Monday, May 13, 2013

Doctor Who is NEW: "Nightmare in Silver"

Saturday saw a the debut of a new episode of Doctor Who with a lot riding on it: the return of Neil Gaiman and the Cybermen. Gaiman's The Doctor's Wife is considered on of the best Doctor Who scripts ever so there was a lot "what can he do for any encore" type of pressure. And Neil didn't do much to alleviate that pressure by declaring his story would "make the Cybermen scary again".

Oh, the Cybermen....or as I like to call them Not The Daleks. Now, that is admittedly not a fair assessment. In many ways, the Cybermen represented a more frightening concept; the Daleks would merely kill you while the Cybermen would use you for spare parts. The 2nd Doctor serial Tomb of the Cybermen and the 6th Doctor story Attack of the Cybermen are particularly effective at bringing forth the particular threat that Cybermen pose.

But other stories such as the 4th Doctor adventure Revenge of the Cybermen and the 7th Doctor's encounter with the Cybermen in Silver Nemesis were far less impressive; the latter story showed the Cybermen as bumbling automatons easily flummoxed by gold dust. 

With the revised series, the ultimate horror of being the target of Cybermen (the very painful transformation from flesh to metal) was a central theme (particularly the introduction of the emotion inhibitor, without which a Cyberman would go insane over what they had become). Still, in Russell Davies' Doomsday, when the Cybermen go head to head with the Daleks, its very clear that the Cybermen are very much outclassed.

So one can imagine the interest of Neil Gaiman's pledge that the Cybermen would be scary again. So did he succeed? Is Nightmare In Silver a worthy successor to Gaiman's The Doctor's Wife?
 
In a word....

Hold on! In case I blurt out something specific...

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SPOILERS, Sweetie!
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OK, where were we? Oh, yeah. In a word....

No.

But do I think that makes it a bad episode?

Read on....



The episode begins with the TARDIS materializing on the moon....except it's not really the moon but an intergalactic amusement park...which is abandoned.

The Doctor and Clara are joined by Angie and Artie* as they are greeted by a man named Wembley who shows his visitors one of his attractions: a hollowed out Cyberman who always wins a chess. 

*The two kids Clara is a nanny to back on Earth and no, we don't blame you if you don't remember that.

As chess club member Artie takes the challenge, the Doctor discover the answer to this little mystery: a chess playing master in the form a very small man named Porridge, hidden in a compartment and manipulating the hollowed out Cyberman. 

Also a military expedition has landed on the planet and gives the Doctor a pass when his psychic paper ID's him as a Proconsul to the Emperor, an Emperor who is missing.

Then things start to go wrong* as the kids get zapped into Cyber-comas, Wembley is not what he seems, long extinct Cybermen are started to become un-extinct, Clara somehow finds herself in charge of the military group with the express mission of not letting that group blowing up the planet (it seems they have a very, very limit range of solutions to deal with problems) and the Doctor confronts the Cyberman menace figuring they don't want him since he's a Time Lord and not human...and discovers that he's in error about that too.

*This is Doctor Who. Of course things go wrong.

There are good bits:
  • Clara's take charge of the military expedition sees her approaching the wit and bravado of the version of Clara we met in Asylum of the Daleks.
  • The Cybermen do some very cool things such as detaching and controlling various body parts.
  • Warrick Davis. He is amazing as Porridge, the small man with a big secret.
  • And Matt Smith's bravura performance as the Doctor...and his evil opposite number.
  • And a scene where we get to see previous Doctors.
So where does this episode go wrong? Well, "wrong" may be too strong a word but I had some quibbles.
  • The kids are not a big help here. They are cyphers at best, annoyances at worst.
  • Maybe it was because I watched the episode late when I was tired but I found the plot confusing and contradictory.
  • Enough with the Impossible Girl already! I want that overlong sub-plot to end.
  • And then there are the Cybermen. As noted above, they do unexpectedly cool things with their Cyber-selves but are they scary? Not in the way Cybermen are uniquely scary. Their threat is obvious in their power and numbers but they might as well be simply Not The Daleks.

I did enjoy the episode for the most part. Again, outstanding performances by Smith and Davis and Gaiman's script is still a lot of fun with witty dialogue and clever situations. But if the goal was to have a "knock it out of the park" entry like The Doctor's Wife or truly ratchet up the scariness quotient of the Cybermen, this is where Nightmare in Silver falls short. In other words, it's biggest failing is simply not living up to the hype. It has to settle for merely being good. Neil Gaiman is mortal, after all.

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Be back here next week when Doctor Who Is NEW as we take a look at the next and last episode of the current series/season with The Name of the Doctor.

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