The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) takes Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Yaz (Mandip Gill) to the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva in 1816 to witness Mary Shelley (Lili Miller) being inspired to write Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. She is there with her infant son William, John Polidori (Maxine Baldry), and Lord Byron (Jacob Collins-Levy), but her fiancé Percy Bysshe Shelley (Lewis Rainer) is missing. Byron suggests that everyone write a ghost story because of the spooky weather outside.
When the Doctor and her companions arrive, the story has not been written and Shelley is not there at all. The furniture arrangements keep changing, objects move of their own accord, and skeletal hands crawl the halls. People pass through walls or leave the room only to return to it automatically. Byron thinks there is a ghost involved, but the Doctor believes a being moving through Time is trying to hide something. When it finally appears, it is a nearly complete Cyberman.
Graham, Yaz, and Ryan point out that Captain Jack Harkness told them to beware the Lone Cyberman, but the Doctor heads off to confront it. The Cyberman, named Ashad (Patrick O’Kane) was sent back in time to find the Cyberium, a liquid metal object containing the memory of the Cybermen. He had tracked it to the villa but his power is now sapped. The Doctor tries to lure him away from the villa, but he is struck by lightning, recharging his power core, and he prepares to kill everyone. The Doctor discovers gibberish in Shelley’s hand all over the walls.
The Doctor finds Percy Shelley in the cellar with a crazed look on his face. He was possessed by the Cyberium in the woods and returned to the house to find himself invisible. It was he who acted like a poltergeist, creating all the spooky happenings. She tricks the Cyberium into leaving Percy’s body and entering hers, making her its Guardian. But Ashad threatens to destroy the planet and she gives him the Cyberium, despite Captain Jack’s warning. She sets out to find Ashad and destroy him in the future. Before leaving in the TARDIS, the time travellers ask both Shelleys to continue writing.
The episode was written by Maxine Alderton and directed by Emma Sullivan. It pleased the critics highly. Mary Shelley had appeared in Doctor Who episodes before in audio plays. Ada Lovelace, whom the time-travellers met during the Spyfall episodes, was Lord Byron’s daughter. It is a fact that the summer of 1816 was dogged by bad weather because of the eruption of Mount Tambora in Sumbawa, Indonesia. The episode was filmed at the Merthyr Mawr estate in Wales. In the episode, the Doctor and Byron quote his poem She Walks in Beauty and mention Child Harold’s Pilgrimage. Ashad quotes Shelley’s poem Queen Mab, and Byron reads from his Darkness at the end.
The Doctor brandishes her psychic paper but it has little effect on Mary Shelley and Lord Byron, nor did it work on Shakespeare, though it works nicely on guards and bureaucrats everywhere in the universe. One thinks of “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” The Doctor refers to Bill Potts becoming a Cyberman. Mary Shelley refers to the Lone Cyberman as a Modern Prometheus. In the Doctor Who audio dramas, Mary Shelley traveled with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, when she was inspired by a Cyberman to write Frankenstein. This episode was charming, spooky and literate, and the Doctor was impressive.