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Doctor Who Review: “Nightmare in Silver”

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Writer Neil Gaiman is a massive Doctor Who fan. Join the club, right? In Series 6, he wrote what is pretty much everybody’s favorite episode that year, “The Doctor’s Wife.” (For me, it was second to Tom MacRae’s “The Girl Who Waited,” but I recognize I’m in the minority.) That episode had the Doctor actually getting to speak to the TARDIS! What nerd hasn’t wanted to see that? This time around, Gaiman brings back the Cybermen and has the Doctor talking to an evil version of himself inside his own brain. “Nightmare in Silver” also has a Cybermen attack on a silly amusement park castle and Warwick Davis being a badass. You go, Neil.

The sophomore slump is a phenomenon which states that someone’s follow-up is never as good as their initial outing (in any field) because you have your whole life to plan the first one. Happens a lot in music. Steven Moffat had that after the near perfect Series 5 with the much more uneven Series 6. He is, however, redeeming himself in spades with Series 7. There was a concern on my part that Neil Gaiman wouldn’t be able to compete with the greatness of “The Doctor’s Wife” because he had all of his life to dream about what the Doctor and TARDIS would say to each other. Might his return to the show be a bit of a letdown? Overall, I’d say no. They’re two completely different types of episodes, and this one isn’t trying to jerk any tears or tug on any heartstrings, but I really enjoyed how it was presented and a lot about what was on display.

The Doctor brings Clara and her two young charges, Angie and Artie, to the universe’s largest amusement park. Too bad it’s been out of commission for years following a war with the Cybermen. They’d been all but wiped out, save for a few deactivated ones, but the galaxy was gutted in the process. Residing on the planet is a team of disgraced soldiers, who are basically assigned to wait there until something happens. The Doctor also meets up with Webley (Jason Watkins), who has a wax museum (notice the creepy dummy from “The God Complex”), and a Cyberman who does nothing but play chess. Turns out, however, that it’s not even the Cyberman, but Porridge (Warwick Davis) controlling its arms.

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Unfortunately, there are also Cyber-Mites, which bring the Cybermen back to life and begin upgrading Webley, Angie, Artie, and eventually the Doctor. The army captain, meanwhile, is fully aware that she has a device that could completely destroy the planet, and by extension the Cybermen, and themselves, but the Doctor, Clara, and Porridge expressly forbid her from doing so. They’re severely outgunned, though, and if the Cybermen get through their defenses, it’s curtains for everybody anyway.

There’s a lot I liked about this episode. A whole lot. I liked the redesign of the Cybermen and the fact that they can do more than just lumber along. With all the rampant upgrading, they’re kind of like the Borg. Wait! I just realized, this is sort of like Doctor Who’s version of “The Best of Both Worlds,” only at no point did anyone think the Doctor might be turned forever into a Cyberman. I really loved the whole internal (and sometimes external) battle between the Doctor and “Mr. Clever,” the Cyber Programmer inside his head. That is the closest the new series has gotten to having a lead Cyberman be as devious and maniacal as they were in the classic series. I also liked the references to their past weakness, specifically gold. It’s stupid that they were weakened by gold, but it’s used very nicely here, because it is inherently dumb.

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Matt Smith gives another absolutely brilliant performance, here playing both good and evil. I hope the Master never comes back, because I don’t think anybody could possibly be a better evil counterpart to the Eleventh Doctor than the Eleventh Doctor himself. The references to the past Doctors is always welcome, especially in the 50th Anniversary year. I loved the visual representation of the two sides of the Doctor’s mind, himself represented by golden Gallifreyan swirlies, and the Cyberman represented by cold, blue energy. Really nicely done, as was Stephen Woolfenden’s direction as a whole.

I also — broken record again — loved Jenna-Louise Coleman. Full stop. The way she so naturally falls into the authority the Doctor gives her, even though he really has no authority himself, is fantabulous. I liked her back-and-forth with the Cyber-Doctor, especially with her easily figuring out his attempt to trick her. Hands down, Clara is my favorite companion of the new series, maybe even of all. I think I like her the most because she’s not a caricature in any way. She doesn’t have traits that get molded into a character. She’s sort of a blank slate, which makes her seem more realistic. I hope she sticks around for a good long while.

Now, for some of the stuff I didn’t like very much, namely, the kids: I do not understand why they were in this story. It seemed a strange shoehorning last week when they suddenly reappear after only being seen briefly in “The Bells of Saint John,” and seemed really strange that they could find pictures of Clara from throughout history and not really care all that much. I had imagined that it was Gaiman himself that requested the children be in it, and maybe he did, but they were really non-entities in the story.

