When it comes to Doctor Who, it is not that often that an episode by an individual writer attracts a whole lot of attention in its own right, unless of course, it has been written by Neil Gaiman, one of the most imaginative and brilliant writers around at the moment. His first episode for Moffat's run, The Doctor's Wife, was extremely well received and so anticipation naturally grew for his return to the Eleventh Doctor with Nightmare in Silver. Especially since it came with the promise that it would also see a return of the Cybermen, retooled by Gaiman to terrorise the Doctor once again.
Speaking of the Cybermen, they have been one of a few Doctor Who Big Bads to have suffered from over-exposure in recent years, beginning with The Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel a few years back. There's also the problem that they don't quite carry the fear factor that, say, the Daleks still have or the Weeping Angels precisely because they are so clunky; signalling your arrival with a clank and a thud does tend to lessen the impact somewhat. Therefore, they were primed for a revival and with a dash of Iron Man and a pinch of the Borg, Nightmare in Silver brings back the metallic menace and makes them a worthy enemy once more.
The episode as a whole was one of the better instalments this series, though not quite reaching the heights of Hide, balancing an action-packed story with some excellent performances. Matt Smith is given a huge amount to do this time around, not only portraying the noble Doctor but also the Cyber-Planner or Mr Clever as he prefers to be called, a cyberman keen to take control of the biggest and best brain in the universe. The scenes in which we entered the Doctor's head were beautifully presented (and with welcome images of his previous incarnations) whilst Smith did well to maintain a separation between the two identities, despite the odd slip into pantomime dramatics. I also enjoyed the directional choices here; the warm oranges of the Doctor's half of the brain, contrasted with the cold blue hues of the Cyber-Planner and the profile shots to determine which side of the brain was in control.
The performance of the episode though belonged to Warwick Davis. This series has done well with giving the guest characters proper arcs across the episode (referring once again back to Hide, but also to last week's The Crimson Horror) and Nightmare in Silver continued the tradition with Davis' Porridge. Beginning the episode as a con-artist manipulating a chess game and ending it back in his rightful place as emperor, Davis filled the role with a world weariness that made him a compelling figure in the midst of the action.
The action itself, of which there is plenty, is as fast-paced and as frenetic as we've all come to expect from Doctor Who of late, but thankfully it isn't enough to complete alienate you. The refit of the Cybermen gives them an added menace and with some natty upgrades that stop them being defeated quite so easily. It also takes Who into some quite dark areas, particularly Porridge's speech about the destroyed galaxy and how he doesn't feel sorry for those who died, but for the man who pushed the button. Later, he faces the decision of blowing up an entire planet. In a time where most Who baddies are actually just misunderstood, it's refreshing to see an episode acknowledge that some are irredeemably evil and drastic measures must be taken to put a stop to it.
It wasn't all great though; the addition of the kids to the usual roster of TARDIS residents was not ideal and even though they proved to be little more than a plot point, they irritated me enough that I didn't care too much about their upgrades. We also didn't get to see as much of Clara this week and after the Victorian photograph revelation in the previous episode, it felt like a bit of a step back in her progression.
Next week promises it be packed full of stuff, with a glimpse of Richard E. Grant in the trailer for the finale, The Name of the Doctor. Watch out for Jen's review.
You can read Jen's review of the previous episode, The Crimson Horror, here.
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