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Doctor Who XXXIII(7)B.7: Nightmare in Silver

May 12th, 2013 (04:19 pm)

Strong performances and a sound structure made this week's Doctor Who, Nightmare in Silver, memorably tense but also frustratingly short. Characters and ideas again didn't quite get enough room to breathe, and there were problems with visualisation and with the production's more general interpretation of the concepts.

The greatest disjuncture is between the programme's realisation of Hedgewick's World and the place the dialogue suggests. As Matt Hills and others have said, the moon doesn't look like the moon, but a stage set. Old Doctor Who could be adept at this running down of settings and costumes, but the opening of Nightmare in Silver depends on the characters thinking they are on a moonbase and the audience being able to share a little in the illusion. Later, there doesn't seem to be anything comical about the comical castle - as if the right questions have not been asked about the balance between script and location.

While the plot mechanics were solid enough, character development was erratic. Just as we started to get to know Captain Alice Ferry, she was killed; Tamsin Outhwaite had had little to get her dramatic teeth into and little to give a sense of a person until the small scene where she confirms the earlier hint that she knows who Porridge is. Warwick Davis is quietly authoritative throughout. That being so, the dialogue and performances of some of the troops was endearing, particularly the luckless Missy (Zahra Ahmadi).

Developing the Cybermen is difficult and the whole business of upgradings and prosthetics owed much to Star Trek's Borg, as the script acknowledges when the Doctor suggests 'hive' as a collective noun for the Cybermen. The redesigned Cybermen and their new capabilities were here secondary to the Doctor's fight for control of his own mind and body, a development which fulfils the important role of giving an established lead actor something new to do with a part which he has played for several years. The Cyberplanner's running critique of the Doctor's weaknesses has echoes of the Dream Lord of Amy's Choice, though to a different end - this is not the voice of destructive self-loathing, but the voice of wild new potentials. It did take me a little while to realise why the Cyberplanner referred to the Cybermen as "boys and girls," further evidence perhaps for Matt Hills's theory that earlier drafts made much more of the Cybermen's need for children's capacity for play.

The child performers don't appear to be the favourites of the critics, but they did well with underdeveloped roles and stifled dramatic potential. Like the Doctor, they seemed curiously unharmed by the Cybergrafts, which were able to remove themselves without apparent scarring or brain injury. Presumably, despite the talk of "upgrading" in speech and on the Cybermite's eye view, the children were from a early stage intended primarily as lures for the Doctor. There is an alternative universe where the children are lost, and Clara is unable to face returning to the Maitland family home, but it is probably not one where Doctor Who can be shown early on a spring evening.

Nightmare in Silver derived tension from the relentless advance of the Cybermen and the threat of lost identity, much more than it did from the suggestion of planetary destruction. There was a glib but vague analogy between the Cyberiad and the Empire, with Porridge as escaped prisoner, a Cyberplanner gone rogue. Yet again, an episode suggests blockbuster less in what it achieves than in what it wants to be, but can't attain through the constraints of time and budget. Where once we had a Doctor Who which excelled at impressing within its financial limitations, now we have a Doctor Who which too frequently screams out for more time and more money.

Also posted at http://sir-guinglain.dreamwidth.org/599885.html.

Comments

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: May 12th, 2013 04:36 pm (UTC)
Liz & Pertwee

Thank you!

The greatest disjuncture is between the programme's realisation of Hedgewick's World and the place the dialogue suggests.

This is so striking that I think it is deliberate, especially, I think, in the case of the moon, which invites comparison with the faked-moonlanding conspiracy theory. I do not think we are expected to share the kids' illusion, but rather to be vaguely unsure as to what is really going on.

The comical castle on the other hand is weaker, and while I think that it ceased to be comical thorugh circumstances (forming a contrast between name and reality, as a microcosm of the whole "amusement" park) I admit this is underplayed and may also be a figment of my imagination.

...the Cybermen's need for children's capacity for play.

Reading this, I suddenliy feel reminded of the explotation of children's (playful) creativity in School Reunion, where it was also used to beed into a collective effort.

Another thought that did coccur while watching was regret that I did not go to see The Seventh Seal a few weeks' back. Is the Doctors' chess game with what is effectively (the prospect of his) Death an allusion, a parallel, or merely a similar image?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 12th, 2013 04:38 pm (UTC)

I think it's definitely a parallel with Bergman.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: May 12th, 2013 04:45 pm (UTC)
Liz & Pertwee

This season has a worrying tendency to add something to my "must get round to seeing this movie" list* every week.

*separate form my "must get round to reading this book" list, which a is also much too long, but at least not growing quite as fast at he moment...

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 12th, 2013 04:48 pm (UTC)

This definitely should have been a two-parter.

I was expecting the comical castle to be very comical, leading to disturbing juxtapositions of child-friendly fun and brutal death, but it didn't happen. Unlike the 'moon,' I suspect this was the fault of Neil Gaiman, who doesn't seem to have suggested how this castle is comical, at least if the dialogue is anything to go by (unless it was partially rewritten after the location was picked or the sets built).

established lead actor something new to do with a part which he has played for several years

We've seen a number of such parts for Smith: ganger-Doctor, Teselecta-Doctor, spoonhead-Doctor... this is perhaps the one best suited for him to do something different, though.

Child actors always get attacked by critics (fish, barrel etc.). I didn't think they were bad, but the parts were underdeveloped, coming across as pure cliché: the geeky pre-pubescent boy and the stroppy teenage girl.

Porridge is perhaps also analogous to the original series Doctor, especially after he became President of the Time Lords: on the run from his own people in a rickety old... fun-fair.

Posted by: nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk)
Posted at: May 16th, 2013 06:00 pm (UTC)

Finally caught up with the series. I agree with daniel_saunders that this one needed to be a two parter. Where the Crimson Horror was nicely self-contained (who cares where the money for Sweetville came from, presumably Mrs Gillyflower really was an industrialist at some point before she went mad), this was full of sticking-out threads that would have enriched a longer story.