodramatic, totally absorbing, full of great moments, utterly dynamic and (best of all) a millions times better than anything the competition can think up. I loved Lumic and his over the top dialogue, just the sort of gruff, theatrical villain the series has needed since the start…one with a great motive and a fabulous death scene. What more could you ask for…and Roger Lloyd Pack’s much criticized performance is absolutely spot on, slightly jarring but purposely so and with a sinister smile and evil twinkle in his eye. His turn as the Cybercontroller is smashing, visually stunning and with Pack’s stilted delivery packed with emotion, very disturbing too. Scenes of characters being chased after through the streets by monsters always rate highly in my book, evoking the sort of excited games I would play as a child wishing a fleet of monster would menace me and my friends in my street (and reminiscent of the second Dalek film). Watching the Doctor and his friends do a three-pronged attack on the Cyberman base (hey it’s The Daleks!) is really exhilarating television, the sort which this show does so well, old and new.

Tennant gets his most traditional role to date, being offered a great scene where he confronts the Controller and explain why the Cybermen are so totally and utterly flawed in conception. Being the consummate actor he is perfectly willing to take a back seat to his co-stars who are far more important this time around. He’s just there to be the Doctor, to fight the bad guys and save the day (its nice to see this for a change with some sort of terrible emotional experience for the guy) whereas Mickey and Rose are on hand to deal with all the juicy domestic stuff.

Piper is such a star I could watch her in any show. Fortunately she is currently acting in my favourite show which is doubly good and doing a damn fine job of it too. Who would have ever thought we would be seeing “Because we want to!” Piper strolling along with a bunch of Cybermen? Certainly not me and it is to her credit that she now fits into this series so totally that it is no longer an issue accepting a celebrity in this science fiction show. I enjoyed the scenes between Rose and Pete because they were so restrained, far superior to the horrid manipulation of Father’s Day. Rose’s loyalty to her parents (even in this world) feels right (and her stubbornness when accepting the job of rescuing Jackie is a great moment) and her reaction to the Jackie Cyberman mirrors our own (total horror). It was her final moment with her father on the Embankment which impressed me the most though, Rose desperate to take him back with her (to the point of calling him Dad) but he doesn’t want to know the life he has missed out on. Great stuff and all the more emotional for what isn’t said (so much work is done with the actors faces).

I think Noel Clarke has come such a long way as Mickey, coming to understand the show and the style of acting it entails. He started off in Rose as something of an OTT buffoon and a bit embarrassing to watch but won our hearts in World War Three where he saves Jackie and blows up Downing Street. He ups his game for Boomtown with a remarkably emotional performance before providing some stability for the show over its change of leading man, his presence proving quite relaxing during that turbulent time. His comic potential is explored in School Reunion and The Girl in the Fireplace in time for Mickey to come of age in this two parter. As I said his scene with his Grandmother in Rise of the Cybermen develops his character beautifully and now he gets the chance to save the world. Watching himself die clearly affects him greatly and it is fantastic to see him finally stand up to the Doctor, telling him he wants to help out and refuses to be the spare part (Tennant plays this scene beautifully too, looking at Mickey as if he has just noticed him for the first time). I’m not sure I’m as convinced about the ending, which pushes a little too hard to make Mickey the hero and make everyone go, “ahhh, I really liked him” because frankly we all liked him anyway. The chemistry between Rose and Mickey has never been better and Rose’s typically selfish comment (“What if I need you?”) is rebutted beautifully (“But Rose…you don’t”) but the last scene with the two guys driving off to invade Paris feels a bit too manipulative. A shame, but most of the work in redeeming Mickey’s fortunes is spot on. Clarke is exceptional and the episode belongs to him. Just watch his face, as his other half is killed and then tell me this kid can’t act.

It is the first episode ever where I felt Murray Gold’s music drowned out the drama. At some points it was agonisingly loud (Simon made me turn the telly down about three times!) but saying that he provided some great stings just shock Cybermen moments to get you jumping out of your seats. Its almost as if Murray is as excited by what’s going on as we are and cannot control his music as a result!

Did I want more action? Yes, because what we get is sooooo good. Did I want more exploration of Cybermen? Yes, because they started it off brilliantly but other matters swallowed up the screen time. Did I love this two parter with a passion bordering on insanity? Oh yes.

The Age of Steel is a mighty fine conclusion to some dramatic set up. It really doesn’t disappoint at all and tells us quite a bit about the Cybermen that we didn’t already know. Its not quite my favourite two parter (those gas masks are still fabulous) but it is spine tingling television of the highest order and solid proof of why this show got so much recognition at the BAFTAs.

