2nd Opinion: Nightmare in Silver
John Hussey and Adam James Cuthbert each give their own verdict on Neil Gaiman’s latest episode.
Neil Gaiman returned to pen another story for Doctor Who and had to face the trial of bringing back the deadly Cybermen in a brand new way. The question is; did he deliver?
Let’s start off with Clara. Unlike last week, ‘Nightmare in Silver’ gave Coleman tons of stuff for her character to play with and even allowed her to take charge of the situation. She knew what she had to do; lead the punished soldiers into battle and prevent them from carrying out the final sanction of blowing up the planet. Also the interesting part was when she declared she didn’t fully believe that the Doctor could save Angie and Artie and yet still followed his instructions because she had to. That to me showed her trust in the mysterious wondering Time Lord. We also see that she stayed strong even though Angie and Artie, the children who were only there because of her and the children she swore to look after, were captured by the Cybermen. She could’ve kicked and screamed, blamed the Doctor for his mistakes but she didn’t which to me made her a better character. By doing as she was told and believing in the Time Lord, she managed to help save the day without getting emotionally frustrated or worried. Also she once again came across the secrets of her identity, only this time it wasn’t erased afterwards. Although we are no closer to seeing who or what she is, it was interesting seeing Clara herself being confronted by the mystery as the Cyber-Planner played with the information held within the Doctor’s mind.
The Doctor was faced with a deadly scenario this week and had to essentially battle against his own mind. It really gave Matt Smith plenty of time to shine as he not only played himself, but also the Cyber-Planner. With the next story being all about the revealing of the Doctor’s secrets and name, it was good to see the penultimate episode use that to its advantage and tease. The entire story was about the Cyber-Planner trying to control the Doctor’s brain and the information inside. The Doctor, for obvious reasons, prevented this. Not only to stop the Cybermen from gaining incredible power, but to also keep his secrets a secret. It was an interesting battle to see because it meant the Doctor was on the sidelines while his companion fought the battles elsewhere but at the same time the Doctor was fighting his own main battle. By constantly switching in-between character, it left you truly thinking and questioning over who was in control. Also when the Cyber-Planner was in control, we saw the Doctor’s mind used against him, almost like with the Dream Lord in ‘Amy’s Choice’, and to me this was the most intriguing part of the story; the game of chest between the two brains.
If Gaiman’s good at one thing, it’s certainly creating a new wacky and creepy world. Hedgewick’s World of Wonders was the perfect setting for the story and really gave the story more danger due to converting what was supposed to be a family friendly environment into a battlefield of horror and terror. The characters created within the story were good and allowed the story to flow nicely. Porridge was certainly the best out of the guest characters, played perfectly by Warwick Davis. He certainly had the most depth, along with the surprise revealing that he was in fact the Emperor.
The only downside when it came to characters was Angie and Artie who brought very little to nothing to the plot. After the cliffhanger at the end of ‘The Crimson Horror’, I expected their involvement in ‘Nightmare in Silver’ would be meaningful, there to identify the dangers the Doctor’s life possesses. As it turned out, this wasn’t emphasised enough. In my eyes the story wasn’t dark enough to showcase the reasoning behind their involvement. It would’ve been more interesting to see the children get into real danger, maybe even been half or nearly fully converted to showcase the Doctor’s life is dangerous and by bringing children along can have severe consequences. But alas, this didn’t happen and their characters were wasted. Not only that they were written to be very annoying, unlovable characters – especially when it came to Angie who portrayed a typical teenage girl – rebellious, bad mouthed and ungrateful to everything around her. As harsh as this sounds, I would’ve preferred her being converted as it would’ve done Clara a favour. Hopefully if she is to return in the future, Moffat best decide to give her a major character development and make her mature instead of being a snotty, bad mouthed teenager.
Through character and setting, the story certainly reached full marks in my book, but sadly for what it was meant to be, i.e. a Cybermen story, it didn’t reach my expectation nor really do anything to progress the Cybermen. We were promised that the Cybermen would become better, faster, sleeker and above all silent. Some of this, yes, we got. Indeed they were faster, sleeker and completely and utterly better in design – a complete improvement from their stomping robotic form in previous New Who stories – but they weren’t quiet. They still stomped around like a herd of stampeding elephants. So in reality, the Cybermen aren’t much better off. The stomping doesn’t make them scary and all it does in my eyes is gives their position away and gives you a chance to run away in the opposite direction.
