We’re into the endgame now, although I’m not quite certain that writer and showrunner Chris Chibnall realizes that. Because this is an episodes that’s packed with more questions and precious few answers. I suspect it’s really going to be a matter of how well next week’s episode serves to tie all of these threads together that determines how well or poorly this week’s installment is remembered.
The biggest oddball left field addition here is the life story of young foundling Brendan, which never quite manages to wrap back around to any other aspect of the episode in any way. It’s almost as though every few moments somebody was switching the channel to another program. Now, obviously this is all going to connect to the story in some manner, but at this point that connection is bafflingly mysterious. Is Brendan the Lone Cyberman? Is he Ko Shamus? Is he (one of) the Timeless Child(ren)? Is he real or a projection, a pandomime inside somebody’s programming? If nothing else, this whole aspect reminds me of nothing so much as Doctor Moon in Silence in the Library–and as long as it has a similarly satisfying payoff, things will all work out.
I will say that after so many weeks being Earthbound I found that it was really refreshing to be in the future and in space for most of this episode. The current production team really likes doing historical stories, but futuristic space opera of this sort really has always been Doctor Who’s bread and butter. The contrast did point out the fact that the current cast of companions seem woefully ill-equipped to deal with these situations. Sure, Graham and Yaz come out of everything fine (apart from being menaced by a Cyber-Army in the cliffhanger) but all throughout you really do get the sense that they’re in over their heads, even moreso than the ragtag crew of refugees. Not only is this all out of their comfort zones, it’s also outside of their experiences so far.
The Cybermen played well this time around also. In general, I’m a big believer that a handful of Cybermen are scarier than an army of them–if only because the need for the good guys to triumph means that the Cyber-Army will eventually wind up knocked over like lines of dominoes. And nothing takes the piss out of good villains like that does. Here, though, they seemed dangerous without being unstoppable, and there were few enough of them that it felt plausible that our heroes were able to keep one step ahead of them and not get captured, killed or converted. (Though it was profoundly stupid of the Doctor not to have blown up the second Cyber-Shuttle while she was stealing the first one.)
And I liked that the episode it the ground running and really never stopped. I do wish that the Doctor came across as just a little bit more clever and formidable, though. It was great that she and the team showed up with gear in tow, but once that gear had been neutralized, it really felt as though she didn’t have much of anything else to draw upon for most of the episode. Even the refugee kid is better at hot-wiring Cyber-Shuttle engines than she is, a moment that made me consider for a moment whether he might have been Brendan/The Timeless Child. I don’t need her to be unstoppable or anything, but I do want er to be smarter and cleverer than the tings she’s up against. That’s always been the Doctor’s one reliable weapon, and in its absence, we’re left with a litany of other characters who bring a situation to its conclusion often through self-sacrifice while the Doctor stands around and looks sad about it. As I sometimes tell our Marvel writers, let the hero be the hero.
I had stayed away from all of the cast listings and spoilers such as that, but the return of Sacha Dhawan’s Master was so obviously a necessity going into the finale that I was well-prepared for is return. (And actually, I was waiting for Ko Shamus to rip off his disguise and stand revealed as the Master.) But it does feel like a big, tangled mess of plot threads that Chibnall has left for himself going into next week’s admittedly-overlength series finale. And I’m still betting that we’ll be left with more questions than answers. And that could be okay, depending on the quality of the answers that we get and how work to set up the next series. If this has all been a long walk to establish that the Time Lords were humanity all the time, I’m going to be pretty disappointed; that seems like both an obvious thing to do and one that would undercut a whole lot of the majesty behind the mythos of the series. But there’ll be plenty of time to complain about that when and if it happens next week. For now, this was a solid lead-in episode, but I wish there ad been one more kicker element right at the end to help drive excitement over the next seven days.
I’m going to be away at C2E2 next weekend, which means both that I’m going to spend most of Sunday evening avoiding spoilers from the UK, and that my write-up on the finale won’t be appearing until Monday. So good luck with it, everybody!