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20 January 2015

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

Day 750: The Age of Steel

Dear diary,

Oh, maybe I’ve not changed all that much in the last decade. Remember yesterday, when I bemoaned 2006 Will for his letter to Doctor Who magazine, in which I said I couldn’t decide if I liked the ‘new’ Cybermen design or not? Well, I’d decided in the closing moments of yesterday’s episode that on reflection, the answer was no. I didn’t care all that much for them.

But then, today… oh, I’m starting to have second thoughts about it! There’s a lovely shot of Lumic addressing his Cybermen, where the camera moves almost a full 180 degrees around one the the silver giant’s heads, and it does look like such a beautiful design… I’m completely torn! And then, later on, the Doctor and Mrs Moore venture down into the cooling tunnels under the Cyber Factory, and the suits look gorgeous down there, too, lit in that kind of half light, leering out of the darkness… Oh, I don’t know. For now, I’m chalking it up as being ‘yes, okay, I like this design,’ but there’s every chance that may change again come the end of this season… Maybe I’ve not changed all that much since 2006, after all!

While I’m on the subject of the cooling tunnels, I’m sort of wondering… why have these Cybermen been put on ice? The implication is that they’re fresh recruits (I think I’m right in saying that no one is actually converted before that lone ‘test’ Cyberman in the pre-titles teaser to yesterday’s episode, and the implication is that he’s the only one until the homeless people are rounded up and processed ready for the attack on the Tyler’s mansion… but then, actually, we were told that people had been going missing from the streets for ages; was that just for testing bits of the Cyberman technology?), but surely they should therefore be out and about patrolling the streets of London with the others, making sure they round up every last member of the population? I suppose you could argue that with people being converted so quickly they can afford to simply start putting people ‘on ice’, but still, it stuck out as a bit strange that they’ve already started putting them into the ‘ice tombs’…

Oh, but that’s really me just being picky, I guess. There’s nothing actually wrong with the cooling tunnels, but wondering why they’re down there did take me out of the story for a few minutes while I mused on it. When I returned to Pete’s World, I found myself staring at something that did bother me first time around, but I’d managed to block out since; the emotion of this episode.

Now, emotion is no bad thing to see in Doctor Who. Heck, last time Pete showed up, I found my eyes watering, because it was emotional. The programme has always done emotion (that first companion departure, when the Doctor gives his iconic speech to Susan is an early highlight), and since the revival in 2005 that strand has been more clearly defined than at any point since those early 1960s stories. But there are times - today’s episode being a prime example - where they get the emotion wrong. When I say ‘wrong’, what I mean is that they make the emotion false. Pete’s sacrifice in Father’s Day works for me because it feels like a truly human emotional response. Everything has been geared towards that moment, and all of the interaction between characters up to then has led us forwards. It’s emotion because everything ties together to make it so.

This episode, on the other hand, throws in things that are supposed to tug on our heartstrings… but they simply fall flat because that’s the only reason they exist. I’m largely thinking of the moment that they disable the emotional inhibitor of a Cyberman only to discover that the human converted in to this creature was due to get married the next day. The scene tries really hard to make you care about the woman inside there… but I just can’t connect with it because it feels too blatantly as though I’m supposed to connect with it. The same is true, to a lesser extent, when Mrs Moore dies mere moments later having just explained to us how she’s had to abandon her husband and kids to protect the world. I can’t connect because it all just feels a bit cynical and false (though I suppose that simply could be the product of my own mind, projecting that onto these moments - does anyone feel emotional at the Cyber-Bride? Really?)

Overall, I’m left a bit deflated by this two-parter. Several stories I’d not particularly liked in the past have gone through a bit of a re-evaluation this season, but this story has just been a bit… weak. It’s certainly not one of my favourites… 

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