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Here’s What The Doctor Who Companion Thought of Ascension of the Cybermen

Welcome to Ireland! Careful – we leave babies in the middle of lanes here and we’ve got trigger-happy thieves. Coppers, when shot, go all Broadchurch and fall off a cliff. We’ve called one baby Brendan because Mrs Brown’s Boys is popular right now. He grows old and doesn’t die because of reasons. Do try the potatoes and casual stereotyping.

Oh, yes, there are also some Cybermen and some floating heads and an angry Cyberman, and the last dregs of humanity – 7 people, apparently, who have remained alive for so long, survived the Cyber-Wars, because they’re quite inept and don’t really do anything so pose no threats to the Big Heads. And then there’s the Master and Gallifrey, in a scene billed as “Spyfall (Redux)”. That was Ascension of the Cybermen, and in his review, Simon Danes was annoyed by the Thirteenth Doctor:

“Today, the Doctor is eccentric because she is eccentric – not because it stems from her otherness or alienness. It’s become an end in itself: it does not point to her being alien; it points to her being daft. And then almost every synonym for “eccentric” has been thrown into the mix. So the Doctor is now (primarily or even solely) kooky, klutzy, krazee, wacky, goofy, funny, nutty, bonkers, loveable (ugh), far-out – and, for many viewers as a consequence – irritating, silly, and even stupid.”

What did the rest of the DWC think? We found a few contributors sleeping in metal pods then tortured them until they sang like a Cyber-chappie.

Paul Cheesman

I started off being disappointed that the ‘end of the Cyber Wars’ cold start was not the same as the scattering of Cyber pieces at the end of Nightmare in Silver – that would have been a continuity bonus.

Then I got more disappointed as I watched a poorly shot remake of The Tomb of the Cybermen meets Earthshock meets Age of Steel!

They say of the Curate’s/Parson’s Egg that it was “good in parts” but I am unsure that I can list those parts. Was I surprised to see Gallifrey? No. Was I surprised to see the Master? Well, not really. Did I understand the Irish sequences? Not at all. Will I be surprised next episode if the Time Lords are “part Human on the Irish side”? Not really either. I did like the new Warrior class Cybermen, although I was unsure why they were being tortured and I noticed the pipe holes on the Lone Cyberman’s back, as if he were originally Cyber-Controller.

Ascension of The Cybermen (using the name in full just to add in more words to this review) served only the purpose of setting up the next episode, asking more questions to be answered, and leaving none answered… Other than, “can any of the companions act?”

Final Verdict – episode nine – Disappointing at best.

James Baldock

Here we go, then.

Feekat (Steve Toussaint) – Teacher. Suitably grizzled. Last seen at 15:27, when he’s offed by a marauding Ashad.

Ravio (Julie Graham) – That woman from Bonekickers hiding behind a lot of grime. Last seen flirting with Bradley Walsh. Presumably hiding a tragic past. Dialogue minimally more sensible than it was in Bonekickers.

Yedlarmi (Alex Austin) – If Fiore from Preacher had a Prozac addiction, he would be sort of like Yedlarmi. Last seen panicking in a Cybercarrier.

Fuskle (Jack Osborn) – Yedlarmi’s mute brother. Last see at 09:55, when he’s caught in an explosion.

Bescot (Rhiannon Clements) – a pilot, or something. Feisty.

Ethan (Matt Carver) – More capable than his boyish appearance suggests. Makes it to the beach with the Doctor, but probably won’t make it much further.

Ko Sharmus (Ian McElhinney) – Episode 8 Luke Skywalker, but less grumpy. Either a disguised Rassilon or the Ruler of the Universe, in which case we’d like to see the cat next week.

Why, constant reader, have I gone to all this trouble? Well, it’s for largely selfish reasons; I have to make a note of them somewhere. Otherwise I can’t remember a thing. I’ll be looking back in the middle of a Series 13 write-up at a random thing that happened to a particular character in this story, and I’ll be as confused and empty-headed as Arnold Rimmer during an engineer’s exam. Age is part of it; comparative unfamiliarity (as I write this, Ascension has been viewed a single time in our house) is another factor – but sheer mundanity takes the lion’s share. This episode was a masterclass in How To Construct Generic Characters Who Amount To Nothing.

