Writing this review on a Wednesday morning, the echo chamber that is social media is in full swing. There are people raging about Ascension of the Cybermen & The Timeless Children and there are people who enjoyed it, and that’s fine; everyone is allowed an opinion.
But what always gets me is that people don’t seem to want others to have an opinion if it conflicts with their own. You’ll see tweets like “Anyone who is annoyed about canon is a baby” or “I guess it’s only woke people and social justice warriors who like this“, and there are people out there who only want to follow people who share their own opinion and start to block those who disagree.
It’s unfortunate that people can’t quite accept that others have views that don’t match their own.
I’ll put this out there upfront; I didn’t enjoy the finale, and by saying that, I don’t take the view that anyone who disagrees with me is wrong. I welcome the debate and if you read this and agree or disagree with what I have to say, let’s discuss it. Is that not the way these things should go?
What I would say though is that the BBC cannot ignore that large numbers of viewers have switched off and that there are a lot of reviewers out there who are criticising the quality of the writing.
A year ago, I think the debate around the quality of Doctor Who was clouded by the female Doctor issue and the furore surrounding it, but I would suggest that is no longer a pressing concern to many. I think people largely think that Jodie Whittaker is fine, even if they’d rather have a male Doctor, and I would hazard a guess that if you offered fans the choice of either having Jodie Whittaker working under a different showrunner or a male Doctor working under Chris Chibnall, that poll would come back overwhelmingly in favour of keeping Whittaker.
At this stage, there will be some of you who are reading this and thinking “What a load of rubbish; I enjoy it” but look at the ratings! Look at the various polls out there where the Seasons 11 and 12 consistently finish in last place. Our own individual opinions have to occasionally make way for the general trends, and when viewers are switching off in such large numbers there is clearly a problem.
We weren’t having these arguments during Russell T Davies era, were we? Of course we weren’t.
And I’m not saying that everything Chris Chibnall has penned is crap, because he’s shown he can occasionally write a good episode, but I am saying he’s a bad showrunner and he – along with anyone else with a significant hand in how the last two seasons have been formed – should make way for someone else to have a go. It’s not like there wouldn’t be plenty of willing volunteers out there.
Anyway, you can probably guess the tone of this review, but you may be surprised as to why…
Doctor Who – Ascension of the Cybermen & The Timeless Children Review: What’s This One About?
Well depending on who you speak to, it could be anything from a thrilling adventure that was Doctor Who at its best, all the way down to an abomination where Chris Chibnall ruins a classic TV show.
For me, it’s a confused mess.
Thoughts – Continuity Issues: The End of the World?
I could probably write 5000 words on all the different ways that continuity has – or perhaps has not – been buggered up by the revelations in The Timeless Children but I won’t. I’ll simply say this…
There’s a long history of Doctor Who messing up its own continuity over the years and if you’ve read my reviews you’ll know that I have a pretty fluid or even contradictory approach to whether or not I get
annoyed by it.
So for example, I don’t care that the Doctor suddenly has two hearts in Spearhead from Space when he hasn’t before, but I do care that Terry Nation completely messed up the mythology of his own creations in Genesis of the Daleks. And by the way, so should most people, but they never seem to.
My rationale is that I don’t really expect Robert Holmes et al to have gone back and checked other writers’ work, but I do expect Terry Nation to remember what he wrote previously.
On the flipside, it bugged me that future writers put so much credence in a throwaway line in The Deadly Assassin about Time Lord regeneration cycles when they didn’t need to, because it was simply a line designed to explain the Master’s appearance. It could have been ignored.
There are loads of others that I could use as examples.
So the idea that the Doctor is the Timeless Child and has had numerous regenerations before his/her ‘First’ one is something I think is a little unnecessary, but is workable and feasible if we take the view that everyone was made to forget it. That is fine. If I was the sort of person who needed to find some way to justify it then I would look at the scene from the Brain of Morbius, which of course is what was referenced.
That’s all ok.
The Doctor Ruth with a Police Box stuff isn’t. My line in the sand is that it was established in the second episode ever transmitted – and then subsequently referenced numerous times – that the TARDIS landed in 1963 and disguised itself as a Police Box before the Chameleon Circuit broke. To use Doctor Who terminology, that is a fixed point and it should not be ignored. The only way around this is to somehow manufacture some tale about how she’s a Season 6B Doctor or she’s actually the next one. If they do that, then fine, but what’s the point of it relative to what we’ve just discovered? And if they don’t explain it that way or indeed if they just drop it and never bring it back up then it’s shocking writing.
