Doctor Who #914: Nightmare in Silver

"Really. That's your secret weapon? Cleaning fluid?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 11 2013.

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.


snell said...

I should note that I was less fond of The Doctor's Wife than most, and it was for a lot of the things Gaiman displays here in Nightmare: ramshackle plotting and a poorly characterized villain. The underlying conceit of Wife charmed most people into overlooking that; not the case here...

Anonymous said...

"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"

Aaaand there's your homage to Six.

I wonder if the real homage to Six was the two brilliant children like out of "The Twin Dilemma". Hey, did Matt Smith try to choke Clara at some point or otherwise threaten her with violence? Because that would be a thing too.

I also have to agree with snell, I was not particularly moved by the conceit of "The Doctor's Wife"; it smelled to me like a writer finally getting to see his fanfiction come to life. If RTD or Moffat wants to shake things up with shocking new revelations, fair enough, they're showrunners and have the responsibility to run with it and see it through. But pawning that sort of thing off on writers primarily because they're big names who can do a cute story, not so much.

Toby'c said...

Easily my pick for Eleven's worst story (and yet, as with Nine and Ten, still ahead of every classic Doctor's worst stories by virtue of being over in 45 minutes).

The one big complaint I had that you haven't touched on was the idea that the Cybermen were previously seemingly defeated by destroying an entire galaxy, a concept that reminded me of the Solarinite bomb from Plan 9 From Outer Space for some reason.

Siskoid said...

Anon: I still think it's closer to a 7th Doctor story (with Name as the 6th Doc reference of visiting one's own tomb). As Programmer, he only grabs Clara's hands and they don't explode into blood (as per Attack).

Toby: You stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!

Of course, the Plan 9 light bomb WAS done in Doctor Who. It shows up as Davros' reality bomb in Journey's End.

LiamKav said...

The "wrapped in a skirt that's just a bit...too...tight" is a horrible, horrible line. Partly because it isn't really tight in any way, especially not for someone in her twenties. (If anything, Clara's outfits are designed more to make her look more like a little girl, compared to the miniskirts and tiny shorts worn by first season Amy.) And also because it makes the Doctor into a really, really creepy guy. You're married, Doc!

Siskoid said...

Well, widowed.

The Name of the Doctor reveals he's probably spent all of River's days at this point, and there's no more seeing her.

LiamKav said...

True. But it still comes across as creepy. I also don't know if it's Smith's "old man in young body" interpretation when compared to Tennant's "young romantic dude" version, but it just made me think of the age-gap. A widowed Time Lord on his last regeneration making pervy comments about his 20-something companion. It's like he's a 1970s BBC TV presenter...

Siskoid said...

Oh in no way did I mean to excuse the line.

Freddy said...

Reading the comments makes me feel old. Old because I can see what you guys are talking about. None of which matters to my kids who adored this episode.
New scarier Cybermen (who had been a bit slow and boring since they were introduced) made it a winner.
Warwick Davis (born the exact same day as me, 3rd Feb 1970) being amazing, they loved him.

The horror channel is currently showing 3rd Doctor and Jo Grant stories at the moment, which I've been trying to watch with my kids. They're slow, repetitive and pretty boring. The kids don't even last through the first episode (even when there's Daleks, which you would think would grab their attention).

Times have changed, and so has Doctor Who. We're old and out of date, and the show isn't for us any more. Sorry.

Siskoid said...

While I'm glad younger viewers liked it, I don't agree that Doctor Who isn't being made for me anymore. It's made for me AND your kids, and sometimes it'll work for them better than for me, and other times it'll work for all of us.

While Pertwee was a favorte at my house for a long time, I do find them slow and padded today, and the UNIT era has lost a lot of cred with me. As has the RTD era. Meanwhile Hartnell's stories have only shot up. McCoy's too. It can't be explained by saying TV has changed. It has, but I review each era in its context.

With adult eyes, Nightmare in Silver is the weakest episode in the season. It's not better than all of the UNIT era, it's merely the Moffat era's equivalent of The Time Monster.

LiamKav said...

I think saying "we're old and out of date and the show is now writen for the next generation" is doing us, the kids and the show a huge disservice. It's primarily a family show. As much as I love huge, complicated plots, I also think it must appeal to children who want monsters and Daleks and stuff, and it's at its best when straddling the line between those two objectives.

Besides, "it's for kids" doesn't excuse the derivative nature of the story. "Chess as mind games"? Yawn. And turning the Cybermen into the Borg? Double yawn?

(On that... I know the Cybermen came first. But I'm really not sure how much Maurice Hurley and later Michael Pillar knew about the Cybermen when writing Q Who and Best of Both Worlds. Doctor Who's presence in the US was pretty small. The Borg have had a much bigger impact in popular culture, to the point where they can be namedropped in comedy panel shows with little problem. There's no way Moffat and Gaimen were unaware of the Borg as people who adapt and assimilate.)

Siskoid said...

The number of Doctor Who Easter eggs in TNG means at least some people in the production were big fans, but not necessarily the writers.

LiamKav said...

True, but Okuda dropping in the names of the Doctor's actors on a screen is a bit different. I don't believe that in the US in the late 80s/early 90s that the Cyberman were as culturally well known as the Borg are in the UK even now. (especially as the Cybermen were never really consistent in their approach. In many ways, I think that TNG took the basic idea and improved it in almost every way.)

Siskoid said...

Oh I agree, and then immediately had to start nerfing them again.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"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?"

I think he mentioned it 'jumping in,' implying it just has a really good hyperspace response time from anywhere in the galaxy to wherever it picks up the emperor's code being used.

...And for the rest, I've got nothing. Yeah, the kids are terrible. I didn't mind the soldier. Liked the Cybermites, and the Doctor's mental battle. And to me, the good points make this one at least watchable. Not great- but better than 'low.' I would trade it in for a 6th-Doc homage story (especially one set aboard an abandoned Time Lord space station or something)... but for what we got, I can at least enjoy it (certainly more than its two predecessor episodes).

And for what it's worth, I liked the Clara-Porrige connection. Yeah, I didn't buy it like I did with Jo and Peladon... but I'd be quite happy if (unlikely) her departures ends her up as Porrige's bride. It's probably more due to affection for Warrick Davis than for Porrige, but still. :-)

"Oh I agree, and then immediately had to start nerfing them again."
*SIGH* Yeah... :-(

"the UNIT era has lost a lot of cred with me. As has the RTD era. Meanwhile Hartnell's stories have only shot up. McCoy's too."
Maybe we ARE quantum-locked, Siskoid. Spooky. :-)

Siskoid said...

And yet, still diverged on this episode. ;-)

Andrew Gilbertson said...

If Time of the Angels showed us anything, it's that Quantum Locking has loopholes. :-)


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