Billy Higgins

SO, to reprise my own question from my last review, did the second half of the Cybermen’s return build on the promise of the previous week’s episode? I would say it stayed on the same level, rather then went higher, but that made for another enjoyable romp, and was a pleasing conclusion to a well-rounded two-parter.

This was as close to a “traditional” Doctor Who as we’ve seen since the series returned – and there were plenty of familiar ideas on display. I have no issue with that, so long as it’s done well. And this was a very slick production, which we’ve now come to expect.

There was a nice nod for continuity buffs in this episode – with Rose mentioning the differently-designed Cybermen helmet in Dalek from last season, and The Doctor elaborating that these were “parallel world” Cybermen – though budgetary concerns surely dictate that they will be “this world” Cybermen, too, if and when they return!

The Age Of Steel was a quicker pace than Rise Of The Cybermen as it built to the denouement. The marching Cybermen – complete with “crunching” soundtrack – did make an impressive sight. Filming at night certainly added to their menace. Had they been bounding along on a bright, summer’s day, I doubt it would have made the same impact. As with the Daleks in The Parting Of The Ways, there was a real impression of a Cyber army. If you recall the iconic Genesis Of The Daleks, there were very rarely more than three Daleks on the march, er, trundle. They might have taken some years to track you down in those corridors. Here, there appeared to be dozens of fast-moving Cybermen.

As I opined in my previous review, a major downside for me was the Cyber-voices. And I can only repeat what I said then, which was: “I understood what was said because I strained my ears – there’s no way the mainstream audience would do that (nor should they have to) and I think they’d have had a problem picking up all the Cyber dialogue. Obviously, Nicholas Briggs’ voice had to be radically different to his excellent Dalek interpretation, and that was certainly achieved. My problem isn’t actually with Briggs’ version of the Cyber voice – more the electronic trickery applied to it. Sure, it was distinctive – but no point in being distinctive if you’re alienating the viewer by making it difficult to hear what’s being said. The Doctor Who production team make very few mistakes – but I think this was one.”

However, what they – or, to be more specific, showrunner Russell T Davies – got very right was the evolution and story arc of Mickey Smith. It was no great shock that the parallel Ricky was killed off quite early – logistically, the dual role must have been difficult – and it was an effective death scene. Quite a nice touch beforehand that Ricky was Most Wanted for parking tickets! And, of course, “Mickey the idiot” saved the day – again.

It was pretty standard sci-fi fare to make a three-pronged attack on the Cyber factory, to split all the main characters up, but it worked well, and there were plenty of good moments en route to the final clash, such as The Doctor and Mrs Moore’s discovery that a bride-to-be’s brain was still functioning inside the Cyberman, although technically that was a CyberWOMAN. As was poor old Jackie, and Pete and Rose’s hopelessness at discovering this and then being unable to pick her out was also a powerful scene. It was a good plot device that the alternate Pete Tyler was a double agent, and I doubt we’ve seen the last of him. His departure was somewhat abrupt – and the temptation must be to reunite the parallel world Pete with Jackie in the other world. And we surely haven’t seen the last of Mickey – the “zero to hero” description has been well trotted out, but it is the most-applicable.

Having – with The Doctor’s help – killed off the Cybermen and rescued The Doctor and Rose, Mickey’s decision to stay behind was no great shock. Even without spoilers, the signs were there throughout the two episodes. Well-written, though, and another touching goodbye scene, well handled all round. He’s been a star this season has Noel Clarke and, although it was a good - and appropriate - ending to his story, I want to see more of Mickey.

Rather like Aliens Of London/World War Three, the monsters were dispensed with well before the end of the story. From the “fanboy” perspective, I would have liked to have seen another five minutes of Cybermen and chopped some of the “soap” element from the end. However, I accept that is the way of 21st-century Who, and what is a key factor in the show’s mainstream popularity. And it will be interesting to see if Rose and The Doctor’s relationship changes again now that they’re on their own.

Taking Rise Of The Cybermen/The Age Of Steel as a whole, it wasn’t the greatest Doctor Who story ever told, nor even the greatest Cybermen story ever told, but it was a very good story, very well told. There was little original on show – or even a series of old ideas constructed in a particularly-original way. However, that’s being super-critical, and it was a highly-enjoyable romp.

If, as is anticipated, the Cybermen do return in the season finale, Rise Of The Cybermen/The Age Of Steel may be more significant than first appeared, and it’ll certainly be interesting to view it again in one sitting in the context of the season as a whole.