Seriously. There’s no spark, no life, no soul. You could have given their dialogue to a group of year seven drama students and it’d be similarly dead. There’s no problem with the performances per se – everyone makes the best of what they have – but it’s disheartening to watch a story in which bad things happen to supporting characters who disinterest me. It happened in Into The Dalek. It happened in Oxygen. And Empress of Mars, and – look, it’s not new; it was just particularly bothersome this week. A full cast of interesting secondaries is a pipe dream, of course, and Classic Who is crammed with generic three-line roles who were offed by the Daleks before they’d made their mark… Still, you need at least one, surely? Otherwise, how are you supposed to care about people getting blown up or shot at when they don’t leave any sort of gap?

I’m sure it wasn’t always like this. I can still remember every one of the people from LINDA. They were fun and they were sparky and it wasn’t fair that they all got superglued to Peter Kay’s hips (to be fair, I wouldn’t wish that fate on Jacob Rees-Mogg). I don’t even think it’s the type of stories you tell. Voyage of the Damned is a glorified base-under-siege (with the notable exception that the base is falling to Earth), but the people in that were, if occasionally stereotypical, at least fully-formed stereotypes. Some of them even had a bit of spunk to them. And his track record proves Chibnall is perfectly capable of coming up with decent supporting characters when he pulls his finger out. Everyone slates The Tsuranga Conundrum – perhaps rightly so – but at least Yoss the pregnant man was fun to watch.

If you’re going to throw the fate of humanity into balance, it would be nice if you could at least give us some fully fledged humans to worry about. It’s not like I care about what’ll happen to the companions. We know they’ll survive, at least until next week (and almost certainly beyond, because Doctor Who hasn’t properly killed a full-time companion since Earthshock). Conversion is a possibility, of course, but it’s unlikely because the media (who’d already seen the episode) spent most of last week writing glorified press releases that asked “Is Ryan in danger?” coupled with that picture of him wired up to what was actually the ship’s control panel, rather than the Cyber-conversion unit we all knew it wasn’t. Besides, they did that three years ago and even Chibnall isn’t that much of a hack. Probably.

Bet he’s dusted off the Cyberwoman outfit just in case, though. I mean it might fit Yas. God, there’s an image.

Rick Lundeen

Not bad.

Actually, I think you might want a bit more meat to my review than that. 

Another well done– well, actually, another well done set-up story. It’s very different from doing just A Good Story, which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. 

More? Blimey. Did I use that correctly? Anyway, I think, pretty much top to bottom, that was a solid Doctor Who episode. Did my jaw drop and did it keep me on the edge of my seat? No, but it did keep me interested and I thought for once, the TARDIS crew acquitted themselves pretty well. And honestly, since this is the fifth set-up episode out of a 10 episode series, with no pay offs yet to be tendered, there’s only so much of it that’s eligible for critique. The most important elements to me, as always, are the Doctor and companions in relation to the story. This particular story being yet another prelude, I have to focus more on the TARDIS crew. But as for what this story did give us…

I mean, last human colony, desperate times, desperate measures, thousands of dead Cybermen, thousands of dormant Cybermen, the lone Cyberman, the crew gets separated, basically a lot of urgency to grease the tracks and move things along quickly getting ready for next week. Then Gallifrey shows up and so does Nutty McMaster, uttering cliches. 

On to the crew: 

Ryan. Since he’s leaving the show (possibly), I thought for sure he was a dead man early on when he bumbled right when he should have bumbled left. Then he was found by the Doctor and was basically Yaz for the rest of the episode, just decorating the corner, being useless. 

Yaz and Graham. This may have been the best acting I’ve seen from Gill so far and this was a rare instance where Chibs seemed to not do too badly with character interaction, at least on the escape ship anyway. And Graham was even getting hit on, which, since subtlety is never Chib’s strong suit, we might get a Leela/ Andred pairing here next week. Heck, we might see Leela and Andred next week! 

