Doctor Who – “Nightmare in Silver”: Beware of the evil Bluetooth

Doctor Who: Series 7

“Nightmare in Silver”

Aired: May 11, 2013

Writer: Neil Gaiman

Director: Stephen Woolfenden

“If he wins, I give up my mind and he gets access to all of my memories, along with knowledge of time travel. But if I win, he’ll break his promise to get out of my head and then kill us all anyway.”

– The Doctor

Neil Gaiman’s first Doctor Who episode was an absolute game changer. “The Doctor’s Wife” turned the show’s mythos on its head, personifying the TARDIS in way that forever altered the way you looked at the little blue box. (Even going back and watching old episodes, it’s hard not to reinterpret them while thinking about the TARDIS as a living entity with thoughts and feelings.) And that’s what Gaiman does at his best – he plays with expectations and with mythology to give something we are all familiar with a fresh and exciting new interpretation.

“Nightmare in Silver” didn’t exactly do that. It certainly wasn’t a bad episode or a unenjoyable one, but it wasn’t an instant classic either. It was one of the better standalone episodes in this second half of season seven, but it didn’t blow me away in the way I know Gaiman is capable of when he’s at his absolute best.

I thought Matt Smith was phenomenal in the episode. I particularly liked the scenes that took place inside his head, where we saw The Doctor and the Cyber-Planner mouthing off at each other. Smith did a great job seamlessly switching back and forth between the two personalities throughout the episode as well. He always plays the physical stuff really well, so getting slapped by Clara and spinning around as he wrestled with himself all played to his strengths.

I also enjoyed Porridge’s story arc. I’m generally a big fan of Warwick Davis anyway and this was a highly enjoyable role for him. From the first moment he popped his head out of the bottom of the chess table, he owned every scene that he was in. His proposal to Clara was a nice touch as well – it hit such a wide range of emotions, being somehow boyish and sad and charming all at the same time. (And The Doctor leaning over his shoulder awaiting Clara’s response was perfect.)

As the weeks go on, I also find myself enjoying Jenna-Louise Coleman more and more. She has a charmingly playful approach to the character and her face is so expressive that I really dig her reaction shots. She has fantastic chemistry with Matt Smith too. I keep waiting for her character to get fleshed out more story-wise, but I think Coleman is adding a lot to Clara that isn’t on paper.

The rest of the episode was rather hit-or-miss though. Gaiman decided to make Angie pretty awful and since this is our first real glimpse of her and Artie, I’m not sure he did the character any favors going forward. She just came across as a miserable brat who hated being there after bullying Clara into letting her tag along at the end of last week’s episode. It was a disappointing direction to take the character in.

I wanted more out of Clara’s command of the ragtag group of soldiers as well. They had a few nice moments where they outmaneuvered the Cybermen, but it didn’t take long for the robots to upgrade themselves to a point where Clara and the gang had to rely on The Doctor to save the day once again. I would have liked more guerrilla warfare tactics inside Natty Longshoe’s Comical Castle.

And the whole chess motif just felt stale to me. I’ve mentioned this countless times before on the site – I just feel like the chess metaphor is completely clichéd and ineffective at this point. The metaphor peaked in the 1957 film The Seventh Seal and has been on a downward trajectory ever since. It’s just become a very lazy and unimpressive way to show that your hero and villain are engaged in a battle of wits. (And, worst of all, Doctor Who already went to this well once before, when The Doctor battled the villain Fenric in a deadly chess game in 1989’s “The Curse of Fenric.”) I suppose Gaiman should get some points for making the chess game little more than a distraction The Doctor uses to best the Cyber-Planner, but I’d still be happy if I never watched another metaphoric cinematic chess game in my life.

So by no means an earth-shattering episode of Doctor Who, but not a bad one overall either. It does seem crazy to me that we are only one week away from the finale. I still feel like we are getting to know Clara and are still feeling out her relationship with The Doctor. I would have liked to get to know her more before we find out whatever her “impossible” secret is. Still, I’m interested to see how the finale plays out. Hopefully Moffat has something amazing in store.

And another thing …

  • Was it just me or did it look like the prop department got a little lazy and just decided to give Angie and Artie Bluetooth headsets to signify that they had been brainwashed by the Cybermen?
  • Speaking of props, so glad they had a couple extra sets of Iron Man’s repulsor gauntlets lying around to take out the Cybermen with.
  • The TARDIS made a new phone for Angie? Is this a significant bit of foreshadowing or just another sign that the TARDIS likes everyone else more than she likes Clara?
  • And finally, Steven Moffat has released an online prequel to next week’s season finale. If you haven’t seen it yet, here it is …

Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at murphyslaw@hobotrashcan.com.

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