Ah, the Cybermen. The metal monsters were one of the most popular villains of the classic series – but despite appearing on several occasions, the Cybermen have never really struck, ahem, gold yet, with their appearances ranging from the decent (Rise of the Cybermen) to the awful (Closing Time). The scariest the Cybermen have ever been in New Who was a solitary arm in The Pandorica Opens – but can tonight’s episode, Nightmare in Silver, finally make the Cybermen scary again?
Nightmare in Silver is penned by one-time writer, Neil Gaiman. That ‘one time’ just happened to be The Doctor’s Wife, one of the greatest episodes the revived show has produced. Couple that with the promise of redesigned and scary Cybermen, and you’ve got some sky-high expectations for the episode. Did it deliver? Well, Nightmare in Silver is no The Doctor’s Wife – I don’t think we’ll be seeing an episode quite as good as that for a while yet – but Nightmare in Silver still manages to be one hell of an episode… in places.
Nightmare in Silver begins with the Doctor, Clara and the two kids that popped up at the end of The Crimson Horror arriving on Hedgewick’s World of Wonders, the biggest theme park in the galaxy… or ex-biggest theme park in the galaxy. Now, it’s only home to a dysfunctional army platoon, Warwick Davis (or er… Porridge) and a discount Willy Wonka. Oh, and an empty Cyberman, who’s tied to a chair and forced to play chess for an eternity. It’s a very Neil Gaiman set-up, and while the kids do grate just as much as they did last week’s episode, it’s still an admirably intriguing way to start an episode.
But this is Doctor Who – so soon, creepy robot insects called Cybermites are everywhere, and Angie (otherwise known as the More Annoying One) has wandered off to the platoon’s barracks. But when the Doctor and Clara show up to find Angie, they’re greeted with a rather nasty surprise: an upgraded Cyberman, who can upgrade itself to protect itself from, well… anything, move like lightning and proves to be a rather large pain in the neck. Also, it takes Angie, which is more of a mercy than anything else Good on you, Cybermen – you’re the real hero of the episode… sort of.
And when the Doctor heads off after the Cybermen, he finds discount Willy Wonka (OK, fine, I’ll call him Webley if you insist) and the two kids newly Cyber-ified… and the Doctor’s next on the list. Stuck with a Cyber-device taped to his head, his brain becomes a battle between the normal Doctor and the Cyber Leader. The scenes here are excellent, with Matt Smith’s performance anchoring what could have been more than a little ludicrous in less capable hands. And for fans of the classic series, there’s some nice shots of all eleven Doctors. Sure, it was a little unnecessary for the plot to continue. but it’s always nice to see the past Doctors make appearance in Doctor Who.
But back to Clara, who’s been given orders by the Doctor to fend off the Cybermen and not to blow up the planet – and that’s easier said than done when there’s an army captain with a doomsday device and an itchy trigger finger, waiting to press the button at the first sign of trouble. But sadly for her, she’s gunned down by the Cyberman. And if that sentence sounded a little flat to you… well, that essentially sums up that moment. Tamzin Outhwaite is rather good as the captain, and it’s a pity to see the character swept away with no repercussions or impact whatsoever. Still, it lets Jenna-Louise Coleman’s increasingly confident performance take a good share of the limelight, and that’s always a good thing.
Matt Smith has always been excellent as the Eleventh Doctor – after forty-two episodes, Smith still continues to flourish every episode he’s in. But he’s always best when given material that genuinely breaks new ground – and that’s exactly what happens here. The chess game between the Cyber Leader and the Doctor is an excellent idea – and while sometimes Smith’s performance as the Cyber Leader verges on the pantomime, he’s still mesmerizing in long scenes where he’s effectively talking to himself. There have been rumours that he’ll exit in this year’s Christmas Special – and if the rumours are true, I for one will be sad to see him go.
I’ve written most of this review without mentioning the Cybermen… but that isn’t because they’re used badly. They’re actually used excellently – while they’re still not particularly scary, every new feature Gaiman adds to the Cybermen – spinning heads, detachable parts, super speed, upgrading, works in the favour of the Cybermen. They’re used surprisingly sparingly as an army, but the marching army of the Cybermen is an image that might just send a few chills down the spines of some viewers. Considering their previous appearance saw them getting defeated by love, it’s an enormous step up for the Cybermen, who can finally go toe-to-toe with the Daleks and Weeping Angels in terms of success.
Warwick Davis is yet another of a long list big names to star in Doctor Who – and his subtle, understated performance was a highlight of an episode that somewhat wasted the rest of its guest stars. Davis had been turning to some slightly more comedic roles recently, but his performance here shows that he’s more than accomplished in terms of dramatic performances. Porridge probably won’t be back for another- but I can still hope that the Doctor and Porridge will cross paths again.
However, there’s a big problem with Nightmare in Silver: focus. The Cybermen are used brilliantly and the Doctor’s internal battle is cleverly portrayed, but the episode soon loses sight of some of its characters. Jason Watkins barely appears after fifteen minutes, Tamzin Outhwaite is completely wasted and the rest of the characters (aside from Porridge) aren’t hugely interesting. The Doctor’s Wife proved that you can mix character development with action and a great dollop of emotion for a cracking episode – Nightmare in Silver, on the other hand, fails to resonate too much on the emotion front, and comes off somewhat cold as a result.
To wrap up the review: Nightmare in Silver is a very entertaining episode that brings back the Cybermen in style and features a cracking performance from Matt Smith. It’s just a pity that, Warwick Davis aside, guest character development and a sense of emotion were sacrificed as a result – and were those kids really needed? I give Nightmare in Silver a score of:
What’s the Doctor’s greatest secret? Why is Clara the Impossible Girl? What happened to the Great Intelligence? Who are the Whisper Men? Why is River Song back from the Library? Why is Doctor Simeon alive? Will the Doctor’s name really be revealed? So many questions, and so little time. Tune in next Saturday, where’ll I’ll be answering all of those questions and more in my review of the series finale, The Name of the Doctor. Don’t miss it, folks.