It feels to me that this series is gearing up to be much stronger than series 11, and this penultimate episode does a fine job of setting the stage for the finale. I like that we’re left with three separate cliffhangers.
What I like even more is the way the episode built to that point, organically and progressively, almost as though there was some narrative craftsmanship involved. I found myself drawn into the story of the Irish foundling baby, and moved by it, to the point where it almost felt like an unwelcome jolt to be pulled out of that story into what was more obvious Doctor Who: how many backstory sequences can we say that for?
The tiny human encampment was done perfectly well, though there was some confusion about whether the seven survivors were or were not the last humans. If I were being picky, I could also complain that it didn’t seem clear whether the cybermen wanted to kill or convert the humans … or indeed why the Doctor parked the TARDIS so far away, rather than just materialising in the camp. But never mind: it’s not the kind of episode that leaves you worrying too much about these things, because properly interesting stuff is happening.
Key to much of this is the Lone Cyberman, who is an increasingly compelling creation with some real depth. We saw some of that last week when the appeal to his remaining humanity failed so completely; we saw more this week when Doctor put her finger on his self-knowledge and self-loathing, and he simply acknowledged the truth of what she said without being thrown by it. We saw it again in the strange way he tortured the first of the old-style cyberman woken in the carrier ship. What actually is his deal? I really really hope there’s substance to it when we reach the conclusion of this arc.
And what of Brendan, the Irish baby whose life we see in a sequence of flashbacks? Why was he not hurt by the robber’s bullet or the plunge from the cliff? I thought at one point we were seeing the early life of the man who was converted to become the Lone Cyberman, but the conclusion of the episode, with the talk of wiping his memory, suggests something else is going on.
So: not necessarily a great episode, but certainly a good one. Now I wait to find what happened to retiremen-age Brendan, how the Master is involved with the boundary between galaxies and indeed the whole plot, and what Yaz and Graham are going to do with their carrier ship of several million cybermen.
Oh, and does “ascension” here mean anything specific, beyond re-awakining those several million cybermen?
Don’t let me down, episode 10!