A good Doctor Who episode is really a good story. There are at least two constant characters: the Doctor and the companion with a revolving cast of characters that change around them. Sure we have some recurring characters villains or otherwise. Mainly though we just follow The Doctor and the companion with whoever they’ve teamed up with. Nothing stays the same, which is what makes the show so interesting. You could say that the key to a great episode of Doctor Who is an amazing story.
Yes you can have nice effects. You can have brilliant sets and lighting. Atmosphere is wonderful. However, there needs to be a good story.
But what is really fantastic is when we get atmosphere, story and amazing acting.
“Nightmare in Silver” is such a treat because of this. You have to give it to Neil Gaiman. His second Who episode may not live up to “The Doctor’s Wife” but it does make the Cyberman creepy as all hell again.
Spoilers Past This Point
See the thing about Neil Gaiman is that he loves taking something relatively innocent in childhood and twisting it. So a planetary amusement park? Sounds awesome.
That planetary amusement park becomes this terrifying, spooky abandoned battlefield in an intergalactic war.
So Angie and Artie, the children that Clara looks after, have blackmailed their way into seeing time traveling with the Doctor. The Doctor, being a big kid himself, takes him the universe’s biggest and best amusement park with his golden ticket. All you need to know about Angie and Artie is this. Angie is the stereotypical bratty teenager who thinks everything is stupid, hates the mother/big sister figure in her life (Clara) and is obsessed with her phone. Artie is kind of an adorable nerd who is just really excited to be here.
That’s pretty much it. Really they’re just there for show.
The real plot of the story is the Cybermen.
There is this man on the planet named Webley, who has the “shells” of Cybermen (who in this timeline had been extinct for one thousand years). However, the shells of the Cybermen don’t stay shells for long as the new cyber-mites (cyber-mats are too old school I suppose) reawaken everything.
Webley is “upgraded” into a human/Cyberman cyborg hybrid thing that is really rather creepy. The children are kidnapped because honestly that’s the only reason why they’re in the episode. Oh yes they say something about how children have limitless potential in their minds but it’s really just so we can get the Doctor involved.
Because when the Doctor gets involved, that’s when this episode veers into something truly amazing.
So the Doctor goes to look for the children after Angie gets kidnapped by a super fast Cyberman. (They constantly upgrade themselves to learn from their mistakes.) However, when the Doctor arrives to save them Cyber!Webley pulls a sneak attack. They Cybermen have not just become faster. They’ve learned to upgrade EVERY organism, not just humans. So when he releases the Cyber-mites, they “upgrade” the Doctor only about halfway.
Now there are two personalities within the Doctor. There is the Doctor and the Cyber Planner, who wants to take over the Doctor’s memory and mind and upgrade the universe.
You know. The regular Cybermen plans except not.
It’s a very fascinating, rather cool interesting look at the Doctor vs the Doctor except evil. Matt Smith does some absolute brilliant acting here with the split personality. He plays both parts of the Doctor and Cyber Planner extremely well. Going from the goofy, lovable, fierce Doctor one moment to the calculating, creepy, affably evil Cyber Planner the next which truly does broadcast his range as an actor.
The whole action of the Doctor’s story is that he is locked in a life or death chess match with the Cyber Planner. He ultimately does win by frying out the Cyber Planner implant on his brain in a rather awesome way. He tricks the Cyber Planner into thinking he’s about to win the match. So the Cyber Planner uses all available Cybermen processing power to try to figure out how the Doctor is going to do it.
And the Doctor cheats by frying the Cyber Planner. It’s rather brilliant actually. If you’re in a life or death chess match against a machine that wants to take over your body, fry the sucker. Thanks Doctor!
Meanwhile, Clara has a more action oriented role this episode. She seems a lot braver here too as she becomes commander to a rag tag band of soldiers on the planet with her new buddy Porridge (Warwick Davis), who used to be Webley’s partner in crime.
Clara’s job is simple. She needs to keep people from blowing up the planet with them still on it. So she takes them to a Comedy Castle to fortify themselves while the Doctor has his own crisis. The Captain, who says this is a Punishment Squad (they’re punished by being sent to the planet), tries to use the voice activated command to blow it up but is killed by a Cyberman fairly early on. Clara also had a button but the Cyber Planner tricked her into getting close enough for him to steal it and destroy it.
Clara is actually really good in this role, which is surprising considering that well she has admitted a lot of fear on her journey with the Doctor. Maybe it’s because she has to put on a brave face to get the kids back. But I like this Clara even more so than regular.
She also finds out her nickname for the season thanks to the Cyber Planner. She knows she is “The Impossible Girl” but not much more I’m afraid. However, it is out there in her head and no backsies this time guys.
She and the rag tag team try to fulfill the mission and stave off the Cybermen attack while the Doctor sorts himself out. However, the Cybermen are constantly upgrading themselves. So their attacks and tactics don’t work very long against them. They are able to get away when the Cyber Planner calls upon their brain power to help with the Doctor’s chess challenge.
But even the Doctor admits that they don’t have much they can do.
Porridge, after some prodding from Angie, reveals that he’s the Emperor of a Thousand Galaxies, whose line helped defeat the Cybermen to extinction (by destroying an entire galaxy leaving utter blackness behind). He activates the command to blow up the planet with his voice and teleports everyone to his ship (and the TARDIS at the Doctor’s request).
He explains that he just wanted to be a normal man for a bit, being the Emperor is the “loneliest job in the galaxy” (Sounds kind of like the Doctor sometimes being “the loneliest man in the universe”). He proposes to Clara and asks her to become his Queen or Empress. I’m not sure how that title works. Clara declines very politely saying that she is content with her life just as it is.
The Doctor drops off Clara, Artie and Angie. He promises to pick her up on “a” Wednesday. Then he vows to figure out the mystery of her.
While this episode doesn’t trump Gaiman’s 2011 “The Doctor’s Wife” (How could it? That episode is going down as one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever). It does what it sets out to do well. The story has Gaiman’s twisted, fantastical whimsy all over the place. There is a lot of darkness and depth in the scenes with the Doctor battling, essentially, himself which are some of the best Doctor scenes this season. It makes the old enemy of the Cybermen actually terrifying to old viewers. It was fantastically acted, atmospheric and a solid, good story that highlights what is good about Doctor Who.
I’ll be back next week when we recap “The Name of the Doctor”.