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Sunday, May 21, 2006

"The Age of Steel": New DOCTOR WHO gets FIVE STARS!! Plus: "Max Headroom" returns?!

"I thought I was broadcasting to the security services, what do I get: Scooby-Doo and his gang... they've even got the van."

"I'm London's most wanted... for parking tickets."

"Even better... that's the name of my dog."


"The human race, for such an intelligent lot you are all susceptible. Give anyone a chance to take control and you submit. Sometimes I think you like it."

"Upgrade THIS!"

"What the HELL was that thing?!?"

"Sally. Sally Phelan."

"This is the age of steel and I am its creator!"

"I'd call you a genius except I'm in the room."

"Ordinary stupid BRILLIANT people!"

"The most ordinary person can change the world."

"I'm sorry."

"That's the Doctor. In the TARDIS. With Rose Tyler."

"He's gone home."

"Nothing wrong with a van... I once saved the universe with a big yellow truck."

Once again, I had to download this week's new Doctor Who episode off the Internet via file torrent, a few hours after it aired in Great Britain. 'Cuz it'd be a year or so otherwise before we get it here in 'Merica.

I thought last week's "Rise of the Cybermen" was one of the best of the entire revitalized series, and definitely tops so far as David Tennant's time as the Doctor goes. Last week there was no "teaser" for this week's episode, and that was a very wise decision as it ratcheted up the "oh @&#$ NOW what?!" factor waiting to see what happened next time.

Well, "The Age of Steel" does NOT disappoint! If anything it's even better than last week's was. The Doctor and gang escape the Cybermen trap and make off in the Preachers's van (with a great Scooby-Doo reference by alter-Pete Tyler). Meanwhile John Lumic, the insane head of Cybus Industries, has decided to accelerate the "upgrading" timetable: thousands of Londoners get zombified by those earplugs and start marching into the Cybus factory. The Doctor and crew quickly come up with a plan to break up and do what they can to stop Lumic... who is about to get an upgrade of his own after his "children" have sympathy for him following an assassination attempt.

There is horror, there is humor, and there is heartbreak in "The Age of Steel". Remember how Aaron took that last look at the moon as he's marched into the death chamber in War and Remembrance? That's what I thought of as Rose and Pete feign going along with the crowd walking toward the conversion chambers. This episode, more than any other Cybermen story I can think of, brings down the boom on the fact that these are humans beneath the steel, as we see not only the business end of them getting cut apart and reconfigured but also what happens when these poor saps get their souls back and finally realize what's been done to them. One scene in particular might strike up some controversy: the Doctor practicing euthanasia on a cyber-converted woman who was supposed to be married. And then there's the heart-rending sight of this other world's Jackie as a Cyber-person.

But the biggest thing of this very emotional story is Mickey. This is Noel Clarke's final appearance on the show, and I've always liked his character immensely for some reason and am sad to see him go, but he definitely goes out swinging. He's been the "tin dog" for long enough and in "The Age of Steel" he makes his mark as fine as any other of the Doctor’s companions. In the end he decides to stay on this alter-Earth, despite the fact that the TARDIS can never return to this other reality, but here he still has a grandmother and now a mission: stop the Cybermen. The last scene is a real "go get 'em tiger" moment. Clarke and Billie Piper have a really sweet goodbye scene that will have some weeping for sure.

Plenty of everything in this ep, including some old-school Cybermen lore from the Doctor and a quick nod to last season's "Dalek" episode from Rose. Roger Lloyd Pack is still in fine form this week as mad industrialist John Lumic... and just as bad-a$$ as the Cyber-Controller. If you're an American on this side of the pond like me, don't wait for Sci-Fi Channel to run it next year, it's definitely worth grabbing off of torrent or wherever.

But there's one more thing that caught my attention from this episode that might be worth mentioning...

After the Doctor unleashes hell at the Cybus factory, there's a shot of Lumic - now the Cyber-Controller - sitting on his "throne" where he starts yanking cables out of his body so he can pursue the destroyers of his plans. And Lumic/Controller starts screaming "Noooooo..." in a cyber-fied voice. He does this again as he's hanging from the dirigible a few minutes later.

What I happened to catch was that while he's doing this, Lumic/Controller sounds exactly like the infamous "Max Headroom" video prankster who hacked the signal of a Chicago TV station in 1987 (click here to watch the actual video on YouTube). Not only does Lumic/Controller's scream sound just like "Headroom" but the hackers broadcast their pirate signal... while the station was airing one of the Tom Baker episodes of Doctor Who!! I doubt that the BBC did this intentionally... but it was still something sorta ironic that I couldn't help but notice (though I do tend to notice a lot of weird things anyway).