The Mondasian Cybermen are back!

The original Mondasian Cybermen from The Tenth Planet are returning in the Series 10 finale and oh my god you have no idea how freaking excited I am about this. I’ve wanted this for so long but I never thought Moffat would be bold or visionary enough to actually do it. I take back everything I said about Moffat phoning it in in Series 10, because this is some seriously meaty and ambitious and fan-pleasing stuff.

It was Peter Capaldi who once said he’d love to see the Mondasian Cybermen back on the show, but that Moffat has agreed that it would be a good idea to bring them back—in his last finale no less—shows that he’s interested in what the fans want to see (in this case the more nerdy and opinionated section of the fandom) and is engaging with the conversations we’ve been having, since the Mondasian Cybermen have been pretty high on so many hardcore Whovians’ wish lists. If Moffat brings back the Valeyard in the Christmas special he’ll have absolutely made my year (although I’m not expecting that).

For those who haven’t seen much of Classic Who and don’t get why it’s so exciting that the Mondasian Cybermen are being brought back, let me enlighten you. You could do worse than to read my paean to the Mondasian Cybermen in my review of the Big Finish audio Spare Parts. What The Tenth Planet gets right and what pretty much all subsequent Cybermen stories (especially in the revived series) have got wrong, and what Spare Parts tried to rehabilitate, was a conception of the Cybermen as a chilling reflection of ourselves. Look past the primitive costume work on the Mondasian Cybermen and see the compelling concept they’re supposed to embody: the Cybermen are us if we’re not careful about how far we take artificial augmentation of our bodies. The Cybermen are what we could become. They’re supposed to be tragic, not frightening, or frightening only in the sense that they should be a warning to us about what we could become. The Cybermen are not Daleks with legs—they’re not killer robots—as they’re regrettably portrayed in the modern series. They’re us. They’re literally the human race. That’s the reason why they’re supposed to be scary.

Even though the costuming and voices and movements of the Cybermen from The Tenth Planet are quite primitive and probably seem quite comical to us, I think those original models actually embody this concept of the Cybermen as humanity’s “dark mirror” really well. The zombie-like movements, the weird half-human, half-machine sing-songy voices, their chillingly human dialogue (actual rational argument, not “DELETE”), the creepy fleshy faces and hands. It all makes for a version of the Cybermen that I find so much freakier and creepier than the stomping killer robots in their Iron Man suits screaming “DELETE” that the show is afflicted with today. The Cybermen, true to their original concept, should really, as the Mondasian Cybermen did, evoke zombies, which are another human-but-not-human creature, rather than robots, which are human in no way at all. I really just hope Moffat gets them right.

If you haven’t already, I’d definitely recommend watching The Tenth Planet (which is also the First Doctor’s regeneration story!) to see the original Mondasian Cybermen at their freaky, zombie-ish, ‘Sixties best. After The Tenth Planet, listen to the Spare Parts Big Finish audio play, which sees the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa return to Mondas to witness the genesis of the Cybermen—which is an amazing Doctor Who story in itself, but also, in my opinion, the best Cyberman story ever precisely because it’s such a faithful portrayal of the iconic villain.

Thoughts on: Dark Water / Death in Heaven

It might have provoked a barrage of complaints to the BBC, but this is exactly what I was hoping for from the Capaldi era. The brave new era of the show, with our abrasive, complex new Doctor at the helm, was pitched as being darker, more adult. It was leaving behind the cuddly, child-friendly Doctor and the simplistic storylines and voyaging into deeper, darker waters (ho-ho!) In this finale, the show has never been more dark or confronting. You really couldn’t find a more controversial topic than life after death. You really couldn’t find a theme upon which the show had to tiptoe more carefully. And it came close, perilously close, to crossing the line. “Don’t cremate me!” has to be one of the most confronting moments in the show’s history. The portrayal of the afterlife in general, at least before it was revealed what it was all about, was as provocative as anything the show has done before. Even the conscription of the dead into a Cyberman army posed a very uncomfortable thought. I loved it. As provocative and disturbing as it all was, it was utterly captivating plotting for exactly that reason. This is what the show can do when it dares to be bold and challenging.

