“Doctor Who: The Lone Cyberman & [SPOILER]’s Warning Explained”
Doctor Who season 12 has teased another new threat – with Captain Jack warning of the Lone Cyberman. There’s a sense in which Doctor Who season 12 is turning into something of a mystery, with myriad plot points that frankly demand further explanation. Who is the Timeless Child? How does Jo Martin’s new/old Doctor fit into the show’s continuity? And how did the Master destroy his homeworld of Gallifrey?
The latest episode of Doctor Who, “Fugitive of the Judoon,” added another question to the growing list. One prominent subplot featured the long-anticipated return of Captain Jack Harkness, bearing a warning that the Doctor should beware of the Lone Cyberman. Jack had intended to use a primitive Time Scoop to pick up the Doctor and warn her in person, but instead unwittingly collected all three of her friends. “Tell the Doctor,” he cautioned them, “the Lone Cyberman… don’t give it what it wants!“
Team TARDIS are more than a little bewildered by the warning, but the Doctor is far more concerned. She notes that time seems to be eddying about her, with old friends and foes resurfacing. It doesn’t feel coincidental, and she suspects that the Lone Cyberman is just part of the pattern. But just what does Jack Harkness mean?
Jack Harkness’ warning is typically ambiguous, not least because he’s teleported away while only partway through delivering it. Still, he does manage to provide a little context for it. According to Jack, at some point in the future the Cybermen had evolved into what he simply describes as “an empire of evil.” This empire was defeated by some sort of alliance, and the Cyber Empire has been left in ruins. The Alliance sent something “back through time, across space” in order to defeat the Cybermen; unfortunately, Jack then gets distracted with the spaceship’s security protocols and doesn’t give any further details.
And yet, Captain Jack appears to believe that the Cyber Empire could rise again – thanks to the Doctor’s help. He believes that there’s a Lone Cyberman, possibly the last of its race, and that it will somehow be able to appeal to the Doctor to give it what its wants. Should she do so, the Cybermen will return to wreak havoc on a galactic scale. At this stage it’s unclear why Jack thought the Doctor could be manipulated by a Cyberman in this way; it’s possible he thinks the Lone Cyberman has some sort of leverage over her, or else can somehow appeal to her sense of pity and compassion. The latter would be quite appropriate, given the Cybermen have often insisted the Doctor’s emotions are her weakness.
Ironically, the very fact Doctor Who is a time travel series makes it difficult to pin down Captain Jack’s warning in any precise terms. There have been numerous Cyber Empires in Doctor Who, driven back time and again by races who resisted being subjugated and transformed into Cybermen. However, the reference to the “Alliance” may well be important, because so far there’s only been one occasion when a notable alliance was formed against the Cybermen. That was in the 26th century, with Earth playing a key role in the alliance; the Cyber Empire rightly feared the alliance, and did their best to prevent it by attempting to trigger an extinction-level event on Earth. They were prevented by the Fifth Doctor in the classic story “Earthshock,” and their extinction plot backfired due to time travel, because they inadvertently caused the death of the dinosaurs and the rise of humanity.
Doctor Who has rarely been especially interested in the kind of grand, cosmic war shown in franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars. The Doctor is usually stood at the sidelines, calming things down, rather than participating in the major battles. As a result, the war between the Alliance and the Cyber Empire has never been explored in any detail. In some tie-in novels – now of dubious canonicity – the Alliance formed Spacefleet, a military organization who gained galactic renown and successfully destroyed the Cybermen, going on to wage war against the Daleks as well. Of course, it’s possible Jack is talking about a different Alliance, one from another time period, but for now this is the most likely.
Jack’s reference to the Alliance sending something “back through time, across space” is particularly interesting. It suggests that the Alliance decided to strike against the Cybermen in the same kind of way they had attempted to wipe out humanity; by using time as a weapon against them. That may well explain, in part, why Captain Jack feels the Doctor will be drawn into this; because he knows the Alliance is causing changes to history, and that they would inevitably catch the Doctor’s eye sooner or later.
The Doctor Who season 12 trailers have confirmed that the Lone Cyberman will find its way to the Doctor. Whatever this Cyberman’s purpose may be, it appears to have operated on the front lines of the Cyber Wars, and has sustained tremendous damage. It’s even possible the Cyberman had been deactivated for quite a long time, given its surface appears to have been rusted and corroded. Still, shots of the Lone Cyberman have shown it advancing with purposeful resolve across a battlefield, its movement unimpeded; that presumably means the damage isn’t too severe.
Interestingly, the trailers have paralleled shots of the Lone Cyberman with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor recognizing that “something’s coming for me. I can feel it.” That line of dialogue is lifted from “Fugitive of the Judoon,” but in context the Doctor is observing that there’s a lot more in play than just this mysterious Lone Cyberman. It remains to be seen whether the Lone Cyberman is more important than the Doctor thinks, as hinted by the trailers, or whether showrunner Chris Chibnall is enjoying misleading viewers a little.
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