The Doctor. I have to give credit where credit’s due here. The Doctor has often been a careless jerk when it comes to the “fam” and in a burst of self realisation, she owned up this week and admitted it, finally doing what she should have done last week and told them to get the hell out of there. Way, way, way too late of course but, eh. I can’t even say better late than never because they’re all in horrific danger now. But overall, aside from her small, wacky asides, Jodie’s best when she’s intense and the threat levels this week kept her very Doctorish in a good way. 

And Brandon. When the episode began, and I started to watch this kid grow up, I thought, oh man, this was going to be a tear-jerking, heart-string-pulling, emotional one-two punch… but no, I never did get attached to him and then he got old and somehow, his dad putting him in the conversion chair wasn’t even that powerful a moment. More of a head scratcher. We have car commercials that reduce me to tears in under 60 seconds when they show kids growing up and moving away (since I have kids) but here… nothing. Maybe they’ll pay that off next week, along with Gallifrey, the Master, Doc Martin, the Cyberium plan, the Timeless Child, and how everything we know is a lie and how this changes everything.

Basically, we’ve been seeing trailers, prologues, appetisers, and previews all series. Next week, Chibs will have to give us the main event, main course, you name it. Because if next week is just another set up stringing us along for next season, I’m not going to be happy. 

Finally, theory corner. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s thinking that perhaps a sizable chunk of human civilization went through that gateway, the other side of which will turn out to be billions of years ago on what would one day be known as Gallifrey, and it’ll turn out that Time Lords are descended from humans. 

I gotta say, yes, that would change everything and I would absolutely love it. If true, it’d be the biggest, ballsiest, gutsiest move, maybe ever. 

I wonder if Chibs is the one who actually thought of it?

Tony Jones

Hmmm. How do you make a definitive statement on something clearly in want of its second episode? I want to love this story. I want to believe in a balanced, epic final whereby Gallifrey and the Master don’t just push the Cybermen story to the side. I want to believe the Garda story has a deep mythic relevance. I really do see signs this series ending could be epic. Add the Lone Cybermen torturing newly revived Cyberman warriors just for the hell of it and there’s a lot we might get delivered.

I do worry when I see hordes of Cybermen appear. While Tomb of the Cybermen is up high on my list of favourite Doctor Who ever (including all the series yet to come), I find the idea of small numbers more compelling. Rows of Cybermen means a big explosion or super nano-virus or wormhole or reset button.

I find the assembly of this episode intriguing. Plenty of time developing the story of Brendan without exposition; meanwhile the TARDIS team charge in, find lots of people to tell what’s going on, then Chris Chibnall teaches them a lesson by blowing up all the new toys. Time to run and for the Doctor to shout.

I really can’t see this TARDIS team making it to Series 13. My prediction (off-topic here) is Graham leaves to settle down with Ravio and help rebuild the human race. Ryan stays with him to keep him out of trouble and Series 13 is Yaz and the Doctor plus ANO. What do I know!

Let’s just hope Timeless Children provides the ending we crave and justifies the hopes raised in Ascension. Fingers/antennae/cilia* crossed.

*Delete as appropriate

Colin Burden

It’s a shame that with this era of Doctor Who, I find I’m watching and expecting it all to go wrong; cause an eye roll; or just end up slumped on the sofa in disappointment as the end credits roll.

Not this week. This week was excellent. It was no Seeds of Doom or Androzani, but it was highly entertaining nonetheless. 

As they did during Spyfall Part One, it’s actually quite a thrill to see the BBC make action adventure because they do this so rarely. It’s been a very long time since they’ve made shows like BUGS or Spooks. Even when they do, it’s usually painfully plodding and makes the viewer wait an age before the action starts. Last year’s The War of the Worlds is a good example. Alternatively, a stunt set piece – say, a spectacular car crash – is usually reserved for the soaps like Casualty or EastEnders.

I loved the Cyber drones that swept aside the Doctor’s attempt at any defence making the only option was for everyone to retreat. I could just see smaller kids playing ‘Cyberheads’ in the playground the next day.

