Doctor Who Neil Gaiman slated for second Doctor Who episode!

Published on May 13th, 2013 | by Andrew Reynolds

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Neil Gaiman Dismisses Cyberman/Borg Similarities

Acknowledging the debt that many writers owe to Doctor Who for firing their childhood imaginations before the will to put pen to paper took hold, Neil Gaiman has been sharing his thoughts not only the gestation of Nightmare in Silver but on his own as a writer.

Neil Gaiman slated for second Doctor Who episode!

In a recent interview Gaiman spoke of ‘having no control’ of just how big an influence the show has been on such magnificent writing as American Gods and The Graveyard Book:

Doctor Who was the first mythology that I learned, before ever I ran into Greek or Roman or Egyptian mythologies.  I knew that TARDIS stood for Time and Relative Dimension in Space.  I knew that the TARDIS had a food machine that made things that looked like Mars bars, but tasted like bacon and eggs.  It was all part of what I knew, as a kid.  I still have the battered copy of David Whitaker’s Doctor Who and the Daleks, that I had as a kid, with terrible illustrations.

So, I don’t know, but I do know that it’s been hugely influential on the shape of my head and how I see things.  And I know that I feel ridiculously comfortable in that universe, and that I will keep going back, as long as they’ll have me and as long as I can find the time.

It was the constraint of time that first led to Gaiman refusing an offer by Steven Moffat to follow up his Hugo award winning episode The Doctor’s Wife; it wasn’t until he casually mentioned in an email that he wanted the writer to ‘make the Cybermen scary again’ that he suddenly found a TARDIS shaped hole in his plans:

When I was a kid, I was a huge Patrick Troughton fan.  Patrick Troughton was my Doctor.  I remember “The Moonbase,” the second outing of the Cybermen.  I didn’t see the first one, but I saw the second one.  I was terrified of them.  I was much more scared of them, in a way, than the Daleks because they were quiet and they slipped in and out of rooms.  It was very off-putting.  So, I started thinking, “Well, actually, I love the design of the clanky clanky, Steampunk Cybermen.  I know their time is coming up, so wouldn’t it be fun to actually see if I can make them more scary.

Naturally with such a brief, his imagination began to soar; it wasn’t until pesky reality and the finite budgets of the BBC shot down an earlier plan to set the episode at a 1950’s British seaside fairground that the episode began to take a recognisable shape:

The idea of the Doctor playing chess was there, from the very beginning.  The idea of a chess playing machine with somebody hiding inside it was there, from the very beginning.  And I knew that I wanted a conversation between the Cyber Planner and the Doctor.

The key thing, while everything else was going on and Clara was keeping everybody alive, was the chess game.  But, it wasn’t until I was actually writing it – I was probably 15 or 20 pages into the script – that I suddenly thought, “Actually, Matt [Smith] is a good enough actor that I could have him do both sides of the chess game, and that would be fun.”  So, instead of sitting there, playing a rather talkative Cyberman, which was my original plan, he played himself.  The minute I thought of that, everything else opened up.  I got to do all of this ridiculously fun stuff.  I got to have too much fun, and I got to watch Matt have too much fun while he was shooting it.  And I got to watch Matt get very, very sweary because it hadn’t occurred to me that I was asking him to remember twice as many lines as a normal episode of Doctor Who.

One of the criticisms of the episode was the similarities between the Cybermen and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Borg, drawing comparisons along lines where fans had thought that there was no contest:

One of my great embarrassed admissions – and I have very few – is that, while I have seen every episode of the original Star Trek many times, and could quote you the entirety of “The Trouble with Tribbles” with my eyes closed, Star Trek: The Next Generation happened during a period where I was moving from the U.K. to the U.S.  For a big wedge of that time, I had no access to television because we were too far out in the country, so I missed it.  It happened in the background and I didn’t actually ever get to watch it.  I started catching up with television again with Babylon 5, mostly because I was asked to write an episode.  So, I missed the Borg and only knew about them, way in the background.  I suspect this is more a case of a certain amount of parallel evolution.  But, I would love to reclaim the cybernetic menace crown.

