Mark Watches ‘Doctor Who’: S12E09 – Ascension of the Cybermen

In the ninth and penultimate episode of the twelfth series of Doctor Who, The Doctor and her companions follow the coordinates given to them and find the last of humanity. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of genocide.

Holy shit, THIS WHOLE ARC IS INCREDIBLE. I am so excited for the series 12 finale, y’all, even though I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT’S ACTUALLY HAPPENING HERE. I thought I did, and the video showcases my many attempts at guessing… oh, fuck it, let’s just jump right into it.


I THOUGHT BRENDAN WAS EITHER ASHAD OR KO SHARMUS. I guess he still could be? But I am missing nearly all the pieces of the puzzle to figure out this. The whole plot is beautifully and heartbreakingly told, and there were times I felt like I was watching a fairy tale unfold. The story of Brendan is structured that way, too. In the early 1900s, somewhere in Ireland, a couple finds a baby in the middle of the road, and they eventually adopt him after his parents are never found. What snippets we get of Brendan’s life were idyllic. He was loved. He was raised with care and attention. He joined the local police service, much to the pride of his father and the very same police sergeant who interviewed Brendan’s father the day he was found. 

And then, he was shot and fell off a cliff.

Writing that out… honestly, it really does convey what a HUGE right turn that moment is. I assumed he had died because there’s no way someone survives a fall from that height, let alone the gunshot at close range. But… how? Fucking HOW? He didn’t have a scratch! It’s not like he survived his wounds. HE LITERALLY DIDN’T HAVE ANY.

I don’t get how Brendan’s father and the sergeant exchanged confused, alarmed looks, only for them to show up DECADES LATER to retrieve Brendan after Brendan has retired from the force. Oh, and they haven’t aged. Oh, and they also wipe his memory? OH AND NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY FUCKING SENSE??? wHO THE FUCK IS BRENDAN? WHY IS HE APPARENTLY UNABLE TO BE HARMED BUT HE ALSO AGES AND HIS FATHER AND HIS FATHER’S FRIEND DOES NOT.

The Last of Humanity

I really think that “Ascension of the Cyberman” builds off of some of the emotional work done in other episodes. It was hard not to think about The Doctor’s conversation directed at Ryan from the previous episode. She’s been slowly introducing her companions to some of the more fucked up parts of her past. But here? This is like “Orphan 55” but in real time. The companions don’t arrive on an Earth destroyed by poor choices; they arrive on a planet where the last humans–literal last!–are hiding from the Cybermen, who are trying to wipe them all out. It is a remarkably grim future, and she does not ease Ryan, Graham, and Yaz into it. Yet I don’t think it’s a stretch to posit that she knew they could handle it. They’ve faced a version of the Daleks before. They’ve faced the Judoon. They’ve learned what it means to be The Doctor and to always be expected to have an answer, especially when the answer she DOES have is uncomfortable or terrible. 

And so, they witness the last seven humans make a stand against the remaining Cybermen.

I was reminded of the Time War in this, particularly since this was two races locked into a combat so terrible that both sides are nearly wiped out. Of course, the context is different, since there’s such a horrible power dynamic here. The Cybermen are just wiping out humans. It’s genocide. And it’s horrible to watch, particularly because we are told right at the beginning that these humans are the last there are in the whole of existence. So when three of them die, it’s horrifying and miserable in a whole new way. 

But isn’t Doctor Who inherently about persistence in the face of great evil? About never giving up no matter how impossible the odds?

What’s a situation with more impossible odds than this one?

Learning From The Doctor

From a structure standpoint, I loved that the companions were split, since it allowed the story to follow two different narratives of hope. With Graham and Yaz–who finally spend a great deal of time with one another–we get to see both characters act out things that they picked up from The Doctor. Their relentless sense of hope is grating to Bescot, Yedlarmi, and Ravio, particularly since those three have lived through something the others have not. So I saw this as a fascinating role reversal in that sense! Now, Graham and Yaz are the two who are faced with difficult decisions; they’re the two who constantly pursue another solution, rather than wait around for what seems inevitable. It’s also entertaining to watch because it’s the writers giving Graham and Yaz agency! They choose all these things. They push the story forward, especially once they get the group to the Cybercarrier. Do they know their plan will work? No. But giving it a good go was worth it to Yaz and Graham; doing ANYTHING to come out on top with all parties alive? Oh, it’s such a Doctor thing to do! 

I must state here that I have no idea what the fuck Ashad was doing to those first Cybermen, by the way. That was completely lost on me. Why was he hurting them? WHAT THE FUCK?

Anyway: One of the reasons I enjoy Thirteen and her companions as much as I do is that while the show feels very new in a lot of ways, it still comes across as very quintessentially Doctor Who in so very many ways.

The Boundary

That also includes the mysteries. The whole reveal of Ko Sharmus being a PERSON, not a place? Brilliant twist. But as I said before, this was a plot about hope! Because somewhere in the galaxy, there was a portal that would allow humans to escape the Cybermen, to go to a place they could not follow. And even with little to no confirmation that the place was real, those seven humans set that as their endgame. They had to believe in Ko Sharmus because there wasn’t much else to believe in, but still. Hope. There was hope for another way to live. 

(I don’t want to spoil things but this so deeply reminds me of another show I watched last year but even saying the name is a MASSIVE spoiler for the show’s endgame and I don’t want anyone who hasn’t seen it to know so uh… hi. Maybe you know what show I’m talking about? It’s a great show, perhaps one of the greatest. OKAY BYE.) 

And so, Ryan and The Doctor, guided by the fantastic work of Ethan, make it to Ko Sharmus aboard a stolen Cybershuttle. As I said on video, I love what Ethan’s expertise does for worldbuilding, y’all. He was foru when his father taught him how to hotwire a warp drive! Like Ryan says, Ethan grew up in this war. It’s all he knows. But that knowledge got them to Ko Sharmus quicker, so that detail provided a rich grounding of that character. I truly felt like Ethan was prepared for anything. 

I, on the other hand, was not prepared for the Boundary. I didn’t really doubt its existence, but I worried that Ko Sharmus was going to reveal that the Boundary had closed, which was why he was there alone. NOPE. NO. HE STAYED BEHIND TO WAIT AND MAKE SURE ALL THE HUMANS MADE IT. My… heart??? That hurts me so much? Because it’s clear he waited years and years and years, and at any time, he could have just walked through and found out what was on the other side, but he stayed????? AND LOOK HOW IT PAID OFF???

Except… does it? How the fuck was Gallifrey on the other side of that portal!!!!!!!! NO!!!! And it was the ruined Gallifrey, too!!! HOW THE FUCK WAS THE MASTER THERE? HOW DID HE GET OUT THE KASAAVIN DIMENSION???? WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING!!!!!

Oh, I am so excited for this finale. I need to know how all these pieces fit together!

The video for “Ascension of the Cybermen” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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