Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver Review
One of my biggest complaints about the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who, besides the annoyingly regular deus ex machina episode endings, was that Davies ruined some of the classic Who villains. Sure, the Cybermen weren’t too badly done by but the Daleks were killed and resurrected so many times that I stopped caring about them.
And so it fell to British sci-fi writer Neil Gaiman to write the latest Cybermen episode. When handed the assignment, showrunner Steven Moffat had one simple instruction for Gaiman. His job was to make the Cybermen scary again. After watching, I’m not sure that it was mission accomplished.
The episode picks up from last week which ended with Clara being questioned about her appearances in history by the two kids she nannies. (Can I use that as a verb? Oh well. I just did.) For some reason, she gets The Doctor to bring them along on a trip through space and time to an abandoned amusement park in the future. And because this is an episode of Doctor Who, something must go wrong (it would be kinda boring if it didn’t but would make for an interesting character study like the episode of Law & Order where everyone has the day off).
In this episode, it’s the Cybermen making a return despite the fact that they were supposed to be extinct. Not only were they not extinct but they had a tomb with millions of them under the surface of the amusement park planet. Figures, right. Well, the Cybermen’s plan to take over the universe involve adding implants to people to take over their brains and make them agents of the Cybermen rather than put them through the full conversion. The purpose of that wasn’t really explained, though.
Of course, Clara’s charges were subjected to cyber conversion so The Doctor has to rescue them. Naturally, the trap is sprung and The Doctor gets a partial implantation. As he’s a timelord, he can somewhat defend his mind against the Cybermen’s influence. This gives Matt Smith an opportunity to play two characters in one body as The Doctor faced off against the Cyber Planner in his own mind. Think Gollum and Smeagol from Lord of the Rings but likely with fewer fools laughing in the theatre.
While The Doctor and the Cyber Planner played a game of chess for control of The Doctor’s mind and the fate of Cybermen, Clara was left in charge of a small platoon of human soldiers assigned to the planet for some reason or another. They were thrust into action to keep the Cybermen from escaping the planet and conquering the known universe.
The problem was that Clara’s part of the plot felt like it went nowhere. Every plan she had was foiled but it didn’t feel like any of it mattered because the plot was always going to be resolved in the chess match. At least the ending to the chess match was a good one, even if the rest of the episode around it was a bit plain and uneventful.
You know what this episode reminded me of? I kept thinking of the Doctor Who / Star Trek: The Next Generation crossover comic, Assimilation². The Cybermen really were the Borg in this one. They weren’t assimilating people to improve themselves but they were effectively adapting to whatever was thrown at them.
I guess that the unstoppable Cybermen thing would make them a bit scarier. It works well for the Borg in the Star Trek universe, pre-Abrams erasing 53 years of canon to make up for Star Trek: Nemesis. The problem is that allowing the Cybermen to adapt so quickly makes the whole episode less scary and more of an action episode. Yeah, the new Cybermen are tough but the old slow, nearly unstoppable Cybermen who actually had some weaknesses were scarier.
Next week is the season finale of Doctor Who. As you’d expect, it’s written by Steven Moffat and called “The Name of The Doctor.” It looks as though everyone will be there as the teaser for next week’s episode includes appearances by Vastra, Jenny and Strax. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that these three are fairly popular. River Song will also be back for the first time since the mid-season finale. We even get a new alien for our trouble this time and one would assume big scary things from them as they’re getting introduced in a finale.