I’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.
So 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…
[pullquote align=”right”]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. [/pullquote]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.
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.
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.