jason stives gets his cyber on …
*Warning: Spoilers ahead if you have not seen tonight’s episode*
So we are playing the hype card once again this week in Doctor Who and it’s definitely not easy to avoid this time. Expectations are exceeding their capacity this week by having the writer of one of series six’s best episodes pen a Cybermen story but as one would expect it doesn’t hold up to the hype. This doesn’t make it a bad story, oh contraire, in fact “Nightmare in Silver” is a rather entertaining story that brings the menace back to the natives of Mondas but still falls short in some of its ideas and characters. Don’t shutter yet though, Neil Gaiman still remains more than capable of writing a Doctor Who story, and he does it well.
The Doctor takes Clara, Angie, and Artie to Hedgewick’s World of Wonders, an abandoned amusement park in the future that’s home to a band of misfit soldiers, a dwarf named Porridge (Warwick Davis), and the menacing ghost of a former enemy in a Cyberman acting as a robot chess player. The Doctor is assured that it’s merely used for show but soon enough the gang learns that the conscious of the cyber race is running rampant around Hedgewick’s looking for a host to bring a dormant army back to life. With Clara banding together the disgruntled soldiers and The Doctor wrestling with a formless enemy that if not control can bring about the destruction of the planet.
I admit to having certain expectations leading into this story and that’s why I felt it necessary to replay this episode and remove myself from that train of thought but you can’t blame me considering what was going on. Said expectations weren’t really confined to Gaiman’s writing himself on my part because you can’t expect a writer to do the same thing twice in overall tone and narrative. Even Moffat, who before he became show runner always was expected to deliver something scary and amazing, never repeated the same kind of formula in his stories and Gaiman was truly never expected to deliver something as wonderful as “The Doctor’s Wife.” While this is a good story, what sullies it is the presence of The Cybermen — which carries some expectations by their presence alone.
The Cybermen do in fact work here .. but it’s a mixed bag at best. They look fantastic and long gone is the clunky, steam punk aspect that faded with interest greatly in past appearances. This sleek, slim new exterior emphasizes a more alien quality at best and kind of resembles a certain Marvel super hero that had a movie come out this past week. Probably not intentional but it’s both nostalgic and modern all in one but what of the new upgrades? Yes, The Cybermen can literally upgrade upon command making them almost indestructible to specific threats which is very clever but they also have increased mobility that allows them to move faster than light. While this does allow them to overcome their biggest weakness it doesn’t work that well on the visual end and even though they are now silent killers that can creep up on you at will these cybermen feel the most disconnected from their organic beginnings. Sure, the Cybermen are basically robots anyway but they also have aspects of humanity that are not present here. I’m not expecting a cyberman with personality but they are more or less an army here with no internal struggle and are just responsible for taking out the masses.
Gaiman’s two best contributions to the Cyber universe here are the creepy silver fish-esque Cyber Mites (a brilliant step up from the jaw snapping Cybermats) and the introduction of the Cyber planner, who is really the center piece of the story through the Doctor. Nightmare in Silver was definitely a moment for Matt Smith to really show off his ability (especially since he is currently wowing Ryan Gosling in his directorial debut) and while a bit hammy and silly at times the the internal conflict between the Doctor and the conscious of the Cyber planner was very sinister at times. Smith in particular pours on some creepy looks when he is twirling a fictitious mustache of evil and on the whole it works save for the climax which takes away the serious threat of the cybermen.
You may have noticed this week that we had some additional passengers on the TARDIS in the form of Angie and Artie, the two children Clara was seen to be taking care of back in “Bells of Saint John.” I’m not too sure why they were brought in this week and even their inclusion at the tail end of last week’s episode felt forced and unwarranted. They are far and away the weak point of this story acting as the proverbial children in peril catalyst that keeps the Doctor and Clara firmly in the line of danger. It would be one thing if these were characters we had any investment in but their time on the show to this point has been fleeting and unimportant. While Artie is definitely a little more likable mainly cause he stays the hell out of things Angie is absolutely unbearable and realistically their presence in this story is useless as best.
While hardly useless but not as prominent this week was Clara whose military watchdog duties heading up the soldiers really doesn’t hold much interest and is really just finding Clara something to do while the Doctor talks to himself. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t give Clara some development and her assertive nature and overall responsibility brings Clara’s capabilities front and center. She isn’t treated as a fish out of water that is winging it; she is taking charge of the situation which is excellent. Despite feeling mixed about her role this week I’m curious to know more about the Doctor’s feelings for Clara that the Cyber planner spoke of. A cyber planner’s words are a timelord’s thoughts and one can’t help but think that there has to be some connection beyond friendship considering how these two interact with each other. This may cause some tension with the wife next week is they do in fact explore that avenue (they will).
“Nightmare in Silver,” much like “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” and next week’s finale “The Name of the Doctor” is a story with heavy expectation but no one should really adhere to it. As a story overall it’s very straight and narrow and really entertaining despite underutilizing potential and established elements. Considering it’s the penultimate episode to a very sporadic season it leaves a desire for more but there just isn’t the time for that now is there. Irony.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Pretty Good)
All Photos Credit: BBC America