So, what was the point of having them at all? They show up, enjoy a bit of jumping on the moon, then get Cyber-ized and are essentially comatose through most of the episode. At least when somebody like Rory or Mickey (granted, they were much more integral pieces to the overall plot) came aboard the TARDIS, they directly impacted the plot, but these kids didn’t do anything. Angie was a brat for no reason, then figured out Porridge’s true identity. Great…. In the storyline, they make mention of children being key to the Cybermen’s plot, and without kids, they were pretty well screwed. However, they didn’t do anything with the kids at all. Honestly, what did it matter that they were there?

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There also was very little threat to the army people. We didn’t care enough about them to really sad if any of them died, but we also never really felt their fear or even much of a sense of panic or tension about them possibly not holding everything back. There’s a scene where the one lady soldier tries to do the zappy thing on the Cyber head but is caught by the body. Almost immediately, she and another person are being converted, the big guy makes the Cyberman come towards him, he ducks out of the way, and Clara shoots it. That happened SO fast I didn’t even have time to really know what was going on. It seemed like two completely separate scenes joined together haphazardly.

The other thing I didn’t much care for was the relative ease of the escape. It seemed like in a flash, we go from realizing Porridge isn’t who he says he is to him setting off the bomb, to them safely aboard his ship with time enough to save the TARDIS. What? How anti-climactic. There also didn’t really seem to be much motivation behind Porridge’s marriage proposal to Clara at the end, aside from just giving her the choice to turn it down. Even in the ‘70s, when Jo Grant was proposed to by King Peladon, they’d spent a decent amount of romantic time together.

These things aside, I quite enjoyed myself due primarily to the work of our leads and to the clever and witty script of Gaiman. He’s a darn good writer. He can come back any time. I’d love it if he novelized this story, because I feel like it could be really terrific.

One episode left! I can’t believe it’s nearly here. “The Name of the Doctor,” written by Steven Moffat and directed by our friend Saul Metzstein, looks pretty darn creepy, and I have really no idea what to expect. However, I bet it’ll be great, because this series has been great. Wanna know how I know it’s the 50th Anniversary? Because in Series 7’s 13 episodes up to this point, we’ve had Daleks, UNIT, Weeping Angels, The Great Intelligence, Ice Warriors, Silurians, Sontarans, and Cybermen. Can’t imagine what we’ll get next week.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDRG1TNbFUM&w=615&h=346]

And if that doesn’t make you go “WHA!?!?!?!?!” then here’s the little beforehander for the episode. (I refuse to call it a “prequel.” You can’t have a prequel before the goddamned episode comes out.)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtaIpkjF6Ss&w=615&h=346]

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37 comments

  • Maybe I missed this explanation in the episode, but am I the only one who thinks that Ha-Ha was supposed to be Stormageddon Dark Lord of All all grown up? He sounded just like Craig and referenced knowing about Cybermen since he was in the cradle. Again, maybe I just wasn’t paying attention close enough during the episode.

  • You wondered why the children were there at all. One scene explained it all: it was the presence of the children on the planet that set things in motion. The Cybermen were looking for creative minds to develop (upgrade, as it were). To them, that meant the minds of children. But “the children stopped coming” to the planet long ago until the Doctor brought two with him that day. The Cybermen lost interest in the children once they discovered a more fertile mind: the Doctor’s.

  • I loved the tribute to the previous Doctor’s as played in the Doctor’s mind. I loved the tribute to the gold weakness of the Cybermen and the nods to things like Earthshock and such.

    I rather miss the intelligent Cybermen of old. Here, the only intelligent one was in the Doctor’s mind. The other Cybermen are just mindless automatons with one thing in mind — upgrades. The Cybermen were always more sinister to me when they had a leader and carried on actual conversations.

  • The children are important (though I don’t like them much either) because they are the reason why the Doctor chooses to sacrifice his Queen in the chess game with the Cyberplanner. Emotions. It shows that the Doctor is different from the Cyberplanner because he has emotions and sentiments. It shows that having emotions and sentiments is not a weakness.

  • Am I the only one wondering why the Doctor and Clara make the kids sleep on couches in the middle of a creepy wax museum when the TARDIS has bedrooms (with bunk beds!) that would be way safer? Pretty shoddy nannying on Clara’s part.

