Following last week’s episode, expectations were high for the penultimate episode of Doctor Who Series 12. Could ‘Ascension of the Cybermen‘ live up to the hype?
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS SO DO NOT READ ON IF YOU WISH TO AVOID THEM! (Here’s a picture. Scroll beyond it for the review.)
After a slightly bemusing start with an abandoned child, things returned to the ground one might expect from Doctor Who. Since ‘Revenge of the Cybermen‘ the infamous Cyber-wars have been mentioned but not really explored. So the possibility of them finally being realised was rather exciting. The time-travelling fam have brought along some scientific macguffins to battle the Cybermen. Next to irritate this particular viewer further were some embarrassing Cyber-drones, comically shaped like Cyber-heads. Despite these irritants the opening salvo was strong. The humans are running out of numbers and the Doctor is failing to save them. It was an impressive start.
However, this isn’t going to be a massacre, mainly because there were only seven humans left to start with. Instead this is a march towards the inevitable victory for the Cybermen. March is the wrong word. Stomp. For some reason the Cybus Cybermen are back, complete with their “delete” catchphrase. Well, two of them. Plus our lone Cyberman from last week. Why did three Cybermen land two ships? Oh, so the Doctor and friends could use one to take the plot in another direction. Anyway, you would think that the Cybermen, at the peak of their powers, complete with Cyber-drones, would muster a stronger force than just three.
Much like the lone Cyberman, a mishmash of Cyber-parts, ‘Ascension of the Cybermen‘ is also a random jumble. It is a bizarre mixture of plot and some spectacular action. These moments were interspersed with flashbacks to Ireland for some reason. Shockingly, the relevance of these scenes was not covered at all in this episode. Although one of the characters looked suspiciously like the lone Cybermen, without any reason for these scenes being made explicit it was as if someone had edited two different programmes together. Science fiction adventure with Doctor Who and an Irish-set period drama. Have BBCOne brought back Ballykissangel and not mentioned it?
Basically, viewers spent 45 minutes to see the lone Cyberman awaken a new army, then the Master and Gallifrey pop up. The rest of this episode was largely filler and scene-setting to get to that cliffhanger. But what a final couple of minutes! Sacha Dhawan‘s Master simply had to make a return, not just because of the incomplete Gallifrey story arc. His reveal as the Doctor’s archenemy back in ‘Spyfall‘ was a refreshing dose of energy which has catapulted series 12 forward with great momentum. Now he has contributed to a fantastically well-poised finale.
Within the remaining 45 minutes of ‘Ascension of the Cybermen‘ was also some of the best Cybermen material for a very long time. This can be attributed first to Chris Chibnall. As the writer of this episode he has smartly created a version of the Mondasian monstrosities where the lead Cyberman has an understanding of emotion. It does however take a good actor to take the lines on the page and deliver them. Patrick O’Kane was superb in ‘The Haunting of Villa Diodati‘ and it went up another level in ‘Ascension of the Cybermen‘. Exposing his face with a damaged mask has allowed O’Kane to be emotive. To deliver lines with venom and, oddly for a Cyberman, emotion. Both Chibnall and O’Kane have struck gold with this villain.
Redesign of the Cybermen
Where will the story go from here? Cybermen and Gallifrey? We’ve not really seen that before so once again, that is a hugely exciting prospect. The newly redesigned Cybermen do look great. Classical flourishes but even more futuristic than the previous model. Seeing hundreds and thousands of them was a huge moment. But why was Ashad (The Lone Cybermen) seen to torture one of them? What is the connection between events in the far future and the Irish flashback sequences? Will all of the fam make it out alive? How does the Master factor into all of this? Let the speculation begin…