Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver

“I hate the future. It’s stupid”.

Right. Let’s get the cards on the table at the start. Neil Gaiman is god, and this is the best episode since, well, The Doctor’s Wife My expectations were huge, but I was not disappointed.

Ok, there were a couple of minor niggles with the production, not least of which was a bit of dodgy CGI. But the script was faultless. We will come to the Cybermen shortly, as this is the best Cyberman story ever, but there are so many other things to love about this story. It simply overruns with ideas and imagination and reminds me of the splendid DWM comic strips of 1980’s, which, considering Gaiman’s background, is appropriate. I also love the fact that, years after The Girl in the Fireplace, Doctor Who finally gets what must be an allusion to the Mechanical Turk, as we first see a Cyberman playing chess and then discover that Porridge (Warwick Davis) is inside.

This episode reeks wonderfully of a wider world, or should I say universe, ruled by an emperor and replete with little cultural trappings of the Roman Empire at its classical height. Also genius is the very concept of an abandoned amusement park in the dark. But this is recognisably Doctor Who: Neil Gaiman is enough of a fanboy to use the word “transmat” for teleporter and, well, he knows his Troughton.

Quite sensibly, in giving us the greatest Cyberman story ever, Gaiman refers to all the best Cybermen stories, all of which were Troughton stories. We see Cybermen emerging from their tombs and even a mock-up of a base on the moon. These new Cybermen look epic, with their blankly emotionless faces returning to the simplicity of the Wheel in Space design. These are genuinely scary Cybermen, who can instantly upgrade to overcome any difficulty. Massed CGI ranks of Cybermen may not look convincing, but individually these Cybermen are the best. I suspect, too, that these are the first real Cybermen we have seen since Silver Nemesis in 1988, proper Cybermen from our world and not that alternate reality that RTD gave us. Cybermats are upgraded to Cybermites, for the first time since The invasion we have a Cyberplanner, and there may even be a reference to Big Finish audio drama Spare Parts in the scenes where the Cyberman attempts to convert the Doctor.

Gaiman makes a number of wise decisions. In the partly Cybernised Webley, he gives the Cybermen a spokesman who is not actually boring to listen to. The scenes with the conflicted Doctor are superb, and allow Matt Smith to play a baddie. I feel I owe him an apology: I just don’t praise his superlative acting often enough. I also love the use of chess as a metaphor for the fight over the Doctor’s brain, and the way that this plays out throughout the episode. I’m reminded of The Seventh Seal.

So, basically, this is great, and Neil Gaiman should be forced to write as much Doctor Who as possible. There is also arc stuff going on, mind you. Angie and Artie, whom Clara is looking after, get their first and, I suspect, not last outing in the TARDIS. And it is established that the Doctor drops Clara off after each adventure and picks her up on Wednesdays. Under Moffat, being the Doctor’s companion is still a part time job. See you next week for the season finale.

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