  • I got the feeling that Porridge was proposing to Clara in order to be able to foist his Imperial duties onto her. That line from the Doctor about it seeming like a normal marriage proposal sets up a cause for suspicion.

  • What the rumpy-pumpy-timey-wimey has happened to Who? I love Doctor Who, been watching it all my life. I love Matt Smith as the Doctor, I think Moffat is a genius writer (as is Neil Gaimen), Jenna-Louise Coleman seems the perfect choice as a companion, but apart from Hide and the odd moment here and there, the last seven episodes have been pretty bad.

    This episode for example, ‘A NightMare in Silver’. It’s been heavily advertised as the episode that makes the Cybermen scary again. I wanted to hide behind the couch alright, but only because the story was so badly written! Terrible pacing, bad character development, kids and other supporting characters that were so terrible I was cheering for the Cybermen! The only exception was the Empereor but even his sub-plot was rushed and badly handled.

    Whatever you do, don’t blow up the planet, oh go on then. Cybermen that can overcome any obstacle just by saying the word ‘Upgrade’. Cybermen that can go superspeed once, at the beginning coz it looks cool, then forget they can do that and walk around clunkily for the rest of the episode.

    Where did all these milllions of Cybermen come from anyway after a thousand years of them being extinct? Did I miss the bit where they explained that?In the end I didn’t care and just wanted it over with.The only saving grace of the episode was the Doctor’s inner battle and the chess game and even that was streatched a bit too far.

    I really hope Moffat and co are saving up everything for the final
    episode and the 50th Anniversary special but I’m beginning to think Moffat is a genius storyteller but really has no clue about developing characters and I wish he and RTD would have teamed up for the 50th special as, in my opinion, the best episodes of Who ever since the reboot have been when these two have worked togather. Phew, rant over!

  • The inner battle in the Doctor’s mind was fine, but the twitching Gollum external part was dumb. Enemies that are able to just adapt to everything just because are not very interesting. Where the Hell did millions of Cybermen suddenly come from, when Porridge was supposed to have gotten rid of them all? They all just happen to be on the same planet he’s hiding out on? And saying that the Cybermen need the kids to add their potential isn’t really a reason to drag kids along on one trip. Why is the Doctor dropping Clara off after every adventure now? Why not just stay together until they split up, like they used to? If all we see of them is their adventures together, why do we care if the Doctor is off doing other things sometimes? Let him do those things between companions, like he used to.

  • Not my favorite episode of this season, but I have yet to sort out whether that is the fault of my expectations or the show’s execution.

    The biggest missed opportunity in my mind, is the confrontation that took place in the Doctor’s mind. Rather that just showing still images of hte previous Doctor’s, they could actually have shown small clips, perhaps reminding the Cybermen of how often the Doctor has handed them their arses.

    Especially from Tom Baker’s era, “(“The trouble with Cybermen is that they have hydraulic muscles, and of course hydraulic brains to go with them.”

    Ah well.

  • Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job Ive had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past and would you believe, ten thousand this past-month. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringin home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, http://Mojo50.com

  • My dumb theory about the kids: were they setting up a loose end for future payoff? We get the conspicuous shot of the CyberMites swarming on the girl’s cell phone, and then I don’t remember anything actually happening there; then at the end, the Doctor gives her a “new” phone from the TARDIS. Feels too specific to be an accident – even if it’s something as simple as the kids being able to make a distress call to the Doctor next week, it would still be a long walk but would at least serve a purpose.

  • Well, this episode, like every other one in 7.2, has people who love it or hate it. I’ve seen people say it’s the best of the spring series and those who say it’s the worst. But I’ve seen those comments about every.single.episode.of.7.2 I’m a relatively new fan but I don’t remember such a long string of episodes where people had such radically different opinions on.

    Beside bratty Angie, my main problems were:
    a) The Cybermen were supposed to be devoid of emotion, in fact, emotion is removed. Craig’s fatherly emotion in Closing Time caused all of the Cybermen to explode, for God’s sake. So why is Mr. Clever so gleefully evil. I love Matt Smith but he was almost twirling a mustache here. This would be great for an evil superhero but not for a Cyber leader. He should have been coldly and cruelly detached, like the TARDIS interface. Of course, this would have been much less interesting for Matt Smith to play because it would require restraint which doesn’t seem to be his go-to acting choice.

    b) I’m usually not a nit-picker but how this planet got from a few deactivated Cybermen to so many (I saw one review that said 3 million Cybermen). It’s kind of hard to hide 3 million Cyberment, at least those within a day’s walk of the amusement park. Granted this army unit was incompetent. But I assume that a Galatic Emperor would have some way to be warned that an enormous army had been created (in a matter of hours? days? years?) and was coming towards him.

