[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 7 Episode 13, "Nightmare In Silver"


Neil Gaiman certainly didn't do himself any favours with The Doctor's Wife. Any writer, coming to realise they've just written something that cannot be outdone, cannot be improved upon, cannot be exceeded, would face the challenge that Gaiman faced with Nightmare in Silver: try to do better, and inevitably fail; or don't try, go entirely in the other direction, do something completely different and hope, like everything else a writer does, that it works out.

The results are... well, I wish I had better news. The upshot is, as you might expect form Neil Gaiman, the episode is better then most of the rest of the ones we've been given this series. The down side is, it doesn't entirely succeed in doing what it needs to be, namely and exclusively being an exciting episode of television.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that often play chess by themselves near unconscious children.

There is a sharp dichotomy within the structure of this episode. As I watched it (and full disclosure, I was exhausted after a weekend of comic conning when I did), for everything that worked, it was matched by a misstep. And there were a lot of ideas in this episode that I loved. I just feel like they were better as ideas then as executions, where they didn't live up to the promise of the ideas.

Firstly, the Cybermen. Credit to Gaiman, he found a way to bring perhaps the most stagnant of the Doctor's enemies to a place where they are menacing again, for the first time since the Invasion, or Tomb of the Cybermen. And for at least mentioning the Cyber War, the one plot element I've felt has the greatest potential of any the series has introduced, and done nothing with. Considering that the Cyber's operational directive has always been improvement and progress (and considering their origin is based on desperate survival), it never made any sense to me that they remained exactly the same for decades.

In the early days, as the costumes improved, it made significantly more sense to me then a standard appearance. The Cybermen wouldn't remain the same, they'd be upgrading their operating systems, streamlining and making themselves more effective. There would be no fat Cybermen. So that they move on the Cybermen 2.0 in this episode, with a slicker design (incorporating certain Iron Man elements) and a looming threat of increasing effectiveness was a grand move, and one I would hope the show continues with (but they won't) in future appearances. Even within the episode, they introduced upgrades, like the ridiculous speed force effect, which are never used again, despite that one seeming like it would have made the most tactical sense.

I liked the set up for the episode, a creepy, disused former amusement park harbouring great misery, and they used that a bit, in the form of the castle ("but funny"), but failed to utilised the full potential of the setting. A comedic horror (a genre Gaiman knows well), featuring the Doctor, Clara and those two useless children getting lost in a condemned fair grounds might have had more scare potential then what we got. Because, as has been so often the case this series, the episode became bogged down by the weight of the number of different stories it wanted to tell, or things it wanted to be. It was a quirky comedy, then it was an action adventure, the it was a psychological thriller, then a horror movie, then a sci-fi epic. As I've been screaming at my screen all year, focus dammit!

The faults were as obvious as the successes, and sadly the greatest of them was Matt Smith. His battle for his brain lacked any tension at all, because he is the Doctor and we know he's going to think himself out of the problem. But Smith's duel performance was his weakest this series, with the Cyber Planner just an excuse for him to ham it up for the camera. Why cast the brilliantly antagonistic Jason Watkins, half convert him, and not have him play the Cyber Planner? By making the threat an exterior force, there is at least the illusion that he might succeed. As it happens, Watkins is a waste of a fine actors in a thankless role with a few good lines off the top. He could have been so much more, and his gradual and continuous conversion could have mirrored the Cybermen's increasing strength within the tombs.

Which, mentioning the tombs, from the final shots, the planet looked quiet sizable. And perhaps it speaks to the desperation the empire gives to exterminating the Cybermen, but I feel like it would have played better if the episode had taken place on an asteroid, or small moon. The theme park covering the entire surface, and below, under neath, the planet itself is being converted into a Cyber Factory. A literal Cyber Planet, making the opening of the flood gates all the more terrifying when they discover there is no where for them to run to, and all the more important for them to destroy it in the end.

Warwick Davies was laudable, as if he would have been anything any different. Porridge was a fun role, filled with regret and turmoil and everything you want form a rounded guest role. He saw growth and acceptance and came through in the end. It was, however, an ending that was rushed and felt very much like "oh, we need to wrap things up now." His reveal as being the Emperor didn't feel true, in an odd way. I felt it was building to something, though considering that the rest of the red shirts were all a disgraced military platoon, I was figuring him to be a former military commander having deserted (which, I suppose, he was). But his being the Emperor felt less real then if they had said he was a general or admiral or something like that. Emperor felt like it was just a means to the deus ex machina, to make certain everyone needed living did so.

Like so many epsiodes this series, Nightmare in Silver felt like it was half cooked. And that if it had been left in the oven just a little while longer, it would have been something delicious. As it stands, it is a good snack, but hardly a meal all on it's own.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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