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Doctor Who: 712 “Nightmare in Silver” Review

nightmare-poster-2

Reviewed by Adam James Cuthbert

“We all know there are no more living Cybermen.” – Impresario Webley

Neil Gaiman won acclaim with The Doctor’s Wife. It was a modern classic, presenting a singular and captivating twist on one of the show’s enduring relationships, whilst showcasing Gaiman’s trademark surrealism, and fascination for the grotesque and uncanny. In Nightmare in Silver, Gaiman refashions one of the Doctor’s perennial adversaries: the Cybermen.

On the Cybermen

In recent years, the Cybermen have become something of a joke: Closing Time is the oft-cited indictment of their fall from grace. The Cybermen are potentially one of the show’s more grounded, and therefore realistic, enemies. The Cybermen exist as a reflection of human integration with futuristic technology – as conceived by their progenitor, Christopher ‘Kit’ Pedler. The Cybermen are naturally host to an ‘uncanny’ factor, as well as connotations of ‘body/psychological’ horror: they are us. They potentially call into question the definition of our own humanity, and notions of progress, as we posit a (dystopian, barbaric) future wherein the human being effectively ceases to exist; individuality superseded and supressed by homogeneity and uniformity. Gaiman, fortunately, capitalises on this interpretation, returning the Cybermen to form.

By the time of Nightmare in Silver, the Cybermen are purportedly extinct. They are now ‘mythic’ bogeymen: figments of children’s bedtime stories. (The juxtaposition of more ‘fantastical’, or ‘chimerical’, storytelling elements with a cold, harsher ‘reality’ is typically Gaiman, particularly profound in Silver, as the ‘reality’ manifests in the Cybermen themselves.) The Tiberon Galaxy, stage of the Cyber-Wars between humanity and the Cyberiad, was eradicated a thousand years ago, in one final, desperate act to eliminate the threat of the Cybermen. Porridge explains to Clara: “It’s hard to fight an enemy that uses your armies as spare parts.” Gaiman depicts the Cybermen as a formidable militant force: virtually undefeatable, they’re capable of automatically updating their design to counter any flaws and weaknesses (just as human technology constantly improves). These Cybermen are an intergalactic legion, with a multitude of new abilities, a product of Gaiman’s ingenuity and foresight, as the Cybermen now have alternative, innovative, selling-points for future writers to consider. Detachable body-parts, and rotating heads, lull both characters and audience into a false sense of security. Gaiman accentuates the superhuman facet innate to the Cybermen. The Cyberman’s super-speed, for example, leads to impressive direction from Stephen Woolfenden, as time literally slows down around the Cybermen: one of many compelling visual tricks throughout the episode.

Gaiman also replaces the Cybermat with the miniscule Cybermite, a more efficient design overall – and creepier too (the Cybermites emerging from the eye-sockets of the inanimate husk of the chess-playing Cyberman (itself an allusion and homage to the Turk) is akin to a horror-film of insects crawling out of a corpse).

Gaiman ostensibly draws inspiration from Ben Aaronovitch’s Remembrance of the Daleks: children being converted into Cyber-Planners is similar to the Dalek Battle Computer, which utilised the imagination of a young girl. It makes perfect sense. As beings of rationality and logic, the Cybermen do not possess imagination. Conversely, children, with their infinite cognitive potential – of unfathomable value to the Cyberiad – think imaginatively and spontaneously. It’s the inability to think ‘outside the box’ (as it thinks only along rules and logic governing the game of chess, and it cannot anticipate the outcome of the Doctor’s three moves to checkmate) that leads to the Cyber-Planner, Mr Clever’s downfall, in a stroke of brilliance.

As a highly allusive writer, it’s unsurprisingly Silver should convey this trait of Gaiman’s writing, adapting literary/historical allusions into science-fiction concepts within the show’s fictional mythos. The introduction of a Cyber-Valkyrie draws upon the Valkyries of Norse mythology: female figures that decided which soldiers, who’d died on the battlefield, were worthy of an afterlife in Valhalla. Likewise, the Cyber-Valkyrie was built to house critically damaged units for repairs, presumably those who were entitled to a second chance at ‘life’.

Gaiman does not limit himself or his storytelling: removing the Cybermen’s incapacity to convert non-humans (such as Time Lords) opens up many creative possibilities (previously raised in The Flood: it’d enable the Cybermen to multiply to a near-infinite degree, utilising any species). This artistic development can be construed as the Cyberman parallel to human evolution, gradually surmounting the obstacles presented to our respective fundamental natures, in both nature and science.

It should be evident now that the Cybermen are an embodiment of the ‘Other’: a perversion and distortion of humanity; a mirror of our darker nature (think of Jekyll and Hyde as a classic example). The Cybermen were, after all, envisaged as a (prophetic) social commentary (as highlighted in Rise of the Cybermen). In ideological pursuits of ‘conquest’ and ‘perfection’, we lose sight of what crucially matters – of what it means to be human.

