Roll up, roll up… Welcome to Hedgewick’s World – Home of the Spacey Zoomer, Ice Cream… and 3 million Cybermen on your doorstep.
Yes, Neil Gaiman is back with another story where the whimsical and terrifying collide in “Nightmare In Silver”, which also marks the return of the Cybermen with a new design and new tricks.
Unlike the Daleks, which have remained pretty much as they were originally envisaged back in 1963, the Cybermen have adapted to reflect the times, from the original concept where organic body parts were on open display, through the numerous redesigns including “Excellent” (had to throw in that quip) moon-booted Cybermen of the 1980s, to the art-deco “Pete’s World” Cybermen of the RTD era. However, this upgrade has to come down as one of their most scariest yet.
One of these is through the use of Hedgewick’s World itself. At the start of the story, the Doctor is simply using Hedgewick’s World as a way to show off to new TARDIS travellers Artie and Angie. However, through the progress of the story, the viewer is witness to the fact that the Cybermen have used the theme park as a slaughterhouse by converting the children who have visited into new footsoldiers for the Cyberiad. A clever counterpoint of the cuteness of a theme park and the obscenity, although the Cybermen themselves would view it as a means to an end, of their actions.
The new tricks devised by Gaiman for the Cybermen themselves are also devilishly clever as, like the Daleks, they trade on the unexpected. Slow marching Cybermen are a thing of the past. Now, we have Cybermen who could give Usain Bolt a run (literally) for his money, and although I don’t like this gimmick, in particular, I can understand why it has been introduced, alongside the fact that Cybermen can have eyes in the back of their head, as well as being able to take their heads along with other body parts off at will.
Alongside the main Cybermen plot, you really get a full-on character study into what makes the Doctor tick. For a start off, the theme of a character being seen as a “monster” rears its head again, following the lonely monster scenario in “Hide” – which also parallels Porridge’s assertion that being an Emperor (or you can also say the Doctor himself) is lonely, and the Doctor himself being seen as a monster by Ada Gillyflower in “The Crimson Horror”, you now see the character of Porridge seeing himself as a monster following his actions of destroying the Tiberion Galaxy in his role as Emperor – remind you of somebody?
Additionally, Porridge has run away from his actions for pushing the button, something that Davros berates the Doctor upon in “Journey’s End”, along with his wish to run away from his responsibilities as Emperor which he fails in, but which the Doctor manages to do when the Time Lord presidency is foisted upon him at the end of “The Five Doctors”.
As with the previous stories of “Season 7B”, there are continuity references which can apparently be mined from this story.
- Of course, along with the Cybermen come their insect-like pets. However, like the advancements in the Cybermen themselves, the Cybermats, as seen in the stories such as “The Tomb Of The Cybermen”, “Revenge Of The Cybermen” and “Closing Time”, have been replaced by the more sophisticated “Cybermites”.
- The reference by the “Cyber-Planner Doctor” to the Doctor’s mind having “had cowboys in here” is referenced by the Tenth Doctor himself when he scans Madame De Pompadour in “The Girl In The Fireplace”.
- When the Doctor challenges the “Cyber-Planner Doctor” to chess, one of the conditions the Doctor imposes is that “nobody dies”. (“The Doctor Dances” and “Forest Of The Dead”)
- The Doctor challenging the “Cyber-Planner Doctor” to a game of chess, which he claims the Time Lords created. This could be seen as a parallel to the Seventh Doctor who challenged Lady Peinforte (off screen) and the Fenric entity (both in an off screen adventure and in “The Curse of Fenric”) to high stakes games of chess, plus the Eleventh Doctor playing “Live Chess” against Gantok in “The Wedding of River Song”.
- The “Cyber-Planner Doctor” taunts the Doctor upon the fact that he has wiped himself from known records, something that has been a feature since “The Wedding of River Song” and was prominent in the resolution of “Asylum Of The Daleks”.
The acting in this story is top notch with some great guest casting.
