Doctor Who: Ascension of The Cybermen Review

It’s season finale time — read on for my review of part one of the end of Season 12 of Doctor Who! Contains traces of spoilers — and some Cybermen.

As always with these things, I hate spoilers.

I hate the idea of spoiling anything for anyone. Every once in a while, I’ll find a reader who gets annoyed reading a review of something that reveals details about that something, so take this as a warning. Read beyond the embedded YouTube video, and you will find spoilers. You have been warned.

Chris Chibnall clearly loves a mystery. That’s the only wayI can rationalise starting the series with a mystery — Spyfall part 1 and Spyfall Part 2 — and finishing it out with another.

Like Spyfall Part 1, assessing just how good Ascension of the Cybermen actually is does rather rest on how well it concludes, but I certainly can’t fault it for ambition — or for that matter packing in a whole heaping load of content to resolve.

Brendan's memories are closely Garda-d. (I regret nothing, I tell you.)
Brendan’s memories are closely Garda-d.
(I regret nothing, I tell you.)

So for a start, you’ve got the supposedly immortal Irish policeman thread. Brendan’s story does play out rather like an episode of Irish Heartbeat — is that a thing? — but with the twist of his dad and former police chief turning up, no older at all to electrocute him with headphones for some reason that will presumably be explained in the next episode. Good for building intrigue, not much good for resolving it just yet.

I don’t know, but I’m betting that this is somehow either the origin story (in part) for Cyberman Ashad, or how he keeps himself sane in a semi-Cyber-converted state.

Are the Cybermen the real threat this episode? Or are they a diversion serving The Master? Time will tell...
Are the Cybermen the real threat this episode? Or are they a diversion serving The Master? Time will tell…

Then in sharp contrast, you’ve got what amounts (more or less) to a rather long corridor chase featuring Cybermen, flying cyber-heads and the not-entirely-destroyed remnants of the last cyber-fleet.

That’s easily the less satisfying part of the equation, at least for now, because it’s rather simple in structure. There’s only 7 human beings left in the universe (8 as we later find out, presuming that Ko Sharmus is in fact human), but presumably not the same last remnants of humanity that were in Utopia, and they’re picked off in short order by the last cyber-fleet, mostly through its flying head troops.

The BBC props department scored a good deal on some partly used DJ Hero decks for spaceship building.
The BBC props department scored a good deal on some partly used DJ Hero decks for spaceship building.

Actually, I’m not sure why the Cybermen don’t simply use the flying heads to kill them all. They’re clearly not that keen on converting them, given the ones that they do kill when they could have instead used them for spare parts.

Or, in a Big Finish sense, Spare Parts.

What is your name? What is your quest? What is the airspeed of an unladen Type 40 Time Travel Capsule?
What is your name?
What is your quest?
What is the airspeed of an unladen Type 40 Time Travel Capsule?

There are some very nice moments here — I’m a sucker for a good Doctor monologue, and Jodie’s exhortation for everyone else to flee is very well handled — and the reveal that the gateway takes you through to Gallifrey is also intriguing. I’m not sure if that’s just randomly Gallifrey for now, or if it’s always been different bits of Gallifrey… or precisely what The Master is doing in all of this, either.

There was me, that is The Doctor, and my three droogs...
There was me, that is The Doctor, and my three droogs…

There are also some moments that don’t hang together quite as well. Graham’s chirpy “WE HAVE HOPE!” mantra does start to wear a little thin, especially when you consider that he’s giving his stiff upper lip speech to survivors of a long war who have just seen people they knew and loved cut down by the Cybermen. That’s not likely to engender a positive, fun-loving mood, and Graham should know better — as a cancer survivor he’d appreciate the benefits of a positive outlook but also that sometimes, you just feel glum. In this case, there’s arguably a very good case for some negativity!

I’m waiting to see something properly Machiavellian from Sacha Dhawan’s Master that will stamp his authority on the role, but he’s certainly got the impish charisma bit down pat. Given his appearance in this episode is so very brief, he gets quite a lot of that charisma across, just before those end credits roll.

Other random thoughts

  • Cybermen are officially allergic to gold again! As a long-term fan that makes me very happy.
  • How did Yaz and Graham actually lose Ryan? I get the feeling there’s a stumble-based cutscene somewhere waiting for a Blu-Ray release.
  • Was it just me, or did the ship-based Cybermen look more like classic Who Cybermen than Ashad’s followers, who were more Nu-Who type designs?
  • What exactly was Ashad doing to the Cybermen? I mean, it clearly made them scream, but what was it?
  • Did Brendan’s dad abandon his bike when he picked up the baby carriage? Or did he risk the baby on the handlebars?
  • OK, Brendan survives the fall and getting shot. And they do show a hole in his coat, presumably where the bullet went. But when he’s dropping off the cliff, there’s no sign of a bullet impact, wound or anything else!
  • I am a tad worried that we’re going to fall into the classic problem where one enemy is scary, but a million of them isn’t. Ashad has a lot of troops right now, and The Doctor has… a device for spinning screws in wood.
  • That spaceship that the last of humanity escaped on looked like an Ed Wood prop. Or possibly a 60s-era Who prop, I guess?
  • Are we going to get an explanation of what the alternate dimension The Master ended up in actually was? I’m fine with him escaping it — this is a Time Lord who escaped Castrovalva, after all — but I would like to know what it was!
  • Was the Cyberium really that important? It seems like Ashad is just using existing resources that have survived the war, not some kind of information edge that the Cyberium gave him. Erm… it. I guess Cybermen are Cyber… men, but really they’re quite gender-neutral once you’re converted.

And now, of course, it’s time to…

Rank the episodes of Season 12 of Doctor Who!

  1. The Haunting Of Villa Diodati
  2. Nikola Tesla’s Night Of Terror
  3. Ascension of The Cybermen
  4. Fugitive Of The Judoon
  5. Can You Hear Me?
  6. Spyfall Part Two
  7. Spyfall Part One
  8. Praxeus.
  9. .
  10. Orphan 55

Ascension of the Cybermen, more than any other episode this season outside Orphan 55 has the opportunity to change its position on the rankings ladder, because it’s so totally dependent on what the next episode actually manages to pull off. If it’s great, I just might switch it up to position 2 with the finale as the best episode. If it’s not, both could go tumbling down.

Although not as far as Orphan 55, because that is the worst.

Next time: The Timeless Children! So… Doctor Who fandom, then?

Images: BBC

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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