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Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver

Doctor: 'The impossible girl. A mystery, wrapped in an enigma, squeezed into a skirt that's just a little bit too tight.'

Well, that'll teach me to get my hopes up. I suppose it was a bit much to expect something equalling the quality of 'The Doctor's Wife', but I expected more than this. It wasn't terrible—but it wasn't overly memorable either. Did Neil Gaiman succeed in making the Cybermen scary again? Not really, no.

Some of the new mythos worked; I liked the streamlined suits, and them replacing the Cybermat with Cybermites. (Cybermats hang down, Cybermites point up.) Less successful was them replacing their wretched 'delete' catchphrase with the only slightly less annoying 'upgrade'. And if you're going to give them super-speed, then at least allow them to use it. There's no point in showing off how fast they can run, only to have them walk in formation at three miles an hour when it's time to kill someone. They could have finished off the Punishment Platoon in seconds—instead they managed to walk just slowly enough for the Doctor to triumph.

No matter how many times they get made-over or evolve, the Cybermen never seem to have the same impact they did during the classic era. Yes, their armour was a bit crap back then, and their heads occasionally looked like penises, but there was something about them which made you take notice. The fact that they looked like blokes in suits actually worked in their favour—they were a grotesque parody of humankind. I'm just not getting that with the modern era Mondasians.

Warwick Davies was the real stand out performer tonight. He was the only actor who did his lines justice. I loved the foreshadowing of his 'I feel sorry for the blighter who had to blow it up' comment—only for him to become the button pusher. (Was the suggestion there that he was responsible for pushing the button the first time, too?) Then he proposed to Clara, and I heaved a heavy sigh. Clearly, the inexplicably named Porridge was a lonely chap, and when a cracker like Clara turns up, I suppose you have to give it a go—it just seemed totally unnecessary. It was an emotional moment which completely failed to ignite; which was a shame because Gaiman's emotional set pieces are usually spot on.

I'm also a little torn over Matt Smith's tackling of the Doctor/Cyber Planner exchanges. Usually, I'm singing his praises every week, but I'm not certain he made the right acting choices here. Admittedly, the dialogue lacked Gaiman's usual sparkle (evidenced by the lack of quotes below), but the whole sequence felt a little too over-the-top. Yet when Matt played it straight, there were some seriously chilling moments—brilliant, in fact—but they kept coming undone by Matt flapping his arms around and generally Doctoring it up. Maybe it wasn't his decision, maybe it was a directorial choice, or maybe the script demanded that sort of flouncing around, but it didn't really work for me. It kept pulling me out of the scene.

Jason Watkins was initially a joy as Mr Webley. In fact, the whole extraterrestrial theme park bits worked really well. The exterior CGI looked good, Webley's collection of horrors were perfectly odd, and Webley himself was the perfect eccentric host. And then they made him stand around for half the episode, doing nothing. Even Tamsim Outhwaite's character, the imaginatively named, Captain, didn't get much to do before dying an unspectacular death. I did get a laugh out of Missy shouting 'Don't move, I'm in the army' and the Doctor admittedly had a few decent lines, but apart from that, nothing really stood out.

I'm not sure I liked what they did with Clara, either. She started off the episode well, but once the Doctor gave her control of the Punishment Platoon, she became all loud and shouty. Just four weeks ago she failed to negotiate a deal with the Ice Warriors in 'Cold War' and was exhibiting a severe lack of confidence. What's happened in the meantime to turn her into a battle tactician? Obviously Clara's smart, but smart enough to command an army? Was it some kind of repressed past-life experience bleeding through—to be explained next week? Or maybe some character development which took place during an unseen adventure? Or was it simply a slight continuity blip for her character? I still love Clara, but this wasn't her best week.

And how annoying was Angie? She was visiting another planet for the first time in her life, meeting actual aliens, and yet all she could do is moan about there being no phone reception. She was such a caricature. How can a young adult author par excellence like Gaiman write such annoying child characters? I burst out laughing when Angie shouted at that Cyberman, 'Put me down, I hate you'. It was like something out of Kevin and Perry Go Large. And why would she leave her younger brother alone in the most nightmarish setting known to man? Even I wouldn't have slept amongst all those partially-lit monsters... at my age... and I'm a big boy. Use the beds in the TARDIS for goodness sake!

Reaction to this episode online appears to have been mixed. Evidently it was a real Marmite episode. Unfortunately (for me) it stung my lips, made my teeth go black, and made me go ewww! The evolution of the Cybermen stuff I liked (even if I wasn't particularly impressed with what Gaiman did with them), the theme park had great atmosphere, and there were some decent character moments—but it all just felt a little jaded. For a penultimate season episode, it didn't advance the season arc one jot—we still know nothing about Clara. In fact, we haven't learned much all season. If the answers don't come next week, I'm going to be peeved.

Other Thoughts:

—I'm still getting 'the Doctor fancies Clara' vibes. He seemed very excited at the thought of her tight skirt.

