Saturday, 11 May 2013

Review: Doctor Who 7.12: Nightmare In Silver
I still say it sounds like a dodgy romance novel.
Neil Gaiman's The Doctor's Wife was one of a few saving graces from 2011's turbulent sixth series, and its reverance towards Who history and lore have had many hailing Gaiman as the new Moffat. The British ex-pat's love of fantasy came through in this week's Cybermen-revamping episode, although there were a few problems with the way that the story went down that prevented it from being as barnstormingly influential as Gaiman's previous episode. For from the game-changing reintroduction that the Cybermen needed, the monsters in this story felt a little more like their American counterparts, the Borg.
     Coerced into bringing along Clara's pre-teen wards, The Doctor takes young Artie and and Angie along in the TARDIS, which he takes to Hedgewick's World, a massive Alton-Towers-style theme park in the future. There he finds a worried parkmaster Webley (Jason Watkins, Being Human's Herrick) and his short friend Porridge (Warrick Davies, of Harry Potter and Star Wars fame), with their main attraction at the moment being a puppet-operated Cyberman who can play chess. An invasion of insectoid "Cyber-mites" that can absorb technology and convert people see the adaptation of a smartphone into a new, super-competant and super-agile race of Cybers. While a platoon of soldiers, led by Clara, tries to prevent the planet from becoming a new Cyberman base, The Doctor fights with a Cyber-planner consciousness that has been inserted into his brain.
     There is often great opposition in fandom to the use of child actors for anything at all. Moffat's era is especially fond of them, and as a result we are often sitting on a knife edge between a passable performance and a immersion-breakingly bad one. This was unfortunately the latter, with the addition of Artie and Angie not only rendered unnecessary for the vast majority of the episode (which they spend as unconscious slaves) but also cringingly incompetant the rest of the time. It's half-and-half script and casting on this one, which makes it all the more disappointing.
Warrick Davies (Porridge) was a strong presence, but for an
odd plot twist at the end.
     The episode came with a wealth of guest stars, none of whom were used well. Tamzin Outhwaite was wasted in her role as soldier captain, and it's quite frankly criminal to give Jason Watkins a role with such little to do. Watkins can do brilliantly cheesy and sinisterly manipulative and frighteningly savage, and sometimes he can role that all into one character. He shouldn't spend 90% of the episode on the sidelines. Warrick Davies, who got the most screen-time of the big names, was okay for the most part, but the sudden revelation of his royalty at the end felt like it was trying to squeeze in another plot unecessarily.
     The Cybermen themselves... well, I enjoyed the redesign for the most part. I worry that they may have lost their distinct identity completely now that both Moffat and Gaiman have co-opted aspects of the Borg into their physionomy that really shouldn't be there. I've said this before, and I'll say it again - The Cybermen aren't big, powerful scary robots. The scary thing about a Cyberman is its history, its former humanity. We need to be reminded that the Cybermen were human - something that the last good Cyberman story (in my opinion), Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel managed to hit on the head. Also, the act of conversion is an innately desperate one - it's deliberate and painful and mechanical. The Cybermen will never be scary with Borg-esque nano-bots and adaptable programming.
     I'll go a little further with this. The Cybermen from the Classic Series - cool. The Borg - cool. You try to combine the two, and it doesn't work, because they're coming from two different angles. The Cybermen's collapse into cybernetics came as something necessary for survival, the last throes of a race on the edge of extinction. They convert to survive, to continue the species - we are often reminded of their humanity by seeing people being converted, or seeing human parts in their design. The Borg are an attempt to create perfection, by amalgamating new technologies and consciousnesses into one perfect whole. Their aim in conversion is efficiency and swift propagation. You could see that these used to be unique creatures - that was what made them scary. The Cybermen in Nightmare In Silver are just shiny mind-controlling robots.
The new "Iron Man" Cybermen are Borg-like in their exection.
     There's a level, of course, of over-hyped expectations. One of the Moffat Era's favourite writers revamping a Classic monsters whose most recent appearances had left it in desperate need of a new start. But even if you try and look past those expectations and judge it on its merits... it manages to tell something of a cohesive story, but one that has the Cybermen as an immenent threat rather than as a concept or an idea. The concepts and ideas that were at play, of a set of circumstances in the future that tie into nothing we've ever seen before in the show's continuity, were so spread-out and thin by a tired mind-battle gimmick that the episode failed to find any traction. It wasn't as unwatchable or cringeworthy as it's predecessor Closing Time, it didn't live up to any of its expectations.
     I am however very curious about whatever the hell is going on next week. So good job there.


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