Saturday, August 23, 2014

Doctor Who--"The Age of Steel"

Last week, I reviewed the first part of this story, “Rise of the Cybermen,” and noted it was a lot of set up looking for a big pay off. Part Two did have an awful lot of action to make up for the relatively slow beginning. I’m not sure I would label it a big finish. Frankly, there was a lot of paint by numbers plotting. I think anyone who sat down and really thought about the first half could probably foretell everything that would occur in this episode without ever seeing it. All that said, there were some redeeming aspects that made it worthwhile. First was the sspecial effects. The BBC is notorious for its low budgets, but Doctor Who often manages to stretch every pound and put it on the screen. It was certainly the case here. There were scores of Cyberman, all looked great and the factory was believable. They reused the footage of a building blowing up from the series premiere, “Rose”, yet again, but I can forgive that. The second redeeming part was the philosophical discussion regarding whether creating the Cybermen is a good idea. I’ll get to that after a quick recap for those inquisitive Googlers seeking enlightenment.

We left off on a cliffhanger. Our heroes, the Preachers, and Pete Tyler are beset by Cybermen. The Doctor has signaled their surrender, but the Cybermen deem them incompatible and targeted for “maximum deletion.” The doctor use the TARDIS power cell that has been charging in his pocket as a weapon to short circuit the Cybermen. Mrs. Moore drives up in a van and they all pile in to escape. Pete and Rose (Pete Rose, hustling to get away. You Brits don’t know the jokes you actually make…) want to renter the party and save Jackie, but the Doctor assures them she is dead already thanks to the Cybermen. They reluctantly escape in the van. The Preachers want to kill pete for working with Lumis until he reveals he is Gemini, the government spy within the organization. He wants to bring down Lumis as much as they do, particularly now that his wife is dead.

Lumis puts his plan into motion. He sends a signal thrugh th population’s earplugs to come to his main factory for upgrading. Londoners begin marching towards the factory like zombies. Cybermen take to the streets to seal off the city. Lumis’ assistant catches the beginning of the sihnal, but rips off his earplug. He wants no part of this evil plan. Our heroes decide to split up to best escape the Cybermen. Unfortunately, one of them catches up with Ricky and kills him. When they all meet up later just outside the factory, Mickey ruefully tells them Ricky didn’t make it. Jake is angry at Mickey, but the Doctor tells him he has to mourn later. They split three ways in order to infiltrate the factory. Pete and Rose don fake earplugs and join the crowd of zombies marching to their upgrade. The Doctor and Mrs. Moore take to the cooling tunnels. Jake plans to destroy the signal emanating from Lumis’ docked zeppelin Mickey ralizes he has been left out again and volunteers to join Jake. Despite Jake’s resentment, he acquiesces and the Doctor, realizing he is treating mickey badly, wishes them luck.

Pete and Rose go through the heart of the operation and witness a human’s brain being removed and placed in a Cybernetic body. Rose panics. Suddenly, one of the Cybermen recognizes Pete. It is the Former Jackie. Pete loses it emotionally and “Jackie” orders the other to carry the two of them to Lumis. The doctor and Mrs. Moore head into the cooling tunnels where they find scores of inactive Cybermen. They carefully walk around them until one is alerted to their presence and the rest of them activate. The two out run all but one of them and Mrs. Moore uses a device which creates a magnetic pulse to deactivate it. The Doctor investigates the body and discovers it has an emotional inhibitor. He destroys it and the brain inside the cybernetic bodt regains her feelings. She longs for her husband and is terrified of what has happened to her. The doctor shuts her down to put her out of her misery. A Cyberman sneaks up behind them and kills Mrs. Moore. He escorts the Doctor to Lumis as well. Meanwhile, Jake and Mickey break into the zeppelin and attempt to halt the signal. They find the transmitter behind a steel box they can’t open. Jake suggest they crash the zeppelin to destroy it, but Mickey decides to try hacking into it instead.

