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Doctor Who S12E9: Does “Ascension of the Cybermen” Actually Rise to the Occasion?

(Image by BBC)

Last we met, the Doctor gave the Lone Cyberman what he wanted and now she and the TARDIS fam have to save the world from destruction. How’s that for the beginning of a two-part finale, eh? Well…it’s not as straightforward as it would seem.

We open with an abandoned baby being found and adopted by a nice Irish couple. This backstory will weave in between the future story where the Doctor and her companions find themselves. But, as far as historical stories go, it’s compelling in its own right and leads to lots of questions as the episode unfolds. The baby grows up to be a boy named Brendan. He decides to be a police officer, but one day is shot pursuing a robber and falls off a cliff…only to survive. (Please tell me I wasn’t the only one waiting for Bowie to start playing before Gene Hunt showed up in some ridiculous sports car. Is there life on Mars? I’m happy, hope you’re happy too…) 

The Doctor and the TARDIS crew are walking towards the Cyberwar in Doctor Who S12E9 Ascension of the Cybermen
(Image by BBC)

Then there’s the actual action part of the story. The Doc and her companions show up in the last days of the Cyber Wars. There’s very few humans left and those that are have pulled together a rickety ship with the goal of getting to The Boundary, where they may pass into another world and be safe from the Cybermen’s grasp. After the Doctor’s protective efforts are destroyed by Cybermen patrol, she and her companions are split up. Graham and Yaz end up with the few human survivors (Yedlarmi, Ravio and Bescot) and Ryan and Thirteen are left behind with one other human straggler named Ethan. The Doctor steals a Cybershuttle, which she and Ethan are able to hotwire quickly into warp drive. 

Yaz and Graham stay hopeful and think about what the Doctor would do when the transport ship they’re on begins to fail. They use what burst of energy they have left to push them into the docking space of a Cybercarrier. Once aboard they try and get the ship up and running, it’s discovered there are thousands of dormant Cybermen still on deck. It doesn’t help that the Lone Cyberman can sense where they are and makes his way to the Cybercarrier where he terrorizes a few of the Cybermen awake by drilling into them and making them feel (which technically, they shouldn’t be able to do, but the Lone Cyberman wasn’t finished so my guess is he wants others to experience what he does.) 

The Lone Cyberman raises his weapon in Doctor Who S12E9 Ascension of the Cybermen
(Image by BBC)

Meanwhile, the Doctor, Ryan, and Ethan have found the Boundary, manned by one person by the name of Ko Sharmus (initially believed to be a place, not a person). He takes the travelers to the shore where the portal opens up to reveal Gallifrey. Yaz has also found a way to communicate with the Doctor across the comms channel and warns they’re on their way but everyone’s in great danger. And if that wasn’t enough, the Master pops up at the last second, much to the Doctor’s dread. 

Whew. 

The problems that have plagued this whole season continue to persist. The episode has too much going on and it’s cluttered with characters we may or may not care about (truly, your mileage might vary here). Then there’s the whole side story about Brendan. Is he a Cyberman? A time lord? A Cyberman time lord? And if that wasn’t enough, throw in a portal to Gallifrey and the Master rattling on about the timeless child and how this is when everything changes. (Oi, quit stealing River Song’s lines, dude.) Also, what about Captain Jack? Or Ruth!Doctor from “Fugitive of the Judoon?” 

What has this season even been about? Over the course of the last nine episodes, we’ve seen Chibnall try for a so-called traditional season of Doctor Who, filled with aliens and long-time baddies. Some episodes have fared better than others (the Nicola Tesla and Mary Shelley historicals are at the top of my list, along with the yet-to-be explained unknown Doctor) but Chibnall has shown us time and again that he still hasn’t quite figured out what to do with the Doctor just yet. 

Looking back at Season 11, at least the themes feel consistent. Those ten episodes were a meditation on humanity and what it means to be human or have courage and hope. That approach was at least thoughtful. Throwing the Master and the Cybermen back into the mix so quickly this season seems to undo all the work that Steven Moffat did in Season 10 with Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor and Michelle Gomez’s dazzling and operatic arc as Missy. I’m still hoping this latest incarnation of the Master is from an earlier point in time (pre-John Simms would be fab, thanks) or an alternate dimension all together (which would explain Gallifrey popping up at the end of the episode as well as Ruth!Doctor). One thing’s for certain, the Lone Cyberman is truly terrifying and he made my skin crawl as his drilled into other Cybermen. The overall costume design got to shine this episode, too, showing how incomplete the Lone Cyberman’s build is (while referencing numerous past Cyber designs). 

There’s been so much potential with Thirteen and her companions. I’ve desperately wanted more for her and the fam storywise, but I’m not sure this is it. Still, there’s one more (extended) episode to go…let’s see how many loose ends we can tie up, eh? We’ve got all the time in the world, it seems.

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Written by Rachel Stewart

Rachel Stewart is a staff writer at 25YL. She has written fandom commentary and critique for sites like The Sartorial Geek, FangirlConfessions.com, Nerdy Minds Magazine, and ESO Network, among others. Her work has also appeared in print in the kOZMIC Press anthology “Children of Time: The Companions of Doctor Who" and the ATB Publishing anthology "OUTSIDE IN TRUSTS NO ONE."

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