Sunday, 29 November 2009

Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis

Part One

“…And I have found his secret out.”

Ooh, captions! Stock footage of the Amazon rainforest! A parrot! Nazis! Ride of the Valkyries! A lot of things are being thrown at us thick and fast. And then we switch to 1638 and Lady Peinforte. Both groups of people in both time zones include someone carrying a bow and arrow.

Eventually things slow down a bit and we’re allowed a bit of exposition. Apparently Nemesis is a comet which, in spite of the fact that its orbit is decreasing, continues to orbit the Earth every 25 years exactly. Er, what?

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Ace are outside watching Courtney Pine. The Doctor’s alarm goes off, but he’s forgotten what it means. Er, what? They return to the TARDIS to find out, and are shot at by some half-Cybernised blokes, to the accompaniment of incidental music which is quite the worst to have been heard on the show so far.

So, the Doctor has made Ace a new tape deck using fantastically advanced technology, which seems an absurd thing to do twenty years later. What next? A digital abacus?

We flit quickly from scene to scene, making the narrative very disjointed. It’s not that this makes the story hard to follow (it’s not really that complicated) or that the plot as a whole doesn’t really make sense (it does, more or less, although lots of little things don’t). It’s the characters’ motivations that don’t make any sense- Lady Peinforte and the Nazis are just behaving as the plot requires them to because that’s their role, with no thought given to motivation or characterisation beyond that. And it’s noticeable that the writer can’t seem to manage much beyond plot mechanics; there’s no successful humour in this story, or development of themes, or meaningful character moments.

Peinforte knows the Doctor, and his “secret”, because the statue told her in 1638, and she also knows how to use a “potion” to travel forwards in time. Both Peinforte and the Nazis are converging on the statue, which has now fallen to Earth just outside Windsor.

The Doctor and Ace are caught trespassing in Windsor Castle- and I can clearly recall that when originally broadcast there was absolutely no explanation of how they escaped before next being seen by the statue. For the video release which I watched these “deleted scenes” have been slipped back in. But the fact that this story was originally edited so as to make the basic plot impossible to follow is simply appalling, and arguably render the episode as originally broadcast unsuitable for transmission.

And then the Cybermen arrive…

Part Two

“The bear will not pursue us. Such things happen only in the theatre.”

Peinforte kills a Cybermen with a gold-tipped arrow. We’ll be seeing a lot more of this sort of thing. Meanwhile people shoot at each other for what seems like an awfully long time. It’s also suddenly noticeable that De Flores seems to be driving a Ford Granada just like the one in Ashes to Ashes. If only it were brown…

The Doctor and Ace pop back to 1638 for no particular reason, something they’ll keep on doing throughout the story. The Doctor plays a bit of chess. You know, I reckon there might be some kind of very, very subtle metaphor going on here.

The scenes with the skinheads are appalling, and are the prime example of the awkwardness of the dialogue in this story. But I like the scene where Richard sees his own grave, although it would have been nice to have dwelt on the timey-wimey paradox-y side of this a bit more.

Although this story often seems to get criticised for its treatment of the Cybermen, it actually gets a lot of things right, with its stress on Cybernisation and cold logic. Unfortunately, though, their vulnerability to gold simply becomes absurd here, utterly diluting any sense of threat.

Unfortunately the Doctor’s silly speech about historical events which happen as the comet passes by every 25 years is impossible to take seriously. And De Flores constant banging on about Wagner is starting to get on my wick too.

I like that shot of the lizard in the tree just before the cliffhanger. It would be nice to think it was filmed on the day rather than being a bit of boring old stock footage.

Part Three

All things will soon be mine.”

Ace refuses to go back to the TARDIS, in spite of the fact she’s “really, really scared”, basically out of bravado. This could have been a good character moment but somehow fails to quite get there in spite of some superlative acting from both regulars. That sums up this script in a nutshell.

Sylvester and Sophie are also fantastic in the scene where they dodge several Cybermen to manoeuvre the bow into the statue’s hands, although the whole thing doesn’t quite come off as plausible.

Unfortunately we get a couple of arse-clenchingly awful things in this episode; the stereotypical American tourist character seems to be written without any hint of self-awareness. And while there’s a certain coolness to the Dirty Harry moment, Ace’s firing gold at Cybermen with her catapults pretty much causes them to leap headlong over a certain predatory fish of the genus Carcharhinus. No wonder we’ll never see the Cybermen of “our” universe ever again.

It’s a shame that the generally laudable attempt to reintroduce mystery to the Doctor should focus so heavily on this story rather than on one where it would have been better handled. As far as the general direction of the show is concerned, though, it’s an exciting move, although of course a lot depends on where this is going. But it’s exciting to hear of the “Old Time” and the “Time of Chaos”.

It’s an odd one, this. The plot actually works well enough, and the similarities to Remembrance of the Daleks are general enough to not be a problem. But plot’s all there is- there’s no real sense of characterisation, humour or mood. 2/5.

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