Doctor Who reviews: Nightmare in Silver

I think expectations were pretty high for “Nightmare in Silver.”  After all, it was penned by acclaimed fantasy novelist & comic book writer Neil Gaiman, whose first Doctor Who episode, “The Doctor’s Wife,” was very well received.  And this time around, Gaiman would be scripting the Doctor’s old enemies the Cybermen.  So, how does this one measure up?

Angie and Artie, the two mischievous children for whom Clara is a nanny, have more or less blackmailed their way onto the TARDIS.  The Doctor and Clara decide to take the terrible two to Hedgewick’s World of Wonders, the greatest amusement park in the universe.  But once again the Doctor has arrived at the wrong time, and they arrive to find the park closed down and fallen into disrepair.  The only occupants are Webley, a carnival barker-type with a collection of oddities in his crashed spaceship, his companion Porridge, a chess playing dwarf, and an oddball platoon of troopers who have been exiled to the planet as punishment for having fouled up their last assignments.

Talking with Porridge (Warwick Davis), Clara learns that a thousand years before the human Empire had fought a devastating war with the Cybermen, one that finally ended with the destruction of an entire galaxy, and the seeming extinction of the cyborgs.  However, after a millennium of dormancy, the Cybermen are now ready to resurface.  It transpires that they had been secretly abducting visitors to Hedgewick and converting them into a hidden army.  The Doctor discovers their presence, but he is infected by their Cybermites, which attempt to upload the consciousness of their Cyber-Planner into his brain.  The Doctor and the Planner begin playing chess for control of the Time Lord’s body.  Meanwhile, the troopers, also learning of the Cybermen, prepare to detonate a bomb to destroy the planet.  Clara and Porridge have to try and stop this, and also hold of the approaching Cyber army, long enough for the Doctor to somehow outwit the Planner.

Nightmare in Silver

One of the main aspects of “Nightmare in Silver” that Gaiman apparently wanted to focus on was the Doctor turning evil, courtesy of the Cyber-Planner invading his consciousness.  Unfortunately, I really feel that this was the weakest aspect of the episode.  I do not know if it was Gaiman’s writing or Matt Smith’s acting, but the possessed Doctor was terribly over-the-top.  The Cybermen are supposed to be emotionless and logical.  So why would the Cyber-Planner, in the Doctor’s body, leap on top of a table and exuberantly declare that from now on he wants to be known as Mister Clever?  Matt Smith really ought to have been this cold, sinister figure, not a campy lunatic.

I did feel that Clara was much better served by the events of “Nightmare in Silver.”  With the Doctor off fighting for control of his body, it was up to everyone’s favorite Impossible Girl to organize the punishment squad into an effective line of defense against the Cybermen.  I think my girlfriend became an instant fan of Jenna-Louise Coleman’s character.  “She’s cocky,” Michele declared to me, before adding, with admiration, “but she’s also confident.”  Coleman definitely had a good outing in this story.  And she had an especially nice rapport with Warwick Davis.

Ah, yes, Porridge.  What a fantastic character!  I am a big fan of the movie Willow, so it was great to see Warwick Davis show up on Doctor Who.  Gaiman did a superb job scripting Porridge, making him at turns humorous and introspective, and Davis played the part perfectly.  I’d love to see Porridge again at some point in the future.

The Cybermen themselves were pretty well represented.  I do like the slight redesign, streamlining the look they’ve had since they first returned to the show in 2006.  The voices are also an improvement.  And, yeah, they are pretty damn frightening, converting people on-screen, moving super-fast, detaching a variety of body parts which can act independently to attack people, and continually upgrading to become impervious to weaponry that is used against them.  I’ve read a few people complaining in reviews that Gaiman made them too much like the Borg.  Well, the Cybermen have been around since 1966, predating the Borg’s introduction on Star Trek: The Next Generation by a good 23 years.  You could make a very convincing case that the Borg are pretty much the Cybermen on a bigger budget.  So of course there are bound to be certain parallels between the two.

On the whole, I felt “Nightmare in Silver” was a pretty good episode, with lots of great concepts.  The only thing that really let it down was the plotline involving the Doctor and the Cyber-Planner vying for control.  This definitely should have been played much more seriously, instead of in the tongue-in-cheek manner that it actually was.  But despite that misstep, Gaiman did a pretty good job working with the Cybermen.  This was probably their strongest outing since they made their nu-Who debut in the “Rise of the Cybermen” two-parter back in 2006.

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