This blog post contains spoilers for Ascension of the Cybermen. If you have not seen this episode yet, please return after watching.
The Cybermen were defeated. The victors of a billion battles, broken. An empire of might and terror, fallen. Their weaknesses exploited. Their armies outfought. Their conquests surrendered. Every empire has its time. And every empire falls. But that which is dead can live again in the hands of a believer.
In the far future, the Doctor and her friends face a brutal battle across the farthest reaches of space to protect the last remnants of the human race against the deadly Cybermen.
The first part of a two-part finale which has been billed as being game-changing by Chris Chibnall, Ascension of the Cybermen certainly leaves us with a lot of plot to mull over for the next week. I feel this story broadly worked, however, the mystery surrounding the Irish policeman Brendan whilst intriguing felt as though it had come from another episode or even at times, a program like All Creatures Great and Small or Call the Midwife. Ashad, or the Lone Cyberman, is still pretty strong and this episode certainly makes the Cybermen feel very threatening.
After quite a nice, atmospheric opening – and I particularly enjoyed the camera going through the disembodied Cyber head into the opening credits – the opening with a baby being abandoned in Ireland was rather unexpected. The story keeps jumping in to check up on him, seeing him being adopted, enjoying a seemingly idyllic childhood, joining the Garda, mysteriously surviving a tumble off a cliff whilst in pursuit of a gun-toting criminal and then retiring, felt largely detached from the main plot until the ending, and even then I’m not convinced I entirely understand what’s happening. At worst, this element feels out of place, however, given the ending of this story, I am intrigued to see what the pay off will be next week. I’m particularly intrigued by the fact that neither his adopted mother or father seem to age, despite some considerable passage of time, which makes me think that this might be an artificial reality around him. I doubt that he is the Lone Cyberman as Ashad states later that he wanted to be converted into a Cyberman and the last scene we have with Brendan certainly doesn’t make him look willing. Unfortunately, however, some of these check-ins on Brendan’s life do feel like the brakes have been slammed on in quite a bombastic and stuffed episode.
There is no glory in being a Cyberman. And there’s definitely no glory in you. I mean, talk about an identity crisis – you despite who you are. That anger and hatred that’s driving you – those are human emotions. The real Cybermen, they don’t do emotions. So you loathe your own being because of what’s driving you. Now, that’s what I call an inner conflict.
This story really does make the Cybermen feel threatening again, with the Lone Cyberman (or perhaps we should call him Ashad) certainly felt different to any other Cyberman we’ve seen before. Ashad maintains his sense of threat from the previous episode and the fact that we can see the human elements and the incomplete nature of this beast make him more terrifying. One simple but effective way that Ashad is marked as being different from the two battered Cybermen he spends most of the story with is the fact that he doesn’t have the ‘standard’ Cyberman voice performed by Nicholas Briggs and this contrast is particularly effective. I liked the fact that they were able to easily incapacitate the Doctor’s attempts to defend the refugees through the use of Cyber drones, which looked great and took some of the traditional weaknesses of the Cybermen off the board by destroying machines like the Neural Inhibitor system, the Particle Projector, and the force field quite early on. I am slightly confused as to why they are killing humans rather than converting them, which seems to be against their modus operandi, so I’m hoping we get some resolution to this in the second part. Potentially this might be because, thanks to the Cyberium, Ashad knows that he’s got a shiny new army of Cybermen hidden away somewhere, ready to ascend, even if he is capable of making these Cybermen scream.
The goal of the refugees is to get to the mysterious Ko Sharmus and the Boundary, leading to the conclusion to this story, with the Doctor and Ryan with Ethan and Graham and Yaz with the remaining human refugees striving to reach this escape from the Cybermen. In the conclusion of the episode, the Boundary is seen to open before the Doctor to reveal Gallifrey, albeit in its ruined state, however, the human refugees presumably haven’t all ended up here as it is stated much earlier in the story that the readings for the Boundary are never the same. Whilst I was expecting Gallifrey to appear in some form in the finale, I was expecting it next week rather than here so it was a nice surprise. We also get a brief cameo from Sacha Dhawan’s Master in the closing minutes and I am certainly intrigued to see his involvement in this story. We get less of an explanation as to Ko Sharmus, who is revealed to be a space hermit rather than a planet, and why he is so close to the Boundary, but this again could be another potential character that Brendan’s story ties into.
You’ve come a long way, Graham O’Brien.
The Doctor and her companions continue their good form, and it is particularly nice to see the fact that the Doctor has underestimated the Lone Cyberman, despite Jack and her companions’ warnings and her realisation that she has done so continues a potentially darker side of this incarnation that we saw towards the end of last week’s episode. The companions are separated again here, and it is good to see Yaz take control of the group of refugees who eventually end up on the Cybership and maintaining a cool head while the refugees and Graham are losing theirs. Graham gets some nice moments with Ravio whilst they are exploring the troop carrier, and Ravio is probably the member of the guest cast that we spend the most time with. Sadly, the rest of them are rather underserved as the crammed plot doesn’t really have time to explore them anymore, but we might get more time with them next week.
Verdict: Ascension of the Cybermen is a good first part of a two-part story, with enough sense of mystery and dread around it, even if the Brendan subplot does effect the pace somewhat. 8/10
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Sacha Dhawan (The Master), Patrick O’Kane (Ashad), Julie Graham (Ravio), Ian McElhinney (Ko Sharmus), Alex Austin (Yedlarmi), Steve Toussaint (Feekat), Coalyn Byrne (Sergeant), Matt Carver (Ethan), Rhiannon Clements (Bescot), Branwell Donaghy (Patrick), Kevin Hudson (Cyber Warrior), Andrew Macklin (Michael), Evan McCabe (Brendan), Orla O’Rourke (Meg), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Cybermen), Richard Highgate, Richard Price, Mickey Lewis, Matthew Doman, Paul Bailey, Simon Carew & Matthew Rohman (Cybermen).
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Jamie Magnus Stone
Behind the Scenes
- The sixth appearance of the Cybermen in part of a series finale – including cameos – and their third such appearance with the Master/Missy.
- The twelfth story not to feature the TARDIS.
I’m a sucker for Cybermen stepping out of their pods like in Tomb of the Cybermen. What can I say?
The systems didn’t stop ’em, Doc.
They destroyed everything we brought with us.
We haven’t got anything else to defend ourselves or them.
I know! Listen to me, do not argue, go with the humans. Help them. Get them out of here. You won’t make it back to the TARDIS alive. Make sure you’re with them.
What about you?
I’ll hold them off.
How are you going to do that?
This isn’t a discussion.
We’re not just going to leave you.
Yes you are. All of you. No questions. Get out. I’ve been so reckless with you.
What are you talking about?
You’re human! If they capture you, they’ll convert you. I’ll find you. Get safe, now!
Graham O’Brien, The Doctor, Yasmin Khan and Ryan Sinclair.