The moment is finally here as the big two part Series 12 finale begins with ‘Ascension of the Cybermen’. What started with a warning from a surprise return from Captain Jack Harkness in Fugitive of the Judoon came true last week as the Lone Cyberman appeared and the Doctor gave him what he wanted, the Cyberium, a strange AI construct containing all the knowledge of the Cybermen. Now the Doctor and Team TARDIS have travelled to a perilled future in an attempt to stop the Lone Cyberman from using it to create a new Cybermen Army.
There is a hell of a lot that this two-parter has to deliver on with Chris Chibnall making so many huge lore changing moments this series so it comes as little actual surprise that rather than getting right to the point of the Master’s return, the destroyed Gallifrey and explaining who this other “Ruth Doctor” is, we are going to do what a normal series finale would do…have the Doctor have an old enemy and attempt to save the Earth and humanity. I am more than a little nervous given how awful Chibnall managed the first meeting of the 13th Doctor and the DALEK last year but there was promise in how this was gently lead into by the use of Episode 8. We ended with a Doctor reluctant to take the “fam” with her on this dangerous mission but they as always refused to do anything but stand by her yet, the teases that not all was happy with Team TARDIS and this life travelling with the Doctor have been threaded throughout Series 12.
I loved how this episode opened with a short narration coming from none other than the Lone Cyberman himself as he deliver a monologue that really sets the theme for this episode as he appears to be talking about the Cybermen and how their weakness are constantly exploited and their failings in battle lead to their defeat time and time again. It was an interesting deconstruction of an old Doctor Who enemy and seems the practice that Chris Chibnall had in creating a new type of DALEK for last year’s New Years Day special has paid off, as the final chilling line is spoken:
“Every empire has it’s time and every empire falls. But that which is dead can live again, in the hands of a believer…”
The surprise was in a seemingly flashback follow up as we see what looked to be a 50s or 60s period and an Irish faming couple where the father has found a baby in a basket floating in river who then brings it home and throughout the episode the story returns to this family as we see them adopt the baby and see the boy grow from child to grown man where he joins the Irish Garda which is their police force. Named Brendan, we never really discover who he is but my instinct is that he is the human within the Lone Cyberman and that perhaps the flashbacks are a hint at his own Cyber Conversion attempt as we know from Episode 8 that his conversion was only half completed and that he still retains his full human emotions. It will be interesting to see if this is the case before the series ends.
We then quickly jump to the future where the very last of humanity are running from the very last remaining Cybermen forces as we learn that a war between the Cybermen and humanity had left both on the brink of extinction. The Doctor and Team TARDIS arrive to try and save the very last of humanity by using the very weaknesses that the Lone Cyberman had mentioned such as a device that would knock out the inhibitor forcing them to feel all their emotions leading to their self destruction and a device that would create Gold in the air which Cybermen are allergic too. All tried and tested defences against the Cybermen but then a twist as a Cyberdrone fleet, which are just a bunch of Cybermen heads flying, target and destroy the weapons.
The reaction of the Doctor and her “Fam” is again the most interesting aspect to this series and one more, we see the classic “Team TARDIS” optimism belief that the Doctor can accomplish anything and always save the day that made Series 11 a painful watch for me at time. Series 12 has gone to great lengths to almost undo this as we have seen Graham, Ryan and Yaz all start to question their relationship with the Doctor and the very real consequences that a life travelling with her actually means. Following the attack each one makes the observation that the weapons where destroyed, turning to the Doctor for the Plan B but instead we have the angry reaction of the Doctor. This Doctor has actively distanced herself at times from Team TARDIS following Spyfall, often returning to the remains of Gallifrey without them, not revealing anything about herself to them until cornered and pushed.
