Reviews Doctor Who Series 7b: Nightmare in Silver

Published on May 17th, 2013 | by Christian Cawley

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Nightmare in Silver

Doctor Who TV, books and audio reviews at KasterborousI’ve been a fan of the Cybermen for as long as I can remember – probably since Earthshock. It was the Doctor Who Magazine summer special in 1994 with its features on the First and Seventh Doctors that rekindled my childhood love of the series, and an article about Silver Nemesis that reminded me of the magic of Doctor Who.

Yes, I said Silver Nemesis, that visually stunning return of the Cybermen from Doctor Who’s 25th anniversary year, complete with new motivation and that old weakness to gold. Sound familiar?

(In fairness, I couldn’t recall much of Silver Nemesis in 1994, but of course now we all know that it was essentially Remembrance of the Daleks with different enemy. But back to the point.)

Back in 2011 when we last saw the Cybermen, they were at their lowest, making the disco-hipped chaps from Revenge of the Cybermen look like Hell’s Angels. Defeated by a father’s love for his son, veteran fans know that the Whoniverse doesn’t work like that. Adric’s sacrifice is ample evidence.

Doctor Who Series 7b: Nightmare in SilverSo I – like many others – had been hoping for a Cyberman return that restored their former greatness, last seen in Army of Ghosts. I could have put up with the Cybus-style design (with the chest disc rather than the “C”), if only we got some new power and energy from these now impotent metal monsters.

In some ways we got this, but in others Nightmare in Silver was a mixed bag and a lost opportunity. So much so that I really don’t know where the Cybermen can go from here…

The menace of a single Cyberman with stealth mode is watered down by the Cybus-like stomping of a three million-strong army.

Where on earth they would have stood once they took the castle is anyone’s guess.

After the events of The Crimson Horror and the unlikely drama school revelation that Clara has been found in photos from the 1970s and 1980s (plus one from Victorian London), we join the time travellers and their two younger companions as they arrive at the universe’s biggest fairground, only to find that the last Cybermen have been hiding their, rebuilding their army and upgrading. The Doctor is infected by Cybermites and half-becomes the new Cyberplanner, the children are largely put to sleep for the episode and Clara is put in charge of a small platoon of inexperienced soldiers and followed around by an emperor on the run from his responsibilities.

As you can see, there are some good ideas in there. Sadly, much of it goes nowhere. Angie and Artie were badly played, but let’s not blame the two young actors. Gaiman’s script clearly didn’t know what to do with them, so why should they have known how to play it? Was Gaiman the victim of a Steven Moffat “writing challenge” after the pair were shoehorned into the end of the previous episode?

We should be told.

Doctor Who Series 7b: Nightmare in Silver

The lack of any development for the youngsters, Mr Webley the soak and the oh-so-important soldiers leaves Nightmare in Silver focusing on Clara, Porridge and the Doctor’s own psychic and physical struggle with the Cybermen. A lot of this is excellent stuff. Matt Smith plays two characters, essentially (in fine Doctor Who tradition!), and has the viewer convinced that the Time Lord genuinely is under attack from impending cybernisation.

Now capable of upgrading, Borg-style, the Cybermen are a very different proposition in this age of cyberspace, Google Glass and injectable RFID chips. Clearly taking a leaf out of Doctor Who Magazine’s future Cybermen in The Flood, this redesign looks stunning, but the character of the Cybermen lacks any real philosophy now. Yes, they’re frighteningly powerful (a writer setting a trap again?) and watching the single Cyberman attacking the platoon is a highlight of Series 7. There are clear parallels here with Dalek and Cold War, however, so it isn’t long before Gaiman’s new Cyberman army awakes in a retread of iconic scenes from Tomb of the Cybermen and Earthshock.

Doctor Who Series 7b: Nightmare in Silver

I’m worried about where the Cybermen will go next, and I’m also concerned about the direction of Stephen Woolfenden. Nightmare in Silver is flat, action sequences cliched and really it is only Matt Smith’s acting against himself that maintains the interest and the revelation that Porridge is in fact the Earth Empire’s emperor. Warwick Davis is excellent here, so let’s hope he is brought back at some point.

Is this the most critical review of Series 7? Perhaps. But look, I enjoyed Nightmare in Silver. Just like I enjoyed Silver Nemesis when I finally tracked it down on VHS. Perhaps it should be considered filler, before the big event. I feel it was a lost opportunity, with the menace of a single Cyberman with stealth mode watered down by the Cybus-like stomping of a three million-strong army. Where on earth they would have stood once they took the castle is anyone’s guess.

Ultimately, Nightmare in Silver looks like a blot on Neil Gaiman’s otherwise astonishing copybook, but it really shouldn’t be. It is not The Doctor’s Wife. Whereas his 2011 story was focused, this second episode is a bit messy, requiring few characters and ideas.

Thank goodness for Matt Smith.

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About the Author

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A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.




11 Responses to Nightmare in Silver

  1. avatar B E says:

    Hello I think that on Saturday River will go, (REALLY HOPE NOT but it seems most likely:( ) and I think that Clara will go as well. However I cools be wrong about Clara but i don’t know
    I’m so excited!!

