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Doctor Who - Ascension of the Cybermen & The Timeless Children - Review

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Episode: "Ascension of the Cybermen"
Directed by: Jamie Magnus Stone
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Air date: 23 February 2020

There are two main stories that we're following in this episode. There's the far future, where the last of humanity are fighting for survival against the Cybermen. And then there's the unexpected plot of a couple who find an abandoned baby, Brendan, and decide to adopt him. It's Ireland, in the early 20th century and the boy grows up to become a police officer. We watch a few key moments of his life, including his confrontation with a criminal who shoots him and causes Brendan to fall off a cliff. Somehow the young man survives the incident unscathed, seemingly to everyone's shock. What makes this story even stranger is its ending. Years later, we watch an older Brendan finally starting his retirement only to be taken by his adoptive father and mentor, who both appear as if they didn't age at all. Both men cuff him to a chair, place electrodes to his head and then inform him that it's time to start over before they proceed to remove his memories by turning on some sort of device. It's a deeply confusing part of the episode. Its placement feels strange with everything else happening in the future. For a while I thought that perhaps this Brendan actually becomes the lone Cyberman in the future, but with all the clocks around him, his miraculous survival and the ending of the hour it seems far more likely that he's connected to the Timeless Child mystery. I'm expecting to learn more in the second part of the season finale.

As for the main plot, things are in much worse shape than I expected. The Cybermen have hunted humans almost to extinction and the last few people are trying to stay hidden from an incoming attack. The Doctor and her friends show up with valuable equipment that can help them in the fight but before they get a chance to do anything against the Cybermen a group of Cyberdrones destroys the devices. The Doctor realizes the danger of the situation and tries her best to keep her friends out of harm's way. She insists that they join the group of survivors and leave the planet as soon as possible. Due to an attack everyone is split into two groups - one with the Doctor, Ryan and Ethan, and the other with Graham, Yaz, Yedlarmi, Ravio and Bescot. The first group manages to steal Cybermen's ship and travels to Ko Sharmus. They believe "Ko Sharmus" is the name of a haven, a home to the Boundary, a portal to the other side of the universe where Cybermen can't follow them. It turns out to be a person, a guardian of the portal who stayed behind to help anyone else that might have survived the Cybermen wars. The most unexpected moment of the hour (and its ending) takes place right next to the Boundary when the Doctor suddenly sees Gallifrey burning, on the other side of the portal and the Master appears (seemingly) out of nowhere. That's quite the entrance, definitely agree with him there.

The Doctor is visibly shaken throughout the episode, it's no surprise with everything that's been going on lately, but nothing hits her as much as the sight of her planet when she least expects it. I'm very excited to learn what caused the Master to take such drastic action against his home. I'm hoping for a satisfying conclusion to this mystery, especially since I've been really enjoying this season overall. Meanwhile, another cause of the Doctor's concern is certainly the perilous situation that Graham and Yaz found themselves in. Along with the three other survivors they find their way to a Cybercarrier where thousands of new Cyberwarriors are held in stasis, waiting for the fight to start. What's worse is that Ashad and his crew catch up to the group rather quickly and begin to wake the rest of the Cybermen only to lead them against the last of the humans. Graham, Yaz and the others are trapped in the control deck, with thousands of warriors heading straight to them, without any means of escape. Things do not end well in this episode for any of our heroes, but I did enjoy watching Graham and Yaz surviving on their own against all odds. They gave the group a chance to survive in the first place and took control when it was needed. I'm very interested to see how they're going to get out of this one, though. Not much to add from my side regarding this episode. It mainly felt like a setup for the finale with all the questions remaining open by the end of the hour. Time for "The Timeless Children" then.

Episode: "The Timeless Children"
Directed by: Jamie Magnus Stone
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Air date: 1 March 2020

Ok, then. I can honestly say that I did not see this one coming. Quite a lot to process here. I actually feel like I'm left with more questions than I had at the start. Let's address the biggest reveal of the episode first - the Doctor is the Timeless Child. I should probably note here that while we're definitely supposed to take this information as a fact I still don't see how exactly did the Master reach this conclusion. Nothing that we've seen in the Matrix specifically points to the Doctor being the Child. Of course we see the truth about Gallifrey and the origin of the Time Lords, which on its own is a very interesting new perspective on the story. Yet there's still plenty of information that we're missing about what happened to the Child, the memories showed by the Matrix end when Tecteun and the child are inducted into a clandestine organisation called the Division but no connection with the Doctor is ever mentioned, other than by the Master himself. Of course later on the Doctor appears to remember some bits and pieces of her lost memory, which does support the reveal, but still doesn't explain why would the Master come up with such conclusion after seeing the Child's story. Regardless, I'm still rather conflicted regarding my personal views and feelings towards this huge change. I do appreciate just how much potential we could explore in this arc. However, this is such a deep and impactful shift that I feel like it might lessen the knowledge we've had before. Yes, the Doctor is so much more than we've ever thought he/she could be. She's special, the first of her kind in this universe. The problem with that is that I actually loved the fact that the Doctor wasn't anyone "special", her decisions, choices, the person she's grown to be - that's what made her truly incredible in my eyes. This can be a spectacular story, I'm still going to follow it and hope for the best, the one thing that will unfortunately stay with me for a while though is the simple fact that I loved the story so far. The one I knew, felt inspired by, how everyone can make the difference, every single person is important. Right now this doesn't seem to be the case at all. We'll see.

