Nightmare In Silver
Series Seven, Episode Twelve
|It could be scary, I... guess...?|
Let's begin with the first really obvious misstep. It probably wasn't Neil Gaiman's idea to include Angie and Artie, the kids Clara looks after, but here they are anyway, so we'll have to make the best of them. Artie mostly keeps to himself, making fascinating observations like "I think outer space is quite interesting"; his sister is more vocal. Here are some of Angie's greatest hits, and remember, she and Artie blackmailed Clara just so they could be here: "Your stupid box can't even get us to the right place!" "How long do we have to stay here?" "I hate the future! It's stupid! There's not even phone service!" "I'm bored!" "Put me down! I hate you!" "You always have to turn up and spoil everything!" "Why can't you just leave me alone?"
I doubt anyone will argue that children this horribly ungrateful exist, but why would we want to watch one travelling through time and space? Why write Angie, or any character, to be this irritating? There's an inescapable truth here: irritating characters are irritating. Why make room for them in your episode?
And even better, all this has a knock-on effect. Because the Doctor's mind is primarily on the welfare of two little kiddiewinks, and not so much on the fate of the universe, the story's never going to stray into particularly chilling territory. There won't be any terrifying darker side to the Cybermen – they're just bogeymen threatening the kids. Consequently, the tone of the episode never escapes toothless, tedious whimsy. If the intention really was to "make the Cybermen scary again", it seems to have been abandoned at a very early stage.
|On-screen description of the above:|
"Nothing. It's just black. No stars, no nothing."
This is apparently a new, mostly-blue definition of "nothing".
Ah yes, the Cybermen. I've not been a fan since they came back in 2006, stomping, mumbling and threatening to "Delete" everything in sight. The fact that they used to be people rarely entered into it, and their potential to be scary and tragic was never tapped. Cheer up, then: they've been re-designed! Instead of stomping, they have an irate walk (sort of like a mum marching after her misbehaving kids). Instead of mumbling, they have a generic Dalek voice which, unsurprisingly, sounds like Nicholas Briggs. (Doesn't anybody else do voices?) Instead of saying "Delete!", they say "You will be upgraded", which is quite possibly even less threatening. (Oh no! They're going to improve my broadband connection!)
They've developed a few new abilities, mostly of questionable value. They can zoom around at super-speed, which makes you wonder (apart from who the hell came up with that?) why they don't just do it all the time. And they can detach body parts, wandering around quite happily without a hand... or a head. So, is there still a person inside? You know, the whole point of the Cybermen being that they used to be people?
|"Just where d'you think you're going?|
You haven't tidied your room!"
So what about the Cyber-Planner, a.k.a., Matt Smith? Half the story consists of the Doctor's mental battle with this evil intelligence, so we get a double performance from Smith. Is it good? Well, it's Matt Smith, so it isn't boring. But the Cyber-Planner isn't written all that differently from the Doctor, so the only thing left for Smith to do is go over the top with it. This is misjudged from the start: a daft, dopey bad guy who calls himself "Mr Clever", says things like "This is dreamy!" and, as well as being yet another (unintentional?) steal from the Borg, has no link to anything we know about the Cybermen. Billions of emotionless cyborgs and they all add up to one smug, moustache-twirling plonker? How does that work?
The Doctor's mental tussle – represented by a chess match, because that's so original – is acknowledged as pointless; the Cyber-Planner won't honour his word if he loses. So, er, what's the point devoting most of the episode to it? Why bother unleashing a lone Cyberman if it turns out, suddenly, there's an army of them underground? And in the end, when it turns out humanity's Emporer was among them all along and had the option of teleporting them to safety at any time, altogether now: WHY DIDN'T HE DO THAT, THEN?
The dramatic stakes just seem to reduce as the episode progresses. When people die under the command of Clara (whom the Doctor has put in charge of the army, because um), it doesn't register. But then, that would require Clara to be a three-dimensional person. I don't know if it's Gaiman's writing, Moffat's outline or Jenna-Louise Coleman's acting, but Clara accepts responsibility, impossible odds and numerous deaths like it's all normal. "Impossible girl" is about right: no genuine person is this unflappable. (Still, she ain't perfect. When the army captain tries to blow up the planet, the only thing stopping her is getting killed by a Cyberman. Clara looks on, uselessly. And despite being fully aware that the Doctor is not himself, Clara happily divulges a bunch of stuff the Cyber-Planner wants to know, and gets within arm's reach. What is the point of a companion who doesn't pay attention?)
|"Missy said she saw something, and then she went quiet."|
"It's on its way, then."
Someone just died! SHOW SOME EMOTION!
Reviewing Nightmare In Silver is like shooting fish in a barrel, and it's exhausting. Gee, what else doesn't work? Well, none of the soldiers have any personality, so we don't miss them when they die. Despite the potential creepiness of an abandoned theme park, the sets aren't particularly sinister – oh no, a castle! – especially since they're mostly bathed in garish purple light. Numerous ideas appear to have got lost in translation, like the frequent references to how the planet will implode, followed at the end by an explosion. I know Doctor Who is rarely a proponent of hard science, but that's ridiculous.
There are a few very small dollops of positivity, which tends to be the best you can say about Doctor Who nowadays. There's Matt Smith, who despite the dodgy villain role and even dodgier characterisation is still, somehow, fun to watch. There's Jason Watkins as a Cyberman underling, not a particularly dazzling role but well performed. There's the odd funny line, such as "Don't wander off! Otherwise the next thing you know, somebody's gonna have to start rescuing somebody..." And I quite like how the Cybermen look, if nothing else. But apart from a few frills, this whole episode is a silly, misjudged, wrong-headed mess.
I still can't believe it. I hoped Neil Gaiman would turn in the year's best episode. Let's face it, there wasn't much competition. Against all the odds, somehow, he has delivered the worst.