What Is Dead Can Never Die
Out of all the Doctor Who monsters through the years, there’s something timelessly chilling about the Cybermen. Ever since their first arrival at the end of the First Doctor’s reign, these creatures have become a main-stay in the Who-Universe and for good reason. While not all of their stories have hit the right notes, Chris Chibnall’s latest epic is as close to menacing as the Cybermen have been in quite some time.
We begin episode 9 with a man riding his bike down the country lane until he comes across a cot holding a baby. He brings the child home where he and his wife vow to look after the child until they find his parents. However, as we jump forward through time, we see Brendan grow up and the couple adopt him as their own. Despite making it into the police force, Brendan takes a nasty fall off the cliff but somehow survives. As the episode draws to the end, we see him once again taken, this time for cyber experiments. Is he the Lone Cyberman?
Meanwhile The Doctor and the companions arrive in the far future, just after the Cyber War where the Cybermen have wiped out most of the human race. The only humans left – all 7 of them – are living in these ruins. They speak to the leading trio of humans, where the Doctor tells them to get everyone inside while we cut to each of the companions and see them setting up traps against the Cybermen.
Flying Cybermen heads, called Cyber Drones, prompt her to scream out to her “fam” and tell them to get down. Despite these drones killing a few of the humans, they suddenly fly back, meaning the Cybermen themselves are almost certainly going to follow.
The Doctor tells her companions to run for safety as the Lone Cyberman returns with a whole army at his disposal. Deciding to act as bait, she runs in the opposite direction. Yaz and Graham find themselves on a shuttle, blasting off into space, while Ryan is left behind until the Doctor runs into him and the two team up together.
The final human on this planet (aside from Ryan of course) squares up to the Lone Cyberman but he decides to keep him alive as a way of spreading the message of fear about the Cyber race. The Doctor throws a grenade at the Lone Cyberman though, proceeding to steal the Cyber ship and blast off into space with Ryan and fellow human Ethan. Only, the Doctor struggles to hack the electrics so Ethan takes over instead.
Up in the air, the remaining humans head off in their ship to Ko Sharmus. It’s also somewhere the Doctor is heading too but before they can arrive, the hologram of the Lone Cyberman appears and tell them something beyond this is coming – the death of everything is within him and the Cyberium.
On Ko Sharmus, The Doctor manages to get through to an old man and lands the shuttle nearby, where she learns more about who he is and the fabled boundary he’s protecting, which happens to be real as the Doctor approaches it and reveals a glowing purple force-field.
Meanwhile, Yaz and the others run into problems as the ship loses power until they stumble upon a floating graveyard of Cybermen, proceeding to use the acceleration and remaining bits of energy to propel them across to one of the big freighters nearby. They land in one piece, through an open vent, and start exploring the ship. To the surprise of few, the ship holds an entire shuttle’s worth of Cybermen – thousands of warrior troops back from the early days of Doctor Who ready to fight.
Unfortunately the Lone Cyberman arrives with his two bodyguards and declares this shuttle to be his home. Up on the control deck, the group contemplate what to do next. Yaz decides to fly the ship full of thousands of Cybermen to the sacred Ko Sharmus, believing the Doctor will be enough to save them if she does. As the ship approaches, all hope appears to be lost as the Cybermen open up the doors and shoot everything that moves.
Back on Ko Sharmus, the Doctor looks at the purple forcefield and finds an intact Gallifrey. Along with that, she also sees the Master jumping out from the portal and telling the Doctor everything she knows is about to change.
Ascension Of The Cybermen is a really solid Cyberman story. The Lone Cyberman is a competent and compelling antagonist, adding some much-needed depth to this ancient race, while the mystery and allure behind this character keeps things interesting across the duo of episodes he’s featured in. Seeing the clash of cyber designs through the years is a nice contrast too although the Whovian in me would have liked to see this medley play out a little more by bringing in all variations through the years for this episode (a costume designer’s worst nightmare I’m sure!).
In terms of episodic structure, Ascension is a perfectly acceptable first part, although a lot of the early-episode running and gunning leaves little room to really soak in the atmosphere and look over the Cyber War’s destruction of the Human Race. The ending involving the forcefield and Gallifrey is an interesting twist too, although at a guess I’d imagine this is portal that’ll teleport the Doctor back through time to right the wrongs and save the future.
For now though, Doctor Who looks like it’s going to end the season on a bang rather than the disappointing whimper of last season and hopefully this is a sign that the show may just be turning its fortunes once more and delivering more consistency. Let’s hope part 2 rounds this out and puts the Cybermen back at the top of the “Menacing Dr Who Monsters” podium where it belongs!