Doctor Who Series 12, Episode 10
“Ascension of the Cybermen”
Posted by Kim
It’s interesting, given the way Sage and I alternate Doctor Who recaps that I end up with the first half of both the series premiere and the series finale. On paper, “Spyfall, Part One” and “Ascension of the Cybermen” are very similar: both are action-packed, high-octane thrill rides that rarely give us the change to breathe. Both have one or more members of the fam in genuine peril, allowing a sense of pure dread to build. And both end with a big dramatic moment for the Master. (HI SACHA I MISSED YOUR HANDSOME FACE.)
And yet, in reality, the two episodes couldn’t feel further apart to me.
Let me put it in a gymnastics metaphor because, for some reason, it’s what feels the most apt to me. “Spyfall, Part One” is like the opening tumbling pass of a floor exercise: explosive, bold, and a statement of intent, setting the tone for the rest of the routine. When do you launch your most attention getting move? In the beginning, when you have the most energy and want to grab the judges’ attention straight out of the gate. “Spyfall, Part One” did exactly that. It made us all sit a little higher in our seats, eager to see what Chibnall had in store for us. Sure, “Spyfall, Part Two” didn’t quite live up to the hype established by Part One, but it still aimed high, shooting for the standard set by its predecessor. The rest of the series followed accordingly. There may have been some missteps in Series 12 (“Orphan 55”) but when it went bold (“Fugitive of the Judoon” and “The Haunting of Villa Diodati”, which to mix my sports metaphors are like doing a triple axel in the second half of your program, getting you double points), it went BOLD, creating some watershed moments for that I imagine will not only serve to be signature moments of Chibnall’s Era or Modern Who but of Doctor Who as a totality.
In contrast, I feel like “Ascension of the Cybermen” is a bit like a vault in mid-air. Sure, it looks great now, and they are doing all sorts of flips and somersaults, but are they gonna stick the landing or are they gonna land on their asses? WE DON’T KNOW CAUSE THEY ARE MIDAIR.
“Ascension of the Cybermen” was allllllllll set-up and exposition, which was hella frustrating because I was so ready for it to blow my mind. “Villa” kind of stole its thunder by bringing in the Lone Cyberman before we were really expecting him and I spent the entire episode waiting for the Master to swoop in because you don’t bring the fucking Master in for 2 episodes, have him say he destroyed Gallifrey and tell the Doctor her whole life is a lie and then NOT use him in the finale. Did Chibbers think we were actually gonna be surprised by his appearance because honestly my first reaction was a simple “Oh THERE you are Master,” as opposed to losing my shit.
Am I being a bit tough on this one? Of course I am. It’s the finale! There are a LOT of balls in the air between the Master, Gallifrey, The Timeless Child, Jack’s warning, the Ruth!Doctor, the Cyber War, and the NEW mystery brought up over the course of the episode. That’s a LOT of balls and only 49 minutes or so left in the series to catch them all in a satisfying manner. Will they be able to do it? I know I’ll be watching on Sunday to find out.
For all my quibbling though, I did enjoy the episode. They’ve manage to make the Cybermen truly terrifying. (Much like Daleks, I’ve often found the Cybermen to be more scary in theory rather than execution, though between this arc and “Resolution,” I’m starting to come around on the concept.) I love how the Doctor is almost immediately set back on her heels when the Cyber Drones show up and promptly destroy all her fancy Cybermen killing equipment. And Jodie Whittaker, you guys!! It’s no secret that we at Head Over Feels like our Doctors dark, twisty, and a little bit unhinged, and boy is she delivering that right now. The way she yells “I KNOW” at Ryan and the rest of the fam after they pointed out how completely fucked they were sent shivers down my spine. Because this is not an angry Doctor we’re seeing right now, it’s a terrified one. It’s a Doctor reaching the end of her rapidly fraying rope desperately trying stuff everything back into Pandora’s box. Pandora’s Box that she opened. She knows they’re fucked, she doesn’t need the fam reminding her.
Speaking of reminders, remember this: Thasmin is real.
