Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver (2013)

Neil Gaiman gained many accolades for his last foray into Who-dom, The Doctor’s Wife. These included, but were not limited to, the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) and the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation. Gaiman had some huge expectations to live up to with his sophomore effort; an uphill battle that many fans would take to heart. All I noticed for the last few weeks was a steamroller of hype leading up to Nightmare in Silver, and I held back. I know that whenever I let hype color my eyes when it comes to TV and film, it always ruins my experience. The ill-fated Brett Ratner film, X-men 3, is a prime example of this, I got far too hyped prior to release and was utterly destroyed by what could have been an average film – to me it was an atrocity on celluloid. Noticing the general lukewarm reception to Nightmare in Silver earlier today, it looks like this over-hype may have happened to a lot of Doctor Who fans. This season seems to be the most divisive season since the McCoy era, some love the episodes and others are complaining endlessly. Let me get this out of the way, Nightmare in Silver is not as good as The Doctor’s wife, but my enjoyment of the episode did not hinge on this; I really liked it despite its flaws.

As you can probably figure out, Nightmare in Silver is a Cybermen episode. Gaiman said many times in his lead up that he wanted to “make the Cybermen scary again”. This is a tall order because many feel that they haven’t really been scary since the Patrick Troughton era. Unsettling? Yes, but “scary” is hard to pull off with a large metallic dude stomping around shouting “DELETED” and other catchphrases. What we have is an updated version of the original Cybermen; they have evolved long enough that they now strive to “Convert” other creatures aside from just humans. They have become sleeker, employ an updated version of a Cybermat (now called a cybermite and used in partial Conversions), can warp time to teleport briefly, and have removable body parts that act as decoys, drones, and searchers. Is somebody under that table? Just take your hand off and walk it over to them! Is a pesky non-converted person behind you? Swivel your head around like an owl! These upgrades make the Cybermen more of a threat and in that regard scarier in mass. While I would have enjoyed something more disturbing than what we have here, an overpowered and nearly Borg-like version of these guys is pretty hopeless to our heroes.

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These upgrades and the general “feel” of the episode was almost exactly like Rob Shearman’s 2005 episode Dalek. In that particular piece we were shown the “upgraded” time war-outfitted Dalek model including some crazy new technology like a force field, swiveling midsection, and the ability to take DNA by touch. In Nightmare in Silver fans are treated to a new Cybermen fresh from an undisclosed “Cyber war” that can do the aforementioned feats of awesomeness like teleportation. It was this little head nod that made me enjoy this episode quite a bit, since I generally like “base under siege” episodes quite a bit.

The plot follows the Doctor, Clara, Angie and Artie (The kids Clara takes care of) as they attempt to visit the best theme park in the universe. If you recall, Clara got blackmailed by Angie and Artie in The Crimson Horror and basically forced The Doctor to let them tag along. When they get there, they realize that the whole park is in ruins after a huge battle with the Cybermen long ago, and a group of world-weary soldiers and con-men are hiding there. The gang runs into a man named Webley (Jason Watkins) who has a surprise – a hollowed out Cyberman that “magically” plays chess against all that would try to defeat it. This is an obvious allusion to the infamous automaton “The Turk” that wowed players such as Napoleon and Benjamin Franklin way back in the eighteenth century. And just like the real Turk machine, this Silver Turk (also the name of a Big Finish audio play with a similar plot) is a fraud. A man named Porridge (Warwick Davis) is actually under there moving the arms and such. This “shell” of the old Cybermen waits until Webley is alone and dumps Cybermites all over the place putting its plan in action. Pretty soon, people are partially converted, the kids get captured, and an army of Cybermen awakens from one of their infamous “Tombs”.

