The Age of Steel
The Age of Steel was the sixth episode of the second series of Doctor Who. It was the second part of a two-part story that featured the return of Cybermen (albeit a parallel version) and the departure of Mickey Smith, who stayed in the parallel world. Mickey also had a moment of decisive character development, discarding his clumsy, cowardly nature to become a braver, confident, and focused man of action and heroism.
Tardisode 6 serves as a prologue to this episode. It depicts the issuing of an order to John Lumic’s Cybermen to commence worldwide cyber-conversion.
The story was inspired by Marc Platt’s 2002 audio play Spare Parts. Head writer Russell T Davies decided he wanted the two-parter Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel to be loosely adapted from the Big Finish play, albeit with a similar “feel”, just like how series 1’s Dalek was adapted from Jubilee. Platt was paid a fee for Tom MacRae reusing the basic concepts of Parts and was given a credit for both Rise andSteel. Initial drafts of the parallel Earth story were very close to Mondas’ depiction in Spare Parts as a “dying world”.
Along with inspiration from Parts, writer Tom MacRae was supplied the television serials The Tenth Planet, The Tomb of the Cybermen, Earthshock, the DWM comic story The Flood and David Banks’ Doctor Who: Cybermen. Director Graeme Harper also read Banks’ book in preparation for this two-parter, along with the surviving episodes of The Invasion, which Harper’s mentor Douglas Camfield directed.
As the Cybermen close in for the kill, the Tenth Doctor uses the charging TARDIS power cell hidden in his hand, sending tendrils of energy which disintegrate the cyborgs.
Mrs. Moore drives up in the Preachers’ van and shouts for them to get in. The Doctor and the others are climbing in, but Pete wants to go back for Jackie. When the Doctor tells him she is dead, however, he reluctantly gets in the van. Rose also is torn about going back in, but the Doctor reminds her that this Jackie is not her mother, and the group make their escape from the rest of the Cybermen. Inside the house, Jackie Tyler is trapped helplessly behind the basement door as the invading Cybermen patrol her mansion.
In the Preachers’ van, the Doctor tells Mickey that the power cell will recharge in about four hours. Pete reveals that he is actually “Gemini”, the source of the Preachers’ inside information on Lumic. He only joined Lumic to feed information to the Security Services, but instead got the Preachers. Ricky also confesses that he is indeed London’s “most wanted” — but for parking tickets. The Doctor then grimly promises them that, “This ends tonight!”.
Meanwhile, Lumic is inside Battersea Power Station, in the cyber conversion factory. Pleased and ready to begin his next plan, Lumic broadcasts a signal via the EarPods throughout London.
In the city streets, the population is suddenly stopped by the signal and Lumic takes them under his control. They all walk slowly towards the factory to be converted into Cybermen. In her house, Jackie’s EarPods also become controlled and she too walks towards the factory.
At the factory, Mr Crane takes his EarPods off. The Cybermen begin stalking the streets as the city is sealed off; the Doctor and the others have arrived amidst this and Rose suggests removing the EarPods from the entranced, but the Doctor warns her that this would be too dangerous as it would cause a “brainstorm”; he goes on to express disgust at the human race’s willingness to let themselves be taken over.
Jake and Ricky see that the Cybermen are everywhere, taking the people to their lair. When asked, Pete tells the Doctor that Lumic’s base of operations is at Battersea and that the Cybermen were born out of the dying Lumic’s obsession with prolonging his own life… no matter the cost. Rose recognizes the Cybermen from the head she saw in Henry van Statten’s museum. The Doctor confirms that the Cybermen in their universe began on a small planet like this, and then swarmed across the galaxy.
The group decides to split up to increase their chances of getting out of the city. Ricky and Mickey will head in one direction as Mrs Moore and the others go in the other. Fleeing from the advancing Cyber army, Mickey and Ricky match each other’s personalities before splitting up. Elsewhere, the Doctor, Mrs Moore, Pete and Rose also run from the Cybermen. Whilst hiding around a street corner, the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to send a Cybermen platoon away.
