Review: Doctor Who – 7×12 – Nightmare In Silver

Ooh! Scary Cybermen!

Doctor Who - Nightmare in Silver

In the UK: Saturday, 7pm, 11th May 2013, BBC1/BBC1 HD. Available on the iPlayer
In the US: Saturday, 8pm/7c, 11th May 2013, BBC America

Well, it’s Wednesday so there’s probably not much point doing a full review of Saturday’s Doctor Who episode – you’ve probably forgotten it all, already – but for the record and for completeness’ sake, so I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts. Spoilers after the jump…

On the whole, I liked it. Not wholeheartedly, but it was really good. Written by Neil Gaiman with the intention of making the Doctor’s clunky, stumpy number two enemy scary again, Nightmare in Silver certainly did that. Taking a leaf from the Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Borg, these sleeker, smoother Cybermen were not only infinitely adaptable and keen to convert human flesh into cybernetic alternatives, they were smart, super-fast and capable of taking over even the Doctor himself. Then there were the creepy Cybermites, the tiny, creepy successors to the Cybermats, that creep up and infiltrate your body like so many creepy insects that lurk in tropical forests. Did I mention they were creepy?

So the cyber-upgrade, which is so impressive that if you find even one Cyberman on a planet, you have to blow the whole planet up (particularly if Tamzin Outhwaite is on it), was a definite success and high-point of the episode. Whether they Cybermen will be as impressive on their return, I don’t know, since Star Trek‘s writers found themselves with a similar dilemma when the unstoppable Borg kept turning up and ended up downgrading them every time, just as the old school Cybermen had weakness after weakness added to them over time. Even if this one, we still had the remains of that allergy to gold from the old days, although at least that’s now been patched out of existence.

Running alongside all the Cyberman fun was a slightly weak mental chess match between the Cyberplanner and the Doctor. Now, this should have been the Doctor’s brilliance and emotional nature pitted against cold logic. Whether it was the script or Matt Smith’s acting choice, instead it oddly became the Doctor’s brilliance pitted against the Cyberplanner’s emotional nature. As a result, threatening – although slightly nonsensical – as the chess match for control was, it didn’t have quite the philosophical dimension or contrast between the two sides to really make it stand out.

Those two things played out against a backdrop of “Gaimanland”, which the usual roster of odd characters with weird names you’d expect from a Gaiman piece, particularly ‘Porridge’ (the brilliant Warwick Davis). Gaiman portrayed Clara’s charges well, although Clara herself is still lacking a little personality and individuality. But other than those few, no one else was particularly well drawn – maybe it’s because they were all soldiers and Gaiman couldn’t individualise them all, even though they were the worst soldiers in town.

And, of course, the eventual resolution to the Cyber-threat, with Porridge saving the day purely because he was ‘outed’, was a little unsatisfactory. While the explanation makes sense emotionally, it does mean Porridge was willing to let plenty of people die and be on the verge of being turned into Cybermen, when he could have saved them at more or less any time.

On the whole though, a properly scary Doctor Who story that finally made the Cybermen a worthy Doctor Who enemy again. Well done.

PS: Good usage of Castell Coch, too, and all sorts of references to Tomb of the Cybermen and The Moonbase for old school fans to enjoy.

  • Craig Grannell

    Funny how down people have generally been on this episode, but then that's par for the course lately. Lots of New Who fans are doing precisely what Old Who fans have always done—framing the series in the sense that it was “always better during [insert year]”.

    I quite liked this one. It would have been good had Porridge been called on essentially allowing people to die, and the kids were very stage school ACTOR, but the story itself was fine. As for the Super Cybermen, perhaps the time-travel aspect can be brought into play, with the Doctor next meeting 'older' versions or something. Still, it was good the threat level was amped up somewhat, like in Dalek. It's much creepier and scarier when you've creatures powerful enough to go one on one and that go for infiltrating versus outright war, rather than the Doctor vs an army (although this episode did end up rather in the latter direction towards the end).

    I do wonder what the future holds for this series, though. Are the figures down? Is Moff for the chop? Will Smith be leaving, resulting in another refresh? Will some mad person give Chibnall the keys?

  • Mark Carroll

    I rather liked it too, but perhaps for different reasons. Things like the infinite adaptability seemed rather implausible and impressive upgrades make the enemy so hard to defeat that it moves plots rather more toward dei ex machina rather than some more engaging and likely battle of wits; for this reason I rather preferred the old-series daleks too.

    But, still, within its own universe, the episode did make some kind of sense, and had various good aspects, indeed certainly including Porridge; it wasn't some bizarre romp filled with strange irrelevancies, like that awful black cube invasion.

  • Rullsenberg

    I've rewatched this a couple of times and liked it more each time – not without flaws but it was good and DEFINITELY made the Cybers creepy again. Clunk. Didn't feel as positive as I felt after The Doctor's Wife, but a creditable piece let down by the chess match and some dodgy kid acting. I'd be interested to see how the 'downer' reaction ties to old-Skool fans vs newer ones, if indeed it does…

  • I think old school fans may have liked it more than new-Whoers, because it was a lot more old Who than new Who.

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