So the finale plays with compelling ideas. The set-up is exceptional. This was all about the Doctor and Clara going looking for Clara’s dead boyfriend. We’re treated to arguably the best scene in the entire series when Clara (apparently) tricks the Doctor into taking them to a volcano so she could blackmail him into going back and saving Danny. Absolutely stupefying viewing, both actors nailed their parts, especially Jenna, who mesmerises the viewer with her acting as though through some kind of hypnotic power. The raw, powerful emotion of that scene was sold perfectly. It was so powerful the viewer is left dazed and disoriented for a while after the facade suddenly drops. We’re barely ready for when the next blow hits when the Doctor pronounces that he cares too much for Clara for her betrayal to make a difference. Oh, the feels. Oh, Doctor! Clara, puffy-eyed, blubbering mess that she was, looked exactly how I’m sure we all felt at that moment. This, surely, was the moment any lingering uncertainties and insecurities about our new Doctor vanished. Good man? No. He’s a great man.

And so they go looking for Danny. The Tardis takes them to 3W, where the dead sit gruesomely in water tombs. We learn the apparently horrific true nature of death, enthralled all the while. Bleak scenes of Danny in the “Nethersphere”, a uniquely depressing vision of the afterlife, keep captive our unwavering attention. It’s at this point the revelation of the Cybermen is sprung upon us. I say “sprung” — anyone who had been even vaguely following Doctor Who week to week in 2014 would have known the Cybermen were the baddies of this finale. But those sequences are duly chilling nonetheless. Those rotting skeletons rising in their water tombs, the water draining away to reveal the shiny steely armour and those blank, empty, staring eye-sockets. The menace of the Cybermen, for once, feels real, and the Cybermen’s emergence from their watery tombs evoke those iconic scenes from the villains’ classic story, The Tomb of the Cybermen. The Cybermen’s dramatic appearance was beaten only by the revelation of Missy as the Master at the very end of the episode. “I couldn’t very well keep calling myself the Master, now, could I?” Where was your jaw? Don’t lie — it was on the floor, where it damned well belonged. The episode threw us uber-fans at first by Missy’s describing herself as the Time Lady the Doctor “left behind”, sending us all into frenzied speculation. I’m sure the names “Susan” and “Romana”, maybe even “Jenny” or “River”, came to more than a few of us.

That was Dark Water, which I regard as very nearly a masterpiece. I’m afraid I didn’t find Death in Heaven nearly as impressive. I know I’m not the only one who thought the second half of this finale was something of a letdown after an exemplary first half. Dark Water ended on a torturous cliffhanger and set up what I expected to be an equally well-composed and sublimely-written second half. I think its biggest mistake was in trying too hard to escalate the adrenaline and action. Dark Water was totally devoid of action (it didn’t bother me), while Death in Heaven seemed to flounder around quite a bit, delivering up a disorienting battery of action sequences, but almost abandoning the plot, or, rather, disgorging all the plot in the last ten minutes of the episode in a disconcerting crescendo. I was surprised when I realised Death in Heaven was a full 60 minutes’ length. It felt far too rushed and fast-paced to be an hour-long episode. It takes particular effort to make 60 minutes of Doctor Who feel like another 45-minute story that gives the impression that it’s screaming for more time.

Additionally, after the fantastic work Dark Water did in establishing the menace and the chilling threat of the Cybermen, Death in Heaven failed with distinction to deliver on the promises of being the story that makes the Cybermen scary again. Far from it. Well, I concede that the idea of “zombie” Cybermen with the uploaded minds of the dead was inspired, and carried plenty of potential. Additionally, the Cybermen possessed real fear factor in the action sequences: when they attacked the airship, when they emerged zombie-like from graves and mortuaries. The Cybermen really are at their scariest when they evoke the feel of zombies, rather than robots, something the early Cybermen stories succeeded in doing, and which Dark Water capitalised on.