And at last; the Doctor playing the “I’ve beaten you before” line only to have no effect, see it shrugged off so casually and see the fear in the Doctor’s face. This is the best thing that Whitty has brought to the role; the Doctor gets scared again. I’ve not seen that so blatantly since the Ninth Doctor in Dalek, pleaded to be let out of the ‘Metaltron’s’ cell once he’d seen what it was.

Even the slower sequences – from baby Brendan being found to his grim retirement – was a tense slow burner which made me and the GF try to guess who he was and how he fitted into the picture. The first sequence, baby Brendan being taken home, did remind me a little of Dark Eyes when Molly was taken back to her parents. 

The biggest hurrah of the episode is for the warrior Cybermen. The updated, but heavy throwback to the Troughton Cybermen, looked great. It was as if Chibs had realised he’d alienated a lot of the long term fans and felt he had to give something back.

The torture sequence was very unpleasant, but I understood that to be the catalyst to wake up the entire army. This leads me into the visual sequence of the episode: the march of the Warrior Cybermen where hundreds more could be seen on gantries above. I thought that was quite a “wow” moment. Even the accompanying industrial incidental music was good. Yes, this was all very reminiscent of Earthshock, but rather than me sitting there mumbling “rip-off”, I found myself wishing that Auntie could re-make Earthshock with the production standards we now enjoy.

If I have one or two grumbles – and let’s face it, there always will be because of our holding the programme to higher standards – it was a lack of attention to the script during the Cyber drone attack. There is a bit of a trope on television in that a character will have an accident or collapse and the person who attends first will always bark an order: “Call an ambulance”. The trope is they will always follow it by shouting “NOW!” That ‘now’ thing happened several times during that sequence.

And come on Yaz, is it really a good idea to take tens of thousands of Warrior Cybermen to the human’s last refuge? Yet another mixed message: the human race faces extinction so let’s have the ‘fam’ do the worst thing possible and make that extinction a lot more likely. But then maybe that’s the point…

Despite that, I’m very much looking forward to next week. I just hope that it doesn’t all fall apart like Part Two of Spyfall did.

I’ll leave with this: the opening scene of the Cyberman’s head floating in space; wasn’t that just the most perfect PC desktop wallpaper?

Frank Danes

Well, I didn’t actually want to switch off, but I didn’t think it was very good. It looked nice and I like the pretty shots of Wales.

When I was an undergraduate, I read a book about the Jacobean playwright John Webster called John Webster’s Borrowing. Webster was a hack who didn’t have an idea in his head and took almost every line and event in his plays from other playwrights, including, of course, Shakespeare. Chris Chibnall resembles Webster and there might some day be a book called Chris Chibnall’s Borrowing. Ascension of the Cybermen showed – as has every single one of his episodes – how Chibs borrows from Who’s and science fictions’ back catalogues, stitches his magpie treasures together with some set pieces, bangs and flashes and cardboard characters and calls it a story. Ooo, goodness me, what can be in the six foot high caskets? Could it be Cybermen? (Lifted from Earthshock and Tomb of the Cybermen.) See the Cybermen stride through the space freighter! (Earthshock again.) The Cybermen are going to head towards Gallifrey! (As the Daleks did in the Time War.) The old geezer with the staff guarding the barrier reminded me of half a dozen others in Blake’s 7, as indeed did much of the writing, (lack of) characterisation, the hardware and cardboard characters strutting around barking orders. Stereotyped Irish people call each other Mam, Dad, and Son to help remind the viewers who they are, to be sure. Actors try hard with undifferentiated roles that don’t exist, but it’s hard to care about characters being converted into undifferentiated Cybermen when they are already so unmemorable and undifferentiated you can’t even catch their human names.

Bradley Walsh is still the best actor by a mile, crafting a believable performance from threadbare lines, and Jodie, given more to do and able to stretch her range, is still lightweight. She is no Tom Baker, Christopher Eccleston or Patrick Troughton and I don’t really care what happens to her Doctor. “This is going to hurt,” the Master warns the Doctor in the “Next Time” trailer. Yes indeed. Watching Chibs’ Doctor Who always hurts.

