Episode 7.12 Writer: Neil Gaiman Director: Stephen Woolfenden
THE ONE WHERE The Doctor fights against being turned into a “Cyberplanner”, on a theme park world where three million Cybermen are awaking.
VERDICT If there’s one episode pretty much every Who fan was looking forward to more than most this year, given the brilliance of 2011′s “The Doctor’s Wife”, it was Neil Gaiman’s second script for the series. Sadly, “Nightmare In Silver” seems unlikely to hoover up awards the way its predecessor did. It’s rarely anything less than entertaining. But when it comes to fulfilling the brief Gaiman was handed – making the Cybermen scary again – it’s only a partial success. This particular “Nightmare” might give some under-tens a troubled sleep, but is unlikely to send a chill down the spine of anyone older.
Like 2005’s “Dalek” and this year’s “Cold War”, the episode does its best to refresh a familiar Doctor Who monster, and most of the tweaks are a triumph – even though, for cine-literate viewers, there’s something faintly familiar about many of Gaiman’s gimmicks. The Cybermen can now turn their heads around 180 degrees (shades of The Exorcist’s possessed Regan). They also have detachable hands, which can scurry off like metallic spiders (echoes of classic horror The Beast With Five Fingers – or, indeed, Who’s own “The Hand Of Fear”). Both these new functions come as delightful surprises. Their unnerving blank-mask faces, streamlined armour, croaky voices, and eerily polite catchphrase (there’s something of the ghastly, infuriating horror of automated phone systems about “Please stand by, you will be upgraded”) are all welcome improvements. The squirming “Cybermites” are a clever spin on the Cybermats, and the slow-mo sequence where a Cyberman dashes across a room to abduct a child is a thrilling moment. Mind you, you are left wondering why, when they can move like Billy Whizz, the Cybermen still spend most of their time loudly stomping around. Judging by that scene, a single Cyberman could take out every human in the room in seconds, snapping their necks before they even know they’re under attack.
Sadly, much of the remainder of this reinvention ends up feeling rather old hat – at least, for anyone with even the vaguest knowledge of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Cybermen now have a hive mind. They have the ability to adapt to any weapon used against them. They’re reliant on a humanoid controller pulling their strings (which rather diminishes them). And the phrase “incorporated into the Cyberiad” is not a million miles from “assimilated into the Collective”. Yep, what Neil Gaiman has basically done is turn the Cybermen into the Borg. Admittedly, that’s unlikely to concern any ten-year-olds, but it’s a little disappointing for viewers of a more mature vintage. Who fans have always been able to crow to Trekkers that when it came to cybernetic villains, their show got there first. Now it looks like the series is copying some Johnny-Come-Latelys from the ‘80s.
Then there’s the idea that Cybermen use human children as controllers, because of their vivid imaginations. That recalls 1988 Who “Remembrance Of The Daleks”, in which a ‘60s schoolgirl functions as the Battle Computer for a Dalek faction. To be fair, if Gaiman is stealing, he’s stealing from the best – the Borg are brilliant, and so was Ben Aaronovitch’s Sylvester McCoy story. But we didn’t expect one of Britain’s most famed fantasy writers to come up with anything that felt other than utterly original.
It’s also rather a shame that having established the disquieting notion of Cybermen as child-snatchers, Gaiman quickly parks the idea in favour of having them to try to take over a Time Lord. It doesn’t help that Matt Smith’s depiction of the ensuing mental battle is so cartoonish. Smith is a brilliant actor, but this is perhaps the first time where there are grounds to question his choices. All those parallels with The Next Generation inevitably brings Patrick Stewart’s borgified Picard, Locutus, to mind, and the comparison is not a flattering one. Seeing our hero struggle to maintain his identity could have been genuinely disturbing. Instead, as Matt Smith spins around carrying out a conversation with himself, like a cabaret performer dressed as a half woman/half man, it’s all rather silly.
Add some rather tacky sets (true, they’re deliberately tacky – this is a theme park), a rather broad strokes approach to the supporting characters (the “punishment platoon”, with its fat bloke and speccy ginger, is not exactly subtly drawn) and an all-too-easy ending (if only the Doctor could simply beam up to a spaceship every week) and you have a story that feels unusually like children’s television – despite the fact that Clara’s kids are quickly sidelined, and given surprisingly little to do. There’s nothing wrong with kids’ TV – here at SFX Towers, we’re huge fans of The Sarah Jane Adventures. And this episode has its moments when it’s a blast (particularly when Cybermen are getting their heads blown clean off!) But a quirky, madcap romp wasn’t really what we were expecting from an episode hyped as the one that would make Doctor Who’s second-ranking monsters truly terrifying, and whose title suggested that something nightmarish was in store.
IT’S WOSSISNAME! Jason Watkins (Webley) was vampire leader Herrick in Being Human, Tamzin Outhwaite (Captain Joseph) spent four years as Mel (the wife of Martin Kemp’s character) in EastEnders, and Will Merrick (the speccy “Brains”) played farm boy Alo in the final two series of Skins.
DID YOU SPOT? On display in Webley’s wax museum are one of the creepy ventriloquist’s dummies from “The God Complex” and a Blowfish from Torchwood.
DAFTEST MOMENT When a concerned Clara asks the Doctor what’s happened to the kids… when they’re clearly standing about five yards behind him! Does travelling in the TARDIS damage your eyesight?
LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION Dedicated fans will probably recognise a couple of locations straight away. Natty Longshoe’s Castle is Castell Coch, previously the German UNIT base visited by Martha in “Journey’s End” and the Calvierri school in “The Vampires Of Venice”. And the interior of the Emperor’s spaceship is Cardiff’s Temple Of Peace, first used in “The End Of The World” as Platform One, last seen as a restaurant in “Let’s Kill Hitler”, and here making its sixth very conspicuous appearance in the series. It might be time to retire that location.
BEST LINES Clara: “Do you think I’m pretty?”
The Doctor: “No. You’re too short and bossy and your nose is all funny.”