Television

Doctor Who 12.9 Review: Ascension of the Cybermen

If you happen to have been following the trailers and promo spots throughout this season of Doctor Who, you’ll know that the marketing team at the BBC have been bigging up their ‘huge’ two-part finale for weeks. Almost irritatingly so, for that matter. Why wish the rest of the series away so fast?! Regardless though, now that we’re here, it’s time to see if the hype has been worth it…

The result is Ascension of the Cybermen, and at first glance, yes, the BBC weren’t wrong to pump up the hype for this one. An epic 50-minutes of television that never pauses for breath once, the episode begins with the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her companions racing into the far future to save a desperate group of human survivors from an oncoming Cyberman onslaught. Of course, plans go awry, and the group find themselves split up, racing to a mysterious planet that may well hold the last sanctuary for humanity.

It says a lot about how fast-paced and engrossing it is that the eventual cliffhanger comes out of nowhere – the episode whizzes along at such breakneck speed that the 50 minute runtime barely registers. Chris Chibnall‘s script is responsible first and foremost, but the frantic direction of Jamie Magnus Stone should be commended in equal measure. The opening battle scenes are a masterclass in action movie aesthetic, whilst the latter-half of the episode aboard the Cyber Warship are beautifully tense and eerie. The whole shebang looks more cinematic than any other episode so far this series, and the performances, editing and effects are a perfect combination throughout.

Those expecting any huge reveals or answers to questions posed prior to this episode will be disappointed (though hopefully not too much). Chibnall’s script is big on incident but light on answers, the big revelations clearly withheld until next week. For now the emphasis is on pure Cyberman carnage, and everything here is perfectly geared towards delivering on that front.

The episode is arguably Chibnall’s sharpest script to date by far, one that jumps narrative threads effortlessly and ups the ante at every opportunity. All four regular cast-members are afforded a decent slice of the action, the dialogue sparkles more so then it ever has before and the Cyberman are portrayed at their most imposing and terrifying. Considering how overstuffed some episodes have felt this series, it’s nice to see an episode actually juggle a multitude of characters and elements in a coherent manner at last.

Not content with juggling the aforementioned elements AND the existing plot threads surrounding the fate of Gallifrey, the Master (great to see Sacha Dhawan back so soon, isn’t it?) and the Lone Cyberman too, Chibnall peppers his script with a haunting and intriguing subplot. Over the course of the story, we follow a young Irish orphan called Brendan (Evan McCabe) growing up from baby to man, enlisting in the Garda Síochána, surviving both a bullet wound and a fatal fall, and then being subjected to some bizarre experiment on his retirement day. The relevance of these interludes isn’t revealed here, but will no doubt play into next week’s big finale somehow. The scenes themselves though are a welcome break from the breathtaking outer space battles and chases though, whilst providing plenty of chills and mystery for us to ponder over.

Mystery is the key word indeed. The ultimate issue with reviewing Ascension is that nothing has been resolved yet. Can part two stick the landing? Will the answers still to come satisfy? Will they come at all?! At this point, it’s difficult to say. But for now, it seems the Beeb were right to get us excited – if Ascension of the Cybermen is anything to go by, next week’s big finale looks set to be a game-changer!

Doctor Who concludes on BBC One next Sunday. Be sure to check out our Series Blog and join us for our verdict of the exciting season finale. 

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