Doctor Who "Nightmare in Silver" Review: Cybermen Really Get Inside Your Head

By Emily V. Gordon

May 12, 2013

Doctor Who S07E12: "Nightmare in Silver"


In every series of Doctor Who, there must be at least one or two brushes with some old-school foes—the standards being the Daleks and the Cybermen. These episodes are often my least favorite, because they usually feel forced—the showrunners feel obliged to include them; everyone wants to do something cool and new with the iconic, creaky old foes; no one wants to rock the boat too much. The main struggle is that no matter what the writers and character designers do, it's hard to make large, slow hunks of metal feel truly terrifying now. 

I'll give it to Neil Gaiman—he came as close as anyone could have to making Cybermen scary again. A lot was riding on "Nightmare in Silver," Gaiman's second Doctor Who episode; his first, "The Doctor's Wife," is extremely beloved and one of my favorites. Like "The Doctor's Wife," "Nightmare in Silver" explored a familiar character from the Whoniverse in a completely new way, by letting us look into the cheeky, cruel mind of a Cyber-planner. Throw in the fact that the Cybermen were taking advantage of "patches" to continually upgrade themselves to resist attack, and we had ourselves some Cybermen Plus! Although this episode was fantastic, it didn't match the heart of "The Doctor's Wife"… but that's not to say it was a wash! Far from it; "Nightmare in Silver" seemed to benefit from a good chunk of the budget and a heaping helping of the "will they or won't they?" tension of this season, and it was marred only by the familiar Wizard of Oz-like rescue ending. 

The episode found The Doctor and Clara taking her babysitting charges, Angie and Artie, to the largest theme park in the universe—a theme park that'd long since been abandoned because people kept disappearing from it. All that was left was a very jumpy platoon and a friendly oddball of a guy, Webley, who still had a few remnants of the theme park he was willing to share with the kids. One of his tricks was a hollowed-out Cyberman who played chess, which scared the hell out of The Doctor, until he realized it was actually being controlled by a man named Porridge (Warwick Davis!!). Davis turned in one hell of a performance in this episode—emotional, complex, and very enjoyable. 

The kids were ready to leave, but The Doctor was very interested in some little robotic worms he'd found scurrying around, so they set up camp for the night. Of course, trouble ensued. Webley was attacked by the robotic worms and became part cyborg, Artie was grabbed by a Cyberman and also became part cyborg (either that or he was just wearing an intense Bluetooth), and Clara learned about the Cyber Wars from Porridge. Humanity had no chance of beating the Cybermen during these wars, as the Cybermen would just upgrade themselves to fix any weaknesses the humans identified, so the humans did the only thing they knew to do: They blew up the whole galaxy. Terrible, sure, but "No more galaxy, no more Cybermen."

But there were more than just hollow CyberMen about; there was an actual, functional one that showed up, and when we finally saw it, it looked menacing, shiny, and slightly redesigned since the last time we saw the Cybermen, in "Closing Time." The superfast movement was a nice touch. The Cyberman took Angie, and The Doctor put Clara in charge of the platoon. They scampered off to find a defendable position to try and attack the Cyberman on the loose.

It turned out that the Cybermen needed children for spare parts, and the theme park was a perfect place for them to hide and collect those parts. They liked children's brains because they had so much potential, but upon discovering The Doctor's infinitely more clever brain, they burrowed into his head. He fought as hard as he could, and we were treated to the first of several Gollum-like scenes that featured The Doctor fighting with himself. The Doctor and the Cyber-planner in his head (a.k.a. Mr. Clever) made a wager on a game of chess. If The Doctor won, the children would be freed, The Doctor would be freed, and nobody would die. If the Cyber-planner won, the Cybermen would get The Doctor's brain. 

Back at Natty Longshoes Comical Castle, Clara found that the platoon only had one gun, five hand pulsars that could deactivate a Cyberman if used on the back of its head, and one bomb that would implode the planet. The platoon seemed desperate to go ahead and blow everything up, but Clara was dead set against it. She has really come into her own as a strong, confident character. She's not questioning what to do when The Doctor isn't present, she's running a platoon, bossing people around, charming the pants off of everyone in sight, and making tactical decisions. It feels like a natural evolution that matches her feisty nature.

During the chess game between The Doctor and Mr. Clever, we learned a few things—we learned that The Doctor has been thinking about Clara a lot. We learned that The Doctor is still basically erased from every database in the known universes. And we learned that the Cybermen could be weakened by gold and cleaning fluid. With that, The Doctor temporarily scrambled Mr. Clever by jamming his golden ticket to the theme park onto the circuitry that has been molded onto his face. 

