Doctor Who: Ascension of the Cybermen / The Timeless Children Review

DW Ascension of the Cybermen The Timeless Children

Well… That was something! Who would have thought that Chris Chibnall, someone whose first series of Doctor Who had practically no connections to the show’s past, would suddenly drop a massive continuity bomb that would shake the very foundation of Who history forever? Not me! Plus underneath the major continuity shaking and another great performance by Sacha Dhawan as The Master is a really good Cybermen story, with a great new redesign to boot! So let’s take a look at this breath-taking double bill, shall we?


In a galaxy still dealing with the aftermath of the deadly Cyber-Wars, the Thirteenth Doctor and her companions are separated both from each other and from the TARDIS. Banding together with the last dredges of humanity, they must all attempt to find Ko Sharmus and the Boundary before any other remaining Cyberman forces can locate them. And who is Brendan, the abandoned baby?

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

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“Doctor, what was that sound?”   “The sound of a my mind being blown”  “No I’m pretty sure it was gun.”   “Oh yeah! Run!!”

So let’s get the big thing out of the way: The Master at some point went into the Matrix and saw a big, hidden truth that caused him to nearly wipe-out his own people. He captures The Doctor in the opening moments of the second half and shows her this truth, which is that The Doctor isn’t originally from Gallifrey, or indeed this universe seemingly. She was a child dropped through a portal found by an early space explorer from Gallifrey, a child that then showed she had the ability to regenerate into a new body when critically injured. Her new “mother” saw this and decided she wanted it for herself, so… experimented on this Timeless Child until she figured how to splice the regeneration DNA into her own. Eventually she’d take the elite of Gallifrey and give them the same gift (though eventually limiting it to 13 times) and soon they discover Time Travel (presumably still thanks to Rassilon and Omega, let’s not mess with continuity too much!) and rename themselves Time Lords.

What of The Doctor? Well, he/she would enrol in a new Division, one that is willing to interfere in history should they decide it necessary (the future Celestial Intervention Agency) and would live many, many lives until his memory was wiped, his body reverted to that of a child, and he was hidden among the other Time Lords, treated as just another 13 regeneration, regular old Time Lord, albeit one that would escape and have many adventures. Presumably only a few CIA top brass knew about it, meaning that nothing from the show’s history is de-canonised, The Doctor didn’t know, nobody he met knew, but this was his history, his past. Well, when The Doctor breaks free of the Matrix and thinks of her past we have a flash of the “Morbius Doctors” from Fourth Doctor TV classic “The Brain of Morbius”, which I guess confirms that decades-old fan argument! I guess Morbius was the only person to unearth The Doctor’s hidden past, which explains why he shouted “Back Doctor, how far, how far have you lived?” as more faces appeared after Hartnell on the screen. The Doctor was in too much pain to understand what was happening, or the conditioning reapplied itself after the machine broke, something like that. It’s fun to speculate!

While she initially freaks out at this revelation, The Doctor calms down and realises that your past doesn’t define you, only your actions in a present and breaks free with a fun montage of all her past lives (as mentioned above, including the “Ruth Doctor” from Fugitive of the Judoon, the “Morbius Doctors” and the “Timeless Child” versions)

So… Yeah. The Doctor is now, once again, a travelling alien whose home and people are unknown to us. Doctor Who indeed…

What’s that? The rest of the story? OH YEAH!

DW Ascension of the Cybermen The Timeless Children 1

“What’s that? Kill everyone?! hahaha, BRILLIANT IDEA!”

So the first half was a good Cyberman story, with a really fun mix of old and new redesigns of the classic monsters, and the half converted Cyberman from the previous story (apparently called “Ashad”) leading the last of his people to try and finish off humanity for good. Cue The Doctor, Yas, Ryan and Graham getting split up and trying to help a group of survivors … survive. Cyber-Ships, a promised haven, some running and hiding, it was good stuff. A fine Cyberman story for a change, it’s just a shame that it ended up being nothing but a side story compared to the major plot that breaks free in the second half.

