The Cybermen return in a story penned by Neil Gaiman. That has to be good, right?
The penultimate episode of Doctor Who Series 7 sees the welcome return of novelist/comic book savant Neil Gaiman to the fold. His previous story, “The Doctor’s Wife,” is considered a classic amongst Whovians. Now, he has been entrusted with a struggling enemy in the Whoniverse, the Cybermen. So how did “Nightmare in Silver” fare?
First off, I will not compare this story to his previous entry. Both are completely different stories with completely different goals. However, I will say “Nightmare in Silver” comes nowhere near Gaiman’s previous episode in terms of quality, but it does have some considerable merits.
The Doctor and Clara have two new companions in the form of Angie and Artie, the children Clara minds for her friend. We saw them blackmail her last week into getting a trip on the TARDIS, so The Doctor takes them to Webley’s World of Wonders, the best theme park in the universe. Well, it would be if it was still open (it would be boring if it was still open, right?).
However, Webley (Jason Watkins) has his own special collection of Cybermen, a race known to be extinct for many years. Although, once the newly-introduced Cybermites get into Webley’s head, a plan begins to unfold that sees the rebirth of the Cybermen. The under-control Webley throws Cybermites onto The Doctor who then proceed to take the Time Lord as their new Cyber Planner, [Mr.] Clever.
Meanwhile, Clara is left in control of a punishment squad who have an anti-Cyberman gun and a big bomb to destroy the planet if things get out-of-hand. Of course, the explosives are not allowed to be used because The Doctor said so. During these scenes, we see Tamzin Outhwaite, the original leader, being really underused before being shot by a Cyberman. She’s not the only one of her crew to be very under-utilised here. We also see Warwick Davis as Porridge in an understated role.
A battle ensues between The Doctor… and The Doctor. Two sides of him battle in a game of chess (great reference to Seven’s adventure, “The Curse of Fenric”) to decide the fate of everyone at the park. Cyber Planner Doctor wants access to The Doc’s memories. Matt Smith excels here playing two different versions of his character at the same time. They flash in and out at quite a pace. The Doctor even confronts himself in some great face-to-face scenes deep within their “shared” mind. It’s so fun to watch and Matt is brilliant through all of it, besides his bad impression of his Ninth self.
Ultimately, The Doctor is able to win control of his mind again as a new Cyber army awakens and threatens to storm the castle. So, it is down to Porridge to save the day when Angie works out that he is the emperor of the galaxy, from the coins and statues scattered around, and can set the bomb that seemingly only Outhwaite’s Captain could detonate. Luckily, Porridge has a plan and he teleports everybody to his spaceship just as the bomb goes off. That’s quite a brutal end for these new Cybermen, and considering how Porridge saved the day, why couldn’t he have just suggested that earlier?! (Yes, I know it was a plot choice, but there’s the hole and I’m telling you about it.)
Gaiman’s plot was more well-rounded and geeky than usual these days (it was Who nirvana seeing all the Doctors), which is more than we have seen in the previous six episodes of this half of Series 7. Gaiman clearly loves this show and he loves his sci-fi, and it all made sense whilst being mind-boggling for others. His script did get the budget it deserved, and Stephen Woolfenden directs it well.
Gaiman promised that he would make the Cybermen scary again. Well, does he? Yes and no. He tries so hard to introduce all these new features: Constant upgrading, Cybermites, faster movement, a new voice, the ability to remove heads to create a distraction, removal of hands to grab hiding enemies, and even spinning heads. It’s all so much to take in during one episode, and the constant upgrading is very Cybermen but also very cop out-y in terms of scripting. The only one that works effectively is the revelation that the Mondasian shells can now be filled by any living being. Smith sold that with his brilliant double-sided scenes. Everything else was just too obvious and felt like “Oh, I see they can do that now. Okay.”
If only Gaiman had looked at Mark Gatiss’ reintroduction of the Ice Warriors. Anything new was subtle, and Skaldak’s ability to leave his suit was pretty creepy and played for maximum effectiveness. Maybe if we see these new features in future episodes, but in moderation, I will warm to them.
So the Cybermen were maybe a bit muddled, and the large guest cast do not get the screentime they were probably hoping for, but as a whole, “Nightmare in Silver” is very witty and flows well at quite a pace. I forgive the underused cast, too, as Matt and Jenna are in complete control from start to finish, and they should be as the principals. Smith also gets to deliver one of the best final lines of an episode to date: “The impossible girl, a mystery-wrapped enigma squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little too tight.” Yes, Doctor, I noticed!
Once more, we learn nothing about Clara or their upcoming trip to Trenzalore. However, the prequel “She Said, He Said,” broadcast immediately after the episode via the red button, reveals both The Doctor and Clara know about each other’s secret at Trenzalore. With “The Name of The Doctor,” Steven Moffat promises to answer all. I hope his promises play out far better than Gaiman’s.
In a series of good episodes, without any being truly brilliant, “Nightmare in Silver” is a fine addition to these adventures. It was whimsical with great sci-fi trappings. I do hope Gaiman is asked to return once more, but is given the chance to write something without the weight of rebooting established enemies. He has another classic in him somewhere.