    That said, I enjoyed the episode and wish that people who whine about the show become “awful” or “abysmal” would just save themselves some grief and stop watching. It also becomes apparent that many of these are diehard Classic fans or Tennant fans and are just resistant to the way Moffat guides the show. I guess they are forgetting that not all older episodes are exactly gems.

  • Oh, and a P.S. If Moffat can pull off next week’s episode without wailing from the peanut gallery I’ll be highly impressed. So far, I’ve heard that it contains the following plot elements:

    a) Whisper men
    b) Clara’s identity
    c) The Doctor’s secret
    d) the fields of Trenzalore (so, the Silence again?)
    e) the Great Intelligence
    f) anything else?

    I can see how this would be possible any of these plot points had been working towards a resolution. But each episode has basically been independent, giving little or no information about Clara (except for the Rings of Akhaten) and so, the series finale shoulders the burden of tying this all together in a single 45 minute episode. I realize that The Big Bang and The Wedding of River Song packed a lot into a series finale but I’m still not convinced he’s going to pull this off. There must be an awful lot we do not know right now.

  • This is a superb review,without doubt. Think you have summed up what I thought,some of it was just damned clever and some of it was a bit odd. But very entertaining! All in all,Gaiman can write a great yarn with his hands tied behind his back,and we hope for lots,lots more tardis treats from him. He is in many ways the ideal writer for Dr Who,in that he loves the blank canvas it gives him. He clearly too wants others to enjoy it,but on the way,to get them to think a bit about the character and the adventures he has.

  • I really have no idea what you people are watching – teletubbies is better than anything produced in this season of Doctor Who

    Last night I witnessed the death and burial of anything good about Doctor Who during Nightmare In Silver ……. Mr Clever for God’s sake

    I don’t even watch it to see what the next episode looks like – I literally turned it off when I found out Wickett was the emperor and I was outsmarted by a teenager……..

    May god have mercy on this program’s soul – wherever it has gone

  • I actually thought that this was the worst Dr. Who episodes for many years. Poorly acted, pathetic and stupid soldiers. Do not like the “upgrade” to the cyber men. Or at least the story didn’t make them scary, just made it cheap, it just didn’t feel right anyway. Some cool effects, some good scenes, but overal I was disappointed. Oh well, looking forward to the next episode anyway :)

  • Why isn’t there a scene where the doctor meets the kids? It just jumps into them walking out of the Tardis. There’s no continuation from the end of the last episode, when the kids confront Clara about time traveling.

  • As usual, every episode ends with the Doctor making a bunch of “Oh you wonderful mysterious Clara, who are you?”, except that nothing Clara has done couldn’t have been done by anyone else. The Clara Mystery is a giant con. This season revolved around it, right? Except no it didn’t. It didn’t exist AT ALL, beyond the Doctor mentioning it at the end of every episode.
    Another oversold pile of nothing: The Cybermen are scary again! Why? Because they now have a new power for one scene that then doesn’t exist, for no reason, in the rest of the episode WHERE IT WOULD HAVE MEANT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VICTORY AND DEFEAT.
    Oh, and kids. They need kids to build their army! Well, except for the fact that they already had an army on the planet.

    What the hell is going on with this show? It’s like nobody is reading the scripts before they go into production.

  • @ LIZ

    You state:

    “That said, I enjoyed the episode and wish that people who whine about the show become “awful” or “abysmal” would just save themselves some grief and stop watching. It also becomes apparent that many of these are diehard Classic fans or Tennant fans and are just resistant to the way Moffat guides the show. I guess they are forgetting that not all older episodes are exactly gems.”