Another thing I really liked about the episode is how the fam was ripped apart and you were never quite sure who was in more danger at any time. Reader, my heart stopped when precious cinnamon roll Ryan Sinclair got separated from Graham and Yaz and didn’t get on the transport with the rest of the humans. But then, of course, Ryan was left with the Doctor while Graham and Yaz were on a crippled ship in an asteroid belt made out of bits of dead cybermen. (Armageddon could never.) What impressed me the most about Yaz and Graham in this situation is how they never panicked when they definitely had every right to. The Doctor has taught them well, and she will be so, so proud of the way they handled themselves. They traveled with hope, just how she always told them to do. They were the epitome of “Never cruel, nor cowardly. Never give up, never give in.”
Even when they discovered the cruiser they docked their dying ship on was basically an aircraft carrier full of Cybermen. Cybermen that our good ole Buddy Lone Cybey just woke up.
I swear to GOD, Chris Chibnall, you harm one hair on their heads!!!
Which brings the Doctor, Ryan, and Fauxpanion Ethan to Ko Sharmus, which is not a place, as we’ve been lead to believe all episode, but a person. A person that I am not so sure we should be trusting, if I’m being honest. (TRUST NO ONE!) Sure, he claims he’s a survivor of the human interment camps, one of the pioneers championed with seeing the remnants of the human race through “The Boundary,” a mysterious portal that opens up and then whoever crosses through it is deposited somewhere else in the universe. IDK. Sounds a bit like the Kasavin to me. ESPECIALLY when the portal reveals a still smoking Gallifrey, much to the Doctor’s shock. Sure, Ko Sharmus is all “I’ve never seen THAT before,” but who’s to say he’s telling the truth? All I know is that it feels SUPER convenient that the Master materializes RIGHT THEN, you know? It all just feels fishy. SO MANY BALLS IN THE AIR CHIBNALL HOW CAN YOU CATCH THEM?
- So yes, the big mystery (and often more compelling storyline of the episode) involves a boy in Ireland named Brendan. It has all the makings of a fairy tale or a superhero origin story: an abandoned baby is found in the middle of the road by a simple ordinary man named
Jonathan KentPatrick. Patrick takes the baby home to his wife Meg, who immediately falls in love with the baby. The baby is a gift! They are childless! Guess what? They get to raise them as their own. We flash to different points of Brendan’s life: his idyllic childhood, the moment he decided to become part of the police force, his relationship with his mentor, the moment where a criminal got the jump on him, shot him in the chest, and he fell off a cliff and then was totally fine, not a scratch on him. YOU HEARD ME. And strangely, his mentor doesn’t seem overly surprised that he’s totally fine.
- The entire episode, I kept trying to compare the portion of the Lone Cyberman’s face to Adult Brendan’s. Because that would make the most sense right? That we were seeing the origins of a Super VILLAIN not a superhero? But then we see Old Brendan retiring from the force, being given a small clock as a token of gratitude. (A CLOCK!! A CLOCK THAT THE CAMERA LINGERED ON!) Old Brendan goes outside and his Da and his Mentor are there…and they haven’t aged??? They take Brendan to a backroom, where they put some sort of headset and handcuffs on him. His Da says that unfortunately they have to “get rid of everything,” while his mentor thanks him for his service and assures him he won’t remember a thing. Mmmmmm what the fuck.
- I try to avoid spoilers and discourse as much as possible (it’s way more fun that way) but I’ve heard everything from Brendan being the Line Cyberman to him being a young Time Lord that the elders are experimenting on. A timeless child one might say. EXCEPT HE AGES THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE? SO MANY BALLS CHIBNALL.
- Someone PLEASE TELL me where Ruth!Doctor fits into all of this.
- Man, can Jodie Whittaker monologue or what? I love how they always cast actors with such strong theatre background because every single one of the Modern Doctors give such good monologue.
- Next week on Doctor Who…
- Did anyone else get a “Walking Dead but make it Cybermen” vibe from this whole thing? From the Dystopian Landscape to the ragtag group of Survivors that were all just ordinary people fending for their lives from the desperation to get to
TerminusThe Boundary, the episode gave me big Walking Dead Season 4 vibes. Which is of course, the last time the show was good.
- WHO GETS THE “WATERS OF MARS” FEELS HERE?
- Graham and Yaz are truly the unsung brOTP of this show.
- How GREAT is Sacha’s costume and hiatus beard? A handsome young man, I say.
- Ravio wants to get with Graham and I support that whole heartedly. Second most bumbling bachelor in the galaxy, after his grandson.
What are your thoughts on “Ascension of the Cybermen”? Will Chris Chibnall stick the landing? Let us know in the comments.