The two-part finale kicks off with two seemingly disconnected stories: scenes from the life of a baby mysteriously left on a dirt road in Ireland in the early 20th century. We watch him be adopted and grow into a young man. This is juxtaposed against the TARDIS crew attempting to save one of the last bastions of humanity from an attacking force of Cybermen in the far future.
How do these disparate story threads connect?
Warning: spoilers ahead.
In the future, things don’t go well. A goofy-looking SFX, er I mean flying Cybermen heads, attack the human outpost and the TARDIS crew’s efforts end disastrously. Pretty soon the crew is split up and hope appears to be at a premium, as the Lone Cyberman from the prior episode relentlessly pursues them, Death following in its wake.
The pacing of the episode suffers a bit from being split across three ongoing threads. The incongruous 20th century story, the most intriguing because it begs the biggest question, gets lost a bit in the story shuffle, but is worth it for that strange twist (they put headphones on the guy OH I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE). Nothing gets answered in this episode, which is a bit frustrating but to be expected.
“Ascension of the Cybermen” isn’t the best Cybermen story to be told (not in Part 1, at least) but having the Lone Cyberman act as a mouthpiece for the race is the best development we’ve seen for them in years. The Cybermen, like the Daleks, suffer from being classic Who villains who, time and time and again, have been overused and their status as a threat diminished. As robotic beings, there isn’t a lot to glean from their presence other than their constant robotic blathering. The Cybermen were best in their early appearances, when there was still a touch of humanoid appearance and implication of body horror. It’s telling that the Lone Cyberman is missing half of his helmet; being able to see his eyes and facial expressions does wonders for them as a threat, and play up his desperation.
The Doctor continues to be harried by the stress of recent events and trying to keep her companions safe. Although not directly referenced, it feels as if there’s an extra layer of concern or fear from her with regards to the Cybermen, which is understandable for the character considering they caused her last regeneration. Could I be looking way too deep into this?
“Ascension of the Cybermen” is all build-up, with twists in the last few minutes that make you frustrated that you just can’t skip right to the next episode. Instead, we have the (first world problems) agonizing wait for the conclusion… and that in itself feels so old school.
The real question is, can Chibnall deliver on all the build-up from this season? Next week feels make-or-break for his tenure on the show. Let’s see if he can pull it off.