    PLEASE PLEASE enlighten me – which older episodes are worse than these Teletubbies additions – even Warriors Of The Deep and Paradise Towers had better plots and storylines than this garbage – and they were excrement to say the least – Delta and the Banner Men – GOLD compared to anything this season – and if you can NAME one David Tennant episode which is worse than this season of Mr Clever and the Night Garden, please go back and watch them

    Thankyou

  • Also I have to sadly add onto my previous comment, please Liz show some respect to us “Die Hard Fans”, as if it wasn’t for us die hard fans, (current producers and writers included), Eccleston, Tennant, Smith and even we could say McGann would have never had the prestigious opportunity to be a Doctor, and all the past episodes which were restored and released on DVD so as current young people and adults can enjoy them, would still be sitting in the somewhat charred remains of the BBC Archives and Doctor Who would have been forgotten – so please – thank us Die Hard Fans instead of ridiculing us

  • I thought that ha ha was Alfie too, but there is always a back story that has to put him in that particular place, because cybermen haven’t been around for thousands of years. blah blah blah

  • @Liz
    f0 anything else – River will be back. During River’s goodbye at the Library she said “You watch us run.” & Clara’s catch-phrase is RYSBAR. Are the two connected? IMHO, probably.
    What’s Clara’s relationship to the Doctor? Given his overt sexual interest I hope:
    a) she’s not his daughter w/River (creepy)
    b) she’s not his clone (the Doctor’s Daughter, maybe even creepier)
    An un-creepy version is that she is Amy & Rory’s daughter from New York of the Angels (River’s sister), but Amy can’t have kids & how do we explain why the Tardis & Clara don’t get along?
    River knew the Doctor’s name in the Library, but the Doctor didn’t tell her his name during their “wedding” (look into my eye). He tells her at some other time that we haven’t yet seen. In “He said, She said…” Clara knows his name. So far we’ve been told that the Doctor only tells his name to his wife. If Clara doesn’t become his wife, how does she learn his name? What am I missing?
    Angie wants to grow up to be Queen of the Universe. What are the odds that she’s related to Liz 10 who’s the bloody Queen, mate?
    I’ve no idea what her brother’s story is. Something in the future?
    How did all the Cybermen show up? It was mentioned that all the people who disappeared (not just the children) were for spare parts.
    Mr Clever was emotional because he was in a host body, not a cyber shell. What he would have upgraded to is open to conjecture.
    I started watching Dr Who when it was still B/W. It was so campy I thought it was a comedy. 50 years later I’m still watching it. My favorite companion was Donna (we can always use a little of her kindness), my favorite episode was “The Doctor’s Wife” (I just wanted to say – hello), & Strax in “The Snowmen” was hilarious.
    Not all of us old geezers are haters. Some of us are still growing in mind, if not in body.

  • I for one am not an old-school fan who just doesn’t like new things. Smith is “my Doctor”. I spent the months leading up to the current series proselytizing that Moffat had greatly improved the series, and that everyone should watch it, starting with “Blink” as the perfect episode for first timers (yes, not a Smith episode, but that’s not the point).

    There are several objective truths about the current series:
    1) The build-up and excitement about it was based around the mystery of Clara
    2) The actual episodes themselves have had nothing to do with the mystery of Clara, beyond mentioning that there is a mystery about Clara.
    3) Most, if not all, the episodes in the current series have had near-magical resolutions where everything is perfectly resolved all at once by means which are not the result of “earned” developments throughout the episode, but rather seem placed their by writers who have run out of time. The current episode is certainly no exception.
    4) Fan enthusiasm continues to be dominated by interest in the answer to the Clara story, as opposed to the episodes themselves.

    Am I wrong?

  • I have to agree with your review. I adored this episode so much, without a doubt one of the best of this series. However I agree about the children. I hated Angie, being uneccessarily rude and obnoxious is not the way forward, but I do think it is nice to have a child who isn’t so nice and polite all the time. I didn’t see the point of either Angie or Artie being there. They felt like they had to be put in.
    Overall though the episode was superb and Neil Gaiman is simply one of the best writers for Doctor Who. The Doctor’s Wife (like The Girl Who Waited.. Oh I cried so much of that. Brilliant) was one of the standout episodes of series 6. Nightmare In Silver is one of the standout episodes of this series.
    I cannot wait for the finale. I am terrified and excited at the same time. They say it’s meant to be a fan pleaser, well I say bring it on. Geronimo.

  • The way Clara interacts with the kids is a little too “Sarah Jane Adventures” for my taste. I miss the more adult repartee with the Ponds. “I’m going to have to tell Dad you’re a time traveler.” Golly gee!

    Also, can we please be done with the Cybermen for a few years. And the Daleks as well? In the original series they weren’t on every other week. Not even every other year.

    And what’s up with all the sonic screwdriver action? The Doctor used to use it to open doors. Now it’s the ultimate swiss army knife. And when he points it at something, and looks at the screwdriver (like he’s taking a reading,) just what is he looking at? There’s no little screen on the side or anything. Kinda lame. Wish he’d lose the damn thing and use a squareness gun instead.