Aired 11 May 2013
After giving the TARDIS a voice in the critically-adored ‘The Doctor’s Wife,’ Neil Gaiman returns to Doctor Who with a script attempting to do something even more daunting in making the Cybermen scary again. After a singular appendage proved so horrifically effective in ‘The Pandorica Opens,’ an entire Cybermen legion was casually defeated in ‘A Good Man Goes to War’ and another group turned into a weak shadow of their former potential in ‘ Closing Time;’ ‘Nightmare in Silver’ looks to rectify that situation and elevate the Cybermen back into their proper position among the best of the Doctor’s foes.
Gaiman, as proven from his entire body of work, has no qualms about delving head-first into more fantastic science fiction concepts, and so having the Doctor and Clara take the two children in her charge- Eve de Leon Allen’s Angie and Kassius Carey Johnson’s Artie- to the futuristic amusement park Hedgewick’s World of Wonders works wonderfully. Malfunctioning amusement park attractions have certainly provided tension and scares before, and ‘Nightmare in Silver’ proves to be no different.
Wisely discarding the alternate universe Cybermen of the Tennant years, Gaiman instead focuses on the original brand from the classic series without covering the entire history of Mondas, Telos, and beyond. At the same time, though, he’s unafraid to provide them an upgrade of sorts as the Cybermen on display here are much, much tougher and faster than any previously encountered. For the first time, the silver nemeses are able to adapt to changing threats, even detaching a head when necessary to gain an advantage, making them a much less easily defeated foe. The enhanced Cybermites seem much more multifunctional than the Cybermats of old as well.
The entire episode is quite atmospheric, and the struggle to save the children and keep them safe adds an extra elements to the already intense offering. In a particularly interesting segment, the Doctor battles his Cyber self in a prolonged mental battle, and though this is an amazingly difficult task for any actor to portray realistically in such a short time confine, Matt Smith rises to the task admirably. There’s no doubt that this chess game could have benefited from extended time in order to fully convey the scope of the situation amongst the other chaos.
Arguably the best part of this story goes to Warwick Davis’s Porridge, though. The journey he takes through this episode, even beyond when the twist of his character’s true nature is revealed, is fantastically believable and haunting. Early on in events, there is discussion about destroying an entire galaxy to rid it of the Cyber threat, and Porridge aptly points out that, beyond all of those who would lose their lives for the cause, there is also the conscience of the person who has to make that decision and push that button to consider.
It’s quite rare that such drastic measures are taken to defeat a foe, and though a complete genocide is not attained, destroying the entire planet to defeat this foe is unquestionably a darker step than is usually taken in Doctor Who. Full credit goes to Gaiman who does not shy away from this ending, as well as to the Doctor and Davis’s character who must live with it.
‘Nightmare in Silver,’ then, sets out to achieve exactly what it intends by making the Cybermen a legitimate threat once again. Wisely using the children as a means of developing the story rather than carrying the story, Gaiman is able to focus on the characters themselves and their reactions to the evolving Cyber threat around them. It may not quite reach the lofty heights of ‘The Doctor’s Wife,’ (depending on which type of fan is asked) and the lack of any groundwork being set for the series finale is a bit strange, but this is certainly one of the strongest episodes of the current run and well worth repeat viewings.