In the meantime, Lumis’ assistant has returned without his earplug and volunteers for an upgrade, but it is just a ruse to get close enough to remove Lumis’ life support system in his wheelchair. The Cybermen kill the assistant and offer to upgrade Lumis to remove his pain. He orders them to stop. He only wants to be upgraded at his last breath. They accommodate him but cutting off his oxygen tank--my favorite moment of the season. When our heroes are brought before Lumis, he is fully upgraded into cybernetic form. Back on the blimp, an inactive Cyberman comes to life and battles Mickey and Jake. Mickey goads the Cyberman into throwing a punch which he dodges. It hit’s the steel box, smashing the transmitter and electrocuting itself. All Over London, the people who had been marching towards the factory realize what they were doing and riot in panic. The Doctor hears the screaming and realizes Jake and Mickey have succeeded. The Doctor stalls for time by debating the merits of human frailty versus eternal stagnation as a Cyberman all while giving hints to Mickey, who he knows is watching on a view screen from the Zeppelin, on how to stop the Cybermen. Micket takes the verbal hints, finds the code, and uses it to remove the emotional inhibitors from the Cybermen. The human brains inside of them realize what they have become and overload with emotion. They all literally explode, sending the factory up in flames. Mickey signals them all to head to the roof where angles a rope ladder for them all to climb to the zeppelin. They are followed by Lumis until Pete cuts the ladder behind him and Lumis falls to his death. The factory explodes below them.

Later, the TARDIS is all recharged and our heroes are ready to leave. Mickey decides he is going to stay behind. This would doesn’t have his counterpart any more and it needs one. He wants to make sure all the Cybermen factories around the world are destroyed. Besides, here his grandmother is still alive. He wants to take care of her. Rose says they will come back and visit, but the Doctor tells her they came her as an accident. Thry slipped in through a hole that has to be sealed. They can never return. Mickey decides to stay regardless and after tearful goodbyes, the TARDIS leaves for the real Earth. They land in jackue’s apartment. She is astonished to see them, but wonders where Mickey is. The doctor replies that he has gone home.

We have some interesting and not so well thought out stuff here. For one, why is the Doctor so down on Mickey? His computer skill have been hopeful on more than one occasion, he played a vital part in the “School Ruenion” episode, and as he even mentioned himself, helped prevent the Dalek invasion in “The Parting of Ways.” There is no sense in the Doctor having no faith in him. He’s proven himself on more than one occasion. Secondly, it is never said, but knowing Russell T. Davies’ penchant for introducing gay characters out of nowhere, I got the impression that Jake and Ricky were more than just friends. He was much too emotional about Ricky’s death for it to just be an in the line of duty sacrifice. That was never expressly said, mind you. Just a hunch. Finally, Lumis says he has factories on all seven continents. What is he doing in Antartica? Converting penguins? Does the DHARMA Initiative realize Lumis is stepping on their toes with animal research? Lumis should beware--a polat bear might show up with a funny logo on his haunch to kill him.

The most interesting part of the episode was the debate. Is an emotionless utopia a good thing? A world of Cybermen is a word without pain, sorrow, sickness, and decay, but, as the doctor points out, it is also a world without imagination, pleasure, and love. It is pain and sorrow that make good times even better. I buy the doctor’s argument more, of course, but he is one who has more pleasure than pin in his life to make it worth living. Lumis does not. His emotions betray him. He at least thinks he’d be better off without them. There is a certain logic to that. The rain falls on the just and thr unjust, but I still swear some get a drizzle while others get a deluge for no logical reason whatsoever. It is hard to question why some people want to withdraw from life because of the pain. I have also heard a variation of the emotionless utopia argument as a comparison to the Christian concept of heaven. Heaven is presumably not a hedonist place, but there is no obstacles to overcome, pain to develop character, or conflict to build strength. Can a place with none of that to inspire people to strive for happiness actually be heaven? It’s an interesting debate to which there is no clear answr for people saddled with a sinful nature, but I have a few thoughts I may put down later. An interesting, thought provoking episode.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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