Two out of five for an episode that never rises above the resolutely average, and this is the best he can do. Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.

Philip Bates

I get annoyed by Doctor Who now. Actively angry – not just at the show but how Chris Chibnall has somehow convinced anyone he’s a decent enough writer to work on anything but a children’s pantomime. My guess is a perception filter because that’s what it always is. Or maybe because he litters scripts with stuff to distract viewers from the messy plot.

But I don’t want to talk about the mechanics of the narrative, such as it is. I don’t want to talk about how he utterly misunderstands tension because his answers to the question “how do you make the Cybermen scary?” are: 1. introduce one with emotions, i.e. not a Cyberman; and 2. have one scream while being tortured – the first time we’ve seen the new design. That means you don’t see how scary they are – you see how immediately vulnerable and unintimidating they are. For nothing! There was no reason for it. Truly pathetic. (I do like the new design, though. They work well, in themselves. And the pre-titles sequence was great.) And why bother having floating bits of Cybermen in space – if not a single piece of it reacts to the ship?! How scary would it have been if the disembodied arms started knocking on the windows?!

No, I want to talk about the awful dialogue. Because it is. These sketches of characters could be made into actual people if they were given believable, non-cliched lines. Look at Blink: you don’t spend long with Kathy Nightingale before she’s sent into the past, but you know her probably better than you know Ryan Sinclair. She’s certainly more likeable anyway.

Instead of fleshing anyone out, we get dialogue which a good Script Editor would nip in the bud. Brendan is asked why he wants to join the police force. He reveals that he wants “to make a difference.” HE WANTS TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. And they look happy with that! I’d dump his CV in the bin, alongside Chibnall’s. Seriously, watch this episode back and pay attention to the dialogue. It’s interchangeable and soulless and nonsense. It’s garbage.

Look, Chibnall’s done some good stuff – namely, Broadchurch Series 1, 42 (yeah, I enjoyed that one a lot), and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (an alright script, heightened by good production values and a wonderful TARDIS team). But Doctor Who would’ve been cancelled after Series 11 if it weren’t called Doctor Who. Series 12 hasn’t been a vast improvement, even if it tarts itself up with some Cybermen, a return to Gallifrey, and the Master (played by the fantastic Sacha Dhawan).

As far as I’m concerned, you’ve got one more chance, Chibnall.

Andrew Hsieh

There is only one word to describe my initial reaction to the first half of the two-part finale: mind-blowing.

After last week’s unexpected but shocking debut of the Lone Cybermen (aka Ashad), terrifying as ever with his partially-visible face, Chris Chibnall finally fulfills his promise to deliver a whopping load of laser action, thrills, and pure drama. I loved it all the way, ten times more than The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos; even though we’ve only got one episode left.

The pre-titles was a uniquely clever start, opening with a single shot in which the Lone Cyberman narrates before a suspenseful backdrop of space. Full of random silver objects floating around, we see a familiar face slowly heading towards us: the head of a 2006 design Cyberman, badly damaged, only to transition straight into the credits through its eye. Definitely reminds me of how The Vampires of Venice ended by zooming towards and through the TARDIS keyhole, also including narration, therefore transitioning into the Next Time trailer. Impressive, I thought. Unconventionally impressive for a Doctor Who episode.

On the run from the Lone Cyberman and his two Cyberguards, it couldn’t get any more shocking when the Cyberdrones launched their assault on Team TARDIS and the remaining human survivors, in the far future during the aftermath of the Cyber-Wars. Quite like those Cyberdrones – such an inventive concept. And wasn’t it great to have Nick Briggs lending his Cyber-voice once again, modulated to match the 2006 design? Same with Yaz telling Ravio about gold, as a metal, being a weakness of the Cybermen? The situation, meanwhile, became increasingly intense when the Doctor had no choice but to sacrifice her companions, by ordering them to accompany the humans on their ship; Jodie Whittaker nailed it there brilliantly, as I prepared for the worst.