It’s a refreshing twist on the conflict with the ‘Other’, as the Doctor challenges his own doppelganger in the Cyber-Planner: a disembodied artificial intelligence that possesses the Doctor’s brain and body. The mindscape is a fantastic visualisation of mind-body dualism, as the Doctor and Mr Clever fight for control of the Doctor’s brain and body, settling their stalemate over a game of chess – a quaint image, against the backdrop of potential apocalypse. In stark contrast to the Doctor’s altruism and compassion (he sacrifices his queen, and costs himself the game, to save the Maitland children), the Cyber-Planner displays a devilish, guileful, and sociopathic personality; haughty and overconfident. It admonishes the Doctor for his emotions, although, ironically, not acknowledging its own emotional responses. Presumably, its possession of an actual personality is in accordance with its ability for independent thinking, to ensure the survival of the Cyber-race. It’s also an entertaining ‘dual’ performance from Matt Smith, not attempted since The Almost People (another story involving conflict with the ‘Other’).

The Story: Other Positives

The punishment platoon led by Captain Alice Ferrin are typical Gaiman social misfits. The ‘poor’ acting (“I’m in the army!”) is deliberate and humorous, whilst being satisfying. The Captain herself is an extreme example of the damaging effects of propaganda, as evidenced when she recites a mantra (“Live for the Empire, fight for the Empire, die for the Empire”), suggesting hers was an indoctrinated youth.

There’s a clever twist on the ‘Doctor who?’ leitmotif, as Gaiman addresses the fact the Doctor could be reconstructed “from the hole [he’s] left”, cementing the character within a deeper layer of mystery. It’s also a call-back to the parallel between the Devil and the Doctor, first suggested in The Wedding of River Song, as the Devil can be described as ‘the hole in things, the piece that never fits’: both capable of destructive power, inspiring trepidation, superstition, and terror, subject to multifarious interpretations. Indeed, Nightmare in Silver is effectively the Eleventh Doctor’s showdown with the Devil/Cyber-Planner.

Warwick Davis’ performance as Porridge (in actuality the Emperor Ludens Nimrod Kendrick, who has fled his imperial duties, and gone into hiding) is memorable, effortless, heart-warming, and poignant – and Davis makes the most of some lovely dialogue (“Loneliest job in the universe”).

The Story: Other Observations 

I’m inclined to be lenient of the performances of Eve de Leon Allen and Kassius Carey Johnson, as Angie and Artie respectively. They’re not wholly dreadful, by any means. Their performances fluctuate depending on the scene, though Allen’s the superior actor, potentially. While Angie is annoying when she storms off after learning there’s no phone service (why did she expect there to be? It’s a strange cause for complaint from a supposedly intelligent, observant character), Allen isn’t at all bad during the denouement on the Imperial ship, when she lightly chides Clara for declining Porridge’s proposal. The Maitland children weren’t entirely necessary additions, but they do provide a dramatic focus for the Doctor’s compassion.

Verdict: 9/10

In conclusion, Nightmare in Silver is ambitious, action-packed, intelligent, and thrilling. It’s the perfect redesign of the Cybermen, and another wonderful tale from Gaiman.

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  • http://patrickkavanaghsproull.weebly.com/ PK-Simeon

    I’m not entirely pleased with this review, in comparison to others.

    I thought you’d chide Angie and Artie severely but you were surprisingly lenient. Considering you habitually have a go at a lot of characters, this rang false.

    The review was incredibly well constructed and just plain fantastic but I don’t like the change in style.

    • http://doctorwhotv.co.uk/series-7-part-1-in-perspective-42184.htm TheStranger

      I have a ‘go’ at characters who are obnoxious or downright insufferable, yes, but the children weren’t, to be honest. I’m allowed to change my style, depending on the episode, I’d like to think. And anyway, they aren’t prominent players within the narrative, unlike say Oswin or Mrs Gillyflower (who was cliched).

      Nonetheless, thanks for the feedback Patrick.

      • http://patrickkavanaghsproull.weebly.com/ PK-Simeon

        I just had a feeling that your style had changed, but you are of course allowed to change – there are no rules against it.

        You always give me very constructive criticism so I’m honored to give you some.

  • http://thetardismatrix.weebly.com/ Esterath

    Fantastic review as always. I agreed with all the points you made.

  • John Smith

    Fine review. In my opinion, one of your best… :)

  • http://doctorwhotv.co.uk/fan-fic TheSoundofDrums

    Wow, it would seem this week I am the one being negative towards an episode. Makes an interesting change I suppose. Anyway, well done Adam. Your reviews and opinions are always intriguing to read and as always, your writing improves after each publishing.