—The Doctor defeating the Cyber Planner over a game of chess was very 'Curse of Fenric'.

—Artie was in the chess team at school and yet got beaten by Fool's Mate? What kind of chess moves are they teaching?

—'Cyberman! Get down!' Why? There's nothing to hide behind. They'll just shoot you on the floor. How about running away instead?

—The Cybermen are becoming suspiciously like the Borg. Odd, since the Borg were at least partly influenced by the Cybermen.

—The kids who played Angie and Artie were dreadful actors.

—No way did Clara's slap across the face hurt that much. Man up, Doctor, you wimp!

—Playing chess to resolve a stalemate only works if the game doesn't end in a stalemate.

—A tip for Clara: next time your right hand is holding something important, and someone grabs it, simply use your completely free left hand to free the object and stop it falling into enemy hands.

—An anti-cybergun shot to the chest causes complete disintegration, yet a shot to the head causes it to explode leaving the body intact? How do these guns work exactly?

—The floating Cyber-tech at the end obviously leaves room for more Cybermen stories. Shite!


Missy: 'Don't move, I'm in the army.'

Clara: 'Do you think I'm pretty?'
Doctor: 'No. You're too short and bossy, and your nose is all funny.'

Doctor: 'Nice ship. Bit big. Not blue enough.'
Also posted at The Time Meddler.


  1. I hate to admit it as I'm an enormous Neil Gaiman fan, but this was terrible. It was a story of poorly executed good ideas. There was so much potential, but it was ruined by bad twists, suspect pacing, and poor acting. I think you're being overly generous in saying that the new cyber mythos worked. All they did was turn them into the Borg. The whole thing just felt exhausted.

  2. Those kids were just.... awful. The actors were terrible and they were badly written. And I agree, why didn't the Doctor just leave them safely in the TARDIS while investigating?!

    I like Porridge though, I hope we see him again. Maybe he can marry Liz 10. I keep trying to work out if there was enough Roman stuff in there for a blog post...

  3. I don't get it. It was a very nice with a hint of greatness episode - and nobody except me likes it?

    Yes, Angie was annoying, but, in contrast with Martha, her being annoying was clearly in the script. And it worked.

    Yes, Cybermen didn't move at extra speed they could - but it was obvious that this extra speed is not normal for them, that they use it only when really necessary. We don't know why, but it's so easy to come up with reasonable answers, that I didn't really care for a specific one. Say, running like that consumes a lot of energy.

    I think Matt's acting was at it usual extraordinary level, Clara (although she would never replace Amy in my heart) was also nice, and an episode worked quite well.

  4. I don't think 'consuming too much energy' is a reasonable answer though, Migmit. When you introduce something in the opening act and then don't use it in the denouement, what's the point? Even if 'using too much energy' were a valid solution, surely a couple of tired Cybermen would have been worth it to prevent defeat? If it's worth doing to capture Angie, then surely it's worth doing to seal victory?

    Even if the process were energy intensive, then surely they'd just adapt and instantly upgrade, like they did with the water?

    And Clara acted totally out of character this week. I don't think you can use the 'adventure we haven't seen' excuse either, Paul. If you do, you start justifying all manner of unacceptable character quirks. She acts like a bitch, she had an adventure we didn't see which made her bitchy. She starts acting like a slut, she had and adventure we didn't see which made her slutty. It just becomes an excuse.

  5. Proof that even the great one can royally screw up some times. Hopefully Neil's next effort will be better. How could it not?

  6. I actually really liked this episode, although I have the exact same complaints as Paul did. The kids were terribly annoying (they must be the chidren of one of the producers or something) the Doctor-Cyber Planner scenes were either overwritten or overacted, and the characters were generally just...not written well this week.

    But! I think the Cybermen got much, MUCH better this time around. I speak as someone who's only watched New Who, so obviously I can't judge whether they're inferior to the Old Who designs. But as someone who didn't like them when they were introduced back in series 2, and who thought they were made to look ridiculous in 'Army of Ghosts/Doomsday', it's pretty impressive that for the first time I see them as worthy enemies of the Doctor. Heck they could probably even last longer (though not defeat) the Daleks in a fight! (Which as you'll recall is much better than they managed in Doomsday. The idea of upgrading, the Cybermites, the more streamlined design, all worked in their favour.

    As far as series 7 episodes go, this still ranks in the upper half for me (Warwick Davis was fantastic, only I think they could've expanded his character a bit more). This is yet another episode that I felt could've benefited from a two-parter. Stuff like the theme park looked great, but was then mysteriously abandoned. Am I disappointed this isn't *the* best episode of the series so far? Yeah. We all expected greatness after 'The Doctor's Wife', so as far as Neil Gaiman episodes go this was a bit underwhelming - still, for the most part it worked and it entertained me quite a bit.

