The Age of Steel.



TV One of the problems with being a Doctor Who fan whose been enjoying the series for long enough is that anything new the franchise presents will be filtered through the collected memory of other stories. One of the strengths of this ongoing history is that it has the capacity to shock, amaze and confuse with its brilliance. But all too easily it can fall into a pattern, have a hint of trotting out a formula or just simply make the viewer feel slightly disappointed that they haven't seen anything that new.

The Age of Steel is a good episode. It's by turns exciting, well scripted, funny and scary. But it also felt, at least to me, like a series of creative decisions based around a need to tell a story a certain way in order to create a particular response in the audience. In other words, to gave the viewer what they want. The trouble with this approach is that it means that they aren't challenged -- it's not a case of being predictable necessarily, it's just that the audience expects certain things to happen before they do.

Listening to Tachyon's excellent live podcast is a perfect demonstration. If you pay close attention to what's being said (and why wouldn't you?), it slowly becomes obvious on too many occasions that Neil and the gang actually say that something might happen and it inevitably does, to their great surprise. The big one would be at the beginning when some guesses that Ricky would die and Mickey would stay in the alternate dimension. Granted there had already been some interview fuelled speculation to that effect but still you would expect that by the end of the episode that there would be some shock, jolt, surprise or twist. Nothing happens (unless the shooting star really is a cyber-attack fleet poised to invade the galaxy as someone on Outpost Gallifrey suggested). Second example: Neil, I think says, as Pete, Rose and the Doctor are climbing up the rope towards the zepellin away from the Cyber-leader, that the timelord should pass down his sonic screwdriver and burn through the rope. And sure enough, seconds later, that's exactly what he does.

I'm not writing this because I hated the episode, I didn't. It delivered on a number of levels. I just felt like I wasn't seeing anything new -- it seemed to be an amalgam of successful elements from the first series reorganised -- from the emotional reunion of Rose and her father to the Doctor's big shouty monologue at the end to Mickey saving the day through his computer again to the Cybermen regaining their emotional side (see Dalek) and wierdly enough zepellins, none of which are tropes of the whole series but of the new series in particular.

We've seen that the series still has the capacity to do something exciting and new. Both The Girl In The Fireplace and Tooth & Claw have proved that. And this was certainly a more preferable monsters invade London episode than anything with a Slitheen in it (even if you could argue, that story had slightly more memorable characters). I just feel that somewhere in here the magic was lost and the production team need to be ultra careful not to fall into the trap of other shows of simply taking the audience's taste for granted -- because in the end they're clever enough that they'll notice and become bored.

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