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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Doctor Who Review: Nightmare in Silver

Doctor Who

Just when I thought we'd seen the best episode of the season with "The Crimson 'Orror", writer Neil Gaiman gives us an utterly exciting, fanboy pleasing, past-referencing episode with "Nightmare in Silver". The Cyberman are back in a big way. Leaner, faster, and upgraded like never before!

The episode begins with the Doctor, Clara, and the kids Artie and Angie (who really could not have played the "know it all teenager" any more terribly) popping out of the TARDIS on the surface of the moon....well, not the moon exactly, more like a cheap intergalactic amusement park version.

Doctor Who
"We're whalers on the moon...."
They are briefly greeted by Webley, a denizen of the planet who has been waiting for a ride off, before they are interrupted by a platoon of Imperial soldiers. Using the psychic paper, the Doctor convinces them that he is an Imperial consul sent by the missing Emperor and dismisses the group. Webley then takes him into his exhibit, which is a veritable Madame Toussant's of the universe. If you look closely, you can see some aliens from "The Rings of Akhaten", a dummy from "God Complex", and a special appearance by the Blowfish from the Doctor Who spinoff "Torchwood". But what is most surprising is the revelation of a chess-playing Cyberman!

Doctor Who
"I also play Jenga..."
They soon discover that the Cyberman is actually being controlled from below the board by none other than everyone's favorite Ewok, Warwick Davis, playing Porridge. It's pretty cool seeing a Star Wars alumn in the Whoniverse, especially since this is also the 30th anniversary year of Return of the Jedi. After some anti-grav fun, the kids settle down for bed as the Doctor and Clara go to speak with the platoon and search for little silver bugs. Meanwhile, back at Webley's, Artie is taken by a Cyberman and the curator himself is "upgraded". Soon after, a new Cyberman rushes in with blinding speed and abducts Angie. The Doctor instructs Clara to stay behind and make sure that the platoon doesn't blow the planet up as he goes off to rescue the kids.

But when the Doctor finds them, he is infected by cybermites thrown at him by an upgraded Webley. Having a thousand years to evolve and change, the Cybermen were able to adapt to any living body, even that of a Time Lord. The Doctor would be the next Cyber Planner and would lead the new Cyberiad to victory over humanity. But, it's not so easy to upgrade a Time Lord and the Doctor struggled in his own mind against "Mr. Clever". They were at a stalemate, each controlling 49.881% of the brain. The Doctor could regenerate, but then "who knows what we'll get", so they decide to bet the remaining .238% on a game of chess. The Doctor outwits the Cyber Planner for a time by utilizing an old weakness, and slaps the golden ticket to the park to the Cyber side of his face. The move buys him enough time to get to Natty Longshoe's Comical Castle and get tied up, and the two once again battle it out on the chess board. Clara tries to speak with the Doctor, but is tricked by Mr. Clever, who almost convinces her that the Doctor loves her. A quick smack to the face ended that ruse, but the Cyber Planner was still able to destroy the remote trigger to the Desolator. Meanwhile, outside, the small "punishment platoon" waged a fierce battle against the new Cyberiad...and it wasn't going well.

"All your base are belong to us!"
Luckily for Clara and the platoon, the Cyber-Planner was so immersed in his game with the Doctor that he used the power of his brethren to boost his processing, temporarily shutting them down. But the Doctor had the upper hand. After playing a move that allows the children to be freed, he gives the Cyber-Planner a moment to claim victory. And when Cyber-Webley goes after the kids, Porridge ends him with a pulse to the leg. And then it was mate in three moves:
  1. Move One: Turn on sonic screwdriver. 
  2. Move Two: Activate pulse. 
  3. Move Three: Apply pulse.
Struggling momentarily with the Cyber Planner, the Doctor is able to slap himself in the Cyber-Face with the pulse, frying the circuitry and allowing him to reclaim complete control of his mind. But the Cybermen reactivate and march in for the kill. With no way to detonate the Desolator, all is surely lost. But, in the most annoying way possible, Angie correctly surmises that Porridge is the missing Emperor, and indeed Emperor Ludens Nimrod Kendrick Cord Longstaff XLI, Defender of Humanity and Imperator of Known Space activates the bomb with his voice.
"Yub Yub, Commander."
The gang is beamed aboard his ship, where they watch as Hedgewick's World of Wonders is destroyed. Content that he had done his duty and redeemed himself, Porridge asks Clara to marry him and stave off the loneliness of intergalactic rule. Clara politely declines (much to Angie's frustration) and the group departs for home.

"Nightmare in Silver" was full of rich characters who played their parts with great depth and conviction (save, of course, for the kids...) Jenna-Louise Coleman really shined in this episode. She was able to hold her own and take full charge of the command the Doctor left her, made quick, tactical decisions, and showed her complete faith in the Doctor (even if she didn't know what he was doing). She was more like her Victorian self than in any previous episode. And the interplay between her and the Doctor (and Mr. Clever) was just superb.Warwick Davis exuded tons of gravitas and made you really feel for the Emperor, who felt lonely at the top and who, much like the Doctor, was still struggling with his actions that may have ended the war against the Cyberiad, but destroyed countless trillions of lives in the process. Even Jason Watkins played a great part in Webley, who went from slightly downtrodden to obedient and proud Cyber-Webley before his demise. 

But this episode belongs to Matt Smith, who was absolutely brilliant as he battled for control of his mind. I believed that "Mr. Clever" was a separate being, and watching the Doctor and the Cyber Planner engage in the oldest game in the universe, with the highest stakes, was exciting. Inside the Doctor's head was fascinating, seeing his past forms (those "ten complete rejects") was thrilling, and hearing Matt Smith say both "Fantastic!" and (epsecially) "Allons-y!" made me shriek with fanboy glee. Even though Mr. Clever was supposed to be a different being entirely, I thought that he really brought out the worst parts of the Doctor (much like the Valeyard or the Dream Lord). It was interesting to watch a Cyber-being exhibit such emotion, even though he clearly detested the concept of having them. He was sharp, cunning, and took fiendish delight in his "assured" victory. And I was enthralled watching him jockey for position with the Doctor.

Doctor Who
"'ello handsome!"
And, of course, I have to talk about the re-designed Cybermen. I loved how they were leaner, faster, more versatile, and not so easily defeated. The small difference in placement of the eyes and mouth (which curved up slightly) made them a bit more unnerving this time around. Just like the soldier, I jumped a little when the Cyberman's head spun around. I actually enjoyed the almost constant upgrading because it made them seem invincible. Indeed, it took a planet-imploding bomb to finish them off (save for that one head floating in space...) Their design and mannerisms very much harkened back to the classic era but were something completely new. When they awoke from their "tomb", it brought me back to one of my favorite classic Who stories, "The Tomb of the Cybermen" with Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor. For as campy as the old series can be, it is definitely an episode you can't miss. It's also fitting, since Matt Smith marks "Tomb" as his favorite Doctor Who serial and modeled much of his mannerisms and character after Troughton (including the bow tie).

Seen here, the Cyber High School Marching Band

And so, after saying goodbye to Artie, Angie, and Clara, the Doctor was left alone in the TARDIS to once again ponder the mystery of Clara. And he (and we) won't have to wait long to find out. The series 7 finale of Doctor Who airs May 18....and that's when we find out about the Impossible Girl and the Question. Trenzalore is waiting.

Til' next time,

- Joe

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