Aired 23 November – 7 December 1988
To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Doctor Who, producer John Nathan-Turner chose silver as a pervading theme, almost by necessity bringing the infamous Cybermen back to fill that stipulation as the story attempts to continue the darker and more mature stylings of this season’s predecessors. As a comet named Nemesis crashes near Windsor Castle, the Doctor and Ace find themselves in a race against several competing factions to reach it while the question of just who the Doctor is begins to come to the forefront.
Unfortunately, ‘Silver Nemesis’ is something of a mess that simply throws too many ideas around as if hoping that some of them will find traction, resulting in a three-part story that seems like it has been haphazardly edited down from four parts. Worse yet, there is startlingly little actual plot to the story besides the quest, but it still comes off as cluttered because of the large supporting cast of Lady Peinforte and Richard, de Flores and the Nazis, and the squadron of Cybermen all in competition against the Doctor and Ace. The truth of Nemesis being a living statue composed of Validium that holds immense destructive capabilities and was, in fact, created by Rassilon and Omega as Gallifrey’s ultimate defense is genuinely fascinating and realized well with the afforded production values, but the story around it is sadly lacking in substance.
As it turns out, the Cybermen are woefully underused in ‘Silver Nemesis’ as well, their arrival almost completely superfluous to the plot and the their menace lacking more than in any previous serial featuring them. Aside from a shocking incompetence and vulnerability, the Cybermen here are conspicuously emotional, the script apparently forgetting the very reason that the Cybermen became such enduring and iconic foes in the first place. It could almost be forgivable if the Cybermen faltered somewhat in order to give precedence to the other competing forces, but the neo-Nazis are too blandly written and Lady Peinforte comes off as too much of an undecided mix between genuine threat and eccentric meddler for either to be completely effective and fill that void. Especially given Nemesis’s essence and power, it seems like the potential for a much greater Cybermen story in particular is just under the surface but never comes close to coming to fruition.
Still, especially when pieced together with other hints from recent serials, ‘Silver Nemesis’ truly begins to flesh out a much darker iteration of the titular Time Lord than has previously been seen, and one with a much greater history than ever before discussed. It’s quite unnerving to see the Doctor’s genuine fear when Lady Peinforte threatens to reveal all of his secrets from his lengthy past, but even just her suggestion that he is much more than simply another Time Lord is deeply profound. Suddenly, there is the potential that the Doctor is tied to the very earliest foundations of Time Lord society itself, in some ways being imbued with even more of a godlike status than he already has as a result. Of course, this is somewhat of a double-edged sword as the Seventh Doctor is also shown to be manipulative and contemptuous, using the living Nemesis for his own means and effectively denying it any semblance of the freedom it so clearly desires. It’s not too surprising that the Doctor would be so aggressive against the Cybermen given his recent actions against the Daleks, but he shows a surprising lack of compassion for human life in the story as well as affairs threaten to unearth his long-shrouded past.
It makes sense that ‘Silver Nemesis’ would use a device so intrinsically linked to Gallifrey after the success of incorporating the Hand of Omega in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks.’ Regrettably, the sentient nature of the device brings another layer of scrutiny to the character of the Doctor that is not quite so easy to explain or reconcile. Still, the immense chemistry between the Doctor and Ace and the hints of a much more profound past for the Doctor than alluded to previously significantly bolster an otherwise lacklustre story that attempts to incorporate far too many aspects with adequately exploring any.