Last year, fan favorite genre writer Neil Gaiman brought the TARDIS to life in the episode “The Doctor’s Wife.” Now Gaiman not only breathes new life into classic “Doctor Who” villains/monsters the Cybermen, but he also introduces The Doctor himself as a new Who foe. It’s Matt Smith vs. Matt Smith! Check out my spoiler-filled review of “Nightmare in Silver” after the jump…
The Kids Are All Right?
Caught red handed and blackmailed by her charges, this Doctor Who adventure features children. It’s been a long time since we’ve had that, and I don’t really think that young Amy, Ace, Adric, (what’s with all the A names?) or Nyssa count. The show began with a child, and was done for children for years. So why not? I just wouldn’t want it to become a kid-aimed “Sarah Jane Adventures” or “K-9” is all.
What it does do is add a new, if a bit clichéd, level to the tension and danger. It’s one thing if a companion is in danger, but child danger is a whole other thing, perhaps amping the danger up a few levels. Still, they’re glorified companions, and let’s be honest, lately, there have been much better candidates for potential companions.
However, there are a few things about the kids worth mentioning, other than them being plot device fodder. We’re not really introduced to the kids, at least by name, in this episode. I think their names are Angie and Artie. It’s okay though, they don’t really have all that much to do in the episode anyway, even though the boy mentions being in his school chess club, possessing skills that might also be helpful in this situation.
Finally there’s the thing that Clara is just simply the worst nanny on Earth (and in time and space as well). The kids, when they are not just outright manipulating her, wander off unsupervised. Where’s Clara? I mean, anything could happen. Cybermites could infect and take them over… doh!
To amuse the children I suppose, The Doctor brings his three guests to Hedgewick, an unfortunately abandoned amusement planet. The TARDIS does as it usually does, and drops The Doctor down in places and times when he’s needed. I hope that maybe we get to come back at some point when Hedgewick is open.
A squatter takes The Doctor and kids on a tour of a wax museum of horrors, like in an old fashioned carnival. One of the exhibits is a Cyberman who plays chess, sort of like the old chicken who plays chess trick. Fun bit that.
We’re introduced to Porridge, played by Warwick Davis. He’s quite good here, and I’m glad of it. As much as I laughed hard at him in Ricky Gervais’ “Life’s Too Short,” I was happy to see him in a more serious role. The man is a good actor, and it’s nice to see him show it without resorting to extreme make-up, a bear outfit, or a little person joke.
Neil Gaiman’s stated goal in writing “Nightmare in Silver” was that he wanted to make the Cybermen scary again. I think he’s done it. He’s taken what was once thought the lumbering metal version of a mummy, and made it fast. Think about it, a fast Cyberman is the equivalent of a flying Dalek. Many folks don’t remember, but back in the old days, the way to outsmart a Dalek used to be just take to the stairs.
I remember years ago in college, at a particularly boring party, watching “Doctor Who” with a couple friends. We were watching “Remembrance of the Daleks” for the first time, and when the Dalek levitated and took to the stairs, we were stunned, expletives flew, and soon everyone in the room was watching “Who,” stunned by the sight of the flying Dalek. That was the kind of moment we had tonight when the Cyberman raced across the room.
The Cybermen have also become modular. Heads spin completely around, come off, and hands detach and attack on their own. Scary stuff, Neil. The spark in the mouth hole when they speak is a nice touch. I always kinda liked the version during “Earth-Shock” where a semi-transparent piece allowed viewers to see the actor speak, but this is good too. I was very impressed with the new Cybermen, all through the simple concept of evolution.
The Doctor gets the bug, specifically a Cybermite gets in his system, and a half-Cyberman, half-Doctor creature is created, each controlling half of his brain. Think Two-Face after an encounter with the Borg. The compromised side of our hero, calling himself alternately the Cyberplanner and Mr. Clever, is a nasty piece of work, and by utilizing a unique camera swing and Matt Smith’s own Jim Carrey-like gestures, both personalities talk to each other convincingly.
And then there’re the scenes inside The Doctor’s head. The scenes inside the doctors head are brilliant, and Smith struts his stuff, acting against/with himself. The mental duel between The Doctor and the Cyberplanner is brilliance. And Smith makes it happen. Gaiman is very very good here, and he’s made chess just as cool as bow ties and fezzes. The Time Lords invented chess, really?
Ah, but there’s my praise for Neil Gaiman. I loved the bits inside The Doctor’s head, the upgrade on the old foes, and a nice part for Warwick Davis, but over and above that… I don’t think this was Gaiman’s best work. Granted, and don’t get me wrong, Gaiman’s worst is still better than 90% of everyone else’s best, but … I guess I just expected more. If I’m being honest, Mark Gatiss is the writing star this season so far. More Gaiman, but let me see more of Gatiss definitely.
Moving the overarching plot along, we get some more hints about Clara the impossible girl, but nothing we really don’t already know. It may be Clara remembers more than she should, or can, and it may also be that The Doctor knows more than he’s letting on as well. Either way, next week should have all the answers. Speak of the devil…
Next week it’s time for the season finale – the return of Strax, Madame Vastra and Jenny, the return of the Great Intelligence, the return of River Song, and the greatest secret of all – “The Name of the Doctor.”
And just to tease you even more, here’s the special web prequel to next week’s episode, “She Said, He Said”…
See you next week!