    • http://patrickkavanaghsproull.weebly.com/ PK-Simeon

      I thought that too. It’s a refreshing turn-of-the-tables for your ‘2nd Opinion’ series. Well done on your review John – great job.

      • http://doctorwhotv.co.uk/fan-fic TheSoundofDrums

        I thought so to. Bit different. Thanks for the compliments btw, much appreciated.

  • http://twitter.com/ZakkVanBurace Zakk Williams

    I agree with everything. Great article, love your writing!

  • Koshei

    This time you and John switched sides. :)

  • The Oracle™ (SkyFaller)

    Wow, just remembered this site! Forgot!
    Anyway, great review :) I agree with most of it and I’m glad to see this episode gain the appraisal it deserves!

  • The Oracle™ (SkyFaller)

    To all DWTV members! Are the comments closed until Saturday? If so, are there any site you’ve all been talking on?

    • http://cultfix.co.uk/da-vincis-demons-103-the-prisoner-review-22559.htm EternalDoctor

      Yep, they are closed until Saturday so that nobody can post spoilers. We’re all over at Esterath’s site – TARDIS Matrix ;)

      • The Oracle™ (SkyFaller)

        Oh right, are all comments under moderation? O.o

  • http://cultfix.co.uk/da-vincis-demons-103-the-prisoner-review-22559.htm EternalDoctor

    Fantastic review, Adam. You continue to stun with your amazing diction and this is one of your finest reviews. It makes it quite sad to think that next week will be your last Doctor Who review for a long while…

    This a perfectly enjoyable episode and so I agree with your points. I’m really glad to see that someone else enjoyed it, although I don’t hold it in equally high esteem.

  • Gibby’s World of Wonders

    A brilliant review, Adam!

    Every time I read your reviews I feel like I am reading the analysis of a professional critic. It is quite frankly astounding the way you structure your arguments and go into extreme detail to explain both your own opinions and various factors of the episode (which I knew nothing about).

    Now we come to the bad news… I didn’t like it. I just couldn’t enjoy the episode. Despite some terrific performances from Matt, Jenna and Warwick Davis, I just found most of the characters to be… “unrelated” – as in I just couldn’t relate to them; I couldn’t feel anything for or about them.

    The story wasn’t exactly captivating me either, which I felt uncomfortable about to say it was the work of Neil Gaiman. And as for the Cybermen… I didn’t like the way they were handled and they still don’t feel like proper Cybermen for me. They feel like the Cybusmen 2.0… The voices were awful, the stomping feet were back, and they were too robotic. I did, however, love the fact that each time they were faced with a new threat, they would upgrade to eradicate it.

    In my opinion, though not as bad as all the other Cybermen stories, this episode doesn’t warrant anything above 6/10. But I can see the appeal to others.

    • http://tardisfiction.weebly.com/ TardisBoy

      By the way did you know that we’re all commenting on Esterath’s site? :)

  • http://tardisfiction.weebly.com/ TardisBoy

    A superlative article yet again, Adam! I’m always astounded by your use of the English Language, I learn a new words every week reading your reviews! They are always written to the highest standard!

    However I disagree with your praise for the episode. For me the plot was too convoluted, and most of Gaiman’s ideas (Whilst brilliant) were underdeveloped.

    Moreover, whilst Matt, Jenna and Warwick gave stellar performances, I felt Angie and Artie were dire characters, they gave nothing to the plot whatsoever – and Eve de Leon Allen and Kassius Carey Johnson’s acting left a lot to be desired.

    It feels to me that this episode is prime justification that what this series has been missing the most is two-parters! Gaiman himself has joked that they should release a Director’s cut of the episode as most of his ideas (And some vital explanations) had to be cut out due to time restraints.

    Overall though you have produced a wonderful review yet again Adam, it’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts on an episode. I hope that you enjoy next weeks finale and that Moffat impresses you with his writing! I for one, am looking forward to it immensely! :D

  • twoheartsonemind

    Nice article. I loved this episode, despite what nearly everyone else seemed to think. I admire Neil Gaiman, I admit… okay I really love the man, but that’s not the point. I thought the idea for the story was brilliant and I thought it utilized the potential that the cybermen have. Matt Smith was truly fantastic.

  • Nick Ferrazza

    Great review. This episode, and basically all the episodes of this half a season seem to be dividing fans greatly. Either fans love them or they hate them, with few people in between. Personally I think that this was a great episode. My only issue is that now the Cybermen may be too powerful. If they bring them back again then they’re going to have a lot of trouble trying to write a way for them to be defeated now that they’re almost invincible.

  • farsighted

    I loved this episode. I don’t quite get why some people hated it. It’s very creative and Gaimanish and while it’s not The Doctor’s Wife, why should it be? Well done. My favorite episode this series…

  • Ben Strachan

    Completely agree with this review Adam, great article :)

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