Review: DOCTOR WHO S7E13, NIGHTMARE IN SILVER (Or, An Underwhelming Episode Sees The Doctor Battle Cybermen While Irritating Kids Tag Along)

Simon Cocks, Contributing Writer
Neil Gaiman's previous scripting effort, "The Doctor's Wife," is acknowledged as one of the strongest episodes of recent Doctor Who, effortlessly feeling like something that fits very naturally into the show's past while giving us a fresh spin on something familiar. Understandably, expectations were high for "Nightmare in Silver," an episode that seeks to accomplish the same feat. This time, it's a reestablishment of the threat posed by the Cybermen, an attempt to make them both more scary and more interesting.

Unfortunately, very little in the episode works as well as it should. I'm prepared to entertain the possibility that much of Gaiman's script just doesn't translate but there are numerous flaws throughout this mess and many of them can be attributed to the writing. The story of "Nightmare in Silver" finds the Doctor, Clara and the kids that Clara looks after (Angie and Artie) visiting a theme park world where it is revealed that a very large number of Cybermen are awakening. Much of the episode's conflict, though, exists in the Doctor's own internal struggle as he's almost taken over by the Cybermen and turned into the Cyber Planner.

This plays out with Matt Smith either acting opposite himself or twirling around while putting on two separate voices. He deserves praise for just how fully he commits to this but Smith's acting choices are odd and the whole thing ends up looking more silly than anything else. It's an interesting idea executed in a cartoonish way and, because much of the episode hinges on it working, it only drags down any material that may have promise. Steven Moffat has said in the past that he thinks the show doesn't need to become less complex to appeal to the younger audience but this feels like it's doing exactly that. It's hesitant to explore anything deeply and content with the most basic drama and humour.

There's a lack of depth to the plotting too. It's all established in the most vague way possible, with the script seeming to assume that we have more information than it has provided. The Cybermen are shown to have new more dangerous abilities, like being able to zoom around faster than anybody can see, but then they barely use them. If this episode planned to make them more frightening, it fails disastrously because it shows little concern for how or why they're able to do what they do.

Supporting characters are given the same treatment, existing only in the broadest strokes. They make largely nonsensical choices, rarely acting in an understandable way. The two kids are really about as annoying as kids on Doctor Who come (strangely, for a children's show, the presence of children is usually frustrating), as they seem continually unimpressed while reacting to everything with an attitude of arrogance and displeasure. Other ancillary characters are comical stereotypes; the only one with any potential is played by Warwick Davies and, once you realise that he's capable of saving everyone at any moment but chooses not to for a flimsy reason, he seems poorly written too.

The same issues are there for Clara, who spends this episode running around making throwaway quips and generally not acting like herself. I'm disappointed that she not only doesn't question the Doctor about her realisation at the end of last week's episode (that there's a photo of her in Victorian London), she also doesn't press him when she hears the Cyber Planner talk of the "impossible girl." I understand why this is being left for the finale, but it seems unlike Clara that she'd just let this slide for no discernible reason.

"Nightmare in Silver" is all the more disappointing because it comes just one week after "The Crimson Horror," which remains a terrific episode. This just feels like the show spinning its wheels while it waits for the last episode. I suppose it has its moments, but there aren't many. It doesn't deliver scares, the humour feels forced and everything feels underwritten. There's not much fun to be had with this one and I doubt that anyone's going to be eager to return to this unsatisfying mess anytime soon.
Around the Internet:
  • Atkinson

    Scriptwriters are supposed to think "would this character do this" when they are considering the integrity of their characters and the believability of their stories.

    Would the doctor endanger those two kids in this way?
    Would the Cyber planner agree to play chess?
    Would the Cyber planner really need the intellect of the whole Cyber army to win a chess game?
    Would the Cyber planner need these two children when he already has an army?
    Would the Cybermen use their super speed to steal the children and then not use it any more?
    Would somebody use the electric glove on the doctor much much earlier?
    Would the emperor blow up the planet and save the good guys much much earlier?
    Would the emperor and his Carny friend hang around a derelict amusement park with no people except for some soliders?
    Would the soldiers hang around an amusement park with a few carny folk when there were no customers?

    These aren't small plot points that occur afterwards. These stick out as being insultingly stupid while you watch the episode.

  • shutupandpsotcoolcrap

    who cares what you think?

  • Agnes Maria

    I am the only one I know of so far who did not like The Doctor's Wife at all. It was a horrible episode. I hated it.

  • Schwenkstar

    You are not alone. It was a forgettable episode. The weakest of the sixth season.

  • I wasn't the biggest fan of The Doctor's Wife; I thought the direction killed a good script, amping up the quirk like they were trying to be the British Tim Burton.
    This was pretty great, I thought; first time I've ever liked the cybermen, and finally an episode not written by Moffat that actually writes the Doctor as Matt Smith instead of David Tennant, playing to his strengths and letting him really cut loose.

  • Leave Comments

    I am not feeling this 2nd half of the season this time. The kids were terrible and things are not clicking or connecting in a way that makes me feel it or feel involved in the stories. I am bummed out about this because I love this show and SJA and Torchwood and SciFi in general.

  • yining

    I feel the same way. The show just isn't "clicking" with me and I don't really know what's wrong with the usual magic--but I /can tell that there's some serious underwriting and negligence of character development going on here. And I love this show, which is why I expect so much of it and walk away angry.

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