Doctor Who #688: Silver Nemesis Part 3

"You had the right game, but the wrong pawn. Check."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Dec.7 1988.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor lets the Cybermen have Nemesis and it destroys them.

REVIEW: It's when I look at the deleted scenes (see Versions) that I can see they very nearly had something in Silver Nemesis. Is time travel chess, or is it jazz? That would have been the question had many of the scenes stayed in. Is the Doctor a logical grandmaster, or is he a mad improviser? Probably both. Time is too complex a chessboard not to have a talent for handling chaos. The Cybermen are the logical villains, and insane Lady Peinforte is at the other end of the scale. The Nazis, well, that's what I mean about "very nearly" having something. In reality, the story's a real mess and could have done with a very different trim from the one it suffered. Cut the Cybermen or the Nazis, either will do, but not the chess and jazz stuff! The cuts also savage the scenes meant to build mystery. The chess game advancing alone while the Doctor isn't in 1638. The 200-year-old painting of Ace. Lady Peinforte delving deeper into the secrets she might reveal about the Doctor and the Old Time, the Time of Chaos. It's true the series doesn't get a chance to address a lot of this, and it IS frustrating that things introduced in a story aren't actually paid off in the same story, but if the scenes HAD been there, maybe there would have been more of an imperative to resolve these issues. And in Silver Nemesis, would have earned the final shot (above) - and Ace's question "Who are you?" - much better.

Something else I might have sacrificed to restore some of the cuts - or just to make the story more coherent! - is the limo ride with star of stage and screen Dolores Gray. For some reason, I often misremember her rich Southern belle as being from Delta and the Bannermen, which also has a cast of what Shakespearean scholars call "zanies", but she's not even as useful to the plot as Delta's (the beekeeper, the Americans, etc.) are. She's just the kind of star cameo JNT would have plugged into stories. Not unpleasant, but her character's inability to notice she's given a ride to a couple of Elizabethans is really ridiculous. But then, this is a story that dares treat the Cybermen as a potent enemy when they can be defeated by a teenager with a slingshot and gold coins. The idea that gold now turns explosive contact with their skin makes the 80s Cybermen a real joke. If you buy the premise though, you buy the bit, and Ace's action scenes with the silver giants are pretty exciting, with cool hand held motion and a brave companion. And I like how Cyber Leader is a little tougher than the other and throws the golden bullet away. But I'm not really buying the premise.

And then there's the comparisons to Remembrance to the Daleks, which Ace makes worse by directly referring to them! Just as before, it all ends with the Doctor giving up the Time Lord artifact, which promptly destroys the enemy. That would be the Cybermen, in this case. The Nazis get shot by Cyber Leader (that gives THEM the status of the story's dunsel) and Lady Peinforte jumps into the Nemesis statue for unexplained reasons. I mean, it IS currently in her likeness, and she IS completely bonkers, but it's still a bit of a mystery. Just as Nemesis' contention that she's retribution NOW, but won't always be, or the Doctor promising one day, conditions will be perfect for setting her free. A lot of questions, no answers forthcoming, blame the Time War. If that all sounds very negative, it's that there are a lot of intriguing, exciting and amusing elements in Silver Nemesis, which makes its failure all the more frustrating.

VERSIONS: The deleted scenes on the DVD include the 7th Doctor's impression of Louis Armstrong, the old painting of Ace, the revelation that the Doctor gave Peinforte's mathematician secret help to get his Lady to the right date, and a sequence of Richard hitchhiking. Many of these were included on the extended cut video release, but the DVD includes them separately. The Target novelization also has most of these scenes, but none of the other changes are too notable.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Mostly exciting, but not satisfying. Loose ends, comedy padding and redundant story elements do it in.

- Starts out well, with a celebratory feeling, but there's just too much here getting in the way of telling a good, a forward-moving story.


CiB said...

And ofcourse, the new series took it a step further by claiming that the gold weakness, rather than it being "the filtration system can't cope with gold dust" was a "software bug", which at least explains whats happening here.

I'm not a computer programmer and don't know enough about it to ever think about doing that sort of thing, but if I had a piece of software that when installed on a computer, made said computer explode if it came into contact with gold I don't think I'd release or use that software as it's clearly unfit for purpose. Any purpose.

As a villain I think the Cybermen were at their best before this gold thing happened. They drag Silver Nemesis down quite a bit I think.

snell said...

For all the praise Andrew Cartmel gets, he does deserve a bit of the blame for two stories in the season ending with the Br'er Rabbit "don't throw me in the briar patch" routine. That it happened shows he wasn't paying attention, at the very least.

It also shows, I think, the perils of running with "the mysterious manipulator" Doctor idea without having an endgame in mind, or at least not communicating it to the writers. There's only so much you can do there without guidance, and repetition is bound to happen because of that.

Madeley said...

My understanding about why Nemesis ended up as such a mess stapled over the structure of a recent, better story wasn't so much because Cartmel took his eye off the ball, but because they were cripplingly short of time. They'd lost most of their lead-in time when the BBC studios shut down for emergency asbestos removal during the filming of Greatest Show in the Galaxy, so rewrites were happening on the morning of filming for most of Nemesis, plus little to no rehearsal time for the actors (which might explain why the actress playing Peinforte is so poor, actually).

Toby'c said...

@CIB And that's one reason why Nightmare in Silver was my least favourite episode of series 7.

Call me a heretic, but I honestly prefer Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel to any of their classic stories.

Siskoid said...

In fact, there's a featurette on the DVD that talks about industrial actions and other work stoppages, but of course, these reviews can't brook any excuse for flawed episodes.

Toby: That IS heresy. There hasn't been a good Cyberman story since The Invasion.

Jeff R. said...

Then I'm a Heretic too, including the Next Doctor along with Rise/Age as ones that got them more right than any classic story...

Bill D. said...

As arch and silly as they may be, I enjoy the Cybermen. Even that David Banks delivery... love it all. The only stories with them I haven't enjoyed are Attack, Rise/Age, and whatever that Gaiman abomination was called.


Bill D. said...

Also, I used to enjoy this story more than Remembrance of the Daleks, but somehow I managed to see this one first, so the repetitious nature of the plot was lost on me for a long time. I now think Remembrance is the better story by a longshot, but I still enjoy this.

But I also like Revenge of the Cybermen, so maybe don't go by me.

Siskoid said...

First, let me admit that I often quote the Banks Cyber Leader, so I do have a certain kitsh fondness for these guys. But I'm also always disappointed at how rubbish these guys always turn out to be. And their plans have ALWAYS been nonsense, from The Tenth Planet on. Invasion at least has Vaughn and Packer going for it. Tomb is probably the last effective, "scary" Cyberman story, for me.

Second, I think every story is SOMEone's favorite and someone else's most hated. That's what makes Doctor Who fandom so damn nasty sometimes. Didn't I write a defense of The Gunfighters in the first 6 months of this pilgrimage? I think I did. So there you go. No judging.


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