I’m a little ambivalent about series two. On the one hand, it has ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’. On the other hand, it also has ‘Tooth and Claw’. It has ‘The Impossible Planet’, one of the most frightening episodes in the canon, let down by its dreary successor. Tennant is brilliant. The scripts are not. The Doctor / Rose thing is mind-numbingly tedious, its eventual denouement embarrassingly overwrought even before its stark finality was undone just a couple of years later.
On the other hand, they brought back the Cybermen. Yes, it was all wrong. The new Cybermen act and feel like robots, divorcing them from the humanity that made them so utterly chilling. They have an unnecessary new catchphrase. The reworked origin story is dull. But it’s the Cybermen. The monsters who killed Adric. The ones who haunted my childhood sleep, rendered flesh (all right, metal) and crashing through the walls of a stately home to threaten the Doctor and his friends. As tedious as I find its resolution, that ‘Rise of the Cybermen’ cliffhanger is a belter.
Then there’s Roger Lloyd-Pack, whose role is to sit in a chair and gloat. Lloyd-Pack delivers his entire performance as John Lumic in the manner of someone who’s trying to pass a kidney stone. It’s bland, although not unnecessarily so: Lumic is a power-hungry despot and he delivers what is expected of the role. It is not as interesting as watching Davros, because Lumic is not as interesting as Davros, irrespective of the similarities between their backstories (and physical appearances). This story is all about Rose and Mickey, which is as it should be. Lumic is just the man pushing the buttons.
It’s a shame, because Lloyd-Pack himself was a talented actor, remembered for his comedic supporting characters but equally at home in serious roles; a theatrical master who did his best stuff with Harold Pinter (Michael Billington – or at least his sub-editor – describes him as ‘the perfect Pinter peformer‘). Nonetheless, his iconic role will always be that of Trigger, the petty criminal with a penchant for sharp suits and apparently possessing a vacuum between his ears (his condition is, thanks to a bit of exposition, blamed on a couple of childhood accidents). It is Trigger who plays the straight man in what is Only Fools and Horses’ most memorable moment – in which Del casually leans against a bar, not realising it’s no longer there – but he was given plenty of other stuff to do. Typically, Trigger is the last person in the room to get a joke and even then doesn’t know why he’s laughing, but it’s his bad boy image that sets him apart from many other dim-witted comic foils; you always get the feeling that he could smash you in the face any time he wanted, and this is precisely what makes him so interesting.
As any Harry Potter fan will tell you, the Cybermen two-parter isn’t the first time Tennant and Lloyd-Pack appeared on screen together, with Tennant playing Barty Crouch Jr. to Lloyd-Pack’s Sr. in a flashback halfway through Goblet of Fire. (Barty Jr. is then not seen again until the climax of the film, in which Brendan Gleeson morphs onscreen into him; I’m always slightly disappointed that Tennant’s first line isn’t “Hmm. New teeth. That’s weird.”) Production aficionados will be aware, of course, that Lloyd-Pack doesn’t actually meet Tennant in the flesh at all, conversions or not: that’s Paul Kasey in the suit, miming to Lumic’s (presumably pre-recorded) dialogue.
This video had its inception in January 2014 when Lloyd-Pack died at the age of sixty-nine (thus forming a club whose ranks would later be swelled by Harold Ramis, David Bowie and Alan Rickman; sixty-nine, it seems, is the new twenty-seven). For whatever reason it took me two and a half years and a sudden, burning need to create something to actually get it done. Part of my procrastination stems from the fact that there’s actually far less usable material than you’d think – besides the obvious ‘Dave’ jokes, Trigger doesn’t really say very much, often letting his incredulous silence do the talking. There were a few gags that I dearly wanted to use – “You got a hat now, Dave?” springs to mind – but had to abandon on the cutting room floor because they simply didn’t fit. Less is more.
Anyway, it hangs together, just about. I did think about using the broom handles bit – a scene which takes its cue from a similar exchange in Open All Hours and which is referenced, bizarrely, in ‘Deep Breath’ – but what I had was quite long enough. It took two and a half years, but we got there in the end. Or as Trigger would say ‘Triffic…’