Better but still not great. No time for a full breakdown of the episode, but this was initially a big improvement on last week, largely because it had no real ambition other than to be a particularly high-tech episode of Bugs. Where it collapsed for me was whenever it attempted to evoke the horror of the Cybermen. Both moments when the “real” person behind the Cyberman facade spoke were utterly ridiculous. The exploding Cyberman head evoked a similar reaction – more laughter than fear, and certainly not the uncomfortable laughter that comes from embracing horrific concepts. More the laughter that comes from imagining Jackie as a Cyberman. They were aiming for congitive dissonance, but it just didn’t work for me. Neither did the Cyber-controller’s chair – although as predicted his performance was actually more restrained when encased in a metal shell.
The rest of the episode was solid action fare with good characterisation and some nice lines, and Tennant was fine, so it’s a shame that the Cybermen only really worked for me when marching briskly or staring blankly. Ask them to do anything remotely dramatic and they just floundered.
Oh, and the incidental music blew the final scenes, which absolutely did not require Gone With the Wind levels of orchestration. My wife doesn’t mind the music, but for me there’s a line that incidental music shouldn’t cross between underscoring emotion and ladling emotion on with a trowel.
There was plenty to enjoy here on a popcorn level, so I’m happy to call it average rather than a disaster, but it could have been so much better.
Other thoughts: Yay for the reference back to the Cyberman head in Dalek. Yay for the explanation of parallel Cyberman evolution. Boo for the lack of any drama about the Tardis’s resurrection. Boo for yet another Tardis deus ex machina resolution to the cliffhanger. Boo for the sonic screwdriver being used so often it really should get its own spin off show.