The Cybermen return in the Neil Gaiman penned, penultimate episode of Doctor Who’s seventh season. After last season’s excellent Gaiman offering, ‘The Doctor’s Wife‘, how did his second episode fare?
Let’s bitch it out.
Right on the heels of last week’s episode, it looks like The Doctor (Matt Smith) has two new companions for this week’s adventure – Clara’s (Jenna-Louise Coleman) charges Angie (Eve de Leon Allen) and Artie (Kassius Carey Johnson). Unfortunately these new tag-alongs prove to be more nuisances than helpers, merely serving as additional human souls for The Doctor to look after.
Seeing as they’re actually children, the Doctor tries to take them to the “best amusement park there will ever be”. Unfortunately, when they arrive, they discover that it has long since been shut down and now acts (unbeknownst to the Doctor) as dormant resting ground for the assumed obliterated Cybermen. The appearance of the children gives the Cybermen fresh minds to overtake, providing the ‘upgrades’ needed to rise again.
I could have definitely done without Angie’s stereotypic pre-teen whining and the unnecessarily harsh words she throws at Clara that are clearly meant to exhibit the girl’s mommy issues. Unfortunately, we don’t know enough about Angie to care why she’s lashing out, and poor Artie’s collective screen time is all of two minutes. The children are haphazardly thrown in the TARDIS only to be saved by later by the Doctor from some impending danger.
It’s probably petty to harp on the predictable nature of the children, but ultimately characters that are simply there to serve as plot devices detract from the overall enjoyment of a story. This week the children substitute for Clara, who in previous episodes of the season has always been in need of rescuing. And perhaps that is the biggest problem I’m having with this season: the Doctor is always thrown into the role of rescuer for his helpless companions. It’s getting far too played out for my liking. I’d much rather see the Doctor and his companion fighting the impending evil together, and in the process growing and learning from one another.
That being said, now that the children fill the ‘victim quota’ of the episode, Clara gets to take on some responsibility of her own, and her character is all the better for it. She’s absolutely charming as she directs the bumbling platoon of solider rejects, adequately demonstrating not only her courage, but also her cleverness. Clara is given a simple directive from the Doctor – stop the planet from being blown up until he’s had a chance to ‘save the children’. She does achieve this, but everything she does in between demonstrates her worth. Clara’s interactions away from the Doctor show us that she’s finally proving herself as a capable companion – not simply waiting for the Doctor to come and save her or tell her what to do.
But really, ‘A Nightmare in Silver’ is Matt Smith’s episode to shine. In his plight to ‘save the children’, the newly evolved ‘Cyber-Planner’ (or Mr. Clever) has literally burrowed his way into The Doctor’s head, hoping to overtake The Doctor ala an assimilated Borg Picard. What this means is that Smith now inhabits the dual role of hero and villain, fighting and having intense conversations with himself. I think he does an adequate job, but there are moments of where he goes a bit far with the histrionics. Both Mr. Clever and the Doctor are quite high-energy, representing different sides of good and evil. I would have much rather seen more of a nuanced contrast between the two Doctor personas. Perhaps if Mr. Clever was darker and more sinister as opposed to shouty and melodramatic?
Still, Smith does do a good job in making the two distinct – it can’t be an easy job fighting with yourself and doing so in a way that doesn’t completely confuse the audience. Of course, it’s the Doctor’s propensity toward emotion and sentimentality that allows him to conquer Mr. Clever, which again, is a bit too convenient for my liking, but Smith’s performance steals the episode nonetheless.
We also get some interesting backstory regarding the Cyberwars but unfortunately there isn’t enough time to adequately sit with the ramifications of that war. I wonder what a new viewer of Doctor Who would think of this episode. Would they understand what the Cybermen were all about and why they are so dangerous that the only way to defeat them is to obliterate entire planets and civilizations? Ultimately this episode feels as if we’re just touching on issues that have potential to be rich and complex in their implications, which includes the role of the Emperor (portrayed wonderfully by Warwick Davies) but there just isn’t time to develop any of them. ‘A Nightmare in Silver’ isn’t as tedious as previous episodes this season, but I can’t say I was overly excited about it either. With only the season finale remaining, I wonder if a single episode will be enough to redeem a fairly lackluster S7 thus far?
What did you think viewers? Does Neil Gaiman get your accolades as one of Doctor Who’s best writers? Did you enjoy how Clara was left to her own devices? Do you think she’ll ever discover (or remember) that the Doctor knew of her in past incarnations? Any theories on who or what you think Clara is? Will Angie and Artie ever step foot in the TARDIS again? Do we want them to? Sound off in the comments below.
Doctor Who airs at 8pm EST, Saturdays on BBC America.
Side note: BBC has released a prequel to next week’s season finale. Be sure to check it out.