TV REVIEW: Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 12: Nightmare in Silver

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Taking Clara’s two young wards on a trip in the TARDIS probably doesn’t sound like the best plan in the world. Official words:

The perfect theme park day out is also ground zero for a deadly silver resurrection..

Neil Gaiman returns to bring the Cybermen back into our nightmares. Does he succeed, or is this his Silver Nemesis?

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but the Cybermen were always the Doctor Who monster I feared. Even though the only story I remember seeing on broadcast was the so-so Silver Nemesis, I read a lot of Target Novelizations of old stories and watched VHS releases when they came out. The inhuman but human empty face masks. The implacable march by the never-tiring foe… the monotonous (or even the gruff robotic voices of the eighties version) sent a chill down my spine. Proper monsters. Not evil really, just driven to survive and unfortunately for Humans and their kindred, we just happened to be their spare parts.

Which is why the recent Cyber stories have left me somewhat cold. They looked great, but they became simple catch-phrasey robots. Some how their threat-level diminished infinitely by being given an alternate-reality back story. No longer were they a space-going race looking to survive. They became … rather pathetic. Of course the last couple of years have hinted at the resurgence of a Cyber-empire by non-Cybus Cybermen that have taken on their armoured look. So it was with both eagerness and trepidation that I sat down to watch Neil Gaiman’s second story (his first being possibly the best episode of Doctor Who since the relaunch in 2005, The Doctor’s Wife) this evening.

Neil Gaiman wrote a wonderful story, managing to cram a theme-park world, travelling showman, a platoon of soldiers and the TARDIS crew (together with the two childers that Clara is Nannying for after their threatening of her at the end of last week’s episode) AND a Cyberman or two. Or three million. Not only that, but the episode manages to be coherent and well paced throughout. The episode was well directed, further enhancing the effect of the tale and from the moment the first (Cybus style) Cyberman was revealled, I felt a tingle of the old fear.

The new Cyber-upgrade really is something special. I love the sleek but powerful design, especially the chest units and the new face plates. Their voices are also something special – gone is the buzzing electronic voice, replaced with what I can only describe as Christian Bale trying to do his Batman voice while standing close to a robotising microphone. It really sounds threatening, especially when these Cybermen only speak when they have something to say. Or someone to upgrade. On top of this lovely design, we’re introduced to a new type of Cyber-critter. The Cyber-Mite is brilliant. Like large silverfish, the Cybermite form the initial stage of a much more horrific (although slightly Borg like) conversion process. What this new process means is …

… Matt Smith gets to perform against himself as he is infected by the critters. And what a performance. I loved Matt in this episode, switching effortlessly and noticably between himself and the Cyber-infected version of himself. The direction of these scenes was again excellent, managing to keep a slight level of disorientation while allowing the audience to be completely sure of which “character” was speaking at any one time. I loved the scenes where the Doctor played chess against himself with Seventh Doctor relish. I liked the nod to Curse of Fenric in how the Doctor presents an unsolvable chess-puzzle to get one over on a powerful villain. On the other side of our regulars, Jenna-Louise Coleman was again strong, although I have to say I’m beginning to find Clara to be a bit too gung-ho and sure of herself. Given command of reject-squad, doesn’t phase her in the slightest and she brushes off the death of at least one soldier far too casually for my tastes.

My favourite character this week has to be Warwick Davis’s Porridge however. From his first appearance, he offered a performance that showed a character with a penchant for fun but also a deep sadness. It was easy to see the twist coming, but I’ll be honest that in no way detracted from the episode for me. the rest of the cast were pretty standard for Doctor Who secondaries … which is to say they were well performed, although some were pretty cardboard representations of their character type. The Fat, sub-standard soldier. The Large-spectacled, massive-haired bureaucrat. The hard-nosed ex-Imperial Guard captain who refused an order, landing herself in this dead end assignment. I’ve no real issue with that, but it does show how smaller-scale episodes like Hide can allow the full cast to shine.

My only real niggle was that perhaps this new breed of Cybermen are a tad too powerful. The first one we meet can enter what can only be described as “Cyber-Bullet Time”, moving so fast that it can weave through soldiers and grab a target before the Doctor has even aimed his Sonic Screwdriver. They then display Borg-like levels of adaption, even managing to upgrade themselves to be impervious to the “anti-Cybergun” that previously disintegrated them. This level of threat was mitigated by the humans’ fear though. If a Cyberman can’t be killed quickly, it was destroy the planet time according to the Earth Empire Tactical Manual.

In conclusion, this was an excellent episode. I’m sure others are comparing it to Gaiman’s previous script. But frankly, the episodes are worlds apart in what they are out to accomplish and so it would be like comparing a perfectly roasted haunch of venisson with the best apple-crumble with that perfect 3:1 apple to crumble ratio. Both are superb, but they’re not to be eaten in the same course.

Rating:  4 / 5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

As a quick subscript, seeing as this was the penultimate episode of this Anniversary year’s main series of Doctor Who, I’d like to quickly mention the various nods to the classic series. Metebelis Three, flashbacks of faces, mention of previous companions Susan and Tegan and of course the resurrection of the Great Intelligence, the Ice Warriors and now the Cybermen. I’ve loved them all but am wondering if they’re a bit too much for fans who haven’t watched much of the old series? I know my wife has been quizzing me about references I’ve caught and being chuckling to myself at, but does it detract or enhance? I’d like to know your thoughts if you’d care to comment, dear reader…

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One comment

  1. I’ve not seen a lot of the old Who (I did manage to see Tomb of the Cybermen at some point, though) and I still enjoy the new. I have a friend who is a massive Three and Four fan, though she loves all the old Who, and she likes to point out stuff I miss. This series hasn’t gripped me – I don’t like Clara so that doesn’t help – but there have been highlights.

    If the episodes are good it doesn’t matter if I get the references or not. I enjoy the story being told. If it becomes one long knowing wink that is quite tiring. But then I suppose I wouldn’t know if it did!

    The Doctor’s Wife is one of my favourite new Who episodes. The TARDIS is the real wife! (I dont like River either but she’s slowly moving from awful to tolerable, depending on level of smugness)

    -Addison

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