Saturday, May 13, 2006

Pedal To The Metal

Prefect SlogAfter complaining about the frequently 'rushed' pacing of the new 45-minute format Doctor Who, I am going to feel like such a hypocrite for saying this, but the Cybermen have returned, plodding onto our screens in an episode in which I just couldn't help feeling should have had more of the energy and drive we've been used to seeing. Let me just say that Rise of the Cybermen was not bad, but the most overwhelming impression it left on me come the end credits was how much better it all could have - and should have - been.
Now, to be fair, it had some disadvantages at the outset. For one, I knew it was going to be set on an alternate Earth. Which, sorry, instead of a 'pinch me, I'm dreaming' scenario, leaves me in a 'poke me, I need waking up' frame of mind. It's much harder to care for alternative worlds populated by alternative people - even more so when we're faced with an alternative Mickey and an alternative Jackie Tyler. The other key element hampering this story was one that only really emerged as the episode went on, in that it lacked impact because it was all too much like the Troughton Cyberman story, Invasion. Fortunately, I think the story will have an impact on the young uns who have no idea there was a Troughton Cyberman story, but for this seasoned DW veteran, as much as I enjoyed seeing International Electromatics emblazoned on the side of the truck, I already knew most of what was coming. And I think what I most wanted out of a new Cyberman story was something that could surprise and impress me, as well as the new generation of viewers.
I'll try not to bang on for too long about this one, because it may all come out in the wash, or failing that the second episode (thank you BBC for remembering not to tack a spoiler-packed trailer on the end), but I was left wanting something more - from this week's episode as much as next week's.
What I wanted less of was Rose Tyler's family, alternative or otherwise. Too much focus on the domestics and you're going to end up with a very domestic, dare I say pedestrian feel to the thing. It started well, I thought, with Roger Lloyd Pack engaging wheelchair-bound Rotwang mode, but then followed it up with a lot of padding, too much plodding and too many misjudged moments. Of the latter, off the top of my head, the ones that stood out the worst were the premature 'solution' to the dead TARDIS situation (what was the problem with leaving the Doctor & Co stranded in this reality with no hope of escape?) and (dear oh dear) cyber-surgery to the tune of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Tarantino pulls this sort of thing off, using "Stuck In The Middle With You" to accompany a chilling act of torture. This was just a poor choice of soundtrack for the moment, whatever effect the director was aiming for. On a much smaller point, they could have also saved the Rose-is-a-dog-in-this-reality gag until Rose gets to discover the amusing fact for herself. A joke loses something in the repetition. Also, I did wonder why, when everybody was equipped with natty earpieces, the Cybus signal bothered to patch into stray mobile phones.
These are fairly minor points, but they're part of what added up to 45 minutes of me in writer-mode, thinking how it could have been done differently. Instead of me being absorbed, involved and enthralled, the way I generally prefer.
There were a loose collection of positives that I should cite, by way of balance: the Metropolis-style Cybermen (although, going back to the plodding, probably a bit too much focus on those clumpy great feet); good to see Don Warrington as the President of the UK (although he did ask for it at the end, didn't he, harping on about what would happen if he refused the Cybermen's offer of an upgrade - D'uh!); the scene with Mickey and his blind Grandma was nicely played (although a bit too much of an attempt to shoehorn in some background for the character now that he's a companion, when really we should have been let in on some of it before, given how long we've had to put up with him).
But, further to that parenthetical aside, the last thing the story needed was more domestic stuff to hold up the pace. Impatience is not something I'm used to feeling in a Doctor Who story these days, and I am all for allowing the story time to develop and come alive, but most of what we got here was diversionary and, since the Rose and her family kitchen sink stuff has been done more than adequately before, a bit old hat. The time should have been taken to build up the Cybermen - the clue was there in the title! - but at the end of the day, they simply weren't given the chance to be scary enough. As I say, the whole thing may well have had much more impact on the youngsters and that's to its credit, but for me this one lacked the necessary metal.


Stuart Douglas said...

It's a fingers and toes crossed week for me - the second part of RotC will have to be truly imaginative to make up for the plodding pace and uninspired world-building of the first part. It wasn't that it was bad as such, simply that it covered ground which was cliched in the sixties (airships are on a par with Prime Minister Hitler as the sign of an alt-Earth) - and then trampled over further ground which was covered just last year in the same bloody series. As you say, Pete Tyler's been done and done well and there's no apparent (well except for the very easily apparent) reason for bringing him back.

Add in the usual lazy plot holes (why did the soldiers not recognise Mickey when he crossed the checkpoint for one?), another camp bloody song and some fairly leaden direction (was this the same man who directed 'Caves of Androzani?) and you're left picking amongst the rubble for the few slightly shinier bits (I liked the Doctor giving up ten years of his life to re-start the TARDIS battery and the Rose the Dog joke was funny the first time round).

Utterly forgettable and - after an excellent first three episodes and a good fourth - hopefully not a sign of things to come.

SAF said...

Good god, yes, I forgot that this was meant to be the guy who directed 'Androzani'. Maybe he's like all those comedians who go into rehab and suddenly lose their edge. ;)

It also occurred to me afterwards that even with the Mickey and his blind Grandma thing, they could have gone another completely different route: have her with her sight restored by the miracle of Cybus technologies (assuming that we have to have an alternative Earth, I'd rather it was more interesting), thus really giving Mickey something to think about *and* tying that thread in with what really mattered: i.e. the Cybermen.

I realise that in recent episodes I've been quite happy to see the Doctor Who stuff pushed to the background in favour of the human story (sniff - see, it still gets me ;) ) but this was one where the Doctor Who elements really needed to return to the fore.

As you say, the final results will only be in when we've seen part two, so I'm still open to being impressed. But even if it ends disappointingly next Saturday, we'll still have the uber-camp mayhem of Eurovision to look forward to.


Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "As you say, the final results will only be in when we've seen part two, so I'm still open to being impressed."

After the cliche-fest of part one (which I like less and less on repeated watching) I'm not holding my breathe for anything other than Ricky gets killed and Mickey takes his place in the resistance.

Which would be disappointing.

SAF said...

No, likewise, I'm not holding my breath. There is the optimistic way of looking at it that my expectations have been suitably downgraded, so the chances of too great a disappointment *should* be minimised. But at the same time, I confess I've not felt greatly tempted to rewatch part one.