But shocking writing is what we’ve come to expect from Chris Chibnall, and it’s because of that – not the continuity issues – that I disliked this story.
Unoriginal, Unexciting and Unbelievable
When formulating his plan for a thrilling finale, Chris Chibnall managed to arrive at the conclusion that what we needed was a two-part story involving The Master and The Cybermen. That’s such a fresh idea that
we haven’t had that in a whopping three years.
With all of time and space to work with, the decision was made to use the same characters in a finale that were used a mere two seasons ago.
I possibly could have ignored that if it was any good, but it wasn’t.
Some of the issues – from a storytelling perspective – I had with it included…
- The idea that the Master managed to blow up Gallifrey and kill everyone. No Time Lords managed to escape in the numerous TARDISes littered around, and nobody regenerated, even though it was subsequently established that the bodies of those Time Lords were then able to regenerate when in Cybermen costumes.
- And how did he manage to move all the bodies to wherever he dumped them, on his own?
- The Cybermen, nice costume designs aside, were boring again. But then without a strong leading character or the original Mondasian design, they always are. Really, they’ve just been overexposed.
- The Lone Cybermen was not a strong enough character to last over three episodes and by the Ascension of the Cybermen had past his sell-by date.
- But even then, if you are going to build him up, don’t just kill him off when a character you prefer comes up against him. This was very similar – for any wrestling fans out there – to Goldberg beating The Fiend in Saudi Arabia last week.
- Not for the first time – and this isn’t exclusive to Chibnall – a threat has been built up to be so big that nothing could stop it, only for it to be resolved with the push of a button. It’s the cheat code of writing.
- And so was the way the Doctor was saved from killing herself because someone else offered to do it for her. Writing like that always makes the Doctor look sketchy as hell. And even if there is precedent for it, it’s never been so on-the-nose as it was here.
Really, I just thought it was a bit rubbish, and it just summed up what a lazy, out of his depth writer Chris Chibnall is.
The Master – Should Have Stayed Buried With Rock and Roll Hoochie Coo.
The worst thing about the story though was The Master. I wish The Master would just fuck off.
Again, if you’ve read my reviews all the way through, you’ll know that I have an issue with the character and how it’s been used over the years. Roger Delgado was brilliant; we all know that. His character is what the Master should be and the character has only ever been effective since when it’s been played in a similar way. And the only people who have managed to play it in a similar way have been Derek Jacobi in a few short moments, and John Simm in – and only in – The Doctor Falls.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked Missy but Missy felt like a different character entirely because it was moved in a different direction.
And though I wouldn’t have ever thought that her demise in The Doctor Falls would have been the end of her, the fact is that it probably should have been.
So why in Spyfall did we all come together and say “Wow, the Master is back? That’s great!”? Because it was a surprise. Another example for the wrestling fans among you is that time John Cena came out as number 30 in the Royal Rumble and got a huge cheer from the fans who soon remembered they hated him.
With the Master, that short period in Spyfall where I thought it was nice to see him back was soon overcome, not just by rewatching The Doctor Falls and remembering how much better the actors playing him were, but also by remembering that the character had actually developed in that episode and was given a proper send-off that was just completely ignored by this new version arriving so soon after.
Now maybe I’m being a little harsh on Sacha Dhawan as an actor, because he could well be playing the part as the writer intended, but I didn’t like his portrayal at all. Someone – either him, Chibnall or the director
– wanted the Master played like he was the Joker and so the constant gurning, head touching and wacky close-ups were added in so we as viewers thought he was ‘Proper Mad, Innit’.
It’s just rubbish.
But my problem with the Master isn’t just because I don’t like how he’s played, it’s because his character epitomises that reset-switch mentality of writing that I hate. Time and time again The Master gets put into situations where he – or she in Missy’s case – is put in mortal peril or trapped with no chance of escape, and then he just turns up again, no questions asked. In the Doctor Falls – and I will say again that The Doctor Falls is Doctor Who at its very best – Missy was killed off. It was the perfect end. But no, let’s just forget it without explanation.
In this episode, he was put in a situation where all organic matter was destroyed, and yet no doubt he’ll be back next year.
