As we wind down towards the finale, Neil Gaiman takes the writing helm for the Eleventh Doctor story Nightmare in Silver featuring the Cybermen, newly relaunched. Lots of material is available on the BBC page for this episode including more artwork than you can shake two sticks at. Looking nice and having an award-winning writer on board (The Doctor’s Wife did awfully well in the awards) along with a great cast and the return of the Cybermen. What could go wrong?
Skipping the boring arguments about telling the children Clara looks after about the TARDIS and allowing them one trip (like the TARDIS is a one-off extra in their story!) we skip directly from the end of the delightful Crimson Horror to the TARDIS arriving at Hedgewick’s World of Wonders which is an abandoned theme park. Exploring we meet Webley (played by Jason Watkins) and Porridge (played by Warwick Davis) in a strange carnival-like world in which we quickly find chess-playing Cybermen! It turns out there has been a major war and the Cybermen are defeated – those relics at Hedgewick’s are all defunct, honest.
The theme park is also host to a bizarre cadre of not very good soldiers under the leadership of the Captain (Tamzin Outhwaite).
Needless to say there are still Cybermen and via the use of teeny Cybermites take over Webley, the children having done the obligatory exploring when told not to sequence, kill a few soldiers, take over the Doctor, play chess for the fate of the planet, play with a bomb capable of imploding the world then rush to a conclusion, a miracle ending, a wedding proposal and a happy ending!
If this reads like a set of ingredients rather than a classic story, there you have the problem…
The Story Telling
I was late to writing this review and nearly didn’t – JR Southall has already scored this 6/10 on Starburst and the Radio Times has this to say on the topic ‘An almighty Cyber-flop…‘ and the rest of this review is along very similar lines. In the interest of balance the Telegraph has a more positive review here though isn’t shy to admit the episode’s many faults.
I have so much to say I’ve had to use sub-headings!
Although it is a family show (or kid’s show depending on who you ask) it does need adult protagonists; our two children have gone from background in Clara’s life to unlikely detectives to travelling in the TARDIS in the blink of an eye. Unlike other stories that have needed children to work these started out driving some of the plot, got part-converted to put them on hold then second guessed the ending for those of us still caring at that point.
After all that they left to get back to their clearly more interesting lives elsewhere!
I was actually prompted to write in to DWM with an opinion after the show in which I described this as being set in a location Scooby Doo would be proud of; I think this stands with a theme park in ruins populated by mysterious carnie types and an inept version of the Seven Dwarfs posing as soldiers (with little in the way of training, initiative or weapons). Still at least Clara can lead the way!
Back in the 1980s when my sci-fi TV tipple of choice was Star Trek TNG I read an interesting article comparing how well the Borg worked on TV compared to the Cybermen. Not to be outdone we now get Cybermen who are almost pure Borg – the Doctor and Webely could have come straight out of any Borg episode visually.
The whole upgrade concept rendered consistency meaningless and we had a sequence of ultra-fast Cyberman, rotating head Cyberman and hand comes off Cyberman. No doubt meant to be scary but actually verged on the silly.
I also really object to the logic (Moffat’s?) that says if something was scary do more of it and give it lots of twists to make it scarier. Take the Weeping Angels; I still say Blink was one the best episodes of any Who ever for very many reasons. The Angels were revealed slowly, they were few in number and had one power. They lurked at the edge of attention and were brilliant. Latterly we have 100s of them on alien planet’s, magic power from pictures baby Angels and the Statue of Liberty Angel. It debases the original.
Faced with a cast army of Cybermen from the Magic Kingdom Castle all I thought was ‘great CGI’.
As to the Tomb of the Cybermen which is probably the earliest story I know I watched; I can see the nod back but I was more bothered by how so many Cybermen ended up secreted away on the planet and managed to build a huge storage facility.
To this add the attempt to weave in the children (they have young brains) which was abandoned almost as soon as it was explained and this episode is just like a jamboree bag [strange assortments of sweets, small toys and collectors cards in the UK in the 1960s and no doubt beyond] with no overall coherence.
The wasted cast
Warwick Davis is excellent as Porridge though we never find out why he is hiding out on this world. He delivers his lines with real presence and is convincing in the reveal at the end. Beyond Warwick things get thin for our guest stars (and this reminds me of The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe for waste); first of all Tamzin Outhwaite is too good as the Captain of the inept soldiers and so has to be killed off early to make the ending work – a dreadful waste; second Jason Watkins as Webley starts off as a central figure then is abandoned, turned into a cyber-string puppet then forgotten. Did he survive? I didn’t notice and I had forgotten about him by the end.
The chess game
This may have seemed like a good idea on paper but in practice it was at best confusing and at worst a fail. We had a chess game that no-body was following, gold foil produced from nowhere to sabotage the Cyber operating system (what nonsense is this? It was physical and chemical properties that gave us weaknesses of the original Cybermen, not software!) and a battle for the Doctor’s brain that didn’t wash. Never mind needing millions of Cybermen as processors to check that they Doctor had no mate in three – something even a basic home computer has been able to do for very many years!
It was nice to get some mention of the past but really this was not good. Nor was the Star Trek doomsday option of forcing a regeneration to clear his system of the Cyber infestation.
The deus ex machina ending
Having killed off Tamzin as her character made too much sense it takes one of the children to try to interest the cast (and the viewers) in the fact that Porridge is the Emperor. One Star Trek arm the bomb later (and why do the Cybermen wait for Porridge’s long trigger sequence and explanation?) and we have a ‘whoops, here comes my starship / transmat / all’s well that ends well rescue. Sadly Warwick is excellent throughout all this and this is a waste. This has to join the list of RTD endings such as the messianic Last of the Time Lords ending and various ‘hit the reset’ endings, and yes I mean you Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.
I have decided that Clara is actually not a companion – she clearly goes home after each adventure and only saves the universe on Wednesdays. Even though TV episodes start or end with her on the TARDIS I suspect she never has two in a row without going home first. I like the way this implies a continuing lack of trust from the Doctor.
We had lots of nods to the show’s history in the chess sequence and that will but ease the pain of no Classic Doctors in the 50th and make it worse!
I found the more I wrote the more I didn’t like this episode which is my apology for the length of this somewhat one-side article. Once you turn reviewer a nasty habit of criticism can take over and the episode did entertain as long as I didn’t think about it so I’m sure plenty of people would have enjoyed it.
What about you – please point out the good bits so I can restore some balance!