I will admit the new features added to their new form were fantastic. The detachable limbs and rotating head certainly gave them new abilities that were more threatening, allowing them to stalk their prey in new ways. Unfortunately their stomping feet made these elements seem like a waste of time. I have to admit that their new voices aren’t too great either. I would’ve preferred ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ style. I was expecting the Cybermen and their new design to be silent stalkers upon their prey, creeping in and out of the shadows and giving the Cybermen a creepier feel to them, delivering chills and scares like they did in the 60s. Sadly this didn’t happen. The only time I jumped was when the Cyberman moved and grabbed Webley’s hand. After that, the scare of their presence quickly died out. The Cyber-Planner in my eyes was the highlight of the Cybermen part of the plot, and that was solely on the account of Smith’s brilliant acting skills. This is a scary thought really and doesn’t show much for the Cybermen. In my eyes they received no characteristics within the plot and were just stomping monsters, killing without purpose. Their lack of speech reinforced this. Plus it was sad that the Doctor never had a proper interaction or confrontation with the Cybermen. The biggest problem of all was the amount of time they were actually onscreen. Two words: not enough. This penultimate story basically did the same as the last one, i.e. ‘Closing Time’, delivered a brilliant story, filled with brilliant character development and progression of the story-arcs but failed to deliver in its promises as a Cybermen story. I will happily admit ‘Nightmare in Silver’ was way better than ‘Closing Time’ but it still could’ve been a lot better as a Cybermen story.
So, did Neil Gaiman deliver? The answer is no. Although the Cybermen were made to look impressive again and showcase a sense of threat, they still retained being no more than stomping robots without purpose or characteristics, thereby being no closer to their former glory. Overall ‘Nightmare in Silver’ wasted a perfectly good opportunity to bring the Cybermen back into the light and make them a good enemy again. Stomping: bad. Voice: bad. But hopefully these things can be rectified on future adventures.
I now look forward with excitement to the Series 7 finale and prepare myself for the shocks and twists that it has in-store.
For those of you familiar with my article on The Doctor’s Wife, it’s clear that I, personally, admire Neil Gaiman as a writer. Nightmare in Silver justifies The Doctor’s Wife wasn’t a one-off fluke, as Gaiman continues to impress in its talent and adroitness for writing for Doctor Who. In short, Silver is an ingenious update of the Cybermen, successfully returning them to form after the debacle of Closing Time. The Cybermen are at their acme where their design aligns closer to their creator, Kit Pedler’s original vision: a world where the human being has been drastically dehumanised; submerged in technological innovations.
Gaiman depicts the Cybermen as a formidable militant force: virtually undefeatable, they’re capable of automatically updating their design to counter any flaws and foibles (just as human technology constantly improves). These Cybermen are an intergalactic legion, with a multitude of new abilities, a product of Gaiman’s ingenuity and foresight, as the Cybermen now have alternative selling-points for future writers to consider.
Gaiman ostensibly draws inspiration from Ben Aaronovitch’s Remembrance of the Daleks: children being converted into Cyber-Planners is similar to the Dalek Battle Computer, which utilised the imagination of a young girl. It makes perfect sense. As beings of rationality and logic, the Cybermen do not possess imagination. Conversely, children, with their infinite cognitive potential – of unfathomable value to the Cyberiad – think imaginatively and spontaneously. It’s the inability to think ‘outside the box’ (as it thinks only along rules and logic governing the game of chess, and it cannot anticipate the outcome of the Doctor’s three moves to checkmate) that leads to the Cyber-Planner, Mr Clever’s downfall, in a stroke of brilliance.
Of the characters, while the Doctor contests with the Devil himself in the twisted Mr Clever, resulting in an entertaining performance from Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman is not to be overshadowed. Clara is confident and quietly self-assured about assuming the position of commanding officer over the Captain. She’s learnt from her experiences with the Doctor to be moderately genre-savvy: if someone abruptly doesn’t respond over their communicator, they’re dead, and the enemy is advancing. Clara remains intelligent and watchable, and it’s interesting to see a companion take intervals from time-travel to attend to their career responsibilities; testament that Clara’s maternal concern for the children is a priority in her life.
[You can read Adam’s full verdict here.]