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.
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