TV Review – DOCTOR WHO – ASCENSION OF THE CYBERMEN/THE TIMELESS CHILDREN (2020)

Image result for doctor who the timeless childrenDOCTOR WHO: ASCENSION OF THE CYBERMEN/THE TIMELESS CHILDREN (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 23 February & 1 March 2020; Running Time: 115m (1 x 50m & 1 x 65m); Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Jamie Magnus Stone; Writer: Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Sam Heasman; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Rebecca Trotman; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Harry Barnes; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
      Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Sacha Dhawan (The Master), Jo Martin (The Doctor), Patrick O’Kane (Ashad), Ian McElhinney (Ko Sharmus), Julie Graham (Ravio), Alex Austin (Yedlarmi), Matt Carver (Ethan), Rhiannon Clements (Bescot), Seylan Baxter (Tecteun), Kirsty Besterman (Solpado), Steve Toussaint (Feekat), Rhiannon Clements (Bescot), Jack Osborn (Fuskle), Evan McCabe (Brendan), Branwell Donaghey (Patrick), Orla O’Rourke (Meg), Andrew Macklin (Michael), Paul Kasey (Judoon Captain Pol-Kon-Don), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of Cybermen & Judoon Captain), Matthew Rohman (Cyberman), Simon Carew (Cyberman), Jon Davey (Cyberman), Richard Highgate (Cyberman), Richard Price (Cyberman), Mickey Lewis (Cyberman), Matthew Doman (Cyberman), Paul Bailey (Cyberman).
      Synopsis: In the far future, the Doctor and her friends face a brutal battle across the farthest reaches of space to protect the last of the human race against the deadly Cybermen uncovering the secret of the Time Lords in the process.
     Comment: Enjoyment of this two-part finale will very much depend on the viewer’s willingness (notably die-hard fans) to buy into writer Chibnall’s re-invention of Time Lord history. The opening episode is an excellent scene-setter full of energy and drama, featuring the Cybermen on a mission to reassert their domination, with an injection of mystery surrounding the so-called “Timeless Child”. Then at the cliffhanger, the Master resurfaces along with a gateway through to a destroyed Gallifrey and we move into a second episode that will divide fandom right down the middle. Firstly, Dhawan’s take on the Master as some form of unhinged psychotic has taken the character away from the charm and subtlety established by Roger Delgado back in the 1970s, with more than a nod toward John Simm’s similarly unhinged portrayal. Dhawan’s performance is way OTT and ill-serves the character, robbing him of any real menace. Secondly, the Master’s appearance relegates the Cybermen to a mere side-show as his battle of wills with Whittaker’s Doctor in the Matrix takes centre stage. The Master’s motives are muddled and his seeming alliance with the Cybermen (mirroring that in The Five Doctors) lacks any core logic beyond the madness displayed in the character. The frenetic nature with which Chibnall tries to cram so many revelations and explanations ultimately weighs down the second episode. The story’s whole is very much less than the sum of its parts – the excitement of the first episode giving way to bafflement in the second. That said, the second episode still has its moments. Whittaker is able to stretch her range more, for the most-part dialling down the motormouth patter. The visuals are very good and each of the companions gets room to breathe. However, I can’t help feeling Chibnall has created a rod for his own back here, by trying to create his own vision and tying it with what has gone before. The result feels overly forced in its attempt to re-boot Time Lord history, leaving the viewer pondering how this will change things going forward. The likely answer is it won’t as the general premise of a time traveller fighting evil throughout the universe remains.

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