  7. I agree that this should have been a two-parter.

    The whole thing felt like it had been fiercely edited down. Why were there no "comical" aspects to the castle? What did the kids get to do other than bounce around on the mooon set? Heck, we don't even know what's going on with the Doctor/Clara/kids blackmailing her thing (but no, everyone is apparently ok with the situation?).

    The characterization (Clara's instantly awesome at leading a platoon of soldiers, Angie is the annoying teen whose behavior is supposed to be redeemed by her being observant and clever, the soldiers - ugh.) was so very pat and simplistic, one has to wonder how very much was cut for time.

    And talk about wasted potential! The Doctor possessed by Cyberplanner...surely terrifying both for him and for those around him, yes? But Clara is surprisingly cool with it even though chances are good the kids are going to die, she's going to die (pointlessly and far from home) and the cause of all of it is walking around wearing skin of the man she trusted with their lives. I can understand the Doctor acting like everything is fine on the outside, but the inner dialog could have been so much more...honest.

    Even later, there was no, "Are you ok?" from Clara to the Doctor. The man was physically/mentally assaulted and we're just to think that it's all good with him, now? Nevermind that he never asks if SHE'S ok (her wrist, seeing people die again, having to deal with superCybermen, etc.) Nope, just a quickie shortcut to "Hey thanks for not getting us killed horribly on the kids' first time out" and bizarre leering at her tight skirt. What?

    I can overlook the plotholes (why doesn't she use her left hand to take the remote, why doesn't he use his right to help?, why is Cyberplanner so emotional and uses words like "dreamy"?, why is Webley's upgrading so shoddy?, etc.) well enough - it's Doctor Who, after all. But to have something so quick-sketch this late in the season felt a bit unfair.

  8. > Even if 'using too much energy' were a valid solution, surely a couple of tired Cybermen would have been worth it to prevent defeat?

    Why would they expect to be defeated? The Doctor is immobilised, so the only thing standing between them and the imminent victory is a bunch of nerds with one big gun. We know the Doctor would find a way to win this battle, but they don't.

    > If it's worth doing to capture Angie, then surely it's worth doing to seal victory?

    When capturing Angie, it was one Cyberman against The Oncoming Storm with a screwdriver — meaning: totally outnumbered. It's not a question of worthiness, it was the only way the Cyberman could escape the Doctor's strike. After that — it was a victorious army of Cybermen, and there was no way the castle defendants would last long.

  9. >>Why would they expect to be defeated? The Doctor is immobilised, so the only thing standing between them and the imminent victory is a bunch of nerds with one big gun.

    Yes, a big gun which can (and does) destroy Cybermen. Surely this should provide the perfect incentive to exhaust a few circuits eradicating the threat? If the Cybermen are capable of recognising the Doctor as a threat, then surely they’re capable of recognising the anti-cybergun as a threat too and acting accordingly? (i.e. using super-speed.)

    The same annoying thing happens in vampire shows all the time. They establish that vampires can move faster than puny humans, only to fight them (and sometimes each other) at tediously slow speeds. It’s pointless to introduce something, especially in a 45 minutes show, and then not use it. Isn't that what the Chekhov's gun metaphor is all about?

    Besides - aren’t these sorts of potential explanations just attempted harmonisations trying to fix obvious flaws in the logic of the narrative? When you have to guess what may have happened to make sense of a particular action, bringing in explanations which are never presented in the text, surely the writer has failed at getting his point across?

  10. >I don't think you can use the >'adventure we haven't seen' excuse >either, Paul.

    I wasn't suggesting it was the best explanation. Personally, I'd opt for 'character blip'. But the above explanation seems to get used a lot in fandom these days. If something seems incongruous you simply explain it away with the old 'it all happened in another adventure we didn't see' dodge.

    >She starts acting like a slut, she >had and adventure we didn't see >which made her slutty.

    I think this adventure already happened. It was called 'Room at the Top' ;)

  11. my favorite part was when the cyberDoc was quoting 9 and 10 in their accents. "Fantastic!" and "Allyonse!) sorry don't know how to spell that last one.
    but it had me rewinding my dvr multiple times with a huge grin on my face :D

  12. I agree with all you said, Paul. Great review!

    I didn't see a huge character discontinuity with Clara. In this episode, she's in nanny mode, and she's put in charge of other humans, which she might be more comfortable with than negotiating with an ice monster.

    Next week looks fun. :-)

  13. Could Angie possibly be Liz 10?

  14. So much we agree on here Paul! They made these Cybermen too much like Iron Man mixed with the Borg and it didn't work. I didn't realize that the normally sublime Gaiman wrote this till reading this review either, and seeing that it's not very good makes that quite the shock!

    And like you point out, yes classic Cybermen can be a bit janky and they weren't always handled well, but they did always have that 'human remnants in a suit' motif, and it usually worked out. They are too robotic in most of the new episodes, and it doesn't work as well. This one is a prime example as to why.


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