Alternate reality! Just like London, but with CGI zeppelins. Rose's dad, Peter, is alive in the alternate reality, and doing quite well for himself. Bad news: the TARDIS can't move about in time and space in the alternate universe, so Mickey, Rose, and the Doctor are essentially stuck, until they find a little glowy thing in the floor, and then it's just about waiting for the TARDIS to recharge. In the meantime, Rose and Mickey run around merrily disobeying the Doctor and hanging out with people he expressly told them not to, like their dead alternate parents and grandparents. (Or, you know, their alternate selves/alternate gay lovers, in Mickey's case.) Alternate-Pete is involved with a multinational called Cybus Industries, which makes earpiece phones that sometimes take over your brain, and also create Cybermen, which are like people with their brains painfully grafted into awfully stupid-looking Art Deco robots with feelings that they can't express. Mickey gets picked up by the Preachers, an underground resistance group who are FULL BOSS AWESOME, but he soon comes face-to-face with his alternate self, named (hilariously) Rickey. Rose and the Doctor hit a party at the Tyler estate, where she learns that her dad isn't actually the tool he was in our universe, but Alternate-Jackie is irredeemably an asshole. The Tyler to-do, which involves lots of world leaders and scientists and stuff, is attacked by hundreds of Cybermen, who kill the President of Britain and Awful Jackie, and then the Doctor, Rose, and Pete hook up with the Preachers and Mickey out on the lawn, where they are surrounded by the Cybermen, who look like crap, move real slow, and have stupid catchphrases. Good: the alternate reality itself, the characters -- particularly the Preachers and Alterna-Tylers -- and the Cybermen. Bad: the feeling that not much actually happens in this episode at all, beyond setting the stage for Part II, next week.
Once, on the other side of Hell from here, there was a little boy named John Lumic. He grew up to be an insane genius in a wheelchair, who headed up a company called Cybus Industries. He was a man of a great deal of money and a great many fears: loneliness, death, pain, sadness. If you were the richest man in the world -- and I'm talking rich and crazy like that guy in Contact -- what would you do? If you didn't want to be the king of loneliness, you might invent EarPods, which are like internet iPods for your brain, so you would never have to be alone. If you didn't want to die, if you didn't want the party to end, you might want to invent a way to stay alive forever. Even trapped in a useless body, you still don't want the party to end, so you'd do that: make a body for yourself that was impervious to aging. If you were tired of pain to the point of seeing it not as a natural necessity but as a serious force ruining your life, you'd snip that out. If you'd ever had your heart broken, you'd lose that faster than the Tin Man. And then you'd be perfect: never changing, never hurting, never dying. Never alone. And the party would never, ever end. At some point, Lumic touched something like beauty -- we'll never know what it looked like to him, if it was loud or quiet or beautiful music -- but that was enough for him to know that he'd like to stay there forever. If only his crazy rich money could get him there. He did not have a particularly strong moral compass, like you and I do, so these fears -- which we share -- expressed themselves in fucked-up ways. This is a story about him, and about us.
In a dusty laboratory there's a man named Dr. Kendrick, who lights up the familiar silhouette of a Cyberman (Mark 2006). The very brilliant La Guardianista put it best when she called the Cyberman style "Metropolis" -- that's exactly it. And if we were in a Metropolis world, they would look awesome. But the fact is that we're in a London pretty much identical to our own, which makes them look stupid to me. Not to pull a George Lucas and piss on your childhood, but there it is: they're stupid-looking. I'm not an authority, I'm a guy with an opinion. They're also awesome, as I said, and way cooler than the Dalek in concept and execution. Anyway, Kendrick rejoices that this prototype has passed every test, and that it's working, and hearing Kendrick say "working," creepy old wheelchair-bound mad scientist John Lumic rolls out and bitches, "That would apply only to machines." Which, note, the Cybermen are not. Kendrick clarifies: "Sorry, I should say...it's alive." Lumic asks if it can hear him. "Might still be in shock," says Kendrick. "Bear in mind the brain has been welded to the exoskeleton." Welded. To the exoskeleton. "Skin of metal," Lumic breathes, spinning around to face the Cyberman,"and a body that will never age or die. I envy it. Do you know me? Answer. Do you know me?" It does, and Lumic laughs quietly: "My child." Kendrick pisses on Lumic's parade: "Not quite over yet, sir. We need Geneva's approval. Technically, this is a new form of life. And that contravenes the bio-convention." And, Lumic knows, Geneva will refuse to ratify it. Lumic asks -- hypothetically of course -- what Kendrick would do, if he didn't maybe alert the national community and ask for permission. That's what madmen do; explore their options. What if Lumic contravened the rules of the world itself, so the party could go on forever? What would Kendrick do in the face of that egregious behavior? "I'm sorry, sir, but it's my duty," says Kendrick. "I shall have to inform them."