Poor Graham and Yaz, stuck with the human survivors on their ship. I was pleased when the latter reminded him that they’ve “been stranded in space before”; good way to keep each other company during, if not, the most intense situation for them both. Especially when they discover the dead and inactive Cybermen parts floating around in space, like we saw in the pre-titles, that definitely gave me the chills. On board the carrier ship, it’s Earthshock all over again – per homage. They discover a new army of Cyber Warriors (aka Warrior Class), more advanced in design than those from Revenge of the Cybermen. That was one helluva plot twist.

When Ryan reunited with the Doctor before stealing the Lone Cyberman’s ship, only to be joined by one of the human survivors Ethan, I felt relieved that she wasn’t alone in the end. Her confrontation with the Lone Cyberman himself (via hologram) was also a powerful callback to the events of the previous episode, where he successfully tracks down the Cyberium, along with the latter’s emotionally-driven backstory. As they successfully find Ko Sharmus on the planet similar to Ahch-To, I was guessing nonstop as to who exactly he might be; same with the Boundary.

So, on the other hand… who and what is Brendan? A baby, mysteriously abandoned on a countryside in 20th Century Ireland, gets adopted and raised before becoming a police officer. But everything drastically changes when he gets shot and falls off a cliff, before miraculously surviving; I think I see a little Broadchurch reference there. Decades later, it all ends dramatically for Brendan; his adoptive father and mentor, both of whom haven’t aged, erase all his memories using an electric method of torture which appears to be very, very familiar – for those who’ve seen Human Nature/ The Family of Blood. Even though this subplot appears to be completely separate, it does raise a lot of questions about how Brendan’s character arc connects with the overall storyline. How did he end up having similar immortal abilities to Captain Jack? Maybe he’s somehow connected to the Lone Cyberman or, perhaps, the Timeless Child?

And there we have it: another cliffhanger full of unpredictable twists. With the Lone Cybermen brutally awakening the Cyber Warriors, similar to the Night King raising his new army of Wights at the end of the acclaimed Game of Thrones Season 5 episode, Hardhome, I do wonder why they were forced to scream so painfully before launching their assault. To be honest, I felt tempted to hyperventilate when they started firing at Graham, Yaz, and everyone else. At the same time, the Boundary is opened – flashing a purple-y light (similar to the flashback scenes of the Timeless Child), only to reveal none other than… Gallifrey. But it becomes more shocking for the Doctor, as the Master makes a sudden reappearance after being stuck in the Kasaavin realm. My God, he’s back.

One other thing I would also like to touch upon is something I did not expect at all: the Middle Eight. It was just heartwarming to hear it once again in the end theme, after a prolonged absence since the first time we heard it in The Woman Who Fell to Earth. (Well done, Segun Akinola!) And the reason for that? An extended Next Time trailer for The Timeless Children – giving us more glimpses of what to expect in 30 seconds (just like the RTD and Moffat eras), I so can’t wait! Once the Series 12 soundtrack gets released, hopefully sometime later this year, they should definitely include this improved version.

Bar Nash-Williams

You know that image of the heart monitor with the caption ‘if your life has no ups and downs, it means you’re dead’?

Well, given the ups and downs of Series 12, Doctor Who must be vibrantly alive right? Right…? No; I’m not convinced either. I look at the massive ups and downs of the polls on this site; the majority is equally shared between top or bottom, all or nothing. The minority shared out between the other three options. Is divisiveness a sign of life? Ascension had loads of ups and downs, but somehow just don’t seem to connect. Or, just when you think the ups are winning, Chibs shoots himself in the foot again. I enjoyed the episode, even had moments of excitement, but it left me with a strange emptiness.