The Doctor isn't the only interesting part of the hour. Jodie Whittaker does a wonderful job with her portrayal, but so does Sacha Dhawan. His Master is so entertaining to watch. He's unpredictable, brutal, angry and hurt. He wants to die, but he can't do it himself, without taking the Doctor with him. More than once during this episode he expressed a wish to see everything end, for his life and pain to be over. He has gathered the entire knowledge of Time Lords and combined it with that of Cybermen which later resulted in creation of a new race of infinitely-regenerating Cybermasters. A genuinely terrifying idea that I'm very surprised (though rather glad) to see easily defeated by the end of the hour. Then again, considering that we do not see the actual moment of the Master's death (and his Cybermen) I think it's more than possible that they might reappear somewhere along the way. About the Master, I'm still not entirely sure how he went from Missy (who chose to help the Doctor right before her regeneration) to this new incarnation who destroyed his entire home planet after learning the Doctor's role in creating the world they both knew. Also, how exactly did he manage to kill every single Time Lord on the planet? Did he use the Moment from the Time War? I would definitely like to get more answers on that. As of now, my favorite part about this new Master is definitely the actor's performance. His interactions with the Doctor and Ashad were a joy to watch in that aspect. Speaking of Ashad, well, his part ended rather abruptly for 3-episode arc. At least it does seem fitting that his "Death Particle" took out all organic life on a planet at the end of the hour. I did expect that we would get to hear more of his story, seeing all the references to just how special he was. Then again, the Master and Timeless Child reveal easily took over the finale with Cybermen threat becoming more of the secondary plot throughout the episode.

While the Doctor made life-changing discoveries the rest of her fam was left to fight against Cybermen or at least try to hide right in front of their eyes. I'm glad Graham came up with the idea to dress up as Cybermen as I've been interested to see how such a plan would go for a while now. The moment when Ashad finds the group hiding in Cybermen armour was especially tense and well done. I loved how kind and lovely were Graham's words about Yaz. She's definitely the bravest one of the group, even if she also might seem rather reckless at times. I honestly still don't feel too attached to her character, not quite sure why exactly. The companion whose absence I would feel the most is still Graham. He's the heart of the fam for me and I'd be sad to see him leave. Yaz is the one who feels most attached to the Doctor though, it was especially hard for her to let go of her friend at the end. It could be interesting to see just these two for a bit. Then there's Ryan. I liked his little plot with Ko Sharmus and Ethan throughout the hour. He's the one who actually had to fight back and attack the Cybermen. Though he initially hesitated about using the weapons provided, the guns and explosives didn't seem to be a problem for the Doctor or the others under the circumstances. Ko Sharmus was an interesting character, he caught my attention rather quickly and I wasn't surprised by his decision to show up and take Doctor's place in the final confrontation. It feels like he's been waiting for this moment for a long time. And yes, that option allowed the Doctor to get out right before the explosion but I didn't mind that actually. In fact that whole part made me think of Ninth Doctor's confrontation with the Daleks and his decision to be the coward instead of a killer.

I'm very interested to see how the Doctor will find a way out of her current situation. The Judoon showing up in the TARDIS was unexpected but also seemed like a perfect reminder of the 10th Doctor's "what?" endings. There's certainly a lot that I enjoyed about this episode and the season. I'm still processing all the new information and deciding how I feel about them. I'm actually glad about this break and time to rewatch. Also excited to see where the upcoming special and new season will take us next.

Whovian notes and questions:
1. What were your initial thoughts and guesses about Brendan and his story in "Ascension of the Cybermen"?
2. Do you think we've just said goodbye to our three Companions or are about to in the upcoming special? What would you like to see happen with the trio?
3. For the fans of Classic Who, personally I'm not familiar with that "The Brain of Morbius" story but I heard it fits rather well with this new Doctor reveal. What are your thoughts on the Timeless Child and the Doctor's extended past after taking this reference to Fourth Doctor's serial into consideration?
4. Do you think the Master (and the Cybermasters) managed to get away before the explosion? If yes, when would you expect to see him/them return?
5. What do you think about the Timeless Child reveal and what it means to the show overall? Are you more of the fan or very much against such a significant change?

The Doctor: "You think you've broken me? You'll have to try harder than that. You've given me a gift. Of myself. You think that could destroy me? You think that makes me lesser? It makes me MORE. I contain multitudes more than I ever thought or knew. You want me to be scared of it because you're scared of everything. But I am so much more than you."

What did you think about "Ascension of the Cybermen" & "The Timeless Children"? Any favorite scenes, quotes or theories? Feel free to let us know in the comments. As always, thanks for reading!

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