Review: Dr Who - Nightmare In Silver

CHRIS GARDNER
Last updated 16:33 24/05/2013

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Doctor Who
Nightmare In Silver

Now that's more like it.

From the moment it was announced Neil Gaiman was writing last night's episode of Doctor Who I had high hopes.

The legendary Gaiman was the brains behind one of last season's highlights, The Doctor's Wife, in which his time machine the Tardis is transformed into a beautiful woman.

In that show Gaiman demonstrated a profound understanding of the things that make Doctor Who great and he did it again last night on Prime with Nightmare In Silver.

Whether intentionally, or not, the writers have recently drawn on a contemporary description of Lord Byron who was "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" for their characterisation of the Doctor.

No lead actor in the show has lived up to that as well as Matt Smith, and few scripts have done that as well as Gaiman's Nightmare In Silver.

The Doctor promises Clara and her two charges a "kids day out" on an amusement world but they end up coming face to face with the Time Lord's cybernetically enhance foe The Cybermen.

It's a wonderful scrip which pits the usual innocent fun of the fair against the terrible truth of being "upgraded" by a race who has replaced nearly all of its organic parts with steel. Or should I say assimilated.

From the moment the Doctor was upgraded to Cyber Planner, by what was thought of as the last of the Cybermen, I was thinking of Captain Jean-Luc Picard's assimilation by the Borg in the two part Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Best of Both Worlds.

Trek's version of the Cybermen, the Borg, transformed him into Locutus of Borg and used Picard's knowledge against his ship just as the Cybermen tried to take over the Doctor.

The Doctor's upgrade, facial implants, even had him looking like Locutus of Borg.

There's no way this comparison would have slipped by all of the Doctor Who production crew, particularly as IDW Comics had recently published a Doctor Who/Star Trek cross over series in which the Cybermen and Borg team up against the Doctor and Tardis crew and Captain Picard and the USS Enterprise crew.

This story was intended to have been as epic as the Star Trek one it followed.

It might have succeeded too if it had left us with a cliffhanger, waiting for months for a resolution. It was a shame to see the loose ends tied up so quickly last night.

There was plenty of other imagery too that evoked The Best of Both Worlds, especially the scene where the three million Cybermen broke out of their Borg alcove like hive.

Being Doctor Who, however, the battle that followed was not fought with phaser toting starships as it had been in The Best of Both Worlds, but over a game of chess in which a schizophrenic Doctor plays himself, his very soul hanging in the balance as well as the life of his companion and the children she is nanny for.

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I'm sure I've heard the story of a fellow playing chess with the devil for his soul somewhere.

And then there's the issue of the oncoming three million Cybermen to defeat whose upgraded new look were a million shades of nasty from their detachable body parts, capable of acting as weapons independent of the main torso, down to their mostly silent but deadly decimation of their opponents.

Their eventual defeat - the Doctor networking a chess problem to all of them to tie them up - was predictable given the Borg were simply put to sleep.

Despite knowing the story from another show, Doctor Who's take was different enough to keep me on the edge of my seat, grimacing at the new capabilities of the Cybermen.

The supporting cast, Jason Watkins as a sort of tired old ring master and Warwick Davis as his sidekick, were among some of the best seen on Doctor Who of late.

In fact Davis's casting was a nice shout out to other genre fans as he played Wicket W Warwick in Return of the Jedi, Willow in the film of the same name and Marvin the Paranoid Android in the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy written by former Doctor Who script editor Douglas Adams.

The reveal regarding his character at the end wasn't at all surprising, but it was fittingly fun.

Big Finish Audio Adventures' Nicholas Briggs, producer of hundreds of Doctor Who audio adventures, was hardly recognisable as the voice of the Cybermen but when he spoke it was chilling.

We're still none the wiser on the identity of Clara though, who the Doctor rather cheekily described as: "Oh, you mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed in a skirt that's just . . . a little bit . . . too tight."

It's hard to believe next week's The Name of the Doctor is the last episode in the series for the time being. Surely show runner Steven Moffat has something up his sleeve for the 50th anniversary in November other than the Adventures in Time and Space documentary being made about the show's genesis and the 50th anniversary special also featuring David Tennant and Billy Piper.

I'm off to listen to what the guys and girls at thedoctorwhopodcast.com think now. If you love Doctor Who their thoughts are always worth downloading.

Follow Chris Gardner on Twitter @chrisgardnernz

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