Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver

Starring: Warwick Davis, Jason Watkins, Tamzin Outhwaite

 Written by: Neil Gaiman

Directed by: Stephen Woolfenden

Arriving at the greatest theme park in the galaxy, complete with golden ticket, the Doctor and his companions are disappointed to find the place closed and run down, inhabited only by a platoon of enthusiastic but inexperienced soldiers and two showmen with an intriguing line in chess opponents. Soon, not only is the future of the galaxy at stake, but the Doctor’s mind as well…

I’ll own up right now. I love Neil Gaiman. He is one of the finest fantasists of the last fifty years, and his previous episode for the show, ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ is by far and away my favourite episode certainly of the Moffat/Smith era, and I could probably be pressed into agreeing that it’s the best episode since the revival. It would be far to say that my expectations for ‘Nightmare in Silver’ were high.

Too high? Perhaps.

I’m well aware that I tend to give more credit – or blame, as it may be – to the writer of each episode or film that I review here, probably because I’m a wannabe writer myself. Gaiman has tweeted about a few things that changed between filming and broadcast, due to editing and the like, so maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I owe Neil Cross a grovelling apology for heaping the criticism of ‘Rings of Akhaten’ at his feet over anyone else. Whatever the case, and it may just be that I’m expecting too much because of my Gaiman fanboy status, this episode severely disappointed me.

It gets off to a decent start, and, to be fair, does have a lot of great moments. The dilapidated theme park looks brilliant – tacky, sure, but it’s Who, after all, and it’s a theme park, what do you expect – and Jason Watkins is a charismatic guest star. The two kids are rather irritating, but you can’t have everything. Warwick Davis, when he appears, gives a brilliant showcase of dry yet humorous acting, and steals the show from everyone else, no mean feat when the script calls for Matt Smith to ham it up even more than he normally does.

More notably, there are some very successful updates to the Cybermen. Building on the sequence in ‘The Pandorica Opens’ a few years ago, they have been given a huge shot in the arm, and while they might not be as terrifying as, say, the Silence, they are clearly a force to be reckoned with now. The idea that humanity had to destroy an entire galaxy to stop them coming back is horrifying, and their numerous tweaks and upgrades render them incredibly dangerous. It’s basically their ‘Cold War’, or ‘Dalek’ from Ecclestone’s run.

However, it never really feels wholly satisfying.

In part, I think it’s because there’s a lot going on. You’ve got the battle for the Doctor’s mind, the reawakening Cybermen, the intrigue of Porridge, which does make sense in context, Clara’s concern for the children she’s supposed to be looking after…it isn’t quite as crowded as Neil Cross’ episodes have been, but it is another compelling argument in favour of two-part stories. Forty five minutes are all very well for a romp through time and space, but there have been too many episodes this series which have fallen flat where another half hour or so would have produced classics.

That aside though, there are definite problems with the script. As stated, the two kids, Angie and Artie, are infuriating. Angie is a generic stroppy teenager, while Artie is a suspiciously polite and formal teenager; given the sorts of shenanigans the Doctor regularly finds himself in the middle of, I was surprised to find that he wasn’t inspecting the poor boy for some sort of alien possession. Mr Clever, or the Cyber-Doctor if you prefer, is a cool idea, and I’m always up for a bit of prime Smith ham, but I couldn’t help but feel that a bit more could have been done with it, or at least something a little different. Writing or acting choice? Who knows, but at the end of the day it’s largely irrelevant. More importantly, there’s just nothing special about the story, the upgrades to the Cybermen aside. It’s a generic siege episode, and while you could argue the same about, say, ‘Cold War’, that episode had a sheen of class and all-round competence that this episode sadly lacks.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad episode. There’s just nothing to make you remember it particularly, and while you can say the same about most of the episodes – most of the episodes of any show, for that matter – not every episode is written by one of the greatest living fantasy writers. I think we were entitled to expect a little more.

In conclusion, I’d like to share a story.

I have a friend who had rather gone off the show after ‘The End of Time’. True, much of this was because she wasn’t getting her weekly dose of David Tennant, but she also had issues with Moffat’s scripts, Smith’s performances, etc etc. However, she kept watching on and off, hoping she’d start to enjoy it again.
As the credits rolled on ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, my phone went off. She had sent me a text, basically saying “I love it. I get it now. I get why you still watch it.”

With ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, Gaiman reignited a fan’s interest in the show, reminded her what was special about it, why she’d loved it in the first place. With ‘Nightmare in Silver’, he’s delivered an episode with some neat ideas, that entertains, but is thoroughly average in almost every respect.

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