Last week, I was surprised to see the return of Cybermen to Doctor Who. I was further surprised to see that the episode was the beginning of a two-parter. This week, I was surprised to find that we have just experienced the middle of a three-parter. The ending of this season continues to catch me off guard. So let’s talk about the “Ascension of the Cybermen.”
The previous adventure left the Doctor on her backfoot. She had just given an invaluable tool to one of the most dangerous foes in the universe. She now has to prevent her enemy from using this tool to reap death and destruction throughout the universe. Doctor and fam travel to the far future, at the end of the Cyber Wars. Humanity and the Cybermen have waged a war of attrition, nearly obliterating both sides.
Our heroes find a very small group of humans hiding from the Cybermen. They set to work to protect these survivors. They bring defensive devices, one of which spews gold into the atmosphere, a nod to the Classic series’ method of dispatching Cybermen. Unfortunately, all of these defenses fail as Cyberdrones are sent in. They are literally just flying drones that look like Cybermen heads but are entirely robotic. They reminded me a great deal of the Kaylon on The Orville.
In the chaos, Graham and Yaz escape the planet aboard a spaceship with a few of the other surviving humans. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Ryan steal a Cybershuttle and head for something called Ko Shamus. Supposedly, there is a portal here which will teleport humans to the far reaches of space so they can escape the Cybermen.
Graham, Yaz, and the others find themselves on a massive Cybermen Carrier. It contains many thousands of dormant warrior Cybermen. The Lone Cybermen from last week is close behind. He led the attack on the planet earlier. He has now followed them to the carrier. It seems that his intention is to wake all of the Cybermen and lead them into battle. He and his 2 subordinates begin some kind of procedure on the warriors that causes them to scream in agony. I have no idea what is happening here, but it’s quite terrifying.
We do learn a bit more about this Lone Cyberman this episode. His name is Ashad. It seems that he had a wife and children prior to being upgraded. He also apparently killed his own children when they joined the fight against the Cybermen. Unlike most of the others of his kind, he lacks an emotional inhibitor. He feels. This makes him fundamentally different from all of the other Cybermen. It makes him more frightening. I also imagine it will lead to his downfall.
We have to talk about the side story going on here. We repeatedly see flashbacks to a mystery child named Brendan. He was found on the street and taken in by a man and a woman. He was raised to adulthood and then became some sort of police officer. At one point, he pursues someone to a cliff edge. He is shot and falls off the cliff. Somehow, he is fine. Years later, we see him retiring from the service as an old man. No one else seems to have aged, though he has aged dramatically. He’s given a clock as a reward. Finally, he is taken to a strange room and told that he wouldn’t remember this event. They would have to “start over.” Some devices are attached to him. I don’t know what all is going on, but it seems he is having his memory erased. We don’t see much else from him.
It looks to me like the cliff he fell from earlier is the place where the Doctor and Ryan end up. They find Ko Shamus, who is actually a person and not a planet. He takes them to the Boundary, the aforementioned portal. I don’t know who he is, but I’m certain he has to do with the flashbacks. I don’t know if he is Brendan, one of the other characters shown, or perhaps a descendant of them. But it has to be related.
This all comes to a head. The Cybermen are on their way. The portal opens and shows a burning Gallifrey, of all places. Out pops the Master. The same version of him we met earlier this season. He tells the Doctor and us that we should be afraid because everything is about to change.
I have no idea what any of this means. I’m really quite baffled at the whole thing. I loved it. This was a thrilling episode, even if it wasn’t necessarily the most eventful one. It was all about setting up the dominoes. I’m confident that next week’s season finale will be fast-paced and explosive. It looks to me like we’re going to get some answers to some of our big questions. Who is Brendan? How is the Master back? Why did he burn Gallifrey (and can this be prevented)? Who or what is the Timeless Child? What secrets do the Time Lords still hold? Who is the other Doctor? Will any of our companions die or leave this season?
I wish I had some compelling theories to offer you right now, but I really don’t. I must admit that I’ve never watched Classic Who. Perhaps there are clues in here that older fans may have picked up on. I somehow don’t think that’s the case, though. I feel like the writers are wanting to take the Time Lords in a whole new direction, unlike anything we’ve seen before. It seems like they’re treading new ground. Personally, I like this idea a lot. I’ve always found the Time Lords to be interesting and would love to learn more about them.
I really like Ashad as a villain. He (quite literally) gives some humanity to the Cybermen, but he does so without sacrificing any of their menace. He really wants to see the universe burn. It sounds to me like his goal is to wipe out all sentient life. And honestly, if any faction could accomplish such a thing, it would be the Cybermen.
I have to wonder if his goal is to invade Gallifrey. If Time Lords could be upgraded and the Cybermen could obtain some TARDII (TARDISes?), they would be truly unstoppable. They could destroy all life, not only in space, but in time as well.
I am really excited to see what happens next. The season has had a couple of weak episodes. But the overarching plot has been great. I’m eager to see how the Doctor saves the day.