The two-part conclusion of this season feels like old-time Doctor Who, but it also retcons a good deal of what we know, and raises questions that, presumably, will be the focus of the next season. Certainly, they didn’t answer them in this one.
We do, however, get to meet the Doctor’s mother, and we encounter a new mystery in the form of this Irish lad named Brendan.
Titles: “Ascension of the Cybermen” and “The Timeless Children”
Directed by Jamie Magnus Stone
Written by Chris Chibnall
Jodie Whittaker, Jo Martin, and file footage of Colin Baker, Tom Baker, Peter Capaldi, Peter Davidson, Christopher Eccleston, William Hartnell, John Hurt, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Jon Pertwee, Matt Smith, David Tennant, Patrick Troughton as The Doctor
Sacha Dhawan as the Master
Tosin Cole as Ryan Sinclair
Mandip Gill as Yasmin Khan
Bradley Walsh as Graham O’Brien
Patrick O’Kane as Ashad
Ian McElhinney as Ko Sharmus
Evan McCabe as Brendan
Julie Graham as Ravio
Alex Austin as Yedlarmi
Matt Carver as Ethan
Rhiannon Clements as Bescot
Seylan Baxter as Tecteun
Steve Toussaint as Feekat
Matt Carver as Ethan
Jack Osborn as Fuskie
Branwell Donaghey as Patrick
Kirsty Besterman as Solpedo
Paul Bailey, Nicholas Briggs, Matthew Doman, Simon Carew, Jen Davey, Jen Davey, Richard Highgate, Richard Price, Mickey Lewis, Matthew Rohman as Cybermen
Paul Kasey and Nicholas Briggs as Judoon Captain
The Doctor and some companions assist surviving, far-future humans in a battle against the Cybermen, before encountering the Master, a war-ravaged Gallifrey, and a darkish truth about the Time Lords that will have far-reaching effects on the series, if future episodes take them seriously.
At the very least, next season will undoubtedly feature a jail-break and a Quest for the Hero’s Identity. I’m still not certain how I feel about either.
What was supposed to be the shocking reveal, that the Time Lords lied and covered up certain information, isn’t all that shocking to anyone familiar with the show’s history. More startling is that The Master has an original and seemingly unstoppable plan. Much could be done with the underlying concept. I also like that, before revealing his plan, the Master shows such obvious disappointment in the Cybermen’s rather predicable plan.
His plan then gets stopped at the gate, with no further apparent development possible, and a last-minute ass-pull allows the Doctor to escape. Meanwhile Gallifrey, a planet outside of time, once again gets definitively destroyed to suit the whims of the show’s current runners. I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed.
Is this just me? Point
Look: I recognize that a long-running series has to take chances and try new ideas. But, to repeat what I have written elsewhere, the Doctor works fine as a renegade from a group of powerful aliens who can, at times, be kind of dicks. They can be brought into the show or ignored as the writers require.The Doctor emphatically does not need to the Teh Special Chosen One. Earlier writers for the revived show imposed Last of the Race Syndrome on the character, and I was happy that got reversed. Now Chibnall and company have gone further. The Doctor is now the mysterious origin of the Time Lords.. I am interested in how they address this point and the unanswered questions it raises, but it feels wildly unnecessary.
Unless, I suppose, she’s still in the Matrix. But I doubt they’ll go that route.
Acting: 5/6 The supporting performances vary, but Sacha Dhawan’s over-the-top Master makes for demented entertainment. It takes talent to chew scenery without merely becoming a joke, and Dhawan makes this version of the character work.
Story: 4/6 The first part really had me gripped. The second part works, but for a plot that proffers so many changes to the Doctor’s history, it feels decidedly incomplete.
I am going to allow the handwave regarding Graham’s plan to escape the Cybermen. It’s the sort of thing that happened all the time in old Doctor Who episodes, and this episode needs such a moment.
Emotional Response: 4/6
Production: 5/6 The episode features an admirable blend of location shooting and serviceable special effects, and some nice shout-outs to past Doctor Who designs.
In total, “Ascension of the Cybermen” and “The Timeless Children” receive 30/42