An Old Threat In Ascension
Tripwire’s man in Los Angeles Robert Cave takes a look at the ninth episode of Doctor Who, which was on BBC1 last Sunday…
Series 12, episode 9
Ascension of the Cybermen
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Jamie Magnus Stone
Well, that was a bit of an odd one. Not alienating so, but certainly a little out of way of what one might traditionally expect from Doctor Who, and especially for what is ostensibly the first instalment of a multi-part series finale.
We start with an ominous message from the Cybermen, intimating that their legacy will be to return from defeat and brink of extinction with the help of the right kind of “believer.” Then the scene shifts to a foundling child in what appears to be early-mid 20th century Ireland. There is an air of a fable at work here, and I was certainly left with the impression that nothing in this extended dream-like sequence was quite what it seems.
Upon reaching adulthood, the foundling (now played by Evan McCabe) comes to serve a higher authority in the shape of the Garda, the police service of the Republic of Ireland. I got the distinct impression that the Garda was being used as some kind of a metaphor for the Cybermen themselves, a notion that was only strengthened later when the foundling has a miraculous recovery from being shot and ends up screaming in a back room with cyber-like headphones on his head – a clear allusion to some kind of cyber-conversion. (Yes, like the 60s Batman show, all technology belonging to the Cybermen has a cyber-prefix. Deal with it)
The rest of the episode was a bit more conventional, with plenty of running around and getting shot at by the Doctor and fam. Apparently, team TARDIS has arrived at the tail end of the cyberwars to witness the last remaining humans and Cybermen on the brink of extinction. But while the stakes for humanity are simply survival, it is slightly less clear what the Cybermen actually want.
Cyber-conversions typically use humans as the raw material to make new Cybermen, so why do these Cybermen seem so intent on killing humans rather than harvesting them? Where else would new Cybermen come from? And, for that matter, why have the Cybermen focused so heavily on humans anyway? I know one cyber-trooper noted that “aliens (and certain Gallifreyans in particular) are not to be trusted,” in the Five Doctors, but are Cybermen really just space xenophobes who want exclusive access to all medical prostheses in the universe? A question for another time, perhaps.
Whatever his end goal is, Ashad (Patrick O’Kane), the lone semi-Cyberman, was still great fun leading his ram-shackled cyber-army, composed of combination of the two main post-2005 Cybermen designs with a bunch of “cyber drones” (detruncated cyber-heads that may or may not contain human brains, like the Toclafane in the series three finale, Last of the Time Lords) thrown in for good measure.
Next, we witnessed the brilliant new design for the latest iteration of cyber-warriors. This new look is more reminiscent of the Cybermen we saw throughout the 1980s, and as someone who first became a fan of the show during this period (yes, I am that old), I heartily approve. I just hope this group also get the chance for some revenge on a Raston Warrior Robot…
Something else I really liked was the apparent foreshadowing that some of the Doctor’s fam might not make it to the next adventure. I’d be sad to see any of the gang go at the hands of the Cyberment, especially after what their Mondasian brethren did to previous companion Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) two seasons back, but at this point it seems all too plausible that there might be some kind of “unfortunate event” to come.
And then we had the playful semi-reveal at the end. The gateway that was supposed to take the last humans across to the other side of the universe was actually revealed as leading to the shattered remains of Gallifrey that we saw earlier this series. Before this reveal could even be properly processed, Sacha Dhawan’s villainous Master jumped through the portal to reiterate that everything that we thought we knew about the Doctor is set to change next week.
Waiting seven whole days to find out what that means will definitely be frustrating, but showrunner Chris Chibnall has certainly gotten me excited to see how all this will pan out. See you next week.