TV Series

Chris Chibnall in conversation about Series 12

Series 12 is almost finished, but it’s ending with a bang! The epic two-part finale starts with Ascension of the Cybermen, airing this Sunday, followed by The Timeless Children.

Before the Doctor and Fam face the Cybermen in the heart of the Cyber War, showrunner Chris Chibnall reveals more about the finale, a new Doctor, bringing back Captain Jack and other characters he hopes could return, plus much more!

What can viewers expect from the two-part finale

Cybermen - lots of Cybermen. And more than one variant of Cyberman. It’s an epic space-opera story set in the far future on a distant planet where the last human refugees are being hunted down by a particularly zealous Cyberman and his soldiers. It’s set in the aftermath of the great Cyber War, so there’s a lot at stake for humanity in their quest to survive. As they’re being hunted down by the Cybermen, enter the Doctor, Yaz, Graham and Ryan.

Did you know you wanted to do something different with the Cybermen once you’d decided to bring them back?

The story comes first really. Because Cybermen are built out of humans, what I was interested in was a story far, far, far into the future where they come to hate the very thing that has made them and they’ve been at war with humanity. Out of that comes the design of the Cyberman who’s hunting them down and then also you begin to think ‘what else can we do with them?’. It wasn’t a re-design for the sake of it, we’ve got some classic Cybermen in there, but you always want to have more than one Cyberman in a big, epic Cyberman two-parter. We’ve had a lot of fun with it and the new versions are particularly relentless and ruthless and in true Cyberman fashion, they will stop at nothing. Obviously for our gang, who are made up of at least three humans, they’re in particular jeopardy.

How does the Thirteenth Doctor feel about the Cybermen?

I always feel that the Doctor and the Cybermen, and this is what I’ve brought to the story and Jodie’s Doctor’s reaction to meeting them, is that there is quite a lot of baggage there. The Doctor has experienced casualties at the hands of the Cybermen - Bill Potts was turned into a Cyberman. Also, as a kid who was 12 in 1982 when the character of Adric died at the hands of the Cybermen under Peter Davison’s Doctor, I’m not sure I’ve ever fully recovered from the trauma of that and I’m not sure the Doctor has either! So I think she’s worried and she realises as the story goes on how much risk and danger she’s put her friends into and she’s brought them into harm's way.

You always feel with these returning monsters, you always want to dig into the Doctor’s emotional relationship - they’re not just arch enemies that don’t feel anything about one another. This Doctor feels things deeply, so just like her relationship with Sacha Dhawan’s Master is complex, so is her relationship with the Cybermen. She knows what they’re capable of, she’s seen it, she’s felt it. I wanted to bring that out. It’s personal.

Will we learn more about Jo Martin’s Doctor in the finale?

The mystery of the ‘Timeless Child’ along with the questions around Jo’s Doctor from episode five… you would hope that we would be getting some answers in the finale. I think viewers would be right to hope for that. Obviously it goes back to episodes one and two with Sacha Dhawan’s Master telling the Doctor that everything she knows is a lie. As we come into the final two parter we will learn much more about what that means for the Doctor.

Her character is called Ravio and she is one of the human refugees. She’s part of the group that’s on the run from the Cybermen. The brilliant thing about Julie is, if you are a human on the run from the Cybermen, Julie Graham is one of the people you would want alongside you to try and keep you alive! She’s completely brilliant. Ravio is a no-nonsense action hero, but this group is also very ordinary - they’re teachers and mechanics, they’re not soldiers. They’re the last vestiges of humanity. The thing about Julie is she has the ability to make you love a character and make you understand their toughness, their warmth, their pain, their humour.

If you could sum these episodes up in three words, what would they be?

Massively game-changing!

What are your highlights from this series so far?

Probably the big moments for the viewers. Bringing back the Master and the reveal and cliffhanger with the plane going down, that felt exciting. Sacha’s performance as the Master is extraordinary and putting him together with Jodie’s Doctor is a real acting tour-de-force.

Bringing Captain Jack back and the Judoon and the reveal that there is another Doctor - to see that go out and the explosion of response around that was incredible. The way Jo Martin has been welcomed into the Doctor Who family by viewers, fans and audiences around the world has been thrilling.

Then on another level, some of the themes this year like the environmental one and also the emotional response to Can You Hear Me? in terms of mental health issues and brilliant performances by Mandip, Bradley and Tosin were amazing.

But, to be honest, I’m really looking forward to watching the final two parts go out because we’ve still got something up our sleeves!

With such a wealth of characters from Doctor Who you could have brought back, why did you choose Captain Jack?

I felt that what John Barrowman’s Captain Jack brings is an incredible energy, he brings an incredible sense of fun. If you’re thinking who you can bring back who can just burst onto the screen and claim the narrative in just three or four scenes, he’s your guy. And I’ve missed him from Doctor Who, he hasn’t been in the show for a decade so I felt it was time to check in with Jack. We can only hope that he meets the Thirteenth Doctor one day…

If you could bring absolutely anybody back from the show’s history to introduce to the Thirteenth Doctor, who would you choose?

I would really love to bring back Sarah-Jane. People working on the show now worked with Lis Sladen and everybody still remembers her so fondly and talks about her a lot. I would love to see her with the Thirteenth Doctor.

I would love to have brought back Harry Sullivan too, played by the wonderful Ian Marter from Tom Baker’s first season. I would have loved to see Sarah and Harry nowadays to check in with them. It’s a credit to those actors, they are indelible in my life and memories and those of many others. It’s so sad that they’re not with us anymore.

To be honest, the canon of Doctor Who is filled with amazing characters: I’d love to see Ace back, I’d love to see Tegan back, I’d love to see Amy and Rory… the list goes on.

There are always Easter eggs in your writing for fans to enjoy - at what point during the process do they come up?

As I’m writing they creep into the dialogue. With the Master as I was writing the reveal on the plane, I thought ‘Oh, he could have a tissue compression eliminator and have little dolls in his pocket of the people he’s killed’. So it’s a call back for people who know what it is but also for people who don’t know then it’ll feel like a new thing. If you don’t know it, it shouldn’t spoil anything and if you do know it, it should feel like a lovely golden thread throughout the decades. And also a tribute to all the people who’ve put their creativity into Doctor Who. There’s some really deep-dive Easter eggs for fans as we head into the finale as well as big emotional moments for audiences!

The two episodes we’ve got to go, I’m really excited about. The adrenaline levels they will take you to… and I don’t say that lightly! I’m so fascinated to see how they go out into the world.

Tune into the first part of the epic series finale, Ascension of the Cybermen, coming this Sunday 23rd February at 7:10pm on BBC One, or on BBC America at 8pm ET, 7pm CT.

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