  2. avatar rickjlundeen says:

    I was not thrilled with the episode. The annoying children, useless soldiers, the plucky little person, blah blah blah. Nice redesign on the Cybermen but I thought Gaiman was supposed to make them scary and –I thought—silent, for the spooky factor, yet they were clunking around like usual. Some of this does read like interference and changes from the Moff and I’ve got to say, unwelcome interference if that indeed was the case. Up until they disappointed me, I was rooting for the Cybermen to kill the children. :)

    Honestly, I was even disappointed in Clara this time. She was very calm and at ease and really didn’t even seem to be taking the threat seriously at all. Had far too much of a wacky sitcom feel to it. Very disappointed. I’ve been getting more and more disappointed with each incarnation of the Cybermen for decades now and aside from the few twists they through in, with the advanced speed, etc., I was still unimpressed with the species as a whole. I think Gaiman failed i his task here.

  3. avatar David F says:

    It seems to me that the children were originally supposed to be the kids from The Snowmen. Clara the governess would have picked then up at the end of The Crimson Terror, and we wouldn’t have challenged that as a final scene, because it would have made sense for her to drop by while she was in Victorian England.

    But when Moffat decided to kill governess-Clara and replace her with modern-Clara, Gaiman needed two different children for his already-written script., so they contrived the bizarre scene at the end of The Crimson Terror instead.

    • avatar David F says:

      (Horror, not Terror. Oops.)

  4. avatar TimeChaser says:

    I do think this story would have benefited from the 2-episode treatment. There’s too many loose ends, too little explored about Webley and Porridge, the Punishment Platoon, why the amusement park was closed in the first place, and Angie’s teen angst over Clara taking over the mother role. If this story had room to expand and build up on all of that, it would definitely be twice as good. What we got wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the whole story.


  5. Nightmare in Silver was a very poor episode. My wife, daughter and I feel Dr Who has hit rock bottom after finally starting to gain some traction in the previous couple of episodes. Our boys enjoyed it, so I felt compelled to explain to them the whole Cybermen mythology. I found Warwick Davis a very good addition, but Matt Smith in conflict with his cyber self was not convincing. Clara could be a great addition. As for the two kids – well, a missed opportunity as well. The Cybermen have now been reduced to a complete joke. Were they menacing – no, spooky – no, conniving/manipulative – no, ruthless – no, using their cyber intelligence – far from it.

    • avatar TimeChaser says:

      I’m really tired of people saying “Nightmare in Silver” is Doctor Who at rock bottom. Um, was is anywhere near as atrocious as “Boomtown”, “Love & Monsters”, or “Fear Her”? No, and as long as we don’t get anything like them again, DW has not hit rock bottom. It could have benefited from an extra episode, but it was not the worst the show can get by a long shot.

  6. avatar Howard Railton says:

    It wasn’t rock bottom, Gareth Roberts’s ‘Closing Time’ was rock bottom, the most appaulingly poor load of old, well, you know what.

    It was an episode that didn’t need the children for starters. It did need an extra episode, one wasn’t enough for the scale it tried for at the end. There were too many inconsistencies, ie, flash-running Cybermen could have whipped inside the castle and snatched everyone before they could point their anti-cyber gun. All that could have been explained in a 2 parter, ie, having to specially charge a cyberman to do the extra speed for example or some such explanation as to why the army do not behave as the lone cyberman did. Also, another opportunity missed to restore the cybermen’s mythology has been lost. Yet again, no Telos or Mondas on the horizon, not even a mention.

    The worst crime of this story for me, though, was that there wasn’t one single scene showing Matt Smith seeing or encountering a new cyberman. All the director needed to do was show Smith being stopped by a cyberman or even looking down into the depths of the tomb to get some reaction. Again, no reaction was possible for the emergence of the cybermen from the tomb as no one was present to witness it. All of which is very poor in both writing terms and direction.

    The only up side, nice redesign and cybermites worked well, so an ok 40 minutes but not a great ep overall and certainly could have been so much better. It wouldn’t take a great cyber planner to achieve the goals the cybermen wanted, to build a space ship and leave. They could have set about that task as soon as they revived and have shown a bit of intelligence. The calculating cybermen of Moonbase/Tomb/Wheel should have re-emerged and that’s Gaiman’s failure.


    • The worst crime of this story for me, though, was that there wasn’t one single scene showing Matt Smith seeing or encountering a new cyberman.

      Apart from the bit in the barracks. So there was one single scene. :)

  7. avatar vortexter says:

    I have a feeling here that Neil Gaiman had his wings clipped here. It would have worked better as a Cyber museum. An old man obsessed with the long dead Cybemen. Lots of old Cybersuits lining the walls bits of old bric-a-brac lying around. Guided tours of recreations of the Cyberwar with actors playing the military. But they’re not quite dead. From listening to Gaiman describe the writing process of Dr Who he sounded quite miserable. He should be allowed to write his own story with no prodding or nudging.

  8. avatar TonyS says:

    Interesting idea, vortexter. But they tried something like that in Asylum. The cybermen were underused. I did like the cybermites, however. Warwick Davis was excellent. Matt Smith too- though I could have done without the accent for the cyber planner.I enjoyed the episode but feel it could have been strnoger. I didn’t like the two children but am not sure how else they could have created tension without partially cyberising them. So they probably had to be there.

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