For the most part, though, the Cybermen in Death in Heaven failed to exploit the genuinely interesting idea of Cybermen with the downloaded consciousnesses of the dead, and reverted to all the worst depictions of the villain. Once again the Cybermen were portrayed as little more than killer robots. No, actually, it was worse than that. They weren’t even robots, they were just unthinking automatons that obeyed a bracelet. They even did an ironic aeroplane safety demonstration at the command of Missy. The letters “ffs” appear more than once in the notes I took for this review in relation to that sequence as I was watching it. Moreover, once again the apparently irreversible Cyber-programming was inexplicably overcome by the power of love. “Love is a promise”, as beautiful a sentiment as that is, is not an explanation—it’s a cop-out.

So, what did I like about Death in Heaven? I’ve mentioned by gripes first because they really do rather ruin the episode, and compromise the integrity of the finale as a whole, for me. But, equally, there was plenty that impressed me. I described the graveyard scene at the end as a disconcerting disgorgement, and it really could have been better paced — the episode as a whole could have. But that didn’t necessarily make the content of that scene any less compelling. This is at least one aspect of the episode which has improved in my estimation upon rewatching, mostly because I understand better what was going on now (again, scripting issues). I really appreciate that scene as the culmination of the Doctor’s character arc over this series. I mentioned in my review of Flatline that the Doctor had already come a long way in his self-realisation since the beginning of the series, but it’s only upon being given absolute command of a Cyberman army that it became clear to him: he’s not a good man, but he tries to be, and helps where he can. And that’s what’s important. Here we see a Doctor finally assured of his own identity, no longer the self-doubting old man brooding upon his own morality.

Something else I enjoyed immensely about Death in Heaven, and about this finale as a whole, was Missy. Is Missy my favourite incarnation of the Master yet? She just might be. Michelle Gomez was utterly bewitching as the Master’s latest persona, a deranged, psychotic, delightfully mad Mary Poppins who channels dexterously all the menace and unsettling madness of her predecessors while at the same time forging her own unique, exciting interpretation of the character. Missy shockingly proved her ruthlessness when she murdered Osgood so cruelly, seemingly for pleasure. But she also brings a depth of character to the Master that, in all honesty, the character really needed, when it was revealed that Missy mobilised the Cybermen army in the hope of being validated by the Doctor, by showing the Doctor they were not really so different. The Doctor-Master relationship is a complex one, and it’s satisfying to see the character written with this firmly in mind, as opposed to a generic arch-enemy. If only as much care were given to the writing of the Cybermen in this story…

There’s a lot more I could write about, but I’ve covered the main points, and, I think, to go on would be to start rambling. So what’s my overall impression of this finale? It fares well, after everything. I think Dark Water was certainly close to perfect, and the faults in Death in Heaven are grievous, but they at least don’t ruin what, on the whole, is a fairly enjoyable and gripping finale. To be sure, the substantial disappointment of the second half was that it so manifestly failed to follow up on the exciting ideas and set-up of the first half, but the episode still holds up well enough, and there’s enough of real value in there, not to consign this finale as a whole to the pile of “could-have-beens”. It was a good story. It could have been better, much better, but, for what it was, ultimately it fared well. I would certainly watch it again for my own enjoyment, something which is a pretty important test of my impression of Doctor Who stories. So I’m going to be generous with this one, notwithstanding my gripes.

Rating: 8/10.

Thoughts on: Nightmare in Silver

This is one of the few stories in 21st Century Doctor Who around which there is no fan consensus. It’s not many stories that divide fan opinion like Nightmare in Silver, given it’s such an eclectic story with as much that provokes as enthralls. A lot of the opprobrium this episode attracts concerns how underdeveloped and cobbled-together the script feels. I have some sympathy with that view, especially given that this script was written by the great Neil Gaiman, whose previous effort, The Doctor’s Wife, was such a stunning success. It’s a Cyberman attack on a random planet, an attack that (entirely predictably), the Doctor and his friends see off with ease. That’s it. “Underwhelming” is perhaps the right word. I mean, it’s always nice to see the Cybermen again, but, given we see them so much, it’s not enough to write another indistinguishable “The Doctor vs the Cybermen” story. It’s not enough to deploy the Cybermen (or the Daleks) as Doctor Who’s fallback placeholder villains for any run-of-the-mill monster story.

