Doctor Who (7.12): “Stay alive … and don’t let anyone blow up this planet”

The Doctor, Nightmare in SilverWooooohooo! Now we’re on fire… Neil Gaiman is back at the keyboard and applying his Midas touch for a second time. And as long as you weren’t expecting another The Doctor’s Wife (he did tweet that he didn’t even try to top it) I’m hoping you enjoyed it as much as Hat Jr and I did.

One of my favourite things about Neil Gaiman’s writing is his gift for deception. He has a sleight of hand that is breathtaking (Neverwhere is a classic example, and I can’t recommend it highly enough, by the way) and immensely satisfying. It also makes rewatching a special joy.

[Spoilers below the line]

Anyway, to the story… The Doctor has brought Clara’s charges (Angie and Artie) on a day trip to Hedgewick’s, ‘the best theme park in the universe’. They step out of the Tardis on to what looks like a cut-price Moon and the bickering about their location is interrupted first by Jason Watson (always excellent at doing cheerful with an underlying note of creepiness), as Webley, owner of a waxworks museum and awaiting transportation off the planet, and then by Tamzin Outhwaite, the captain of a platoon keeping people off the planet. It’s disconcerting and feels oddly paced until you rewatch and spot the important information that’s passed over as the Doctor’s psychic paper labels him an imperial pro counsel.

CybermanRather like a theme park ride, we’re swept swiftly along from this oddness to the creepiness of the waxworks and then to the shocking reveal of an antique and battered Cyberman.

The good news is that it’s an empty shell apparently beating visitors at chess using magic (adults will have recognised it as a version of the Turk), the best news is that the brilliant Warwick Davies is the man operating the Turk, the bad news is, of course, that the Cybermen aren’t quite as extinct as everyone thinks.

And while we’re pondering how exactly those little spiky flashy things are going to be a problem and when those Cybermen are going to clunk into terrifying life, everything you need to work out that big twist is swiftly rolled before your eyes (though the bit that seems like whimsy, Porridge’s shortening of the Emperor’s title, won’t make sense until later). If you worked it out at this point, you’re bleedin’ brilliant and not nearly  as frightened as you should be of the Cybermen.

Speaking of which, we dial up the creepiness a bit more with the Doctor deciding he needs to start a funny insect collection and the frankly idiotic idea of letting the kids sleep with the waxworks. Nobody could fall asleep with a bunch of waxworks. They could only be more unsettling if they were waxwork clowns. But that’s okay because the Doctor has a bedtime manner guaranteed to give you the heeby-jeebies: “Don’t wander off! [shining the sonic screwdriver on his face like a teenager with a torch telling a ghost story] Now, I’m not just saying ‘don’t wander off’, I mean it. Otherwise you’ll wander off and the next thing you know somebody’s going to have to start rescuing somebody…” Angie: “From what?” The Doctor [too swiftly]: “Nothing. Nobody needs rescuing from anything. Don’t wander off. Sweet dreams!”

Of course it goes without saying that somebody (Angie) does wander off. Just at the moment the Cybermites make their move on Webley and start upgrading him. There’s an inescapable hint of the Borg about the partially upgraded people, but it looks so good I can’t hold it against them.

But there’s lots that looks good here, the dilapidated theme park, silvery in the darkness, the nebula surrounding the utterly empty corner of space that used to be the Tyberian spiral system (and which perfectly matches the captivating blue of Porridge’s eyes as he gives Clara – and us – the backstory).

And then there are the new Cybermen. I’ll be honest I’ve never found the Cybermen scary until now. Not only can they move really quickly and upgrade almost as fast, they look menacing at last. Gone is the tinfoil of my childhood and the bootcut greaves of the first reboot. These are monsters to be reckoned with – even Hat Jr found them a little scary (and she doesn’t flinch at the Urak-hai or the Nazgul).

Luckily the Cybermen make a huge mistake and decide to upgrade the Doctor. The battle inside the Doctor’s head is as ferocious and furious as the one inside Natty Longshoe’s Comical Castle and sees Matt Smith earning the episode a five-pairs-of-socks rating. It was a little too fast for Hat Jr to keep up with, and the clever twisting of Matt Smith to tell us who was talking by focusing on either the Borged or non-Borged side of his face was so subtle I only picked it up second time round. But still, personally speaking, it was fabulous. As was the golden ticket coming into its own, and ‘Allonsy’, ‘he’s had some cowboys in here’, writing ‘Hit me’, the viciousness and menace of the Cyberplanner, not to mention its ability to impersonate the Doctor’s tone (if not his Doctorishness). It would be exhausting to watch every week, but as a one-off it’s a treat.

Porridge (Warwick Davies)And so, to the final twist, as Angie points out that there is one person left who can activate the bomb to destroy the planet (and the Cybermen) – the runaway Emporer, aka Porridge.

The parallels with the Doctor are lightly drawn but clear to see – the man who ran away from his responsibilities, who feels the pain of difficult decisions which left millions dead, a man who’s in hiding and knows what it is to be lonely. No wonder he’s drawn to Clara so strongly too.

Series 7b has grown stronger every week and Nightmare in Silver certainly lived up to the hype. Let’s hope it’s not too long before Neil Gaiman can fit another episode in and that the pattern continues to bring us a suitably nail-biting finale.

But, one final thought before we head to Trenzalore next week; should we be reading anything into the Cyberplanner’s comments that the Doctor’s history could be reconstructed from the hole he’s left by erasing himself? Or is that just another tease from Mr Moffat? Only seven days until we find out… Can. Not. Wait. Till next week – Allonsy!

Posted by Jo the Hat


Filed under Dr Who

4 responses to “Doctor Who (7.12): “Stay alive … and don’t let anyone blow up this planet”

  1. Tim

    This was certainly good but it didn’t quite live up to the hype for me. I gradually tired of the various Doctor/Cyber-planner scenes – they slowed the pace of the action too much for me and I thought the device was used a couple of times too often. But there were plenty of moments to satisfy dedicated fans, and I did love the fact that the Cybers are properly scary once again. Hurrah!

    My usual ramblings:

  2. Peat

    So is the girl in Clara’s care River Song or am I reading too much into it for next week… or did I miss something from last series? Just a casual observer who likes this Dr and loves Clara..

  3. thanks for the review, I sort of wish Gaiman would be willing to take over after Moffat leaves, he could be pretty awesome. I know it will never happen, but I can dream. hope I can get my review up later today!

  4. dogdrovenorth

    The backdrop for the Doctor/Cyber-planner scenes was pretty. Gold and Silver, perhaps? The music for the opening on the moon was pleasantly different too.
    There was plenty of Borg action in evidence. When the pink laser gun stopped having the desired smooshy effect, it was clear “they’ve adapted!” All it needed was “don’t let them touch you!” and it would have been complete.
    Interestingly, if one Cyber could run at fantastic speed fairly early in the episode, why not the rest?
    The final micro-machine was an awful addition. Just explain how they escaped at the start of the next Cyber episode.