Episode 13/14 for Doctor Who, series 7. I must be honest, I am finding something slightly lacklustre about this series. I don’t know whether its the fragmented nature – 5 episodes in 2012, Amy and Rory leaving suddenly, wait a few months, Christmas, wait another few months, and then it begins again – or whether it’s the lack of two-parter stories and cliffhangers which strongly defines the show, or whether I’m just getting older. The overnight ratings have undeniably declined, however, to achieving consistently below an average of 5 million. This isn’t bad for any show, but given Doctor Who’s record it’s not really that good either. I was hoping Neil Gaiman’s Nightmare in Silver would reverse this trend. His The Doctor’s Wife in 2011 is one of my favourite ever Doctor Who episodes, and I very much enjoyed Coraline, however upon reading American Gods I was left very cold. So, was this to be like The Doctor’s Wife or American Gods for me? Unfortunately, the latter.
Gaiman has stated that his ambition for this episode was to “make the Cybermen scary again”; in recent times we’ve seen them blown up at in an episode’s first five minutes and defeated by the power of love, so this was a noble ambition. I really liked that first image of the Cyberman playing chess, controlled by Warwick Davis’ character [more on that later] – it brought to mind the famous automaton, The Turk, which was a clever touch. I also really like the new design. Gaiman in an interview for Doctor Who Magazine said he was trying hoping to replicate the hypothesis of the ‘uncanny valley’ – a theory that when monsters look and act like human beings but with something missing, it creates irrational terror within people – which these new faces do achieve more so than previously. Their new abilities – moving quickly, the mobile hand, being able to upgrade continuously, also help make them scarier. The concept of installing a ‘patch’ every time they meet an obstacle makes them appear undefeatable. The ‘cyber-mites’ were also quite scary. However, I don’t know whether it’s a result of newcomer Stephen Woolfenden’s direction or the writing, but… The concept of Cybermen being mechanical, converted human beings is lost. They act like robots, which loses one of the factors which make Cybermen so terrifying.
Another reason I failed to find the Cybermen a credible threat was due to the episode being so, so rushed. The first half – which I found worked better – wasn’t so bad. The threat was built up and slowly established, the Cyber Planner introduced, and it all worked fairly well. Then the plot began to accelerate, to swing this way and that way, and I began to feel all focus was lost. The pacing would be slowed down for drawn-out sequences between the Doctor and the Cyber Planner fighting over his brain – sequences I did enjoy, particularly ‘inside the Doctor’s head’, which was a nice effect, but they brought the story grinding to a halt, meaning that when it returned to cyber-action the scenes were rushed for compensation. This became unforgiveably bad towards the end. The resolution is terrible. Davis’ character (Porridge? Really?) is revealed to be the Emperor in a painfully obvious and badly-written or rushed way, and we learn that he could have solved the problem immediately be saying ‘I am the Emperor’ or whatever and getting everyone beamed up. I expected better. The demands of telling a story in 45 minutes leave no time for the threat to build and necessitates a rushed resolution, making the Cybermen seem oh so easily defeated.
This seems a good place to have a little rant about Davis’ Emperor subplot. Davis did the best he could with a terrible role and writing and actually, incredibly, managed to salvage some of it, but most of it fell flat. Ignoring my distaste towards have a global Emperor with supreme powers which everyone laughs at “I could have you all executed!” “Oh, har har har, you tyrant you!” The character didn’t seem all that fussed about taking up the position again. If there had been more TIME to explain why he ran away, why he was so reluctant to take up his role as the Emperor again, then it might have worked, but I found during this scene even the dialogue was being edited together in such a snappy way that it didn’t work. “Well, he is the Emperor – come on, it’s obvious” leaves no time at all for Clara’s reaction to register. And that marriage proposal… Yuck! Unnecessary, cringy, and wasted 20 seconds which could have gone towards healing other areas.
Moving to other characters, I don’t think I can do my usual “they were fantastic” in one paragraph. Firstly, the Doctor. I still think Matt Smith is performing excellently in the role, but he has been severely criticised for ‘hamming it up’ in this episode and, watching it again, I have to agree. Just slightly too much shouting, an over-the-top inner struggle between The Doctor and the Cyber Planner. I also thought the Doctor was rather irresponsible for leaving the children to stay on the planet once he was aware of a Cyber-threat.
Clara. I have commented on previous episodes that I really like the realistic reactions she has to situations. Not meaning that she can’t be a strong character, but it makes her courage feel like real courage when contrasted with her fear. Not here. The Doctor places her in charge and she consequently begins barking orders to the platoon of soldiers. Cybermen breaking into the castle aiming to kill everyone? No problem, Clara will yell orders completely unphased. The two children she’s supposedly caring for become possessed by Cybermen? Meh, could be worse. Possessed soldiers advancing? Oh, Clara knows how to use a gun upon picking it up and will shoot them, because that’s totally in character for young woman from contemporary London who has only recently joined The Doctor! To be clear, this is a criticism of how she is written, not performed, as Jenna-Louise Coleman does what she’s asked to do well. I am also getting rather tired of the Clara story – another reason why this series is lacking any momentum or focus. There are more references to her being ‘the impossible girl’, but nothing develops. Again. Nothing has developed since The Bells of Saint John, six episodes ago. It’s getting repetitive.
The children were written atrociously. Angie was worse than Artie (why would you name your kids such similar names?) and her ‘gobby’ attitude got on my nerves. Again, a criticism of the writing more than the acting. Walking into a barracks and proclaiming “I’m BORED!” … “When someone asks you to rule a thousand galaxies, you don’t say no!” as if it’s an everyday occurrence for her. Neither of them seem particularly phased by the events. They also serve no purpose within the story. They come under the control of the Cybermen, but even this is resolved quickly and leads to nowhere. They generally just stand in the background and waste valuable time. It’s a shame, because I was quite looking forward to seeing children travel in the TARDIS.
Nightmare in Silver was a great disappointment. Neil Gaiman + Cybermen – it should have been better. It was entertaining at times, which prevents it from being a complete failure, but upon analysis it doesn’t stand up. I know this is just my opinion, and a lot of other people really liked the episode, but I didn’t react well to it. I’m quite losing heart with this season. Next week is the season finalé, but there would be no way of telling. I was half hoping this episode might end on a cliffhanger like Closing Time before The Wedding of River Song, to at least give some publicity and build some expectation for the final episode, but no such luck. I don’t have high hopes.
Final rating: 5/10