That said, while I acknowledge the narrative shortcomings of this script, it didn’t fail to entertain me. Neil Gaiman may have his off days in terms of story ideas, but one thing that can’t be said about his writing is that it’s boring. Even an undistinguished script like this is brought to life by Gaiman’s ever-reliable pen. Some of this has to do with the characters, who were involving and well-developed, especially Porridge, played by Warwick Davis, but more to do with the new-look Cybermen. Seemingly a distant future fusion of the Mondasian Cybermen and the parallel universe Cybus Industries Cybermen, these Cybermen are more threatening than we’ve ever seen them. I was stunned watching the supercharged Cyberman zoom its way through a rabble of soldiers and kidnap young Angie. That feature has at least rectified the somewhat comical fault of New Who’s Cybermen, which is their tendency to stomp around exceedingly noisily everywhere, never failing to alert their enemies to their presence. Also, the new conversion technique (via Cybermite) is a great development; much more efficient and clean than messy full-body conversions. These new Cybermen’s ability to upgrade so quickly to overcome weaknesses also added to their threat, but I can’t help entertaining the suggestion that the Cybermen become too overpowered when they’re practically invincible, when it takes the destruction of a whole planet to defeat them.

But let’s be honest, if this episode, about a Cyberman attack, had no distinguishing features other than the new-and-improved Cybermen (and their, frankly awesome, new Cybermites), it would be a pretty average and forgettable episode. But one thing this episode unarguably has going for it is the acting masterclass by Matt Smith, playing the split-personality Doctor, possessed by the “Cyberiad”. Those sequences really were utterly sublime, and, in my opinion, redeem this whole episode. In particular, the scene where the Doctor is first taken over by “Mr Clever”, who flails around the room excitably, exulting in his new Time Lord mind and body, was mesmerising viewing, Matt Smith pulling off some truly remarkable acting in that instance, the sinister “Mr Clever” persona jarring disturbingly with the familiar features and voice of the Doctor. The whole sequence of scenes portraying the Doctor’s split personality were captivating, a really impressive display of acting from Matt Smith. It really is worth watching this episode just for those scenes.

Some final thoughts. I hate to end on a negative note, especially after I’ve just enunciated with gusto why I think this episode is worth watching after all, but unfortunately negative points are all I’ve got left. I wasn’t very taken with the way Clara was portrayed in this episode. Modern Who companions are all extraordinary people — the Doctor has said before that he only takes the best — but there can be a tendency to turn them into unrealistic Mary-Sues. That, I think, was the case here, as not only was Clara not in the least flustered by being given command of a platoon of soldiers at war against the Cybermen, but she even led the military defence fairly competently. Imagine Rose, or Martha, or Donna, or … well, maybe not Amy (but Amy’s special), and you can see what I’m getting at. Remember the scared, fumbling Clara confronting Skaldak in Cold War? Something strange has happened to the writing of her character between then and now, and I’m not sure it’s for the best. Secondly, funny as Angie and Artie were, they weren’t the most realistic of characters either. The average teenager, when taken to an alien planet in the distant future, doesn’t pout over the lack of 3G. I mean, really now.

Rating: 7/10.

Thoughts on: Closing Time

Lightning doesn’t strike twice apparently, as Closing Time shaped up as an underwhelming sequel to Series 5’s successful low-key episode, The Lodger. Although, as light, pre-finale fluff it was enjoyable enough, I can’t help but cringe over all the very visible faults of this episode. For one, the plot was just a bit stupid. Although I liked the idea of the Doctor visiting his old mate Craig as a stop on his “farewell” tour before he goes to his predestined death at Lake Silencio, fighting Cybermen in the women’s section of a department store in Colchester is taking the mickey. There are two elements in conflict in this story: the comedy of “the Doctor and Craig” (and Stormageddon), and the menace of the Cybermen. Trying to recreate the tone and the charm of The Lodger while also involving the Cybermen just doesn’t work. The script might have worked better if they’d discarded the Cybermen and perhaps employed a throwaway monster instead while focussing on the character comedy between the Doctor and Craig, but, as it stands, Closing Time tries to be two things at once and fails by making a mockery of the Cybermen.

