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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who blogging: “Nightmare in Silver”

Doctor Who Nightmare in Silver Matt Smith

(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode… or unless you don’t care if it’s spoiled for you. this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love / previous: “The Crimson Horror”)

(get my downloadable discussion guide to “Nightmare in Silver” for teachers, librarians, and everyone else who needs to keep kids amused, engaged, and educated at DoctorWhoTeachersGuides.co.uk)


Now we know Moffat is just messing with us. Bratty Angie with her “stupid box” and “I’m bored” and “the future is stupid”… She gets to travel in the TARDIS and we don’t? WTF? (At least Artie seems to appreciate a trip in the TARDIS.) And what is this “See you next Wednesday” nonsense? How is Clara perfect for the Doctor, again? She’s not a companion — she’s more like an occasional visitor. How can she just walk away like that? I’d never let him out of my sight — I’d be afraid he wouldn’t come back.

Okay, I’m kidding here.

Though it’s totally not fair about Angie.

And Clara is just plain weird.

Anyway… I continue to be genuinely bemused by the Doctor’s inexplicable disgust with the idea of any attraction between him and Clara… which he here admits that he shares. First he likes that she’s “a mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little bit too tight”:

Doctor Who Nightmare in Silver Matt Smith

And then, as if he’s just caught himself being naughty:

Doctor Who Nightmare in Silver Matt Smith

There had better be a really good reason not only for why he feels this way but also for why he would feel this way before he solves the mystery of her. His reaction is obviously meant to be connected to the mystery, and yet we’ve gotten no hint as to how or why he would make such a connection absent that solution.

Well, we’ll know soon.

I confess to some disappointment, too, from Neil Gaiman. An amusement-park planet and the Emperor of the Universe and a squad of doofus soldiers on punishment duty… and he got nothing even a little bit funny out of that? (He got some good funny lines in, but they’re the sort that could fit into almost any Doctor Who story.) It’s just a lot of running around and a lot of blah blah blah Cybermen. (And hey: How did no one know there was a Cyber army of three million hibernating on this planet? When they’re so paranoid about eliminating even the slightest hint of a threat from the Cybermen?) Or if it wasn’t going to be funny, then it could have been more serious. Sure, it’s easy to blow up a planet that’s been abandoned by humanity. What if there had been millions or billions of people living on Hedgewick’s World — or even just millions of visitors to the amusement park — and it came down to a question of sacrificing them in order to prevent trillions of deaths in another Cyber war? I’m sure the Doctor would have figured out a way to save everybody and eliminate the Cybermen threat, but it would have made for much higher and more compelling stakes. Or maybe the Doctor wouldn’t figure it all out, and the decision to implode the planet would have been a more direct followup to Porridge’s comment about feeling sorry for the guy who blew up that galaxy in the last war. And it would have made this actually sting:

Doctor Who Nightmare in Silver

particularly if so much was actually sacrificed for what turned out to be nought.

Probably Doctor Who would never show the Doctor being directly involved in a situation where millions of people had to be sacrificed, but surely there was a way to move this story away from the mushy middle it’s mired in and toward something much more powerful… or else toward something much more goofy.

That’s what I, as an editor, would have told the writer of a story with so much unfulfilled potential. Even Neil Gaiman.

Perhaps the Doctor fighting for control of his own brain with the Cyberplanner could have been more a factor in the story. Here, for one, is a new twist on the Cybermen saga — something to differentiate it from all the many familiar Cyberman stories of the past. Here, for two, is Matt Smith so deliciously crazy-good acting out the battle raging in the Doctor’s mind.

Doctor Who Nightmare in Silver Matt Smith

Smith was having so much fun, I could have watched him do that for 45 minutes.

Random thoughts on “Nightmare in Silver”:

• The Doctor almost sang that Golden Ticket song from proper Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I would have paid to see that actually happen.

• I like how the Doctor’s disappointed he wasn’t going to get to play chess with Webley’s wondrous Cyberman. I bet he never gets a good game…

• Speaking of: Is it a good idea to keep deactivated Cybermen around? I’m asking for a friend…

• Warwick Davis on Doctor Who!

Doctor Who Nightmare in Silver Warwick Davis

Best thing ever.

• This

Doctor Who Nightmare in Silver Matt Smith

is the Doctor’s idea of a spooky-flashlight-under-the-chin, isn’t it?

Okay, that’s funny.

• Clara falls very easily into her command role, way beyond what I think could be a result of her being used to bossing around a couple of kids. Is that a clue as to who she is?

