"Really. That's your secret weapon? Cleaning fluid?"
IN THIS ONE... Clara's kids blackmail her to go on a TARDIS trip to an alien amusement park where the Doctor plays Matrix chess with a Cyberman (feat. a new Cyber design).
REVIEW: Neil Gaiman is credited with given us one of the best - if not THE best - story of the Moffat era, The Doctor's Wife, so how can he also be responsible for what many consider its worst, Nightmare in Silver? Is it actually worthy of its reputation with fans? It kind of is, yeah. Now, it's got some qualities for sure - the Doctor/Planner mindscape looks cool, the Cybermen finally get away from Cybus with a sleek new look, the comical castle under siege, and Warwick Davis as Porridge is a sympathetic guest star - but Nightmare (aptly named) mostly swings between irritation and unearned nonsense, and manages to elicit frowns even when it does something interesting. Case in point, the Cyber redesign. They look good and I'm all for making them a more powerful threat, but Gaiman isn't writing about the Cybermen so much as he is about the Borg. Obviously, the Cybs came first and the Borg are the derivative race. However, Star Trek's favorite assimilators still manages to create their own thing over time, and that's what Nightmare seems to be poaching liberally from. The Cyberiad (read: Collective) now has assimilation techniques that give people the Borg's trademark half-face, and can adapt to weapons used against them in a matter of seconds. Even the Planner plays as sexy and out-of-character like he's a Queen.
And that's another of my problems with the story - the Cyber Planner's characterization. Now, fine, it's entered the Doctor's head and is pulling from his experiences and personalities, but could it be any less Cyber-ish? The interesting notion here is that when it spouts the 10th Doctor's lines at Clara, she responds with "you're not the Doctor". The cheek! But look at the entire episode with the 10th Doc in mind, and it really does feel like Matt Smith is doing his best Tennant whenever he's doing the Planner. That's ALMOST interesting. Why almost? Because it's an idea tacked onto the Cybermen, one that doesn't really work in their context. How much better would this episode be if a completely different alien had been used? The Great Intelligence, for example, which has been shown to mirror the people it's possessed. Throw in an army of Yeti and you've got something I probably want to watch. After all, the other solution is to make Matt Smith turn into a robot for half the episode, and that's not very interesting.
And of course, the kids. THE KIDS. GAH! If you missed the previous episode's epilogue, they're just there without real explanation and they are ABOMINABLE, especially Angie. They are so unimpressed with the TARDIS and the alien planet they've been taken to that they are aggressively obnoxious, jaded and ungrateful. Would any kids watching identify with these brats? Turning them into zombies partway through is a mercy! Angie being the only one who figures out Porridge is the Emperor? Even if I believe it, she's so smug I want to slap her. Imagine an alternate reality where the Doctor brought along Clyde and Rani from Sarah Jane Adventures instead. But listen, even the regulars seem off in this one. Clara keeps having the same stand-off with the platoon captain, over and over again, and I just don't buy Miss Oswald as a frontline military leader (just how much time did she spend on a Soviet sub?). At its strangest, Clara attempts to swing Hawkman's mace at a Cyberman. I do like her relationship with Porridge, but the marriage proposal is essentially stakeless (compare to Jo and King Peladon for how to do it right). And neither she nor the Doctor really feel the impact of having placed two children's lives in danger. Just another Wednesday night. The Doctor fares better, but the idea that he's somehow PHYSICALLY attracted to Clara is wrong. He's attracted to the mystery of her, yes, but mentioning the tight skirt? I don't think so.
This rant wouldn't be complete if I didn't also trash the plot, because it isn't any better. This takes place on a planet where a platoon of sci-fi convention nerds are garrisoned, and they've never notived 1) the Emperor running around underfoot, nor the 3 million Cybermen chilling in the amusement park. Ok fine, they're not the best of troops. Still, those are some major oversights. I like the reference to the Cybermen's old (and absurd) weaknesses, but to use them here because they're still "part of the code" is absolute nonsense. Those were hardware, not software, problems. Doc zaps his face-tech with a pulser glove, alien grafts magically disappear. And how close was the Emperor's ship anyway that it could deus ex machina the lot of them out of harm's way so they could have what feels like an interminable epilogue? So... yep, the fans have it right.
REWATCHABILITY: Low - I don't know if it's the connection to Sandman or what, but this episode's only value is that it makes me dream of how it could have been made awesome by switching out most of the characters with others. Hopefully, the kids will go the way of the candy-covered Daleks as horrible things the show will acknowledge but hardly use.