And as well as that, how often can a character come back and never get a win, and yet we’re expected to take that seriously.
It just really bugs me.
So once again let me say, The Master should have stayed buried with rock and roll hoochie koo (it’s an obscure reference I like; look it up).
- It should be noted that this review has so far almost exclusively focussed on the second part of the story. The first part to me was ok, but was almost entirely padding.
- That being said, I quite liked the Earthshock vibe on the ship.
- “Captain Charisma” Tosin Cole once again did nothing of notw. His character didn’t even have the common decency to be killed off.
- But speaking of being killed off, I noticed that the first person offed in the second episode was the girl with the foreshortened arm. I wonder if the foreshorted arm community will be up in arms…erm…let me rephrase that…outraged by the BBC disrespecting them in the same way as the LGBTQ+ community were raging about the security guard in Resolution being killed off after 30 seconds. We need justice! We need Digital Spy to write an article on it!
- Speaking of Resolution – a Dalek episode broadcast in the festive season – I think we should applaud Chris Chibnall for thinking outside the box and having a festive broadcast episode later this year called Revolution…of the Daleks. He is an inventive son of a bitch, isn’t he?
- It didn’t escape my attention that there wasn’t one single white adult male Time Lord in flashbacks. There were two black men, two white women, one white boy, one white girl, two Asian girls and one Asian boy. Now for what it’s worth, I would say that if the BBC have a philosophy of inclusion and representation – which I totally understand and agree with – then that’s not it. Representation surely doesn’t mean ‘Exclude the largest section of the population’, it means ‘include the minorities as well so that there’s a fair balance’.
- Now further to that, I would argue that if casting directors are going to be so intent on showcasing ethnicity – and again I need to stress that I have no problem with that – why is it Latinos never get a look in? Are there not enough of them in the UK to make the cut? This is obviously an issue that people will take a lot more seriously than me, but it’s just an observation. Again, knowing that this will be a touchy subject and that in the echo chamber of the internet people will take grave offence at almost anything and will twist what people say to suit their own argument, it’s not me saying that the entire cast should be white males. What I am saying is that by making it so obvious that they deliberately not casting white males, even if those white males are extras with no dialogue, it looks like they are trying to make a point, and all it does is provide ammunition to the people who accuse the show of being woke.
- On a lighter note, where the hell was Captain Jack? And why bring him in just for that small segment.
- Having the Doctor be captured by the Jadoon while saying ‘What’ was a terrible copy of the finales of the RTD seasons.
- Are we to assume the Master spent time designing the Time Lord Cybermen costumes?
- Again, every time we see a classic TARDIS design, it’s much better than the one we’ve got.
- Almost the only part of the show I enjoyed was the scene with Graham and Yaz. Yaz and Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor are the only consistently decent part of the show lately.
- Where does Rassilon fit into all of this?
Doctor Who – Ascension of the Cybermen & The Timeless Children Review: Final Thoughts
I think in theory I’m supposed to have liked the finale, but I didn’t, and I’ve explained why. Bad writing, convoluted dialogue and exposition and terrible characterisation made this the shit-show that it was.
There’s always a chance down the line that I’ll soften to it, but there’s a large part of me that also dislikes it out of principle.
Doctor Who is meant to be family entertainment, and too often, it’s as if they’ve forgotten that entertaining the viewer is the main aim of the show.
Instead, Doctor Who as it stands is bogged down by sloppy writing and forced agendas.
It’s just not great right now.
Don’t get me wrong, occasionally it’s been good, with Spyfall, Prisoner of the Judoon and the Haunting of Villa Diodati proving entertaining. Even Can You Hear Me? was good, but it was marred by the different, easily avoidable issues that seemed to piss off everyone who watched it in some way.
What frustrates me as a viewer now is that under both RTD and Steven Moffat, the highs were amazing and the lows were occasional blips. Under Chris Chibnall, the highs are only middling at best, and the all-too-frequent lows are as bad as bad can be.
I really hope the BBC steps in and decides that they need to freshen things up, but I’m not sure they will. Someone at a high level must like Chris Chibnall, and simply couldn’t give a toss about ratings or reviews.
Having said all of that, I remain a Doctor Who fan through-and-through, and an optimist into the bargain, so by the time Revolution of the Daleks is on, I’ll be excited and ready to go. All will be forgiven and forgotten.
See you then.