This gave him enough time to find Clara and explain what was going on ("A good news, bad news, good news again situation"); then he asked Clara to tie him up before the Cybermen made a patch to fix make themselves resistant to gold. This is when Matt Smith truly shone in this episode. It's one thing to do a scene with yourself as two different characters; at this point he was playing both himself and Mr. Clever the Cyber-planner in scenes with Clara. Mr. Clever was a bit more sly, a bit meaner, a bit sexier than The Doctor, and it's a credit to Smith's acting skills that the differences between the two were startling. The who's who gave us the inevitable scene where The Doctor confessed his romantic feelings for Clara (and yes, I was swooning even though I saw it coming a mile away), only to have Clara slap Mr. Clever/The Doctor and insist that the real Doctor would rather die than admit his feelings. After several switchovers between the two characters (and slaps from Clara), Mr. Clever nastily drawled, "I have a chess game to finish. And you have to die pointlessly, and very far from home. Toodaloo." There were more Cybermen on the way, and a lot of them.

The platoon and Clara were desperately trying to hold off the advancing Cybermen. I find that they're most creepy when there are a lot of them and they're marching in unison, and this episode provided that in spades. Watching the Cybermen move lightning fast, shoot lasers, and steadily clomp their way across the moat to get to the platoon got my heart racing. Luckily, The Doctor's insistence that he could end the chess game in three moves stumped Mr. Clever, and he shut down all Cybermen mid-attack in order to focus on the puzzle at hand. The three moves involved the sonic screwdriver and a pulsar, natch, and then everyone was safe... but no one was really safe until the Cybermen were destroyed. 

In (unfortunately) classic Doctor Who "click your heels together" miracle-style, it was revealed that Porridge was actually the Emperor, hiding away from his role in destroying the galaxy during the Cyber Wars. He was able to activate the bomb to implode the planet, and he was also able to rescue everyone and teleport them to a safe location. When the TARDIS didn't come with, I thought "Aha, that'll be something!" But no, the TARDIS was teleported to the safe house as well. Everyone was safe. Clara fended off a quick marriage proposal from Emperor Porridge (watched with some interest by The Doctor), and the hour ended with The Doctor once again wondering about his "mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that's just a little too tight." Whaaaa? Did The Doctor just make a sexual comment about Clara? 

Other than presenting a cool story about the Cybermen and letting Matt Smith show off some acting chops, the main goal of "Nightmare in Silver" seemed to be to further convince me that The Doctor is in love with Clara. I'm not complaining, I like a good Cybermen story, and I love a good love story—especially when it involves a time-traveling alien and a human. Yes, the crisis was magically solved in the last five minutes, but it happens so often with Doctor Who that I'm starting to not judge it as harshly as I used to, which is a bit of a bad sign. It's become routine that an interesting and complex story will be presented, then completely fixed with little to no fanfare. I still yearn for the days of two-parter episodes, when we had time to watch things build up, be terrifying, and then get solved, but this is the Who we've got.

Next week's episode is the Series 7 finale, and it'll bring back Madame Vastra, Strax, and Jenny, plus River Mothereffing Song!!! It will be wonderful to see her again, even if she's being set up for heartbreak when she discovers that her husband has a new girlfriend...



NOTES

– Such attitude on that Angie! Good gracious! I wanted to ground her for most of the episode!

– The theme park setting looked gorgeous but seemed somewhat disused after the first five minutes of the episode. 

– Funniest exchange of the episode: 

Platoon: Natty Longshoes Comical Castle. 

Clara: Real castle? Drawbridge? Moat?

Platoon: Yes. But comical. 

Clara: We'll go there. 

– Second funniest exchange:

Clara: I trust the Doctor. 

Platoon: You think he knows what he's doing.

Clara: I'm not sure I'd go that far.

Clara's chops in the comedy timing department are really coming along! 

– Oh no, Mr. Clever did NOT just say Allons-y, did he?! 

– The Doctor's answer when asked ii Clara is pretty was, "No, you're too short and bossy and your nose is all funny," which didn't even slightly sound convincing. He might be able to play two characters trapped in one body, but no one can pretend that woman is not stunning. 


What did you think of "Nightmare in Silver"?

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  • rsmith0028 Oct 03, 2013

    Cybermen are my worst nightmare you can't die you can't run you are turned into a cold blooded machine i would pick death over that any day

  • JessicaDoty1 Jun 04, 2013

    Um, what show were you watching if you think the difference between Mr. Clever and The Doctor were "startling". Matt Smith has never in this role shown himself capable of anything but goofy/silly and he proved it again in this episode. Disappointing when he could have done SO much!

  • Gnova67 May 17, 2013

    this episode suffered from the awful decision that was made to reduce stories to only one episode.
    Since they have made this decision too many of the stories seemed frantic and rushed. No time to build up suspense or anything but the most forgettable characters imaginable.

  • GCCHumanBeing May 14, 2013

    I spent the entire episode enthralled by Matt Smith's acting. You now, I think I'm going to go watch it again right now...

