Synopsis: The Cybermen are on the march and as the last humans are hunted down, Graham, Ryan, and Yaz face a terrifying fight to survive.
After his surprise appearance at the end of last week’s episode, the Master orders the Doctor to come through the gateway with him or he will murder one of her friends. The Doctor reluctantly agrees and the Master takes her to the Panopticon where he traps the Doctor in the Matrix. As this is happening Ashad and his Cybermen chase Graham, Yaz, Ravio and Yedlarmi from the control room of the Cyber ship killing Bescot in the process. As they escape into another part of the ship Graham suggests that they disguise themselves in Cyber armour to avoid detection. We get a wonderful moment when Graham tells Yaz how much he thinks of her, and some humour when Graham responds to Yaz’s underwhelming statement that he is “not such a bad human”.
Now inside the Matrix, the Master tells the tale of the earliest Gallifreyan space explorer, Tecteun (Seylan Baxter), and her journey across the stars that brought her to a planet with a gateway like the one leading to Gallifrey. Tecteun found an abandoned child at the gateway and adopted her, only for the child to regenerate into a different body after a critical injury, the first regeneration of anyone on Gallifrey. Meanwhile in the real world, the Cyber ship has landed on Gallifrey and Ryan must step up and fight the approaching Cybermen with Kosharmus and Ethan (Matt Carver). There is some humour when Ryan celebrates after blowing up a squad of Cybermen only for more to crest the hill above him and chase him away. The Master (who is in the real world as well as the Matrix) meets Ashad for the first time and claims to be able to facilitate the subjugation of the universe for him. Within the Matrix, the Master describes how Tecteun unlocked the secret of regeneration and spliced it into herself and how the Timeless Child became the template for the society of the Time Lords. On Gallifrey Ryan and Kosharmus are separated from Ethan who is captured by Cybermen. As they run to help him they find the Cybermen dead thanks to Yaz, Graham, Ravio and Yedlarmi, who are themselves disguised as Cybermen. There is more humour when Graham struggles to take off his Cyber helmet.
While this is happening, the Master shows the Doctor details of a shadowy “Division” that serves as a kind of black ops unit for the Time Lords. It is revealed that the life of Brendan, the mysterious man who couldn’t die that we saw last week, was actually projected into the Doctor’s mind by the Master as a way of presenting the information to her that she would understand. We discover that the Doctor was in fact the Timeless Child that Time Lord society was built from, and we find out that the Master hates the Doctor because a part of her is inside him, her being the genetic template for the Time Lords’ ability to regenerate. While this contradicts the canon established in Marc Platt’s novel Lungbarrow, it does open the door to a wealth of potential new “forgotten” incarnations of the Doctor and periods in her life which can no doubt be explored in other media. Meanwhile the Master kills Ashad using the Tissue Compression Eliminator, and draws the Cyberium into himself. He then uses this to create an army of unkillable Cyber Time Lords from the bodies left behind on Gallifrey.
Back inside the Matrix we see the Ruth Doctor again who encourages the 13th Doctor that the universe still needs her. 13 frees herself from the Matrix by overloading it with her memories, and we see a nice little montage of all of the previous Doctors. Graham, Ryan, Yaz and the human survivors find the Doctor and 13 comes up with a plan to stop the Master by using the death particle that was inside Ashad’s body. Ravio, Yedlarmi, Kosharmus and Ethan place bombs in strategic areas of the ruined citadel after which The Doctor takes them to a different TARDIS and tells them to leave without her. We see a lovely moment when the Doctor says she would sacrifice herself for her friends in a heartbeat, and she leaves them to confront the Master. A tense showdown ensues which called to mind the 9th Doctor’s standoff with the Daleks on Satellite 5, and the Doctor relents.
This moment is then ruined by the reappearance of Kosharmus, who takes the death particle from the Doctor and yells at her to run thus spoiling what I felt was a fantastic moment with something of a deus ex machina. Kosharmus destroys the Cyber Time Lords and the Master, and the Doctor’s fam find themselves on Earth again in the 21st century. The Doctor meanwhile finds her way back to her own TARDIS, only for some Judoon to teleport into it and imprison the Doctor in a holding cell reminiscent of the twists at the end of Doomsday and Last of the Time Lords. I did like the David Tennant- esque “What? What?? What???” from the 13th Doctor as the camera pulled back to reveal the floating prison asteroid.
It really has to be said that Sacha Dhawan owned this entire episode. From his fantastic menace at the start and his use of the Doctor’s own line “Take my hand”, to his John Simm like complete disregard for everything and everyone else tempered with moments of sadness as he remembers his graduation from the Time Lord academy, to his ability to turn on a dime from being enraged to conciliatory, Dhawan made the Master the undisputed star of the show. Jodie Whittaker on the other hand was weak here, seeming to have lost the rage and passion that were on display in previous weeks. The only time that Whittaker seemed to match Dhawan was at the very beginning of the episode, although Whittaker did her best in the scene where she told her companions to go while she confronted the Master. Jo Martin by contrast was great and very Doctory during her brief time on screen. Patrick O’Kane played off Dhawan’s Master very well, with O’Kane’s strength and rage nicely contrasted against Dhawan’s sliminess and creepiness. Dhawan showed us some fantastic moments of rage over the course of this episode like when the Master killed Ashad, as well as some more melancholy moments when the Doctor’s best enemy said he would be happy to be dead. There was some brilliant acting from Bradley Walsh during the scene where Graham praised Yaz’s strength of character, and Mandip Gill was really likable when she gave the line “Mate I’m from Yorkshire. That’s a love letter” after Graham’s complaint at her weak return compliment. Tosin Cole showed Ryan’s fear and uncertainty at having to fight the Cybermen well, as well as delivering some great humour when Ryan celebrated after blowing the first squad of Cybermen up. Alex Austin and Julie Graham continued to do a great job of portraying the pain and desperation their characters felt after losing Bescot (Rhiannon Clements).
The music throughout this episode was utterly brilliant and really helped to create the mood and the atmosphere. There was a great frenetic score used whenever the human survivors were on the run from the Cybermen and I loved the thrashing theme that played when the Cybermen were deployed onto Gallifrey. The incidental music used during Yaz and Graham’s talk really helped to convey the intimacy and relative calm of that moment. The score that was used when 13 and the Ruth Doctor spoke was so brilliantly haunting and put over the mystery in the Doctor’s character so well. The theme used when the Doctor worked out how to stop the Cyber Time Lords was good as well as was the music that played when the Doctor said “I would do that in a heartbeat for this universe. For you. My fam.” The piano theme as the Doctor went to confront the Master was really nice as well. I also enjoyed the theme that played when we saw “Brendan” getting his memory wiped and there was a great mildly disturbing theme when the second TARDIS disguised as a house landed in 21st century Earth.
The initial shot of Gallifrey destroyed was great. I’m always excited to see stories set on the Doctor’s home planet and the CGI used to create it was excellent. The CGI of the Cyberium was great as always and coupled with Dhawan’s amazing acting really helped to sell the pain and triumph when the Master became one with it. The gateway was brilliantly done and made me feel a sense of awe and wonder that I feel series 12 has done a fantastic job of recreating. The Cyber ship landing on Gallifrey was great as well and I enjoyed the various regenerations of the Timeless Child and the Cyber Time Lords.
An intriguing episode with a great buildup of tension and some brilliant ideas that was let down by a deus ex machina at the episode’s climax.
- Incidental Music10