Take, for instance, that pre-credits sequence, a voice over that was mercifully short, not over-acted or breathless, and was NOT a MESSAGE. I laughed out loud at the point where he said ‘Every Empire has its time and every empire falls’ just as a piece of cyber flotsam sailed past, spinning like Vader’s TIE fighter escaping the first Death Star explosion. (There was a lot of Star Wars in this one, wasn’t there?) Then the emergence of the title sequence in the eye of Handles’ cousin, like the flash of blue in Death’s eye socket that tells you he’s amused. Adorable flimflam. Then we got flying heads whose blue rays were clearly operated by the Peking Homunculus, who hasn’t had so much fun since they destroyed his dragon in Talons. Still can’t shoot straight though.

Or take that fascinating story from BallyK/ High Road/ Last of the Summer Wine (ok, maybe not the last one). Who’s the baby? What’s with that massively surprising reveal of his ‘immortality’? Why the heck does his dad not age? Is it humans meeting Time Lords, and if so is it on Earth or early Gallifrey? But that story gives us nothing but questions, and no clue as to how it fits into the action movie with which it is so rudely interrupted. Yes I KNOW it’s part one, but can you really have 6 stories of unanswered questions and hope people will wait for the very last one to make any sense of it all? And yes, I know Series 8 had Missy’s Mini Matrix Mystery tagged onto most episodes, but we were enjoying the main story each time for its own sake, so the season arc mystery didn’t grate. Unlike the Hybrid, but let’s not go there.

Or take Ashrad The Grundge (True Believers don’t wash), with his frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command: the most interesting Cyberman for years, with real character, who might be an intriguing cult leader (Cult of Skaro, anyone?). Turns out what he really believes in is annihilation of all life in the universe. ‘I carry Sutekh’s gift of death within me.’ Yawn. As you were.

He wakes up the sleeping hoards, who do that irritatingly wrong stomp thing. Bipeds swing their arms when they march or walk fast; it’s just pure physics of how best to stay balanced. That ‘locked torso’ thing they do is NOT logical.

Or take Gravio wandering through the cargo bays of troop storage, when I kept expecting them to bump into Tegan. The long draw-back effect implying thousands of doors had a brilliant variation in ceiling lighting that made it more real. But where was the actual drama of hiding under the stairs, a single ‘dormant’ Cyberman silently turning its soulless gaze on them as they leave, unaware? And yes, I would have loved Tegan to replace one of the Fam.

Which brings me to the one beautiful glimpse of what I have been longing for, only to have it snatched away: when Yaz’s voice comes through and the Doctor shows emotion, the FIRST thing she does is turn to Ryan and wordlessly acknowledge their shared relief and relationship. Then she fails to tell Yaz that Ryan is okay, or to ask if Graham is. So close. Contrast Giles’ reaction to Buffy’s return after ‘Anne.’ Still tingles.

So I return to my frog-in-water analogy. Given all the little moments I enjoyed, the promise of Something to Come in part 2, and the many fan-service refs to classic Who, why haven’t I bothered to rewatch? Do I like it or have I just acquiesced to the slowboil?

I can only conclude that Simon’s right. I just don’t CARE about these people, however hard I try. Chibs wanted us to fall in love with the fam, but I can’t muster interest. You don’t have to like people to care – I actively disliked Clara but was hugely interested in her relationship with the Doctor. I didn’t like the Tenth Doctor, but would have leapt on board his TARDIS at the drop of a hat.

I do not want to travel with the fam.

And here’s the bit that I fear I’m bound to offend some readers with if I dare to air the thought: I wonder if these bland, post-holder characters are in fact the perfect companions for this narcissistic age? They are blank canvasses for viewers to project onto, not deep characters to look up to or be challenged by. People love them if they can project their own feelings onto them. They are safe, echo-chamber people, the bubble fam. There is more genuine conflict, dialogue and care between the very different people with very different opinions who travel together on this site: thank you that you are not bland, safe or uncontroversial.

Another episode met with a very mixed reaction. At least the show continues to provoke strong emotion…


Philip Bates

Editor and co-founder of the Doctor Who Companion. When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything. Writer of The Black Archive: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang, The Silver Archive: The Stone Tape, and 100 Objects of Doctor Who.

Here’s What The Doctor Who Companion Thought of Ascension of the Cybermen

by Philip Bates time to read: 23 min
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