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.
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.
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?
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.
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.)