• Great quotes:

“It can’t be broken. It’s a solid-state subether ansible-class communicator.” –the Captain (Neil Gaiman knows his sci-fi history)

“Stay alive till I get back. And don’t let anyone blow up this planet.” –the Doctor, to Clara

“Little metal machine, you are beautiful.” –the Doctor, to a cybermite

“I trust the Doctor.” –Clara
“You think he knows what he’s doing?” –the Captain
“I’m not sure I’d go that far.” –Clara

“Don’t shoot! I’m nice!” –the Doctor

“You should see the state of these neurons. He’s had some cowboys in here — ten complete rejigs.” –the Cyberplanner, about the Doctor’s brain

“Nice ship. Bit big. Not blue enough.” –the Doctor, about the imperial flagship

(next: “The Name of the Doctor”)



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  • I also squee’d at the solid state sub-ether ansible class communicator. Also, if there were a Hugo for Most Creative Variation on the Mechanical Turk…

  • Part of the problem with the story I think is that Neil had a germ of a cool idea – the hidden Emperor! the Punishment Brigade! A haunted theme park! – but was forced by the tv show series requirements to cram in all the Clara stuff to it, overloading the episode. They could have spaced this out to a 90-minute or 2-hour episode and let things breathe. Maybe also stage the Doctor vs. Mr Clever stuff a bit more interesting than just Matt chewing the green-screen surroundings.

  • Pelahnar

    I am more and more convinced that Clara is the TARDIS. Or like, a not-self-aware and more-permanent-than-Idris embodiment of the TARDIS from the “future” (whatever that would mean to a multi-dimensional being). It would explain the Doctor’s confused/confusing attraction to her, her complicated relationship with the TARDIS herself, and at a stretch even her multiple selves. Maybe when the TARDIS exploded, it scattered Claras across time. Oh, and her ability to interface with and fly the TARDIS in Hide.

  • I’ve read Gaiman saying that this episode had multiple deleted scenes, which might have been the bits that would have helped the plot make more sense.

  • PJK

    But isn’t this the problem with a lot of recent Doctor Who? Trying to stuff too much into episodes and thus having to cut stuff down so much that story threads become very thin and thus stop working from a decent story telling point of view?

    They should just go for multiple episode stories again, like the original Doctor Who runs used to do. Give the story and the characters time to breed.

    All this amped up story telling becomes very tiring after a while.

  • But it wouldn’t explain why the Doctor is confused about being attracted to her unless he already knows this!

    I mean, apart from the fact that he’s met her in multiple incarnations, he has no inkling whatsoever what’s “wrong” or “impossible” about her that we’ve seen. The psychic in “Hide” even told her that she’s a perfect normal girl (and whoa, I suspect this is going to end up being completely forgotten in the finale). Yet if he has a clue what the deal with Clara is — which he would apparently need in order to be behaving as he is — he would be behaving differently!

  • It’s not even so much that the plot doesn’t make sense. It *does* make sense. It’s just so simple and surprisingly dull given all the intriguing elements.

  • Lyyn

    The cynic in me says that it was not the plot implications of a living world, but the budget of hiring extras and needing more than a matte painting, three small room sets, and that same castle Dr. Who always films at to do the episode.

    Still, it does kind of confuse me how few episodes they filmed to save money, and then apparently filmed enough content for twice the season and left it on the cutting room floor.

  • Jem

    Two of the reasons I read cited by Neil Gaiman at various times for doing this episode were to make the Cybermen scary again (his guiding instructions from Steven Moffat) and to provide a part to demonstrate why (he believes that) Matt Smith is technically the greatest actor in the UK today.

    Not sure either was *fully* delivered…… Despite some cool changes to the Cybermen such as the bullet fast action, the massed ranks and slim-line form, the entire episode was tonally more whimsical than ‘hide behind the sofa. And while we all know that Matt Smith is a brilliant physical comic and no one can rattle off quippy dialogue like he can, I thought the possession scenes went on for too long, perhaps chewed a bit too much scenery and seemed a *little* self indulgent as a result. I would also have liked to see Matt being directed to show more distinction between the two personalities. Perhaps the cyberleader brain or whatever it was should have been more ‘robotic’, rather than equally hyper.

    The episode yet again suffered from a lack of editorial oversight – the pacing was off and the tone was inconsistent. What is up with this series – so many potentially good stories let down in these areas? The episode also suffered from underused/too many characters and a real failure to take advantage of the setting in the fun park. How could this have been made so dull, dull, dull in parts given the ingredients? Maybe sitting next to the Mark Gattis episode unbalanced things a bit given that both had a strong streak of whimsy and pantomime.