That said, there’s also much to like in this episode. Where it did succeed, of course, was the comedy. Matt Smith and James Corden, and their onscreen characters, have delightful, funny chemistry that makes them a terrific joy to watch together. The mediocre script was almost worth the ecstatic onscreen humour between the Doctor and Craig, and there were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. To pick a few of my favourites, there was the Doctor’s idea of a “social call” apparently being to turn up unannounced on someone’s doorstep, inquire as to how they are, and promptly walk away. There was the Doctor inquiring, without a hint of irony, “Will I blush?” when asking about Craig’s baby’s name. There was the Doctor, trying to draw Craig’s attention away from the fact they’d just materialised in a Cyberman base, confessing his undying love for Craig… by which Craig actually didn’t seem totally repulsed (“Doctor, are you going to kiss me?”). And so on. The humour around “Stormageddon” and his power complex was a bit cringeworthy, though; it was a bit too hard to believe that Alfie was saying all the Doctor said he was, and I’d have assumed he was making it all up except it’s even harder to believe the Doctor has such a great wit. My other explanation is that the Doctor just thinks he speaks baby…

We have to talk about that resolution, though. Like many others who watched that sequence with their faces in their palms, I want to sit down Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat and have a long, hard talk about not making the Cybermen into complete jokes. Okay, I’ll admit that that scene, where a seemingly converted Craig defies his cyber-programming when he’s overpoweringly affected by the sound of his baby crying, was quite emotively affecting, and, as far as “feel-good” resolutions go, it was pretty effective. But I can’t reconcile my appreciation for the scene’s emotive quality with the inane idea that the Cybermen can be defeated “by love”. The Cybermen are supposed to be the second most malignant, terrible race in the universe… and they were defeated by Craig thinking about his baby. That simply begs the question of why all the people who were converted by the Cybermen in the past who thought about their loved ones, as they inevitably would at the point of what was effectively death, did not escape and defy the Cybermen? The Cybermen were used as a throwaway plot device in this story to reinforce a point about Craig’s love for Alfie, and little more. They really deserved better.

To draw myself back from being overly negative again, there were other good aspects of this episode (that didn’t involve comedy). There was a very poignant scene in which the Doctor, left alone to take care of Alfie, recounts his advice and philosophy on life to the bawling little bub. “You know, when I was little like you, I dreamt of the stars. I think it’s fair to say in the language of your age, that I lived my dream, I owned the stage, gave it a hundred and ten percent. I hope you have as much fun as I did, Alfie.” The scene really profoundly contrasts the 1,100 year-old Time Lord with the budding slip of a child. And Matt Smith, as ever, really convincingly exudes the age and weariness of the Doctor, a remarkable feat for an actor of Matt’s age. Another poignant scene was the Doctor in Craig’s sitting room vocalising the creeping guilt he’s being feeling of late, a theme picked up in earnest in the previous episode (although that was 200 years ago, but I suppose the Doctor’s guilt never leaves him).

Hanging over this episode was the Doctor’s impending death, which was, for the Doctor, to be the very next day. The Doctor had been travelling around alone, on a 200-year “farewell tour” of sorts, before facing up to his inevitable fate. I liked this idea (plenty of space for Big Finish to insert Eleventh Doctor stories if they ever get the rights to the New Who Doctors), but it was a bit of a surprise to find the Doctor had aged 200 years since the previous episode. It was a bit hard to believe. It might have been a better idea to have shown 2-3 stories featuring the Doctor travelling alone, like David Tennant’s “specials year”, successively spaced over that period, before the finale, to better convey the time gap. In any case, was it just me, or did the Doctor seem more weary and as though he was feeling more keenly the weight of his years, than before? If it was intended, it was very well done, and reflected well the Doctor’s sense of resignation about his fate. Finally, I thought the revelation of River Song as the “impossible astronaut” (although not exactly the most unexpected of revelations) set up the finale brilliantly.

Rating: 6/10.

Thoughts on: The Next Doctor

I didn’t mind this at all. The 2008 Christmas special, the first episode of the “specials year”, comes under a lot of flak for being an underwhelming beginning to what had been promised as a thoroughly whelming year of specials. To some extent, it didn’t live up to the expectations many were casting upon it, and admittedly it was fairly nondescript as far as Christmas specials go, but I don’t think it was a bad story by any means. It was entertaining, fun, engaging, and had a few very profound moments. For a lighthearted Christmas special, it was fine, although I can agree that, given the hype around the specials year and given how much time the producers had to write and produce these specials, fans would be justified in having expected something better.