There were also lots of scenes set in Ireland of someone called Brendan, who we see from a baby, to a teen, to a young man joining the police, then to him being shot and falling to his death, only to survive, then retiring… by having his mind wiped by his “father” and “police chief” that somehow haven’t aged. That was it, for the first episode, and it was perfect because I had NO idea what was going on and how it had any effect of the next episode and it made me want to find out. Turns out these were all events from the Doctor’s pre-Hartnell life, the police station being The Division, and the mind wiping etc. Just with a human setting layered on top of it to protect her from the truth. (Yes in Ireland, taking the whole “Gallifrey? Where’s that, in Ireland?” joke to a whole new level…)

The Master is brilliant in this, far more suicidal than we’re used to seeing him, but then when we find out the truth about The Doctor, it all makes sense. His life-long rival, the person he wants to acknowledge him as his equal, or better yet, his Master, suddenly turns out to be near God-like, to the point where The Master’s very Time Lord DNA is a gift from The Doctor herself. That’ll drive him off the deep end alright, that will erase the thoughts Missy had of helping The Doctor right before her death. Suddenly The Master felt pathetic in the presence of the person he always wanted to dominate, or at least rule alongside. Now he’ll never be The Doctor’s Master, and because of that, he’s lost his very reason for living. Several scenes where The Master is talking to Ashad, who has a “Death Particle” inside of himself that can wipe out all organic life on the planet, The Time Lord is tempted to unleash it, even disappointed when it doesn’t get activated after he TCE’s the villain into a toy-sized model.

He then converts some of the Time Lords he kept alive into what have been dubbed “CyberMasters”, or basically, Cybermen with the ability to regenerate… who also have the Time Lord pompous collars as part of their headgear, which is an odd choice… Anyway, The Master nearly gets away with it too, but The Doctor arrives to blow herself, The Master and the CyberMasters to nothing by detonating the toy-sized Ashad and unleashing the Death Particle… but she can’t go through with it, of course! The Master is disappointed, but also not surprised. Suddenly Cyber Wars veteran Ko Sharmus (Ian McElhinney) arrives and tells The Doctor to run as he detonates it instead. Bit of a cheap cop-out, but hey-ho. The scenes leading up to it were good!

The rest of episode 2 saw Yas and Graham get along well as they try and survive against a revived Cyber-army, eventually meeting back up with Ryan, all along with a few human survivors. Together they defeat some Cybermen and eventually sneak onboard the massive Cybership and plant some bombs to destroy it (Ko Sharmus re-enacting Obi-Wan Kenobi planting bombs in the Death Star scene almost one-to-one!) In general though, The Doctor’s “fam” are reduced to background characters while the major story played out.

Just before the big finale The Doctor sent her “fam”, plus the few survivors they met, to modern day Earth, all of them thinking she sacrificed herself. The Doctor reaches her TARDIS but is taken prisoner by the Jadoon before she can do anything as the credits roll.

*Phew*! That’s a lot of stuff for one two-parter…

The Bad:

DW Ascension of the Cybermen The Timeless Children 2

Cool new design, shame it was barely used…

Comparatively, not much. I do think it’s a shame that the two really good Cyberman stories since the show’s revival have been turned into great Master stories half-way through (this and the Series 10 finale) Maybe one day we’ll just get a good stand alone Cyberman story that’s good! Especially since this is among the first things to properly show the often talked about Cyber Wars that ended the Cybermen for… pretty much good.

During episode one some “Cyber Drones” arrived and attacked, these drones were literally Cyberman heads floating around firing lasers… it looked just that little bit too stupid for me. I’m pretty sure the Cybermen would just create flying guns rather than weird heads with rockets…

If you’d asked me about making the Morbius Doctors canon and revealing pre-Hartnell versions of The Doctor I would have shaken my head, refusing to hear anything about it, but oddly enough I think this worked well. EXCEPT ONE THING. The “Ruth Doctor” is now a pre-Hartnell incarnation, in which case why is she called The Doctor, and why is her TARDIS in the shape of a 60s Police Box? I mean the Division / CIA that put the mind-wiped Doctor back into Time Lord society may have not quite done a good enough job and this Time Lord would eventually, subconsciously, name himself The Doctor in reference to an old name, I guess. The TARDIS is telepathic, maybe The Doctor took the same TARDIS his unknown past selves used, and it eventually, again thanks to The Doctor subconscious, took a form his old selves were partial too? Maybe! Lots of questions…

As mentioned, Ko Sharmus running out from behind suddenly and saying “I’m old and tired, let me kill myself and your enemies why you live on, Doctor!” and The Doctor being okay with it quite quickly was a pretty crap and sudden end to a really fun face-off.