Tamsin Outhwaite gives a solid performance in her screen time as Captain Ferris. The character is your typical “red shirt” character in this story, but Ms Outhwaite adds an element of being an efficient leader, despite the fact that her platoon as a “punishment platoon” is, quite frankly, a bit rubbish.
Jason Watkins in the role of Webley comes over as a combination of part Willy Wonka, part Wizard of Oz and part carnival flim-flam man in the style of Vorg from “Carnival of Monsters”.
But the real star of the guest cast is Warwick Davies in the role of Porridge. He invests the character with, on the one hand, a light and airy nature with a nice line in dry wit as evidenced in his saying that the party’s defence should take place in “Natty Longshoe’s Comical Castle”, whilst on the other hand he feels the heavy burden of responsibility but having no problem in giving the necessary orders.
Following the epilogue in “The Crimson Horror”, there were concerns abound that Team TARDIS were going to get two annoying children in tow with Angie and Artie. However, this proves not to be the case, despite Angie being a bit of a brat at the start of the story. This is down to a few factors.
Firstly, the performances by Eve de Leon Allen and Kassius Carey Johnson in their respective roles of Angie and Artie take the characters on a journey from incredulous travellers, to threatened temporary companions, to people who appreciate the TARDIS crew.
The second area is the two younger characters are only given prominence at the early exchanges and the resolution story, whilst the story revolves around the Doctor and Clara.
The final area is the resolution itself as, although Captain Ferris knows that Porridge is the absent Emperor, it is Angie who has the gumption to put two and two together and is smug enough to let everyone else know it, with humourous effect.
Now for Team TARDIS. Jenna-Louise Coleman goes from strength to strength in the role of Clara. The character is taking a journey from the nanny who we see in “The Bells of Saint John” who has problems with technology, through a sassy partnership with the Doctor who playfully flirts with him, to, in this episode, somebody who can take the lead (which must be a follow on to the end of “The Crimson Horror” where she exclaims on her return that she’s “in charge”), be a trusted ally to the Doctor who she trusts, but also a companion who can challenge the Doctor’s behaviour, particularly when the “Cyber-Planner Doctor” reveals the secret (remember she had her mind reset at the end of “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS”) that she is the “Impossible Girl”.
But the real star of the episode is Matt Smith himself who gives a well rounded performance in the twin roles of the Doctor and the “Cyber-Planner Doctor”.
The Doctor is more of a schoolboy in this episode – full of golden tickets, love for ice cream and Spacey Zoomers. However, this is the top layer – the Doctor’s suit of armour – as we see a manipulative, scheming character who will fight on the villains’ own terms by using trickery and traps to defeat them, which is reminiscent of the Second and Seventh incarnations of the Doctor by on the one hand seeming silly and happy-go-lucky whilst being a darker, more cruel figure underneath. In addition to this, Matt has grown this season in adding a steel to the Doctor’s character that is less compromising to his opponents than what we have seen in earlier seasons for the Eleventh Doctor.
Matt’s performance as the “Cyber-Planner Doctor”, or Mr. Clever, shows that he can also play a cracking villain with over the top evil glee, mischief and using the knowledge contained within the Doctor’s mind to wrong foot Clara, but with a cold restraint when required to make the character a chilling threat and not just a comedic evil alter-ego.
This story, as with “The Crimson Horror”, builds upon the initial platform made with earlier episodes of Season 7B and there is a continued build up in the quality of the stories by realizing that you can play to the writer’s strengths. Whereas “The Crimson Horror” uses Mark Gattiss’s fondness for the “Penny Dreadfuls”, “Nightmare In Silver” uses Neil Gaiman’s talent for combining the fairy tale and the frightening.
With “The Name Of The Doctor” coming in a couple of days time, we are moving into exciting, and uncertain, territory with our lead characters. With stories that have imagination, wit and risk like “Nightmare In Silver”, the next fifty years look as exciting as the previous fifty.