Neil Gaiman, Cybermen, and Warwick Davis All Show Up in Doctor Who's "Nightmare in Silver"
Complying to the more traditional structure of a Doctor Who adventure, Neil Gaiman's second shot at writing for the program does not have quite the same punch as his critically praised first effort (last season's "The Doctor's Wife"), but overall "Nightmare In Silver" succeeds as solid entertainment.
The Doctor, Clara, and Clara's youthful charges, Angie and Artie --fresh off discovering that their nanny is a time traveler -- head to Hedgewick's World Of Wonders, billed as the greatest theme park in the galaxy. It makes sense: take the kids on some rides, wear them out, and presumably satisfy them enough that they won't reveal her secret. Things don't go quite as planned. Left ravaged in the wake of war with the Cybermen, most of the theme park's attractions look like they were once amazing but now sit in an unloved state of disrepair and disuse.
The Doctor and company happen upon Impresario Webley, overseer of Webley's World Of Wonder, a museum within the park that is still intact and features a chess game against an apparently empty Cyberman husk. Artie fails to defeat the game, and Angie correctly ascertains that there is a diminutive man inside, hidden by mirrors. This is Porridge, played by none other than Warwick Davis, whose guest spot steals the show this week and adds to his already formidable genre cred (Return of the Jedi, Harry Potter, Willow, etc.) with this appearance in Doctor Who.
They also encounter a military platoon light on useful military training, having relied on last resort planet and star system detonations to vanquish the Cybermen. The Doctor bluffs them with psychic paper, claiming to be the Imperial Consul. He assigns Clara to oversee their actions and make certain that the planet is not detonated this time, as it soon becomes apparent that the Cybermen have been biding their time on this planet waiting to strike.
The Cybermen capture Webley and the children and perform a preliminary assimilation upon them into their collective. Really, Doctor? Leaving the kids to take a nap unattended on a strange planet? I suppose he is that oblivious at times, even if he does have the sense to deliver the futile advice for them not to wander off. And, of course, we wouldn't have much of a story otherwise.
In a sign of their upgrades and new ability to incorporate Time Lords, The Cybermen also manage to capture The Doctor and take control of part of his brain, but The Doctor is strong and able to resist. A battle within his mind ensues, with The Doctor matched against an evil cyber-counterpart version of himself. Matt Smith makes these scenes particularly fun, ping-ponging between the two selves and relishing the villainous bits. Completing this half-season's theme of shout-outs back to classic Who, The Doctor's brain lets us see a gallery of all The Doctor's past incarnations, and he threatens his alter ego with a destructive regeneration, even as the cyber-consciousness assumes increasing control over his actions. Caught at an impasse, they agree to settle the dispute for control of The Doctor's body with a chess game.
Meanwhile, Clara, Porridge, and the military platoon struggle to hold off the Cybermen, endowed with super speed that we have not seen before in Doctor Who history. They fortify themselves in the theme park's castle behind an electrified moat, but with a legion of hibernating Cybermen marching upon their position, the odds of survival do not look encouraging. The Doctor is able to join them by temporarily disabling his cyber-consciousness with the golden ticket he brandished earlier to enter the theme park, in another shout-out to the classic days of Who. There he continues his battle within their walls, where Clara shows a clever ability to distinguish between the good Doctor and the deceitful, out-of-character, flirtatious Doctor.
With a bluff about his imminent victory in the chess game, The Doctor is able to distract the cyber-consciousness, eject it from his body (and the bodies of the kids), and delay the attack of the Cybermen long enough to allow everyone to escape. Porridge, as it turns out, has been assuming a humble identity to conceal his position as Emperor of the Universe, and he calls in the cavalry to transport them off the planet and onto his spaceship using a trans-mat, but not before activating the planetary destruct on a timer to wipe out this group of Cybermen before they can spread across the stars to enslave and kill others. Safely on board Porridge's ship, The Doctor asks him to beam up the TARDIS as well, and they all watch the planet detonate.
Porridge had grown weary of the lonely life that accompanies absolute power and asks Clara, who acquitted herself quite well against the Cybermen, to marry him. She politely declines to Angie's disbelief. The Doctor takes her and the kids back home, and he is left wondering about the enigma that is Clara yet again.
Said enigma comes to an end with the upcoming season finale, however. Yes, promises have been made to reveal both the mystery of Clara's multiple identities and deaths and The Doctor's name, untold backstory, or whatever it is that Moffat decrees.
Spoilers are already out there folks, so please keep them out of the discussion here if you happen to know anything. I myself am going to abandon the Internet as much as I can until Saturday to ease my spoiler paranoia, and I shall return here to recap the final installment and send us off into the new frontier of Doctor Who, whatever it might be.
Classic Doctor Who Bonus:
This week I revisited Colin Baker's "Attack of the Cybermen." I've always felt the oddball Whovian in that I find Colin Baker to be extremely underrated; perhaps he was just saddled with some sub-par scripts, although this particular one is not shabby at all. In this second adventure he begins to define his Doctor's demeanor, with Peri patiently waiting for the effects of his harrowing regeneration to wear off.
The Cybermen seek to alter history and prevent the destruction of their planet, which requires the tradeoff of destroying Earth by diverting Halley's comet into a collision course. It features the return of mercenary Lytton, first seen in Peter Davison's "Resurrection of the Daleks." Lytton makes for a memorable anti-hero, and his ultimately tragic loyalties and motives are not made clear initially. With its electronic score and costuming of the Cryons, a race vanquished by the Cybermen that is trying to take back their planet, "Attack of the Cybermen" has the usual amount of 80s Doctor Who cheesiness, but I think it's a fun episode.
C. Robert Dimitri hopes he does not learn The Doctor is named Fred...or Ted...or Seymour...or pretty much any normal name...or pretty much any name at all for that matter.