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While the villains in this episode are obviously the Cybermen, but their leader is actually none other than The Doctor! During one of the kerfuffles, he is partially converted and his body is taken over by a cyber-consciousness. In a creative twist to a battle of wits, we see the internal battle in The Doctor’s mind played out with amazing shots of Matt Smith talking to himself. Whether you see two opposing versions of his mind arguing in his head, or the quick cut Gollum-esque arguments in the real world, the banter is both hilarious at times and scary at others. “Evil Doctor” the Cyber-Planner is really over the top, and nearly and comically mustache twirling as Mrs. Gillyflower last week. While it should have been cringe-worthy, I liked the scene where The Doctor plastered his “golden ticket”(admission to the theme park) to the circuits on his face and temporarily took complete control of his body, thus utilizing the tried and true Cyberman weakness.

Warwick Davis is awesome in anything he is in, and I really enjoyed him as Porridge here. Whether it is last year’s Life’s Too Short, or the fantasy classic Willow, he is one of those guys that seem pretty under-rated for how good of an actor he is. I know that a lot of that can be chalked up to his height, but those barriers seem to be fading with Davis and Peter Dinklage finally getting some substantial roles. I also felt that Jason Watkins did a fine job in the small amount of the episode he was the focus of, props for his half-Cyberman face. Now that I’ve mentioned the good part of the guest cast, here is the bad – CHILD ACTORS! I’m not usually a fan of child actors because they don’t act like children at all; they act like tiny adults that are smug and douche-y. If you met an adult that was like most characters portrayed by child actors they would get the crap kicked out of them in seconds! There are a few exceptions like Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine, but for every one of her, you have ten Jake Lloyds from The Phantom Menace. To me the kids seemed tacked on, I’d be amazed if they were in the original script, as they felt somewhat superfluous and contrived just to put children in peril. I especially did not like Angie as “know it all kid” characters are the worst. Dear science fiction writers- we do not want young Anakin, Wesley Crusher, Adric, or Boxy in our shows! Thanks, the fans. Oh, I nearly forgot the inept soldier characters, and you will too – nothing memorable about them to be honest.

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While the music wasn’t that noteworthy, I will say that I enjoyed the sound design, especially with the new Cyberman voice. While the original 1960’s voice is still the creepiest, the voices in Nightmare in Silver seemed a lot like a cross between the Cybus models and the 1970’s ones. Special effects were decent, if not low-key, in this episode. Certain scenes like the Doctor’s brain were realized in a truly beautiful way – as an energy filled void with a brain glowing behind the Dual Doctors. Other things like the Cybermen teleportation seemed sort of bland, as that scene could have been terrifying had it been done right. I think this season has been a real work in progress on the director side of things, and it shows with some of the choices made like this.

All in all, I enjoyed tonight’s episode and felt it was above average. I think fans will judge it too harshly as many expect a great writer to constantly top themselves each time. People need to realize that Shakespeare himself didn’t make classics all the time; plays like Timon of Athens are a testament to that. This was classic Gaiman faire that fans of Neverwhere and Mirrormask will enjoy. And while it isn’t his best work, it’s still better than anything else on TV.

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Since I don’t have cable I watch Doctor Who on Amazon Prime, maybe you should as well!

Nightmare in Silver

Nightmare in Silver [HD]

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Doctor Who: The Snowmen (2012)

Watching the yearly Doctor Who Christmas special is fast becoming one of my personal Christmas traditions that I most look forward to. I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely thrilled by last year’s iteration; it was saccharine sweet and lacked any real drama compared to most episodes of the show. I remarked in my review that “I think they should be less “Christmasy” for the most part from now on. The Christmas gimmicks worked very well at first, but seem too forced now.” Gladly, aside from a snow theme, this episode lacks any sort of “hitting you over the head” Christmas treatment that we’ve had in the past. As the episode opens with a group of people being massacred by an army of sentient snowmen, filled with what appeared to be evil snowflakes, I knew I was in for a real treat.

