Saturday, November 9, 2013

50th Anniversary Countdown: Doctor Who 7.13: "Nightmare in Silver"

“When I win, you get out of my head, you let the children go, and nobody dies. You got that? Nobody dies!”
-The Doctor

“Nightmare in Silver” was the second episode of Doctor Who written by fantasy icon Neil Gaiman. Naturally, after the spectacular “The Doctor’s Wife” in series 7, everyone was expecting big things from “Nightmare in Silver.” Many critics seem to have been disappointed, maybe because of unreasonably high expectations? I found “Nightmare in Silver” to be a very enjoyable watch. It had a plot that moved and side characters that I care about, which is more than you can say about most of Moffat-era “Doctor Who.” I also found it to be an interesting new twist on the Cyberman story. Obviously, as technology evolves, “Doctor Who” villains must also evolve, and I thought “Nightmare in Silver” accomplished that for the Cybermen admirably. Yes, there were kind of annoying kids in the story, but they were quiet most of the time, so I didn’t let it bother me, and I just enjoyed the ride.

This episode includes the two kids Clara nannies, Angie and Artie. The Doctor has arranged what is supposed to be a fun day out for Clara and the kids, a trip to Hedgewick’s World of Wonders. Hedgewick’s is an amusement park on a distant planet, which was apparently well known for its Spacey Zoomer ride. The Doctor’s got a golden ticket and everything (man was I a Roald Dahl fan when I was a kid)! Unfortunately, the TARDIS has once again not taken the Doctor exactly when he wants to go. The theme park is abandoned and kind of post-apocalyptic looking. The Doctor and his companions are quickly discovered by an army platoon and a man named Webley who is kind of like an old-fashioned carnival barker. The Doctor, as per usual, uses the psychic paper to fake some credentials and get the platoon off his back. Then it’s time to explore Webley’s ship. It is stuck on the planet, and Webley hopes an emergency ride home will arrive soon.

Inside the ship is something that gives the Doctor quite a fright. There is a chess board, and what appears to be a Cyberman as the opponent. Webley assures the Doctor that this is just the “shell” of a Cyberman. A futuristic Deep Blue, if you will. The Doctor quickly figures that one out. There’s a puppeteer inside the Cyber-suit, a little person named Porridge. Porridge is played by the wonderful Warwick Davis. His first role was as the main Ewok in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and his career has gotten only more awesome from there (he’s also played a couple characters in the Harry Potter film franchise, among many other things). I guess I should have realized right then that there was more to Porridge than meets the eye, since Davis is a pretty big name.

Anyway, the Doctor is still uneasy about this planet, even after he sees how the Cyber-suit thing works. He’s seen little metal bugs crawling around, and they make him both intrigued and nervous. He goes off to investigate, telling Clara and the kids to stay with the army platoon. The Doctor quickly figures out that the little bugs are Cybermites. They transform people into Cybermen. Unfortunately for the Doctor (and Clara), the kids didn’t stay put like he asked. They get infected by Cybermites, and they’re put into a sort of waking coma state. The Cybermen had wanted to convert some kids for quite some time because their brains are more flexible. They make good Cyber-Planners. The Doctor is pretty quickly infected, too. The Cybermen have never tried to fully convert any species other than human, and they’re thrilled with what they find. Time Lords make even better Cyber-Planners than human kids, apparently.

The Cyber-Planner and the Doctor both fight for the Doctor’s brain. The production values for these fights inside the Doctor’s head are kind of hokey, but Matt Smith certainly gives a good performance. What I find really interesting is how the Cyber-Planner seems to be testing out the personalities of past Doctors a bit. His first reaction to being in the Doctor’s brain is a very Tenth Doctor “oh yeeesss.” He also says “Fantastic” (Nine’s catchphrase) and “Allons-y” (Ten’s catchphrase). Notably, he seems to leave Eleven’s personality to the Doctor. The Cyber-Planner never says “Geronimo,” for instance. I feel like Ten really came through the most with the Cyber-Planner, though, to the extent that I wondered if Gaiman originally sketched out this episode for Ten and Martha. More on why I feel like Martha was the companion originally meant for this story later.

Anyway, the Doctor and the Cyber-Planner decide to play a chess game for permanent control of the Doctor’s brain. The Doctor knows that the Cyber-Planner is probably going to take over either way, but at least the game buys some time to maybe save the kids. While this is going on, Clara has been left in charge of the army platoon. The Doctor used his fake credentials to get her put in command before he went off bug hunting. It’s kind of fun to see Clara in charge like that, although it doesn’t especially fit her personality (not that she really has much of a discernible personality). This is another reason I wonder if the seed of this episode might have originally been contemplated as a Martha story. Martha spent time in UNIT and had a more authoritative way about her. Leaving that aside for now, the Doctor left Clara with two main instructions. First was not to let the army platoon blow up the planet (standard operating procedure for getting rid of Cybermen). Second was to get to someplace defensible. That place ends up being the theme park castle, complete with moat.

It’s a good thing Clara got everybody to that castle, because the Cyber-Planner has woken up a crap ton of other Cybermen in a nearby Valkyrie. And they’re all being upgraded to a new model that is really ridiculously fast. And, after taunting Clara a bit (telling her he thinks she’s pretty and such), the Cyber-Planner succeeds in destroying the detonator that would blow the planed up. So getting rid of these new uber-Cybermen is going to be a lot more difficult. The Doctor’s got a plan, though. He tells the Cyber-Planner that he thinks he can win the chess match in three moves. The Cyber-Planner doesn’t want to be outdone, so he steals the computer power of all the advancing Cybermen to try and figure out how this could be. The Doctor uses this distraction to take a weapon Porridge had (a hand pulser that deactivates Cybermen) and strengthen it with the sonic. The Doctor then uses the weapon to remove the Cyber-Planner from his head. Clara tests whether the Doctor is back by asking if he thinks she’s pretty. He says that she’s “too short, too bossy, and [her] nose is funny,” and Clara knows all is well. This is where I got a bit more of that Ten/Martha vibe.

The Cybermen still pose a threat, though, and blowing up the whole planet (once the humans have evacuated) would still be ideal. The detonator being destroyed makes that kind of difficult, though. Surprisingly, Angie is the one with the solution. She reveals that Porridge is the Emperor, and she figures that he must have his own special way to blow up the planet and escape. It turns out that she’s right, of course. The Emperor had been enjoying just living a normal life for a while, but he tells everyone that as soon as he says his code, they’ll all be teleported off the planet to a waiting ship, and the planet will blow up soon after they leave. This plan goes off without a hitch, and the Doctor makes sure that the TARDIS is transported to the ship, too. Once everyone is safely on board, the Emperor proposes to Clara, who lets him down gently. Angie thinks her nanny is stupid for tuning down a chance to basically be Queen of the Universe. And she might be right!

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