However, in the process of fleeing, the Cybermen catch up with Ricky while he is climbing a fence, Mickey on the other side. They grab him by the foot and electrocute him as Mickey watches in horror from the other side. Ricky drops to the ground, dead, as Mickey gazes at the Cybermen with anger. He flees to tell the others.
Inside the factory, Crane is brought before Lumic for his seeming treachery. Lumic states that he thought Crane was a trustworthy ally but Crane claims that his EarPod malfunctioned and requests an upgrade. However, this is only a ruse to get him close to Lumic’s wheelchair, and when he is close enough, Crane grabs Lumic’s vital breathing apparatus and damages it badly, causing Lumic to go into shock. The Cybermen quickly come to his aid and electrocute Crane, but the damage has already been done.
The Cybermen say he must be converted, but Lumic says he will upgrade with his last breath. The Cybermen automatically move his chair into a conversion room.
Near the river, the team all meet up beneath a bridge when Jake states that the Cybermen are everywhere. Suddenly, Mickey arrives and tells them of Ricky’s demise; Jake reacts with a mixture of grief and anger, turning on Mickey. The Doctor says that they can mourn Ricky when London is safe, but for now they move on.
The team walk up a hill, viewing Battersea Power Station from across the river, and see Lumic’s zeppelin moored on the roof. The Doctor states that the whole of London has been sealed off, and the entire population is being taken inside there — to be converted. They must get inside the factory and shut it down.
Mrs Moore calls up a schematic of the factory, which shows old cooling tunnels that lead beneath it. Pete suggests another way in: through the front door, using dummy EarPods provided by Mrs Moore. Rose demands to go with Pete, even though to successfully infiltrate the building neither of them must show any emotion. The Doctor relents, and thinks of a third way, to sabotage the EarPod transmissions so the people do not walk to their deaths like sheep. He tells Jake to take out the transmitter, which the Doctor, using the sonic screwdriver, determines is on the zeppelin. The Doctor and Mrs Moore will enter the factory from below, through the cooling tunnels.
The group then are about to set off, when Mickey realizes that, once again, he has not been assigned a role, and complains about being the “tin dog”. Mickey says he will go along with Jake, despite Jake’s resentment at his survival. Ultimately, however, Jake lets Mickey go with him, and the Doctor wishes him luck.
The Doctor and Mrs Moore enter the cooling tunnels, which they find are filled with hundreds of inactive Cybermen. He tells Mrs Moore to move carefully and keep an eye out for any trip devices. Meanwhile, outside the factory, hundreds of Cybermen patrol the area as thousands of hypnotized citizens walk inside to be converted. Rose and Pete retreat behind some barrels and place the EarPods upon their ears. They then successfully join the line of humans entering the factory and manage to fool the Cybermen they walk past.
Meanwhile, Mickey and Jake make it to the mooring station on the roof. The zeppelin is guarded by two hypnotized guards. Jake wants to kill them, but Mickey makes him realize that if he does, there’s no difference between him and a Cyberman. Jake then shows Mickey several knock-out drops provided by Mrs Moore that should prove effective. They launch upon the guards and render them unconscious with the drops. The two then climb into the airship.
Below, Mrs Moore and the Doctor move through the cooling tunnels. Mrs Moore tells the Doctor that she used to work for Cybus Industries, until one day she read a file that she was not supposed to on the mainframe. As a result she was hunted by Lumic and went on the run, eventually finding the Preachers. She also reveals that her husband and two children think her dead and that her name is not really “Mrs Moore”. She took that from a book, assuming the alias to bolster the impression that she had died and to protect her family. Her real name is Angela Price, but she makes the Doctor promise not to tell a soul. However, they do not notice a red light flashing at their passing. Inside the factory control room, two Cybermen notice an alarm in the tunnels. They activate the stored army to remove the intruders.
