Ascension of the Cybermen review

Series 12 Episode 9 23/02/20 Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
Ascension of the Cybermen is ‘about’ narratives and their ownership. It teases with an opening narration through which Ashad, the Lone Cyberman, frames the story which follows as his. The discovery of the title sequence within the eyehole of a detached Cyberman head might suggest the Doctor’s victory over the dead Cyberman, or alternatively that only the Cybermen, in their undeath, survive to tell this tale. As the episode unfolds, this question of ownership of the narrative is raised again and again. Whose story are we watching? Whose story is Brendan’s, from its mythically golden morning to its dully nightmarish twilight? It’s left uncertain where his reality lies. The Doctor and friends arrive specifically as visitors to the end of the Cyber Wars, there to make sure the last humans survive and frustrate the recreation of the Cyber Empire, but are swept forward in a small, final refugee wave as their scheme is frustrated, struggling to retain possession of their destinies. 

Characters assert agency and make decisions for their own survival, only to find more terror and ever more limited options; unless, of course, they are a Cyberman. For a Doctor characterized in her first season as a Doctor of Hope, this is a bleak tale of foreboding. The author is Chris Chibnall, and in depriving his characters of much of the illusion of autonomy, he is letting his audience know of his presence; or is he represented by the Master, lord of substituted orders? 


The Silurians Episode 5 review

Season 7@50 Something I’d never really thought of before is how versatile the Silurians’ third eye is. In this episode, a large chunk of which we spend in their subterranean company, it is used to open and close doors, create a forcefield, operate a console and finally to kill another Silurian. Presumably it is controlled by the power of thought but even so it must have to be concentrated thought of some strength. Perhaps that’s why they are so jumpy. Each of the three main Silurians we see seems to have been given a different movement in order for us to differentiate between them and it gives them an eerie quality. They are jerky movements whereas we might expect reptiles to be slinkier. The most remarkable aspect to them is that Peter Halliday does all the voices arguing with himself over Silurian politics. It’s a cruel game with someone able to seize power simply by turning that third eye on their rival. I’m not sure why Old Silurian as he is known in the tv version (see below about the novel) doesn’t fight back, maybe its because he’s old? As for Silurian scientist (aka K’To if you’re reading the book) he’s clearly not a fighter and will acquiesce to whoever’s third eye looks the most threatening.


The Silurians Episode 4 review

Season 7@50. Mid- way through this episode (and hence mid- way through the story) there’s one of those conferences that Seventies Doctor Who excelled in. It serves several purposes; firstly to get across some story points in as interesting a way as possible, secondly to state everyone’s position and thirdly to give the actors some juicy officialdom to get their teeth round. In the room each person represents their profession whether a soldier, a bureaucrat, a boss or a scientist. If I were awarding points I’d say Peter Miles comes out on top here; his slowly seething Doctor Lawrence is a study in repressed anger. You can just tell he wants to literally lamp the Brigadier! 


The Haunting of Villa Diodati review

Series 12 Episode 8 16/02/20. Whether Doctor Who is something of a horror series despite most people describing it as `fantasy` or `sci-fi` has always been up for debate. There are definitely moments when it strays over that divide and these are often followed by viewer complaints about an episode being too shocking for the children. Yet for a programme whose history is littered with such things as giant spiders, killer robots, animated plastic dummies and people mutating into plants that divide is often hazy. `The Haunting of Villa Diodati` definitely counts as horror at first but as it evolves takes in a few more genres as well resulting in a busy, rewarding fifty minutes packed with questions and surprise left turns. 

Spooky Spoilers after this point


The Silurians Episode 3 review

Season 7@50. An episode mostly devoted to searching for the wounded reptile, part 3 consolidates the story without adding a lot to it. This works well due to the sweep of the search that we’re shown. These were the days when Doctor Who appeared to look expensive and expansive hence a helicopter is deployed to fly around moorland and there are even shots from it looking down over a substantial number of searchers.  The production marshals this so confidently with director Timothy Combe determined to show us the widest views and there is even a confident parping theme accompanying the search. Doctor Who has rarely seemed so solid and real as it does in these scenes.


Can You Hear Me? review

Series 12 Episode 7 09/02/20. Episode reviewed by Sean Alexander.
 “The cruelty of their own minds directed toward themselves.”
 This second series of Chris Chibnall’s ‘reimagining’ of modern-day Doctor Who could be mistaken for Doctor Woke.  Now, this isn’t going to be another tedious rant about how the show has become all PC and demographic-ticking in its current incarnation (various websites, blogs and social media platforms are available for that, if one desires) but it would be remiss of me to mention that Chibnall’s Doctor Who has become issue-led rather than plot-driven.  ‘Can You Hear Me?’ isn’t even the show’s first occasion at looking at mental illness and offering a helpline ‘for those affected’ after the end credits (2010’s ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ got there first, albeit with a somewhat less preachy mandate) and as a first-time writer to the show (the latest in countless new scribes commissioned by the current showrunner) Charlene James does at least find a fresh angle to using sci-fi mental health in a tangible, albeit fantastical, way.  And that is where the episode’s problems largely begin and end.


The Silurians Episode 2 review

Season 7@ 50. The speed at which episode 1 played out hardly slows for the second part. This episode is a particular example of clear scripting that avoids too many scenes of people talking about what they will do instead cutting straight to us seeing them doing it. Any potential gaps are covered by lines of dialogue after the fact. For example there is no scene where people find out the Doctor has gone down to the caves, instead we cut straight to the plans to find him.  I also like the fact that, as everyone is panicking and arranging rescues, the missing Doctor strolls in and asks if he can come too! Having recently watched `Spearhead from Space` episodically week by week it strikes me that so far the pace of `The Silurians` is much quicker, the script far tighter.


The Silurians Episode 1 review

Season 7@50. Familiarity can dull the impact of creative material yet there are some things which remain absorbing even though we know their every secret for example a favourite film or album or place. Or a Doctor Who story like `The Silurians`. The behind the scenes situation suggests this 1970 classic could easily have been a bit of a mess. With Derrick Sherwin and Peter Bryant having left, Barry Letts unavailable for the location filming, a 7 episode storyline and a new Doctor still finding his way it was hardly a settled production though nothing of this makes the finished version. Instead a confident, bold narrative offers a fresh take on the traditional `aliens on earth` story and a compelling representation of the Doctor as a high profile agitator rather than the low key subversive the previous incarnation had tended to be. The first episode is masterfully assembled and played and a sign that during this era of the programme episode ones would almost always be top class.


Praxeus review

Series 12 Episode 6 02/02/20
After a week in which Doctor Who seemed to excite social and journalistic media more than it has for many years it is likely that this episode - which doesn’t deal at all with the momentous developments last time - will disappoint. It will probably go on record as a filler episode between the bigger ones. It is disappointing as Pete McTighe’s `Kerblam` was one of the highlights of last series. In this co-write with showrunner Chris Chibnall he takes a similar tack with a more ambitious globe spanning tale using a contemporary concern as ballast for a story. However the scenario never clicks into place anywhere near as effectively as `Kerblam` though the episode does have an unintended similarity to current news headlines.
Spoilers past this point