Doctor Who - The Age of Steel
A few months ago, when the Noise to Signal team first started to think about how we would cover the second series of New Who and this review structure was decided upon, I would never have thought in a million years that five weeks in to the run we'd still be waiting for our first 5 Star episode. Seb Patrick thought The Girl in the Fireplace deserved full marks, but Austin Ross, the main reviewer for that week, thought differently. As it happens, I had similar thoughts about last week's Rise of the Cybermen - a sure fire 5 Star episode for me, but a more reserved 4 star rating was what was forthcoming from Seb's review.
So, the chances are I could well be dolling out 5 red, glimmering stars to this week's conclusion of the Cybermen's return. Yes? Well, let's see, shall we.
It's obviously not an easy task to wrap the second half of a two part story than it is to set it all up. For me, Rise of the Cyberman did a brilliant job of creating this odd world, giving us an unsettled feeling and, of course, introducing our main villains, Mr. Lumic and The Cybermen. The assault on the house and the cliff hanger were perfect and my expectations were sky high for the resolution.
I really shouldn't do that.
Anyway, before I go any further I will tell you now that I have rated Age of Steel 4 Stars out of 5. I honestly thought I'd be the first of the NTS team to hand out full marks, but I was sadly disappointed. We'll see why in a moment, but first some good points.
Firstly, the visuals were wonderful. This comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the original series, as Graham Harper, the director responsible for one of the finest regeneration stories ever, The Caves of Androzani, was the man in charge of the pretty pictures. Also, the Cybermen themselves looked lovely, voiced perfectly and regained all menace and impressiveness they possessed before the regrettable 80s incarnations. In fact, I'd even go out on a limb and say that Mickey/Rickey and Rose and her family stuff was handled well, too. It didn't make me want to claw of eyes out, which is the usual reaction I get, so kudos to the writer Tom MacRae for that achievement.
However, there was one great big whopping problem with the whole thing. The very fabric that held together all the decent elements of Cybermen and human drama was full of holes the size of your fist.
For a start there was the cliff-hanger resolution. It was quite possibly the worst resolutions I've ever seen in Who, and I've seen plenty of bad ones. Quite how we're meant to believe that a tiny power cell, which was previously only in the charging stages, could suddenly deliver such a huge amount of energy that it *evaporated* anything it touched, is beyond me. Even with bad solutions like that you've got to give some sort of set-up so at least it feels less clunky to the viewer. This, for me, was clunk city.
And that resolution basically set the tone for anything even remotely sci-fi in the rest of the episode. Lines like "I found a file on the mainframe", the constant catch-all solution that is that fucking Sonic Screwdriver (honestly, Doctor, stop waving it about and put it away - the ladies aren't impressed) and the sudden reveal that Mickey can hack computers by just mashing some keys and looking determinedly at an unchanging computer screen were just a few of the bits that had me wincing.
And that's without mentioning the resolution! Oh, the resolution. The idea of deactivating The Cybermen's emotional inhibitors and basically torturing the Cybermen to death was very chilling, and was, in the main, beautifully handled by some nice Cyberacting and pretty damn nasty noises - but the fact that *all this* was brought about by TEXTING a code to Rose's MOBILE and then The Doctor PLUGGING IT IN to some handy slot was just patently ridiculous and stretched my suspension of disbelief well beyond breaking point. I honestly don't think the youth of Britain would be too confused if you actually attempted to write *proper* sci-fi, Tom, and not some watered down, supposedly trendy and 'modern' shit that undermines the whole creepy as hell nature of the scene.
And here in lies the problem with the story. The writer, Tom MacRae seems pretty inept at writing about sci-fi concepts. The reason I loved Rise so much is that it was very light on sci-fi and was concentrating more on setting up this strange, different world and its characters. I loved that and I loved the excellent cliff-hanger he set up - he obviously does stuff like that well, it seems. But, when it came to the real meat of actually taking all those threads and tying them up into a neat second part in an imaginative and believable way he seemed to fall apart. It all seemed messy, slap dash and poorly thought out and was in serious need of someone to step in and do some serious script editing. But, if the Doctor Who Confidential programmes are anything to go by, everyone is too busy getting sexually excited by how wonderful they all are to actually see a shit script when it's staring them in the face.
People may argue that wild leaps of logic and quick fix solutions are part of Doctor Who's pedigree. Well, yes, this is true, but none of those leaps of logic have left me physically convulsing in disgust, and thus upsetting the 15 year old cat perched on my knee. Tom MacRae's appalling writing startled me and my cat into a foul mood for the rest of the evening, something which was only rectified by some much needed genital licking.
However, I thought, in the main, the cast were all at the strongest I've ever seen them. Tennant continues to improve and grow but I would say he's still not got up to Ecclestonian standards yet. Billie managed not to annoy me too much, which is a miracle, as since the series 1 finale she's seemed completely unnecessary. She was an excellent character in series 1 as she and the audience were both learning and growing with The Doctor, but now she's seen it all the character's lost most of her appeal and relegated to a position where I'd just prefer to shush and let The Doctor get on with the interesting stuff. Noel Clarke was great, though, mainly because he is going through the same journey as Rose did in series 1, and that's infinitely more interesting. Also, he seems to know when to piss off before over staying his welcome, too, although his goodbye scene was mawked up to the max, which bothered me quite a bit. It was wasted time that could have been spent on Cybermen kicking some arse.
As with last week, I utterly *loved* John Lumic, with Roger Lloyd Pack putting in what could well be one of the best Who villain performances ever and Nick Briggs confirmed his position as king of the Ring Modulators, with his obvious respect for the villains shining through one again as he delivers the best Cybervoices since Tomb of the Cybermen. Of course, the greatest injustice here is that we didn't see nearly enough of Lumic and his Cyberarmy, which was especially disappointing as I was hoping for a great deal of screen time for the stars of the show.
So, on the whole a very disappointing story, indeed. But, I think a little perspective is in order here. I know it sounds like an obvious thing to say, but even a bad episode of Who at the moment, is still the best thing on TV by quite a way. To give this episode 3 Stars would be perhaps justifiable if I was judging each episode internally, but I'm not going to do that. In the grand scheme of things, this was a remarkable story, even if, by Who standards, it stunk just a little. So, 4 Stars here. I'm saving the lower scores for episode that truly deserve them - and let's hope they never turn up.