Doctor Who: “Nightmare in Silver”

I thought Neil Gaiman’s previous episode, “The Doctor’s Wife,” was pretty much the highlight of last season. Which is why, I suppose, “Nightmare in Silver” felt like such an enormous letdown. It wasn’t just bad, it was terrible, and it was written by Neil Gaiman, which adds an extra layer of disappointment. Cybermen! The distant future! Warwick Davis in a major supporting role! Neil Gaiman scripting! It should have been magnificent. Instead, it was a litany of squandered opportunities and lazy storytelling that with every instance only made me grow angrier. By the end, I was ready to swear off Doctor Who for good. Because if there’s one thing in the world that turns me into a ridiculous fanboy drama queen these days, it’s how far Doctor Who has fallen in the past three years.

Spoilers follow! Be warned!

What do I mean by squandered opportunities and lazy storytelling? Well, for starters, suddenly Clara’s charges Angie and Artie are traveling in the TARDIS, too. When did that happen? How did Clara bring it up to the Doctor? What was the initial meeting between the Doctor and the children like? We’ll never know because it’s never shown to us. Instead, they’re just there, and as a result some scenes with truly amazing potential are simply skipped over. Instead, we get the children acting like spoiled brats (What? You’ve been to space before?) and then being almost immediately kidnapped. Once the Cyberiad (what?) has them and begins to upgrade them into Cybermen, it tells the Doctor that it needed children to revive the Cybermen, for reasons never actually explained, and the Doctor has brought it children, thereby unwittingly becoming the savior of the Cybermen. Oh no! Except after it claims the children are vitally important, the children do nothing at all. They spend the rest of the time standing around in cyber-comas while the Doctor plays chess with himself. Because nothing is more exciting than watching someone talk to himself while playing chess!

Of course, the whole chess match with the cosmos at stake thing was already done, and done better, in the 1989 Sylvester McCoy 7th Doctor serial “The Curse of Fenric.” Speaking of, “Nightmare in Silver” has a weird atmosphere and tone problem that reminded me a lot of the worst of the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy years, where everything was either literally or tonally about juvenilia and carnivals gone bad. Here, it’s a far future amusement park, where our heroes decide to hide from the Cybermen in something called Natty Longshoe’s Comical Castle. “Does it have a moat and drawbridge?” Clara asks, wondering if it’s a defensible spot. “Yes,” comes the reply, “but…comical.” And when we get to the castle? There’s nothing comical about it. Like, nothing. It’s just a castle. “Squandered opportunity” doesn’t even begin to describe this.

As for lazy storytelling, how about “We’re all going to die and there’s nothing we can do about it” being answered with “But wait, I’m secretly the Emperor of the Universe and even though this plot twist was not earned in any way by anything that came before it, I can get us all off the planet before it explodes!” Yes, you read that right. Someone is secretly the Emperor of the Universe and will use that to save everyone at the last minute. No, really. Here’s another example: The same person explains his situation with, essentially, “I didn’t want to be Emperor anymore because it’s so lonely, so I ran away so I could hide inside a box where no one will ever see me and operate a fake Cyberman chess game.” Or how about there not being a smidge of romantic chemistry between Clara and Porridge, what with them having maybe four scenes together, but he asks her to marry him anyway, because Steven Moffat? Or how about the Doctor fixating for a moment on how tight Clara’s skirt is, which is not just lazy storytelling but bad storytelling, since there is not a smidge of romantic chemistry between them, either, no matter how much this show likes to try to force romantic chemistry between the Doctor and his companion. Give it a rest already, people! There’s nothing there!

Once again it’s mentioned that the Doctor has been erasing himself from historical records, and once again it makes zero sense. One might assume the Cyberiad (or the Daleks, or any race, really) has its own memory banks and record books, rather than everyone jacking into the same cloud storage or whatever. So how did the Doctor get into the Cybermen’s memory banks and change it? When did he do that? Did he have to fight or trick his way in? What else did he find in there? Wouldn’t that have been a much more interesting story? You don’t have to answer that last one.

I could go on, but why bother? The episode is crap and I’d rather forget it. Like the worst of the Moffat years, it doesn’t even feel like Doctor Who. It feels like some weird, cheap, tonally deaf mix of Doctor Who and bad SyFy Original Movies. There’s only one episode left this season, plus the 50th Anniversary special in November. If those aren’t any better, I might just finally give up on Doctor Who.

4 responses to “Doctor Who: “Nightmare in Silver””

  1. Ian Mond says:

    Apparently the four or so scenes from the beginning where the kids meet the Doctor etc were written but never made it to screen.

    This was very much an episode written by Gaiman, unlike The Doctor’s Wife, Moffat, apparently, did very little work on this script except make a few suggestions.

  2. Matt Kressel says:

    I was as disappointed as you were, Nick. I did like the poignant moment where the Emperor/Porridge describes how some unlucky soul had to obliterate a galaxy. But why send a team DOWN to the planet you are going to destroy when you have the power to erase galaxies across the universe? And what WAS Porridge doing playing chess at an empty amusement park if he is so damn lonely? The emperor makes no sense.

    So here’s the thing. Apparently the Cybermen no longer need humans to create an army. They can use any species. So why do they need kids at all? It seems like their genetic tech is advanced enough to just ignore them, as you say.

    I also agree that we needed to see a scene where the Doctor shows the kids time travel for the first time. What was with having them take a nap (!) in space (!) at a crazy amusement park with evil ancient things(!) while mind-controlling techno worms are squirming about, and the Doctor saying, “Don’t wander off!” when you know he knows the damned kids will? Argh!

    I was just put totally off by the kids too, especially the girl who wanders into a room of space marines, far in the future, in an amusement park full of all sorts of marvels and says, “I’m bored!” Seriously? Is shallow supposed to be funny now? I know it was supposed to be ironic and elicit laughter. “Aren’t today’s kids the darnedest?” But all it did was make me loathe how spoiled and self-centered she was. Why would the Doctor ever bring someone like that with him intentionally?

    Just all around poor storytelling, especially by Mr. Gaiman, from whom I expected so much more. Score: D.

    • Nick says:

      The tone and beats were just off all the way through, in my opinion. Sadly, that doesn’t feel unusual for Doctor Who anymore.

      Also, I feel like the show wants us to love Clara more than it’s giving us a reason to love Clara. There’s no sense of urgency with her. She just takes trips in the TARDIS on Wednesdays, apparently. There’s nothing else happening with her.

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