Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Nightmare in Silver"

Where your license fee is going.
I wish I was an emotionless Cyberman so that I was incapable of the self-loathing necessary to rewatch this episode. When I first saw it, I thought that it was one of the worst episodes of New Who I'd ever seen, certainly one of the worst not-written-by-Moffat Matt Smith episodes, but upon reflection it probably isn't quite as bad as "The Curse of the Brown Spot." It is, however, still dreadful, but more in a forgettable and bland way rather than an offensive way. Although I'm led to believe that it may have experienced production difficulties, this episode was written by Neil Gaiman. Isn't he meant to be legit? I know the average punter loves "The Doctor's Wife" and it's, I suppose, original if nothing else, but this is just all 'nothing else.' After being blackmailed in the last episode the Doctor brings Clara's two young charges to some amusement park planet called Hedgewick's World, and the Doctor immediately starts hamming it up something fierce. The two kids, by contrast, are so wooden and unconvincing that it's difficult to believe that they're human in real life, let alone this show.
Mine's bigger.
A hobo in a brown top hat and some soldiers show up and immediately piss off again while the Doctor continues to act like a knob. I have no idea what's going on. Hedgewick's World is just a bunch of generic creepy abandoned roller coaster crap that they never actually go to in the episode. Instead the top hat hobo Webley diverts them to his collection, a badly-lit room with some random shit in it. It's evidently meant to evoke a sort of Victoriana camp gothic but this really just feels like dirt cheap kid's TV at the moment. Webley reveals that his automated chess player is an old Cyberman and the titles roll. Artie goes up against it because he's in his school chess club and is instantly taken in by the four move checkmate. How can he be in chess club and not know how to spot that? I was in the moron version of the chess club at my school and even I knew how to detect the four move checkmate.
"Ricky Gervais actually doesn't need me right now if you must know."
In the style of the famed Turk of automata days of yore the Cyberman is in fact controlled by Warwick Davis in a box. I guess this is the best way to introduce a small person? Have him hiding in a box? I almost thought Smith was going to tuck his hands under Davis' arms and lift him out like a baby. Webley has a couple more Cybermen too. They all have the RTD-era Cybus logo. How are they in space then? Realising that the plot is going nowhere so they might as well stuff around, the kids float a bit in some anti gravity thing. The Doctor gets what is one of the few remotely good lines of the episode, observing of some local robotic silverfish that "I should add them to my funny insect collection." Clara wants to take the kids home, and I fully agree, but the Smith thinks that trouble's afoot so he of course tucks the kids up in Webley's room and abandons them there while literally all of the adults present piss off to have a wander around the park.
Can't even see the join.
Apart from the awful acting of the kids the episode doesn't start off too badly, but it's boring. The Cybermen also talk about "upgrading" too. So are they the New Who Cybermen? I think Gaiman offered that they were some hybrid of Classic and New. Bugger that. We get a couple of mentions of "spare parts" in this episode too, here from Porridge and later from the Doctor. Is it a Big Finish reference, or a reference to "The Tenth Planet"? Warwick Davis waffles on about how the Emperor of space gave the order to blow up some galaxy and kill all the Cybermen, so now there's this big black bit in the sky surrounded by a big blue bit. We're meant to feel sorry for the Emperor, but Warwick Davis sounds like, for all his protestations, that he couldn't give a shit about the Emperor or indeed anything.
"Are you sure it wasn't written by Chibnall or Gatiss?"
Angie pisses off to the barracks where the soldiers from earlier are sequestered. It looks like a disused school hall. She really is awful. Artie is too, but at least he's not playing a brat, and to my immense relief he's hastily nabbed by a Cyberman. Another one shows up at the school hall to kidnap Angie, with further rejoicing. At this point the Cyberman uses some super speed ability that never appears again. The Doctor puts Clara in charge and pisses off to rescue the kids, which wouldn't have been an issue if they'd been left supervised. The soldiers can't call for help because they don't have communicators. Why not? With Clara in charge, they go to hide out in the "comical castle." This turns out to actually be your average run of the mill castle with some purple lighting, and despite Clara's satisfaction of it having a drawbridge, it doesn't just a regular bridge which offers no defensive benefit whatsoever.
"Dear diary. I hoped Peter might start early. I think I still have to
do more episodes after this. Mood: disappointed, but not surprised."