For more on opinions on the difference between writing under constrictions and having total freedom, what Gaiman plans to do next and his view on the TARDIS head over to Collider.

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About the Author

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Everyone has a favourite Doctor and mine - just for his honesty, his fairness and his ability to not notice the Master's awful, awful disguises/anagrams (Sir Gilles Estram!?!) - has to be the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. The stories didn’t serve him as well as his acting served those stories.




13 Responses to Neil Gaiman Dismisses Cyberman/Borg Similarities

  1. avatar Paul Blume says:

    Not to mention the small fact that the Cybermen came FIRST.

  2. avatar rickjlundeen says:

    Indeed, the Cybermen predate the Borg by 20 years.

  3. avatar Alex says:

    Always irritated me that it was in a Doctor Who episode (not Cybermen) that an enemy uttered “Resistance is Futile” but no one ever says that the Borg were a Who ripoff. It was a Peter Davidson story, think black guardian with Turlow – on a ship (crewed like a ocean ship) in space.

    • avatar Paul says:

      “no one ever says that the Borg were a Who ripoff”

      Er, except for the many, many people who have said this and still say it.

    • avatar Miss Eris says:

      The Master said it in 1976 in “The Deadly Assassin”. Its been used since then as well. However, that different writers might use that phrase should surprise no one, as its an extremely common one.

      A simple google search of books published in the 19th century, for example, lists dozens of uses of the phrase “resistance is futile” in everything from a biography of Goethe published in 1898 to a review of the administration and civil police of New York State in 1819. 20th century uses predating Doctor Who are far more numerous and range from writings on biblical law to early self-help books.

      In short, its a phrase that’s been in circulation for a couple hundred years at least. For the writers of Doctor Who to have originated it would have required an actual time machine.

      • avatar Which hunt? says:

        Which they have.

  4. avatar Howard Railton says:

    It’s ironic that Gaiman claims inspiration from 60s Dr Who mythology when, despite looking similar facially and nods to Tomb’s design in a particular set, his Cybermen are still devoid of any link to Pedlar and Davis’ Telos, Mondas mythology.

    For me, Pedlar’s originality of mummified corpses in life support suits devoid of emotion seems as far off as ever with Gaiman’s trick Cybermen doing stunts like pop-off heads and hands and running, once, very fast. We all knew when that happened that the BEEB would never sustain it. Thus Gaiman’s Cybermen ended up becoming a bit of a comical turn rather than being as scary as they had the potential to be.

    Despite all this I think this was an attempt to do a better Cyberman story. For me, I’d have preferred a head to head with Jason Watkins and Smith rather than Matt Smith talking to himself. It would dramatically have meant that there was someone to bounce off instead of leaving Watkins standing on the sidelines and criminally wasting a hell of a talent. Likewise no one in it was particularly well served, including the Cybermen, because of Moffat’s insistence that the episode was one complete story in 43 minutes. A 2 parter would have given everyone time to breathe and maybe then we could have had someone witnessing the Cybermen’s revival in the tomb rather than, again throwing away this great dramatic moment. In Troughton’s time they didn’t make these kinds of obvious mistakes that littered Gaiman’s story.

  5. avatar Paul Blume says:

    What bothered ME about the story is what has always bothered me about the Cybermen; too much ‘men’, and too little ‘Cyber’. Their potential is HUGE; their application, minimal.

  6. avatar Koth says:

    Since the Cybermen returned they have been more of a comparison with current computer technology and not of an amalgamation of human synthetic parts. As much as I love the Borg not only were they a rip off of the original Cybermen but they didnt evolve.


    • When you assimilate all others, there is no need to evolve!

  7. avatar Rory says:

    The Borg are clearly a rip-off of the Daleks… right down to the borg saying “Resistence is futile” and the Daleks say something incredibly close (sorry, can’t remember now what it was).

    • avatar zarbisupremo says:

      Nah, Species 8472 were the Daleks rip-off with their attitude that all other life is inferior. Trek also ripped off the Sontarans with their Hierarchy aliens.

  8. Pingback: Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who – Assimilation² (Review) | the m0vie blog

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