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19 January 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 749: Rise of the Cybermen

Dear diary,

I can still remember the announcement in Doctor Who Magazine that the Cybermen were to be making a return in the 2006 series, and I was absolutely thrilled by the idea. At some point prior, I’d decided that they were by far my favourite Doctor Who monster (though I’m fairly sure I’d only seen The Tomb of the Cybermen and Earthshock by then… had any others been released on DVD? I didn’t start delving into old Who on VHS until the summer this aired…), and I couldn’t wait to see what the modern programme would do with them. Unlike the four stories preceding this one, I can’t remember how I felt when the return actually aired. I don’t recall being as disappointed by it as I had been in the previous four episodes, but equally I can’t recall being particularly in love with the story, either.

The one thing that I can vaguely recall was that I didn’t like the idea of Pete Tyler coming back - it seemed to cheapen Father’s Day from the year before - but then even that comes to make a rather nice circle when the finale rolls around, and Rose gets packed off to this parallel universe to be with her complete family unit.

One other thing I can recall is writing to Doctor Who Magazine when the new Cybermen were first revealed during production, with a somewhat over earnest letter in which I gave my verdict on the new look, but couldn’t make my own mind up and threw in a reference to the Troughton-era just to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about… remember the other day when I said I was the kind of teenager who was always trying to be old and grumpy and important? Yeah, that’s exactly how that letter reads to me these days! To quote myself (with reluctance, honestly);

Hmm, I don’t know if I like them or not! I like the faces, the eyes and mouth are good - back to a more classic ‘Second Doctor’ style. But I’m on the fence about the shape of the face. On first sight, I thought that the body looked a bit too chunky, but now I’m warming to it… Hmm. Well, maybe I’ll just have to wait and see what the Tenth Doctor does with them!

That said, I know I went on to really like this model of Cyberman. Once it had made an appearance on screen and we’d seen them moving around, I was completely sold on the design, and it became one of my favourites… so it surprises me that I look at them today and think that it’s not all that great of a design! I wonder if it’s because I really love the look they’ve had since Nightmare in Silver, and so this version has been kicked a little further down the list? I certainly recall one of the reasons I was so impressed with them being that the action figure versions looked exactly like the full-size costumes on screen - they were by far the most accurate toy released in those early years!

I’d not remembered that they’re kept shrouded in mystery for the majority of this episode, though. We get to really feel their presence throughout - they’re seen out-of-focus in the background, or harshly illuminated from behind, keeping them just abstract enough to keep you wondering - until almost the very end of the episode, when they come in to storm the Tyler mansion. Even though I was well aware of the design marching towards us, I’m pleased to say that it’s worked really effectively here, and it’s possibly one of my favourite stylistic things about the entire story.

It’s not the favourite, though, because that honour has to go to the ‘dead’ TARDIS. I really enjoy the whole sequence of the ship tumbling through the gap between universes, blowing up and then resorting to being just a dead, empty shell (I particularly like the gas masks that come tumbling down from the ceiling!), and it’s somewhat impressive that the set can look so good when left simply blank. I’ve not really found a chance yet to discuss the different ways the TARDIS set gets lit throughout the Russell T Davies years (based, I believe, on the fact that there were two different Directors of Photography, who each liked to light the set in a different way - one more golden and one with that vibrant green that we see at the start of this story), but I’m surprised, watching through like this, just how much of a difference there is from episode to episode. It’s nice to see it in a somewhat more derelict state, here, though - although the Doctor seems oddly excited at spotting a little glow of power somewhere in the bowels of the ship’s workings when the floor lights around the edge have been burning brightly since they crashed! 

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