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Nightmare in Silver | www.ed-rex.com

Nightmare in Silver

New Who, Series 7

Nightmare in Pewter

Neil Gaiman's sophomore episode boring, not scary


Mr. Clever? Captain Picard did it better.Screenshot from 'Nightmare in Silver', Doctor Who copyright BBC.Mr. Clever? Captain Picard did it better. Screenshot from 'Nightmare in Silver', Doctor Who copyright © 2013 BBC.

There's a fannish meme doing the rounds, that Steven Moffat's ego has grown so monstrously bloated he intends to make the program's titular 50th anniversary year its last.

Après moi le déluge?

Nonsense, of course — Isn't it?

Going by the atrocities that must have been committed upon Neil Gaiman's original script, "Nightmare in Silver" actually makes it seem that such an evil plot might not be that far-fetched. How better to explain a story so disjointed, so replete with characters that don't do anything and so boring, than by a deliberate act of sabotage?

While "Nightmare" was not this year's worst episode ("Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" still holds that dubious honour, pending Saturday's upcoming finale), it is hard to believe that it's script came from the same mind that gave us "The Doctor's Wife", or the Sandman graphic novels.

Unlike Gaiman's highly original first turn on Doctor Who, "Nightmare In Silver" is a retread, featuring old monsters in the form of Cybermen, a hackneyed setting in the shape of an abandoned amusement park, secondary characters who don't do much of anything and a last-minute resolution whose internal logic crumbles at the first glimmer of thought.

For a detailed synopsis done straight, see the Wikipedia entry; for a bitterly funny version, check out Patches365's take-down. For our purposes, it suffices recall that, last week, the children Clara has been nannying discovered photos of her taken at various points in history. Clever-boots that they are, they deduced she is a time traveller and demanded she take them on a trip, "Or, we'll have to tell Dad ..."

And under that mighty threat, the Doctor takes them to an amusement park a long time from now, on a planet, far, far away.

Turns out though, that the park is closed and the planet abandoned. The only inhabitants are a small band of misfit soldiers (a "punishment detail" sent there to keep them out of harm's way, but nevertheless entrusted with a bomb capable of "imploding" the entire planet), and Webley, a carny-type waiting for a ride out. Webley hides from the soldiers even though he notes they can't do anything about his presence there.

Whatever. Since the Doctor and Company aren't his lift, Webley shows them around his bit of the midway, which includes a chess-playing automaton in the shape of a Cyberman — because people living in an empire that spans "a thousand galaxies" have never heard of computers and will be super impressed by a chess-playing tin-man.

The Doctor's not fooled though. He quickly finds the hidden chamber beneath it, in which resides the tin-man's puppet-master, a dwarf little person who introduces himself as (yes) Porridge. For some reason, no one thinks to ask why he spends his time hiding in a box to control a chess-playing "robot" in an amusement park that no one ever visits because it's closed.

Since the episode is driven entirely by an idiot plot, though the Doctor's TARDIS Sense is tingling (he suspects there are real Cybermen lurking about, he doesn't take the kids home or even lock them inside the TARDIS for safe-keeping. Instead he tells them to go to sleep, alone, in the very room in which he first started getting suspicious.

After Webley and the kids are attacked, The Doctor too is partly attacked and partly transformed. I forget what protects the first three from being "upgraded", but in the Doctor's case it is his Fabulous Time Lord Brain. A stalemate ensues as the Doctor and the Cyber Planner struggle for control. For some reason, the two agree to a game of chess, winner take the Doctor's brain.

Chess is a pretty static game at the best of times, though it can be used effectively. Not this time. Like so much else in "Nightmare in Silver," the chess-match feels like an idea half-developed — or, maybe, chopped up during production.

Image: the tight skirt that wasn't. Screenshot from 'Nightmare in Silver', Doctor Who copyright BBC.Skirt, "just a little bit too tight." Really, Mr. Moffat? Really? Screenshot from 'Nightmare in Silver', Doctor Who copyright © 2013 BBC.

What it does provide though, is the chance to see Matt Smith's limitations as an actor. The spectacle starts with some very poor imitations of Doctors' past, then gets worse as Smith switches back and forth between the Doctor and the Cyber Planner (who dubs himself, er, Mr. Clever). For some reason, Smith portrays this robotic and militaristic killer as a sort of evil interstellar drag queen, all flouncing threats and leering innuendo about Clara.

Why any kind of Cyberman (even a Cyber Planner) acts like a highly emotional, giggling villain is a question as unanswered as how it is we are supposed to believe that anyone thinks tying the Doctor/Mr. Clever to a chair while leaving his arms loose is a good idea.

Meanwhile, even though the Doctor has not yet been taken over, three million lurking Cybermen are activated, begging the question of what made the children so necessary to their Cyber Plans ("We needed children, but the children had stopped coming. You brought us children. Hail to the Doctor! Saviour of the Cybermen!"). Which also leads one to wonder: why the fucking chess game?

Anyway. Things happen. Red-shirts die, speeches are proclaimed, weapons fired, (a few) Cybermen are exploded and the Doctor is tied to a chair to finish his chess game — with his arms free.

Finally comes the Big Reveal. Porridge (remember him?) is actually the Emperor and could have called in the Imperial cavalry (his flagship just happens to be 80 seconds away) at any time. Yet not even the Doctor points to the dead people and says, "Dude? Really?"

Onboard the conventient and inexplicably nearby Imperial flagship, Porridge asks Clara to marry him. No surprise, she declines. She doesn't want to rule a thousand galaxies. Poor Porridge. Poor viewers.

But things get worse before the credits roll. In case we've forgotten, Clara is (still) "impossible" and the Doctor has a little monologue with himself about that fact after she debarks, before he leers and notes that her skirt is, "just a little bit too ... tight."

Please. Oh please, Neil Yourself, tell us you didn't write that awful, awful line. (And somebody tell Steven Moffat that Clara's skirt wasn't tight at all. A little short, maybe, but not tight.)

There might have been a good episode — or more likely, a good pair of episodes — when "Nightmare in Silver" existed only as words on a page. But somewhere between Neil Gaiman's keyboard and our television screens, that story was pounded into an incoherent pile of narrative rubble, us with an episode that was far less than the sum of its parts.

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