This continues as the story then splits into two parts as Graham and Yaz are left adrift in space after escaping with the final human survivors as Ryan is left with the Doctor after she had ordered them to flee with the other survivors, blaming herself for being so wreckless as to keep them with her due to their one weakness against the Cybermen, that they are human. By splitting the two groups off the story is able to keep a steady pace, learning that there is something known as the “Boundary”, a place where other human survivors are rumoured to have used to travel to a different part of the universe and away from the Cybermen. At the same time, the Doctor Ryan and a young human survivor make their escape in a Cyber Fighter where the young survivor reveals that he was born in the war with the Cybermen and that he was trained from the age of 4, how to hack and fly Cyber ships.
More seeds were sown as to how Team TARDIS might be coming to an end after this series with some interesting flirtation occurring between Graham and the lead of the human survivors Ravio, played brilliantly by guest actor Julie Graham. The writing has been strong this series by Chris Chibnall when it comes to laying the foundation for possible changes to the current dynamic of Team TARDIS With Yaz being the clear favourite to become the true ‘Companion’ to the Doctor with Ryan and Graham either returning home or moving away from TARDIS life, right now there are many possibilities for this to happen so if the final episode goes that way, I would not be surprised to see any or even all of Team TARDIS depart.
The strongest element of this story for me has to be the Lone Cyberman and the way we saw how this singular character has been used so spectacularly way to pretty much reboot the Cybermen as enemies. This half human half Cyberman is very different to any Cyberman any Doctor has faced for he is not just the leader of the Cybermen, he is exactly what he said in his opening monologue, a believer. Having a leader that retains their human emotions yet is driven by the Cyberium itself to bring the Cybermen back to glory and power is something to be afraid of. He is menacing when talking with the Doctor where the standard go to Doctor line of “I have stopped you before and will always stop you” fell flat with the Lone Cyberman, in fact he is so driven in what he believes, that he is able to retain leadership of the other Cybermen despite him not being a fully converted Cyberman. The Cyberium seems to be the main source of their obedience but there is an interesting scene where Graham, Yaz and their group end up crashing on a derelict ship which turns out to be a CyberWarship Carrier which is storing an entire army of a new class of Cyberman, the ‘Warrior Class’ which I love the look of, the new Ironman style body but with the larger traditional Cyberman head seen in the 80s.
We see the Lone Cyberman attacking a dormant Warrior Cyberman, perhaps reprogramming them to obey him or to force install the Cyberium connection but the very sight and the sound of screaming from the Cybermen he was targeting certainly changes everything we know and thought we knew about them as an enemy. For me, they never seemed like a credible threat, just a large force but they have been defeated so many way and in so many weak ways that they really never felt like a real threat. This time however they actually do or at least, the Lone Cyberman feels like a true threat and something new that the Doctor has not faced and currently has no answer in how to stop.
For the opener to a two part finale, Episode 9 packs in a hell of a lot of story whilst managing to keep a very quick pace as it builds up to the final 10th episode. So much is happening all at once that it can get a little confusing but there are small subtle moments alluding to how things might end up by the end of this series. The Cybermen finally feel like a true threat to the Doctor but it is that closing 5 minutes that yet again just hammer home that something very game changing is on its way for Doctor Who. The Doctor comes face to face with this mysterious “boundary” that turns out to be a massive portal but as the portal remains open, it suddenly reveals that Gallifrey is on the over side and with mouth open and in shock, none other than the Master himself comes through the portal with the episode ending on his final words “this is where everything changes”.
Now that is a rather nice nod to the first series of Torchwood where Jack says to Gwen Cooper that “the 21st Century is where everything changes”, but here is where my trepidation for the big lore moments of Series 12 comes full charge to my mind. We have had another Doctor in “Ruth” shown, Captain Jack Harkness returned to deliver the warning about the Lone Cyberman and The Master is back having claimed responsibility for laying waste to Gallifrey and telling the Doctor that everything they thought they knew about Time Lords including the “Timeless Child” legend. What happens in the final episode of this series is no doubt going to have a big impact on everything Doctor Who and it does have me nervous.
The lead into it with this episode does have me excited for next week but I am still worried about what Chris Chibnall has in store for what is now 57 years of Doctor Who. One thing is for sure, I am more intrigued by how this series might end than I was for Series 11!