    Clara’s character was once again all over the place – not being concerned about the children being taken by the Cybermen, having some sit-com/rom-com moments in the middle of this (eg exasperatedly punching The Doctor for misplacing the kids) and suddenly being in charge of defending the planet guns and all while having time for a nice chit-chat on the way to the castle.

    We’ve been told that the mystery of Clara (which would need to include why her behaviour has been so erratic and changeable between and within episodes) will be explained in next week’s finale: so maybe she is a robot? a projection of The Doctor’s fantasy companion? an amalgam of every previous companion? an echo of a former love of The Doctor? someone splintered across time with whom The Doctor repeatedly falls in love? Why is she perfect (apart from her obvious gorgeousness and great wardrobe) and why is The Doctor fighting himself from falling in love with her?

    Since Steven Moffat has indicated no cheating this time and no reset buttons, then they will need to progress this relationship forward into future episodes (unless of course Clara ends up being a immediately forgotten about plot device rather than a normal girl). Hopefully Mr Moffat hasn’t written himself into a corner with no sonic or timey-wimey winding back of time to come to the rescue.

    Although I can’t say I have enjoyed all of this series, I am certainly intrigued enough to see how all of this will be sorted out on Saturday. Bring it on!!

    Jem

  • PJK

    Eek, I meant breath not breed. Note to self: Stop posting comments just after waking up!

  • Jem

    Ha! Trouble is that if you give the characters time to breed, you end up with River Song…… Eeek

    Jem

  • Pelahnar

    My point was that he loves the TARDIS and subconsciously he knows Clara is the TARDIS, but consciously he’s confused by it.

  • RogerBW

    Regarding the Mystery of Clara: I think the pacing is off. It’s all tease, tease, tease, with no real progress, until everything gets revealed in the finale. (Or on past form doesn’t, but let’s give Moffat the benefit of the doubt.) Where are the partial revelations of the more complex situation? Where are the clues for regular watchers to put together and work out a little bit more than someone who’s only seen one episode?

  • Froborr

    Apparently, while “Make the Cybermen scary again” was the original belief, according to Gaiman he got “distracted by something more fun.”

  • Martin

    Oh, Angie annoyed the hell out of me. To me, a better characterisation of her would be the teenager at Disneyland, initial excitement reigned in by the sudden concious realisation that excitement isn’t cool (to a ‘stereotypical’ teenager anyway).

    And I loved Matt Smith playing two different characters inhabiting the same body so much, I didn’t like the bits where he was playing against himself in the Doctor’s brain. Smith was obviously so good at it, it seems a waste to take the high tech route when it could’ve been done in camera (or at least with clever editing).

    And again, it needed more time to breathe. Come one BBC, why didn’t you give the 50th anniversary the Children of Earth treatment? Make is properly an event.

    Oh, and not wanting to critique Gaiman, but if you write a line about whether Cybermen can fly, you’d better make them fly by the end of the story. Chekov put a gun in the first act for a reason.

  • Bassy Galore

    If I were The Doctor, one thing that would make me feel ‘icky’ about being attracted to someone is if said someone were my daughter (and I subconciously picked up on it). If Clara were Jenny though, even if she regenerated (if she acquired that ability), she should still remember who she was unless The Doctor’s erasing of himself from history, erased her knowledge of him as well. I’m just making up stuff. Either way, I’m tired of the mysteries, I just want adventure. If I wanted to see a mystery, I’d watch Sherlock…

  • PrincessSlaya

    LOL/Ew River!

    Also, yes. The stories need time to be stories. I feel like these are summaries of stories on fast-forward!

    And as for Matt Smith as the greatest actor… well, I don’t think so, but the best acting I’ve ever seen him do was in the Bells of St. John prequel. I’d love to see more of this introspective and calm Doctor. It would make a nice change from goofy/frantic or angry! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IROtC6cAT4

  • Gee

    Maybe it’s just me, but this episode was just cringe-worthy. I’m not one to be too hard on Doctor Who, in fact I think its hokeyness, goofiness and wonky plotting is, always has been, and always should part of its charm. But this…they had a cool set and interesting characters which they never used, ever. Clara acted weird and had no emotions. The Doctor/Mr Clever scenes just came off as horribly embarrassing scenery-chewing. It was all goofy, yet so, so dull. The presence of the kids meant that you knew it was not going to take any kind of dark turn, but it wasn’t funny either. The cyber bugs were a bit creepy but were barely used. The Emperor was a good character and Davis portrayed him extremely well, but if he had the ability to save them all from the start, why did he wait till the last second, condemning more soldiers to death? I get that that would have messed up the Doctor’s plan to get the kids back, but he didn’t know that at first. Maybe I’m missing something? I liked the previous episode a lot (I’m a sucker for Holmesian steampunk Victoriana stuff), and thought about it for days. This one I tried to forget WHILE I was watching it. I just felt embarrassed to be seeing it. But again, maybe that is just me. Different things bug different people. And I do get the impression that most of its problems were due to being rushed and trying to cram way too much into too little time.

