If you’ve been reading these reviews for a while you might note that “it needed a few more rewrites” often comes up when when an episode does something wrong. Either having something blindingly obvious take place, a major flaw or things don’t run like clockwork so much as they do a juddering badly paced mess. Nightmare In Silver though? It seems to be the reverse, where the episode feels like it’s had too many rewrites or has been written by a committee. One which is overstuffed, introduces twice the number of elements it needs and lacks the specific author touch the best stories have.
Having been blackmailed into taking the children Clara looks after into time and space the Doctor takes them to the greatest amusement park in the universe. Due to his usual bad timing he arrives several hundred years too late, long after it has been shut down. Further issues begin to arise when the supposedly long dead Cybermen come back to life, ready to threaten any in their path. With a silver Armageddon on the horizon and the Doctor trapped fighting himself, the few humans on the planet must fight to survive a force which has annihilated galaxies.
Unfortunately this episode seems to think that the only way it can convey that is by giving them all superpowers and Borg-like adaptability. Within a minute of showing up in person, one moves at the speed of the Flash, performs an instantaneous upgrade which makes them immune to human weapons and proceeds to only get sillier from there. Any part of the old horror conveyed by their patient, methodical plans and decades long schemes is shoved into the background. Ignored in favour of trying to merge the Cybermen with the Speed Force and turn them into humanoid Von Neumann war-machines. Oh it’s there but it’s so far in the background you’ll barely see it and the actual, real terror of what they have been doing for centuries is barely given a moment’s focus.
Only heightening their ridiculousness is where you see Matt Smith openly fighting himself when he’s being converted via miniature machines (yes, Cybermen also have that Borg ability as well now) and partially taken over. An idea which might have worked had Smith’s “evil side” performance not chewed through a few less sets and acted a bit less like a petulant Saturday morning cartoon villain. Most of the time he seems to be acting like a petulant child or being turned into a joke to make fun of long running series problems.
Thankfully the Doctor himself acts fine in spite of this, with his usual mixture of comedy and seriousness, and remains a high-point for a chunk of the episode. Unfortunately this stops being a high-point once he’s stuck talking with Doctor Doom for the vast majority of it. Unable to really interact or have anyone to play off of, Smith’s performance does suffer despite his usual energy.
The Doctor’s lack of any presence is a major problem as many of the episode’s other characters really fail to make any impact. While on the upside you have Clara and Porridge who, despite the latter suffering from terrible writing in the finale, remain a largely strong presence throughout. Being mostly kept afloat by the actors’ talented performances and passable writing they survive most of the episode unscathed.
On the opposite end of the quality spectrum is damn near everyone else. Most of the soldiers seem to have been written as stereotypes, or caricatures, and their actors picked out for visual jokes based upon their appearances. Some clearly are attempting good performances but they fail to really stand out.
At the very bottom of the barrel are the two children who are so forgettable/stupid/unlikable, that I didn’t even bother to learn their names and just ended up calling them Shinji and Asuka. Something which ended up being oddly fitting as they were both insufferably irritating and badly written. One was desperately terrified at anything which went bump in the dark and whose only defining trait was trying not to run away. The other was so arrogant, bull-headed, smug, suicidally overconfident and self-absorbed that I ended up wanting the cracks to reappear to erase her from reality. Thankfully Gaiman at least had the sense to sideline them for nearly the entire story with no speaking roles.
So the quality of writing for most of the characters is fairly bad and the villains are not that good. How’s the rest of it? Average.
If there’s one thing not to criticise it’s that the episode has decent pacing and knows how to keep the ball rolling. Even when it is abandoning concepts and failing to make real use of what it has, the story never felt like it was dragging. Unfortunately most of the developments either felt uninspired or left you asking a lot of questions along the lines of “wait what?” As such there’s little to really credit within it.
If there is one thing to really credit it’s that the episode at least looks good. Having a long career as second unit director and assistant director, Stephen Woolfeden proves he can work as a director and a lot of scenes are shot with a great deal of professionalism. He knows when and when not to emphasise upon minor details and how to draw an audience into a scene. Working well with both atmospheric verbal confrontations between two characters and physical ones between dozens of fighters, he tends to do things well. The few times he seems to slip up are when trying to emphasise upon the Cybermen’s prowess by quickly taking down human soldiers. Shots which don’t seem to quite gel with scenes or lack emphasise upon specific actions.
While we’ve seen both worse from the Cybermen overall (Silver Nemesis anyone?) and Doctor Who in recent episodes, it’s just sub-par overall. There are a few nice easter eggs and continuity nods here and there, and Warwick Davis is fun to watch, but you’d do better to find an older Cyberman episode to rewatch than spend time on this.
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