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.