Inside the tunnels, the hundreds of Cybermen suddenly awake and the Doctor and Mrs Moore quickly escape just in time through a hatch which the Doctor seals behind them. “Oh good team Mrs Moore”, says the Doctor happily. In the main conversion area of the factory, Pete and Rose move towards the conversion chambers, keeping an eye out for Jackie.
The conversion machines activate as many unfortunate humans walk inside and they swoop down, with sharp cutting equipment, and the human’s brain is removed and put into a Cyberman. Rose and Pete watch as a woman is converted.
Suddenly, a Cyberman approaches them, identifying Pete. To Pete and Rose’s horror, it reveals that it was once Jackie Tyler. Pete shouts out that this is impossible but the Cyberman confirms this, stating that Pete worked with Cybus Industries and must be rewarded — by force. Rose and Pete are captured and taken to Cyber Control as the Cyberman that was once Jackie fades back into the mass of identical steel creatures.
On the bridge of the zeppelin, Jake and Mickey search for the transmitter controls, and find what seems to be an empty Cyberman shell. They dismiss it and continue to look.
In the tunnels, the Doctor and Mrs Moore meet a Cyberman, which she quickly deactivates with an EMP bomb. The Doctor opens the chest of the downed Cyberman, finding bits of an organic nervous system and an emotional inhibitor. The Doctor explains that if the Cybermen realized what they had become, they would go insane. The Cyberman stirs, and with its inhibitor broken, it remembers that it was once a bride-to-be named Sally Phelan. The Doctor apologizes, and eases her into death with the sonic screwdriver.
The Doctor realizes this is the solution: if they could find the cancellation code for the inhibitor and feed it throughout the system, the shock of realizing what they are would probably kill the Cybermen. He hesitates at the thought of this, but Mrs Moore convinces him that they have to do this before they kill anyone else. Suddenly a Cyberman appears from behind and kills Mrs Moore with electricity. Two more appear. The Doctor is outraged but the Cyberman’s only response is to note his alien biology; his binary vascular system registers as an “unknown upgrade.” The Doctor is to be taken to the factory’s central command to be studied further. On the zeppelin, Mickey finds the transmitter control behind a steel plate, but there is no way to cut through it. Jake suggests setting the autopilot of the ship to crash and then escaping. Mickey begins to hack into the ship’s systems, but activates a silent alarm in the process.
The Doctor is brought to Cyber Control where he meets Pete and Rose, who tell him of Jackie’s demise. The Doctor asks where Lumic is, and a Cybermen tells him that Lumic has been upgraded into a superior Cyberman model — the Cyber-Controller. A wall slides back and reveals what was once Lumic, now a specialized Cyberman with glowing eyes and a transparent brain case, seated upon a mechanical throne. “This is the Age of Steel and I am its creator,” he triumphantly states to the Doctor, Pete and Rose.
The Cyberman on the zeppelin comes to life in response to the silent alarm and tries to kill Mickey and Jake. Mickey goads the Cyberman into punching him, ducking out of the way at the last second so it punches through the steel plate protecting the transmitter control instead. Electricity crackles through the Cyberman’s body and it falls at the same time the transmission is cut off.
The humans in the factory snap out of their trances and see the conversion machines above them. They begin to flee, screaming, flooding past the Cybermen trying to stop them. In Cyber Control, the Doctor hears the cries and realizes that his friends have succeeded. However, the Cyber-Controller refuses to admit defeat, saying that he has factories around the world, and if he cannot use the EarPods, the conversions will take place by force.
Knowing that Jake and Mickey are observing through a monitor in the zeppelin, the Doctor stalls Lumic, challenging his assertions of an emotionless utopia. The Doctor points out that Lumic is creating a world without imagination, emotion and creativity and that with such thinking humanity will cease to progress. Lumic may have an army, but he is forgetting about the ordinary people, and even an ordinary person — some “idiot” — can save the world.