  • Jem

    I agree. He’s got great range and I think probably the best TV actor of the three modern doctors, but oddly I like his characterisation of The Doctor the least by far because it is so inconsistent. The writers seem to want goofy gormless infantile 11th doctor with the wriggly fingers and wavy arms too often in scenes rather than sweet empathetic doctor or the subtle serious doctor we see above. I’d prefer more balance in the characterisation.

    Jem

  • singlestick

    Overall, I liked the story. I thought that Angie’s refusal to be impressed was realistic (even if she annoyed fans) and that she figured out the emperor’s secret. I had to watch it twice to see how clearly she put the clues together. And I tremendously enjoyed Warwick Davis, and the combination of humor, gravity and dignity he brought to the role. And as always, Clara continues to be a delight for me.

  • Paul

    The “writers” want goofy infantile doctor?

    “Writers”?

    How does that work? Do you seriously think that writers’ scripts come with copious Notes on Direction which are set in stone?

    The characterisation you’re talking about is an actor/director choice. Or are we back in “Let’s blame Moffat for everything” territory here?

  • renniejoy

    But Emma told Clara not to trust the Doctor. Would she have told him the whole truth?

  • Jem

    My apologies. I agree that this is more in the realm of the director and certainly didn’t intend to imply ‘let’s blame Moffat for everything”. If that’s how you read it sorry for any offence. Typed out very quickly on mobile device!
    Jem

  • Trigguy

    One thing I’m surprised no-one has suggested yet is that in some bizarre timey-wimey mess that will probably never properly work, Clara is in fact the next Doctor. Who somehow has lost his/her memory and appears to have been born human. Errrr, OK, the objections are huge and it’s almost certainly wrong, but it’s fun to speculate. Look at it this way, I suspect Moffat has always loved the idea of a regeneration into a female Doctor (look at the Comic Relief episode he wrote, and the remarks in “The Doctor’s Wife”). Plus the one thing we know about the next series is that JLC is confirmed – we don’t know if Matt Smith is confirmed. What if JLC is the Doctor, not the companion? The implications of an attraction between the two is then the sort of twisted mess that would have Moffat in and ecstasy of semi-adult quips.

  • Doctor80

    It’s like they set up the ending for a “fires of pompeii” but didn’t have the guts to do it anyway.

  • Doctor80

    I’m not biased against a female doctor but not Clara. Not in this reincarnation anyway. She’s much too much annoying.

  • Just Me

    Actually, if you watch Matt Smith, you’ll see he’s very capable of doing serious and dangerous and sorrowful and rage and all things not related to goofy. There are some videos people put together that display that quite nicely. The writers DO write down how the character will react, their emotions, their mood, to the detail. They don’t just write lines and plot. And during the read through it’s all discussed with the cast and crew including the writer. So it’s not Matt’s lack of serious acting, but rather how he’s been written for. If a script calls for him to act a certain way, he acts it. If it tells him to cry heartbreakingly, or speak and look threatening, he pulls that off really well. If it tells him to bounce around wildly and be silly while he’s saying certain lines, he’ll do that too.

  • I’ve thought about this too. One thing is for sure: in this day an age, it’s impossible to keep a regeneration secret – the internet instantly knows when the BBC are casting a new Doctor. If, however, they got the Doctor to regenerate into a actor already on the show, they could genuinely surprise us.

    Doubt it’s the case with Clara, but at least that’s the only I could think they’d shock us with a new doctor.

  • Paul

    Partly true, of course. And I certainly think that Matt Smith has a great range. Personally I think that the “goofy” moments are there in deliberate contrast to the darker, more serious moments. Yet I’d still argue that this is, more than anything else, an actor/director choice more than it is the work of the writer.

    There was an example I read about recently, where in Horror of Fang Rock Louise Jameson took the line “You’re all going to die!” — in the script an expression of horror/pity — and turned it into a contemptuous dismissal. Which fitted her character so much better, and actually added to the horror of the situation.

    Yes, these things get some attention at read-throughs, but the actually interpretation happens at filming (and, to a certain extent, editing).

    To Jem: no apology needed, of course, especially as you are so decent in your reply. I think we both share an appreciation of Matt Smith’s skills.

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