The premise of a man in Victorian London who claims and appears to be the Doctor, only with inexplicable loss of memory, I found very interesting. It wasn’t certain at first whether we were seeing a future incarnation of the Doctor or an impostor, but, of course, we soon find out the horrible reality of Jackson Lake, his encounter with the Cybermen, his absorption of the Doctor’s persona, and the loss of his wife. The tale of how Lake became the Doctor was horrifying, and so touching. It was an uncharacteristically poignant and tragic note in what, until then, had seemed to be a quirky and lighthearted Christmas episode. Morrissey’s acting when Lake realised how he became the Doctor, what had unhinged him so much that he believed he was someone else, was incredibly moving. Indeed, Morrissey’s acting throughout this episode was excellent, easily one of the best aspects of the story. Jackson Lake was a great, charming character who elicited affection from the audience, although, if I’m honest, I don’t think I fancy him as the Doctor: he’s a bit too much of a dashing hero for my liking.

The plot itself was a bit unspectacular, a bit unimaginative and derivative. I came away with the impression that the writers have already run out of interesting things to do with the Cybermen. The most interesting thing about the Cybermen in this story was that one of them had a transparent helmet, allowing his pink brain to be seen. Also they were trapped in Victorian London, which makes a nice change of scenery from 21st Century London, although I suppose that has more to do with the setting. The giant Cyberman stomping over London was… inoffensive, but wasn’t as awesome as RTD evidently thought it was. The Cyber King was pretty ill-conceived, though, I thought. Cybermen don’t have kings. They have Cyber Leaders, Cyber Controllers, Cyber Commanders, yes, but not kings. A king is an exalted nobleman ordained to rule by divine right. Cybermen are above such things as tribal elites and human social hierarchies. All Cybermen are uniform and thus equal; any rank among Cybermen is due to military utility, not natural hierarchy. That’s why I facepalmed when the Cybermen sang out “All hail the Cyber King!” This isn’t the bloody Lion King. Apart from that, I thought the Cybermen were generally fine. I thought the images of the Cybermen appearing out of the snow were very evocative and echoed back to those iconic images of the first Cybermen in The Tenth Planet. Also, those Cybershades were very freaky.

As a final thought, I loved that the Doctor received acclaim from the people of London for saving them. It was heartening to see that, and the Doctor looked genuinely pleasantly surprised, given that we never see the Doctor receive such public recognition. In general I thought this episode was enjoyable enough for a Christmas special, although it’s probably not one I’d watch again in a hurry—it seems like one of those stories that can quickly become tiresome if watched too much. Against the other Christmas specials I’ve watched in this marathon, I’d probably place it on par with The Christmas Invasion, and below both Voyage of the Damned and The Runaway Bride. Voyage of the Damned is easily the best Christmas special yet, in my estimation.

Rating: 6/10.

Thoughts on: Army of Ghosts / Doomsday

I’m finding it hard to organise my thoughts about this story in a way that will lend itself to a coherent review because of how emotionally devastated that ending has left me. But bear with me, I’ll endeavour to put my thoughts into some kind of sensible form.

I’m somewhat unimpressed with the decision to portray yet another large-scale alien invasion of 21st Century Earth, as I mentioned in my last review of Fear Her. “Relevance” is one thing, but this is getting ridiculous. The history of the Earth of the Doctor Who universe would detail a dizzying succession of alien invasions and interventions within the space of a few years in the 21st Century—all thanks to Russell T Davies. At least Davies had the sense to portray the Earth’s authorities as having had the initiative to formulate some sort of defensive measures in Torchwood. That said, I wasn’t necessarily as bothered about this as I otherwise would have been, as the story was so good. The much-awaited revelation of Torchwood, by the way, wasn’t particularly well carried out. Hints and teasers about Torcwhood were being dropped all series, but the eventual revelation was almost understated. I was expecting something bigger and more grand, but it all just seemed like a fairly nondescript operation. I realise Doctor Who doesn’t exactly have the budget to do things on as big a scale as I would like, but surely the producers could see that Torchwood looked like they were conducting their highly-sensitive and dangerous operations out of a converted factory?

