In Review: Doctor Who – Ascension of the Cybermen

In the distant future, the Doctor and friends face a brutal battle across the farthest reaches of space...

Synopsis: In the distant future, the Doctor and friends face a brutal battle across the farthest reaches of space to protect the last of the human race against the deadly Cybermen.

 

Story

Chris Chibnall pulled out all the stops this week and gave us a gripping, scary and electrifying Cyberman story entwined with the tale of a mysterious man who cannot die. We see the Doctor and her companions happen upon one of the last surviving human settlements at the end of the Cyber war. The Doctor quickly takes charge but her anti-Cyberman gadgets prove ineffective as Ethan (Matt Carver) is murdered by Cyber drones. The Doctor orders her companions to run as more Cybermen approach, and while Yaz and Graham make it onto the survivors’ shuttlecraft with Ravio, (Julie Graham) Yedlarmi (Alex Austin) and Bescot (Rhiannon Clements), Ryan is left behind with the Doctor. We see Ashad, the lone Cyberman, again, who threatens the lives of two survivors but is stopped by the Doctor, who throws an explosive at Ashad allowing the survivors to escape. They, the Doctor and Ryan commandeer a Cyber ship and head for Koshamas, where there is a gateway that leads out of the galaxy and away from the Cybermen. Meanwhile the power on the survivors’ shuttle runs dangerously low, and we see Graham step up to the plate by suggesting they divert all remaining power to the shuttle’s engines. This works, and our heroes find themselves on a massive Cyber troop carrier. Ashad pursues them, boards the ship and begins to awaken the dormant Cybermen. As this is happening the Doctor and Ryan find Koshamas who is in fact a person, a veteran who escaped from the Cyber camps, and guardian of the gateway. Yaz contacts the Doctor from the Cyber ship and explains what is happening, and the Doctor discovers that the gateway leads to the ruins of her home planet Gallifrey. The Master comes through the portal and delivers a warning to the Doctor. In between these events taking place we see the life of a man named Brendan (Evan McCabe) who is found abandoned as a baby, grows up with two loving foster parents (Branwell Donaghey and Orla O’Rourke) and joins the local police force, only to survive a gunshot wound and a fall from a cliff while chasing a felon. We see Brendan as an old man at the end of his life, who is then kidnapped by two other men and has his memory painfully erased by advanced technology that appeared similar to the Chameleon Arch. Whether Brendan is some kind of proto Time Lord or something to do with the Timeless Child will no doubt become clear in the finale. It must be said that this week’s episode held my attention from start to finish and kept the tension building into a great climax.

Acting

Jodie Whittaker showed us a much more take charge no nonsense Doctor this week. I was genuinely scared when she challenged the approaching Cybermen, which really showed Whittaker’s intensity and hint of a slasher smile. There was a great moment when 13 told her companions to leave and I loved her anger when the Doctor realised that Ryan had stayed behind. I also loved Whittaker’s high speed technobabble when she and Ryan boarded the Cyber ship, which called to mind David Tennant or Matt Smith. Also brilliant was the 13th Doctor’s heated confrontation with Ashad’s hologram, though I felt that Whittaker was not quite as Doctory when she talked about the Cyberman’s emotions. Patrick O’Kane was absolutely brilliant as Ashad. I could feel the hate and rage pouring out of him whenever he spoke. O’Kane has made his character a truly terrifying and worthy opponent for Whittaker’s Doctor and gets some great villainous speeches throughout this episode. It was great to see Bradley Walsh’s Graham show a more heroic side this week but still get some good moments of humour, like when he had to explain Cockney rhyming slang to Ravio. I also liked the desperation showed by Julie Graham, Alex Austin and Rhiannon Clements as they fled in the shuttle, which I felt really helped to sell the threat of the Cybermen and the utter terror these people must have felt. Another thing I thought was good was the call back to The Ghost Monument, when Graham and Yaz explain that they’ve been stranded in space before. There were some lovely moments of ordinary humanity to be found as well as we watched Brendan grow up. I loved the part where Branwell Donaghey looked at his son with pride as Brendan was inducted into the police service, and I also liked the inscrutability shown by Evan McCabe as he tried to downplay his miraculous survival of being shot and falling off a cliff. Even though he had no lines, as the character was non verbal, I enjoyed Matt Carver’s performance as Ethan and wished he would have played a more substantial role in the episode, being as I assume a non verbal autistic. The narration of the Cybermen’s history at the very start of the episode was great too and helped set up this two parter as an epic space opera, before subverting it by showing us Brendan as a baby.

Incidental Music

The piano score that played when Brendan’s adoptive parents become his official guardians was beautiful and really put over the humanity of the people. There was also a great melancholy score when 13 told her companions to leave her after the Cyber drones laid waste to the settlement. The incidental music when Ashad walked into the church was chilling, and really helped set him up as the series’ big bad as did the music that played when he walked onto the Cyber ship. The music that was used when Yaz and Graham were running away from the Cybermen was brilliant and conveyed the chaos and terror of that moment perfectly. Also fantastic was the score that played when the Cybermen were reawakening that made them feel like an unstoppable, inevitable force. There was also a lovely frenetic score used when Brendan chased the thief in his role as police officer.

CGI

The CGI of the Cyber ships was good. I also liked the introduction of the Cyber drones, and felt the CGI of their perspective was effective and helped to convey the humans’ fear and desperation. The FX of the commandeered Cyber ship in the time vortex was great as well. It’s really good to see the more cinematic aspects of this era of Doctor Who used well. The CGI of Brendan falling to his “death” was well done too. The CGI used to create the Cyber graveyard was excellent. I felt by turns afraid and sad when the camera pulled back to reveal the millions of dead Cyber ships. The standout CGI of this outing though would have to be the boundary that opened to reveal the destroyed Gallifrey. I thought that these effects captured the sense of wonder and awe of space and time as well as anything I have seen in any media.

Overall

A blisteringly good penultimate episode that left me excited for the finale.

9.1
Doctor Who - Ascension of the Cybermen
  • Story
    9.8
  • Acting
    9.0
  • Incidental Music
    8.5
  • CGI
    9.0

I'm a writer on the autistic spectrum who loves sci-fi, cosplay and poetry. I'm also an actor with Theatre of the Senses.
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