Right from the moment the opening theme starts, this second half of season 7 is really starting to show that this year is a special anniversary year. Some fans have complained that Steven Moffat didn’t follow through with making this new show (2005-current) like the old one, a claim he made years ago as he was just getting handed the reigns to the Doctor Who show-runner title from Russell T. Davies. Right away we have a new opening sequence with graphics that include swirly space debris and a picture of Matt Smith’s face in stars, a small detail that looks back at the show’s past. I’m not going to lie, my wife and I “Marked out” (to use a pro wrestling term) when we saw this new intro. It wasn’t even an earth shattering change or anything, but it really shows that small things like that can make or break it for some people. New fans won’t even notice the charge, bus us older fans have another little touch there to make us happy.

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The new titles sequence isn’t the only change we had in this episode. We were also graced with a new Tardis interior that was obviously somewhat based on the original one using the basic structure of the one from the last few seasons. Now it’s just far more spacious, has lighting, and gives an entirely new (and yet old) sci-fi feel rather than the played out “organic spaceship” theme that was sort of refreshing in 2005, then used by every other sci-fi show. The Doctor is also sporting a new outfit that somewhat carries over to the next episodes based on the “coming soon” trailer.

The actual plot of this episode involves evil snowmen controlled by an old villain that we haven’t really seen since the Patrick Troughton era. “The Great Intelligence” that we see here, played by the voice of Ian McKellen, is sort of a reimagining of the creature of the same name we saw in The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear. In fact, this episode is directly tied to those older episodes with little bits of dialog tossed in as a nod to fans. Ian McKellen does a great job providing a booming evil voice that we would expect from something called “The Great Intelligence”. Richard E. Grant, who played the Doctor in Scream of the Shalka, returns to Doctor Who playing a character named Walter Simeon. Simeon met “The Great Intelligence” as a young boy, and used its power to get back at those that hurt him, and gained power for himself. Little did he know that he was merely a pawn in the grand scheme of things.

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The Doctor has been “laying low” and attempting to place himself into the same sort of self-imposed retirement we saw him in way back when we first met the character with William Hartnell in the role. Luckily he isn’t in total hermit-mode and has been hanging around the “Paternoster Gang” including the sword toting Silurian warrior Lady Vastra, her human wife Jenny, and their butler Strax, a reluctant Sontaran servant. I really love these guys, and am glad that they will be somewhat taking the place of River Song now that the Pond saga has ended. I was really hoping for a non-human companion this year, and although these three aren’t the main ones, I can handle them being there a few times this season. Most of the fun comes from the same sort of humor that used to pop up in Star Trek: the Next Generation with Worf. The fun lies in taking Strax, from the warrior Sontaran race, and placing him in mundane situations that he hates, can’t relate to, or simply doesn’t understand. I love Strax because he does things like suggest maximum force in every situation, like throwing grenades at something or blowing up the moon, when said action is grossly inappropriate.

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Also returning are the very same dark fantasy elements that have been popping up in the entirety of Moffat’s tenure as show-runner. I really liked an instance where Clara found the entrance to the Tardis in a cloud only reachable with an invisible “Stairway to heaven”. Rather than just having the Tardis sitting next to a building or something, the production team went the extra mile to make Clara discovering the Tardis that much more special. This of course reminds me of stuff from Neil Gaiman, fitting that he wrote a script last season, and has one this season as well.

Jenna Louise Coleman returns for a follow up to her previous encounter with the Doctor, this time playing a “new” character named Clara. Once again we can see that Clara is far more intelligent than some previous companions and takes charge in a similar way to Ace way back in the late 1980’s. She gives me hope that the Doctor has met his match in a companion that won’t take guff from him. I like Amy Pond quite a bit, but felt that she sometimes fell in line with the old “companion always getting in trouble” mold, here’s hoping Clara stays strong.

There were a few quibbles to be had with the episode, like the scheme of the Great Intelligence never really being fleshed out fully, and some wonky computer generated effects with the “old Governess” but for the most part I feel that this was a very strong Christmas special, far better than last year’s. I can’t wait for this upcoming season, a new companion, and the return of the Cybermen as written by Neil Gaiman!