Mickey, listening, realizes the Doctor is referring to him and is dropping hints about finding a code that will shut down the emotional inhibitors. Mickey picks up on this, and searches the Lumic database to decrypt the code, which he sends to Rose’s mobile phone. The Doctor points out to Lumic that in his drive for technological dominance, he made his systems able to interface with anything. The Doctor proves this by plugging Rose’s phone into the console, sending the code across the Cyber system.
All over the factory, the Cybermen’s inhibitors shut down; they see each other and realise what they have become, overloading from the emotions they start to feel. The Cybermen begin to malfunction and collapse, some even exploding. As one Cyberman catches sight of what it has become in a reflective surface, the Doctor solemnly tells it, “I’m sorry.”
The Cyber-Controller calls out to the Doctor in the horror of what is happening to his fellow Cybermen, all his creations, demanding to know what he has done. The Doctor retorts that he has given the Cybermen back their souls, and he, Rose and Pete run out of the control room as the factory begins to be consumed in fire and blows up from the inside.
All the exits are blocked by the crazed Cybermen and the Doctor realizes there is no way out. Despite Jake’s urgings, Mickey refuses to leave the others behind. He calls Rose and tells her to make for the roof. Rose, the Doctor and Pete retreat up the stairs as the factory explodes all around them. In the midst of the flames, the Cyber-Controller, displaying pure rage at the destruction of his creations, frees himself from the chair and goes on a rampage after the Doctor.
Mickey meanwhile, lowers a ladder from the zeppelin for the Doctor and the others. As the Doctor, Rose and Pete climb upward, escaping the factory’s destruction, the ladder is suddenly jerked by a great weight — the Cyber-Controller climbing up after them. The Doctor throws Pete his sonic screwdriver and tells him to use it on the rope. Pete says that this is for Jackie Tyler and cuts the ladder. The Cyber-Controller falls down from the zeppelin and is consumed by a huge fireball which rises up from the burning factory, presumably destroying him.
Pete, Rose and the Doctor keep hold of the remaining ladder as the zeppelin fades away into the night.
The Doctor returns to the TARDIS with the fully charged power cell and restores power to the ship. Outside, Rose tries to persuade Pete into boarding the TARDIS but he refuses. She tries to explain about parallel universes and that she is his daughter, but Pete is unable to handle this information and leaves to tell the authorities about Lumic and the other factories.
The Doctor says they have only five minutes of power and have to leave. He tells Jake Mrs Moore’s real name, asking him to find her family and tell them how she died saving the world. However, Mickey announces he is staying. This world lost its Ricky, there are other Cybermen factories to destroy, and his blind grandmother needs looking after. Rose promises that they will come back and see him, but the Doctor reminds her that they only arrived in this parallel universe by accident, and when they leave they must repair the hole in time, meaning they can never come back. The Doctor gives Mickey Rose’s mobile phone, telling him to get the code out there and wishes “Mickey the Idiot” luck.
Rose and Mickey reminisce about their childhood and how they wondered what they would do with their lives, never imagining they would be travelling to the stars. They share an emotional farewell, and Rose tearfully returns to the TARDIS, which de-materializes before Jake’s astonished eyes.
The TARDIS re-materializes in Jackie Tyler’s flat. Rose breaks down in tears upon seeing her mother alive, and hugs her tightly. Jackie wonders where they went, and asks the Doctor where Mickey is. The Doctor simply responds that Mickey has “gone home.”
On the parallel Earth, Mickey tells Jake that he does not intend to replace Ricky but be his own man. They can remember him by fighting in his name. Mickey wonders if there is a Cyber-factory in Paris, and suggests they go liberate the city. Jake is skeptical that they can do that with the two of them in a van. Mickey tells him there is nothing wrong with a van. After all, he once saved the universe with a big yellow truck…