  • iliadee May 14, 2013

    Is it me or was the bomb supposed to im-plode the planet yet when it went of it clearly ex-ploded the planet. I was expecting more of the planet Vulcan type effect than the standard space explosion. Yes nIt picky I know

  • dodge_hickey May 14, 2013

    Neil Gaiman wrote one of my favorite episodes (The Doctor's Wife) and he did again with this episode. For the first time this season I was on the edge of my seat when the villain was on screen! I would love Neil Gaiman to come back and write another episode, he hit the right balance of fear and humor. Warwick Davis was a massive surprise, All around this is my favorite episode of the season. I look forward to next week (with the return of Richard E,Grant?!)

  • rbat973 May 14, 2013

    About Angie's phone. The Tardis gave it to her. Unusual since the Tardis doesn't usually like all the "strays" the Doctor brings home as Clara can tell you. Since the Tardis exists across all times and dimensions as we found out in The Pandorica Opens. Possibly Angie will need to use the phone in the future to get hold of the Doctor or the Tardis was just being nice to her which is very unusual. Also, the Tardis called only one person her 'child' and that was River Song in Let's Kill Hitler. The Tardis knows River will die or is from the Tardis' perspective already dead. It could be that the Tardis sympathized with a motherless girl which could be another plot twist down the road or just a fan's over active imagination!

  • rbat973 May 14, 2013

    About Angie's attitude, I think it is obvious this is a girl who is seriously grieving the loss of her mother, who died suddenly leaving a visiting Clara to fill in as governess for her friend's children as we found out in The Bells of St John's. Angie's grief is taking the form of anger and hostility and Clara is bearing the brunt of it. I don't know why Moffat put this in unless Angie's working things out with Clara is some plot element that we will see later in the show. I just hope that if this is true the bachelors, dating people and otherwise childless among us will bear with it because then it will probably have something to do with exposing some element of the Doctor's mind and/or emotions. Or this could all be a one time thing!

  • biva-gore-dolu May 14, 2013

    worst episode ever ! wake up guys

  • jwgrlrrajn May 16, 2013

    Don't make baseless claims without the evidence to back them up. If you didn't like it, that's fine. Everyone's different, but if you're trying to convince other people to dislike it, you actually need to argue your position rather than simply state it.

  • naniquena May 14, 2013

    no

  • JT_Kirk May 13, 2013

    This may have been the worst episode I've ever seen, including the '96 tv movie. A big part of the problem is the execution, it looked cheap and the Cybermen once again are boring dolts, the directing felt miles away from the content, and it just didn't deliver on the ideas - the comical castle alone just completely missed every opportunity, and it didn't even succeed at what it was going for. A lot of the acting was pretty bad too, although none of the bad acting compared to the two kids' acting, that was unbearable. The effects also looked surprisingly awful.

    The writing side was pretty weak too, and I was sorry to see it was Neil Gaiman's fault. This was as opposite The Doctor's Wife as it gets, none of the new characters had any life except "Porridge" and even that got undermined at the end. It felt like it wanted to be an old serial version with the 3 or 4 hours those stories had to really flesh out ideas and characters. The Cybermen are rewritten to be something more deadly, and yet still they are inconsistent and derivative of Star Trek's the Borg rather than the Cybermen this time around, and despite being cyber"men" their bodies seemed not to need human flesh at all, what with detachable hands and heads attacking left and right, Cybermites infecting human flesh, etc.. And what was the cause of this regeneration? First they claim they needed child brains and infected our obnoxious kiddies, then they already had scores and scores of Cybermen awaiting attack underground that were already upgraded. They zip around like the Flash minus actual leg movement at first, then they just trudge normally the rest of the episode.

    The endgame move was a total deus ex machina, what was the point of this episode if they're just going to bomb the planet and beam away easily no matter what? We had people die simply because Porridge didn't want to go back to being the Emperor until the last minute, is that really the best they can come up with? And the Doctor's internal struggle ended up flat and similarly cheaty, there's supposed to be an argument between the Doctor's emotional personality and the Cyberinfection's unemotional one, yet the Cyber strategist was crazy emotional, yelling and proverbially stroking his mustache when he saw the upper hand.

    Unlike Emily, I didn't find Clara in any way compelling here, she was too often flip and didn't really seem to know anything to back that up, she put her faith in the Doctor and yet he didn't save her, and she ended up nearly dooming the universe with that stupid move with the bomb's flashlight-shaped trigger.

    In the end, I enjoyed Warwick Davis' performance quite a bit, and that is literally it. Nothing else made sense (the opening scene where the kids were sure they were on the moon and yet when we saw from their perspective it was clearly a ride), it was horribly acted and scripted and directed and produced, and the fun ideas underpinning the planet never got to shine or even look like they existed at all.

  • rawman31 May 16, 2013

    Thank you, you are right on the money about this episode.

  • naniquena May 14, 2013

    5 part comment... after a 3472343 part article... come on...

  • JT_Kirk May 14, 2013

    Nobody made you read it. And ask around, that was one of the shorter responses from me.

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