Both the apparition of the Cybermen and the Daleks was done well. The former was impressive and imposing, the latter a genuine, dreadful shock. A prospective Dalek vs. Cyberman face-off was one of those long-awaited events, and, although in some respects it was awesome, in others it was a bit of a disappointment. The banter between the Daleks and the Cybermen was genuinely brilliant:

Cyberman: “Our species are similar, though your design is inelegant.”
Dalek: “Daleks have no concept of elegance.”
Cyberman: “This is obvious.”

Cyberleader: “Daleks, be warned. You have declared war upon the Cybermen.”
Dalek: “This is not war. This is pest control.”
Cyberleader: “We have five million Cybermen. How many are you?”
Dalek: “Four.”
Cyberleader: “You would destroy the Cybermen with four Daleks?”
Dalek: “We would destroy the Cybermen with one Dalek. You are superior in only one respect.”
Cyberleader: “What is that?”
Dalek: “You are better at dying.”

Classic. I am somewhat disappointed, however, both by how easily the Daleks were able to defeat the Cybermen and by the lack of a large scale battle between the two species. We’re talking about the second most dangerous species in the universe (as Doctor Who has always portrayed), and not only did they not even dent the Daleks, but they were felled effortlessly by the latter. Way to make the Cybermen seem like pushovers… Further, although there was a decent battle scene in the Torchwood tower, I feel like the opportunity to stage a large-scale battle between the Daleks and the Cybermen was squandered, although I’ll concede that budgetary concerns may have had something to do with that. The Daleks were portrayed very well in this story—if only the same commitment had been given to the Cybermen. Why bring them back in such spectacular fashion in Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel if they’re going to be demoted to the status of “most feared and dangerous villains in the universe when the Daleks aren’t around (in which case they’ll get walloped)”?

I thought David Tennant’s performance was absolutely magisterial. I can see that he’s truly made the role his own as he’s a much more commanding and magnetic presence than he was in his debut, in The Christmas Invasion. He truly exerts his presence in every moment he has onscreen in this story, from beginning to end. There really isn’t a moment when he isn’t in masterful control of the role, even in the relatively mundane sequences. I thought his confrontation with the Daleks in the Void Ship room was probably his best performance yet. Not overstated, as he’s been earlier in the series, but positively captivating; hair-raising. You really got a sense that this was the Doctor of legend we were seeing, the Doctor who sends the Dalek legions fleeing without firing a shot. This is how to write the Doctor.

“Technology using the one thing a Dalek can’t do. Touch. Sealed inside your casing. Not feeling anything ever, from birth to death, locked inside a cold metal cage. Completely alone. That explains your voice. No wonder you scream.”

Billie Piper was outstanding in her final outing. From that poignant poetic opening to her teary farewell, she delivered a moving and highly admirable performance. Rose herself was fantastic in her last time saving the world. The moment when she confronted the Daleks after they had emerged from the Void Ships to save herself and the others, was brave and amazing. That she had the guts and the initiative to do so showed how far she’s come from the shop girl she was in Rose, how much she’s been changed by her life with the Doctor, how much she’s become like the Doctor.

Then there was that ending, that parting of the ways. Oh, God, that was heartwrenching. I think Doctor Who just came close to emotionally traumatising me. I cannot find words with which to praise the performances of both Piper and Tennant as they were forced apart. Billie Piper, in particular, mustered up a truly agonising portrayal of Rose’s pain of separation that left me close to tears. Surely that must be the saddest, most affecting goodbye in the show’s history? In any case, it was some truly outstanding acting on the part of Billie Piper in her last moments as a Doctor Who companion, and a spectacularly touching farewell for the first, and most fondly remembered, companion of the revived series.

I would have given this a rating of 8, which in my terms means “great but not quite brilliant”, but the respective performances of Tennant and Piper raise it to a 9 in my estimation. They really were the gleaming highlight of this story.

Rating: 9/10.