Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Doctor Who 12x09 Recap: “The Ascension of the Cybermen” (They Always Come Back) [Guest Poster: Stephanie Coats]

“The Ascension of the Cybermen”
Original Airdate: February 23, 2020

On a nice country lane, a man finds an abandoned baby in a basket and brings it home. He and his wife adopt the baby boy, Brendan, and they make a very happy family together. One day Brendan gets sick but recovers. When he’s grown up, he becomes a policeman because he wants to make a difference. While chasing a thief, he’s shot and falls off of a cliff but is miraculously uninjured. After serving many years in the force, Brendan retires and is given a clock as a memento. His father and first chief are waiting for him outside, somehow the same age as before. They take Brendan into a back room, thank him for his service, and forcibly remove his memories.

The Doctor and the Fam arrive at the coordinates they got from Shelley in last week’s episode. At this point in time, the Cybermen have nearly wiped out all of humanity and themselves. This settlement only has seven humans left. When the Cybermen’s ships appear in the sky, the Doctor, Yaz, Ryan, and Graham quickly set up tech meant to repel the relentless machines. But they are taken by surprise when Cyber Drones (a.k.a. Cybermen heads) fly in and blast their machinery and some of the humans. With nothing to help her, the Doctor sends the last few humans to their escape ship and insists the Fam accompany them, which they, reluctantly, do.

However, Ashad and his Cybermen attack the companions, and Ryan is separated from the other two, who make it aboard the escape ship. It takes off, leaving him, the Doctor, and Ethan behind. After lobbing a grenade at Ashad to create a diversion, this trio steals a Cyberfighter and takes off after the refugee ship. The plan is to cross a boundary called Ko Sharmus that will send them somewhere else in the universe where the Cybermen can’t follow. Ethan deftly flies the Doctor and Ryan there. Ashad contacts them to threaten not only to wipe out humanity but everything else as well. Although he was initially rejected by the Cybermen, he now believes he was chosen to revive the entire race.


The humans’ ship is falling apart and ends up dead in space surrounded by equally dead Cybermen. Yaz and Graham convince the others to use any remaining power to propel them into the docking station of a nearby Cyberman ship. Amazingly, this works! Aboard the Cyberman ship, Graham and Ravio have a look around and discover thousands of dormant Cybermen warriors waiting to be activated. Soon, Ashad and his Cybermen board the ship as well and begin activating the warriors.

The Doctor makes contact with Ko Sharmus, which turns out to be a person. He fought in the Cyber War and escaped an internment camp. Along with others, he built a shelter and discovered the boundary that takes them elsewhere in the universe. Everyone else has gone through but he waited in case there were other humans still alive and in need of guidance. He shows the Doctor the boundary, which looks like a purple portal.

With the Cybermen en route to kill them, Yaz, Graham, and the other humans weigh their options. Taking a ship of Cybermen to Ko Sharmus isn’t a great idea but neither is landing anywhere else or allowing the warriors to remain active. They watch Ashad attack one of the warriors, causing it to scream. Yaz sends a message to Ko Sharmus to alert the Doctor to the situation. The Doctor tells them to leave the ship but they have no way to do that; they’re completely trapped and the Cybermen have breached the bridge.

The portal flashes suddenly and Gallifrey is visible on the other side. Then the Master pops through and lands in front of the Doctor. That can only be bad.

Final Thoughts:
  • Without seeing next week’s episode I can’t say for sure but my instinct is this one would’ve been stronger had the two been combined into one, longer episode. So much here was setup and delaying the real plot. 
  • I also wonder if this entire season would be better if it was condensed only to "Spyfall," "Fugitive of the Judoon," "The Haunting of Villa Diodati," this episode, and next week’s. Those are the real meat and all that feels worth watching. Just like I said in series 11, you could skip or watch the other episodes in any order and it wouldn’t matter. I know Chris Chibnall can do tight, effective storytelling but I’m not seeing that in his stint as Doctor Who’s showrunner. Maybe he needs fewer episodes that are a bit longer?
  • Shame on the BBC publicity department for totally spoiling the Master’s return with images of him against the purple background of the portal. 
  • What was Brendan’s story telling us? Did I miss something?
  • An ongoing theme this series is having a lot of new characters in an episode and never using their names! I swear Ethan’s name was said once, maybe twice. I still don’t know the names for any other human refugee except Ravio.


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