The Continuity:

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So this is sort of a memory of The Doctor being discovered as a child, reformatted to Ireland? I guess?

Erm… Yeah. I have a feeling I’ll be referring back to this story a lot going into the future! But in terms of referencing the past (and not including the many brief clips in the “breaking out of the Matrix” montage…)

Oddly enough this is the third time we’ve seen a two-part story involving The Master and the Cybermen… in the last few years! The Twelfth Doctor’s first series finale “Dark Water / Death in Heaven” and his last series finale “World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls” both feature the team up. To be fair though, in none of these stories have the Cybermen particularly betrayed him, so I guess The Master is happy with a race he can actually dominate…

This also isn’t the first time we’ve seen Time Lords converted into Cybermen, as the… frankly crap Titan Comics cross-over event “Supremacy of the Cybermen” features just that, even if the whole thing is undone by the end. Also The Master and The Matrix go back, not just to the Sixth Doctor epic “The Trial of a Time Lord”, but to Fourth Doctor TV classic “The Deadly Assassin”, a story that is also referenced by The Master in this story when he mentions himself and The Doctor had “Assassinated a few presidents” in the past.

Obviously I’ve already mentioned the “Brain of Morbius” and the “Fugitive of the Judoon” older versions of the Doctor, but I’ll re-mention them here for link purposes! The original inhabitants of Gallifrey being called “Shobogans” is interesting, as that’s the name given to the non-Time Lord Gallifreyeans living outside of the Capitol in, once again, “The Deadly Assassin”, as well as other expanded media.

I’ll also mention the often quoted “Cartmel Masterplan”, which saw then-head-writer Andrew Cartmel try and inject new mystery into the character of The Doctor during McCoy’s last two series, including intimations that he was around during the Dark Times of Gallifrey, and the Seventh Doctor himself accidently letting it slip that he was around when Rassilon and Omega were creating their technology, before “correcting himself”. It was all supposed to culminate in The Doctor being some sort of reincarnation of a Time Lord forefather known as “The Other”, and while this episode doesn’t directly refer to this, it does, funnily enough, match up quite well. Like several decades later the “Masterplan” was fulfilled (though how the Seventh Doctor knew about it and soon forget about it again would have to be explained… It would explain some of his “I have to kill or stop all these other God-like creatures before my next incarnation” phase though, like he knows he’ll forget the truth again and not have the power…)

Also, as a benefit of writing this so late after it aired, fans have found a connection to the old “Hybrid” story arc from a few series ago. Although The Doctor claims to have made the prophecy up, it goes “A hybrid creature would stand over the ruins of Gallifrey and unravel the Web of Time, breaking a billion billion hearts to heal its own.” This does match The Master, who had merged with the Cyberium, unravelling the truth about The Doctor’s role in the web of time, and killing millions of Time Lords to try and calm the rage in his own heart at the revelation. Probably a coincidence, but fun nonetheless.

Overall Thoughts:

DW Ascension of the Cybermen The Timeless Children 5

“I’ve done it! I’ve finally won!! … Why did I design your helmets to look like that?! Oh well, if anyone laughs, I’ll kill them.”

Wow, this was a long review. Then again, if any Doctor Who story deserved a closer breakdown, it would be this. Shocking revelations that revert The Doctor back to a mysterious alien from planet / race unknown, great villains in The Master and the Cybermen, and some good set pieces. Yep, this two-parter was a triumph, and lived up to a series-worth of hype. Now, just don’t be in a hurry to reveal The Doctor’s real home race this time!

5 Star Watch

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