Meanwhile the Doctor talks to another robot silverfish and gets teleported to a bunker somewhere. Apparently they need the kids because of the "infinite potential" of a child's brain. This again? Isn't the underdeveloped intelligence an issue? Then the Doctor gets cyber-infected, receiving his own metal face dealie, and starts acting like an absolute knob, walking back and talking to himself as his mind is taken over by the 'Cyber-planner.' Why is the Cyber-planner so eccentric? Shouldn't he be logical? It's a wasted opportunity, the already wacky character played by Matt Smith now acting alongside an even wackier character also played by Matt Smith. They should have gone the completely opposite way and had him cold and emotionless, but instead he talks in a sing song voice and calls himself "Mr Clever." What am I watching?
"Cyber-planner? Cyber-planner?!? CYBER-PLANNER?!?!?"
So the Doctor threatens to regenerate to kill the cyber-stuff in his body as stock promotional images of the previous Doctors scroll by. I wonder if this kind of thing will include John Hurt in the future. Anyway apparently the Doctor and the Cyber-planner each control almost fifty per cent of the brain, and the Doctor challenges the Planner to a game of chess for mastery. Why does it agree? I don't know. It's just done for the sake of a cliché piece of visual shorthand for conflict, it doesn't make any sense. Watching Matt Smith, who once seemed like the saviour of modern Doctor Who, lurching back and forth talking to himself is just painful. As a brief respite we cut to the punishment platoon soldiers getting spooked as a Cyberman stomps around. For all their talk of upgrading they're still as noisy as New Who Cybermen have ever been and still walk like they've shat their pants. But look, it can detach its hand like Kryten in "Terrorform." Seriously, how much does New Who owe to Red Dwarf?
Lets you facepalm and perform everyday tasks simultaneously.
Clara's still in charge and she tries to be all authoritative towards the soldiers, a bunch of characterless cyphers muttering at each other while the Smith talks to himself. It's utterly repetitive, completely lacks drama and goes nowhere. In a pointless bit of continuity the Smith temporarily takes out the planner by slapping some gold on his face. It's meant to choke their respirators, how does gold interfere with the software? Now Smith has no only some cyber crap but also gold leaf stuck to his face and has to try to sell it. Warwick Davis, by contrast, makes no effort to sell some twee, half-arsed backstory-painting bullshit about the soldier captain and him once seeing "dancing snow bears" or some similar generic-sounding piece of 'outta this world' set dressing. The captain wants to activate their planet-killing bomb and end it all, but she's offed by a sharp-shootin' Cyberman before she can. Clara now fully takes control. When did she become this stone cold leader badass? What is her character?
The Shiter-Men
So they go Cyberman hunting. Evoking either Kryten once again or crash dummies the Cyberman can actually remove its head. We get a shit moment of some fat bloke shouting at a Cyberman before Clara kills it with a big laser. The Doctor shows up with Webley and the two kids, who are in a "walking coma." Clara's upset, but I don't know how she can tell the difference. Next comes the second halfway decent bit in the episode where the Doctor demands to be restrained so that he can continue his chess game without posing a risk to the others. It's a nice idea, but the chess game is still stupid. He also gets to do an appallingly bad impersonation of Eccleston and then Tennant as the Cyber-planner before having a bit of a lech over Clara. He gets another good line now: "you have to die pointlessly and very far from home." It's like dropping your change into a bucket of used needles. Are you really going to reach in and get it back out?
"An accessory? This demands a whole separate action figure!"
With Smith mugging like a maniac in the castle, Clara electrifies the water, but somehow I think that's not going to make much of a difference what with the completely acceptable bridge and the fact that the Cybermen are vacating their big CGI tomb in prodigious numbers. After hitting on Clara for a bit the Planner destroys the bomb trigger. I guess it's nice that Clara could tell it wasn't the Doctor because he was being all romantic, but then this is killed stone dead by Smith, in a moment so packed with ham it's illegal within five miles of a Synagogue,  "They're here!"in what I guess is a Poltergeist reference but with none of the subtlety. In fact there are so many Cybermen they stretch off in a big line towards the matte painting of the amusement park that we never get to see. It looks interesting. What was going through their heads with this one?
Do cyborgs dream of lawnmowers in fleece?
The electrified moat does nothing because the Cybermen just upgrade so gosh darn quickly. How do they upgrade their hardware in the field? The soldiers are in deep shit now, but who are these characters? Why am I expected to care about them? Who's Clara, even, really? And I'm not referring to the mystery of her identity in this series. Why does the Cyber-planner give the kids back? And why does he get so emotional as he's dismissing the value of emotions? It takes craft to characterise the Cybermen, notionally emotionless as they are, and this is just lazy, especially since the actual Cybermen themselves are once again just stooges for a possessed boss, in this case half of Matt Smith.
"I can do you better than that. I can give you fifteen!"
Everything is going to hell as more horror motifs are laid on, a Cyberman revolving its head to produce an appalling comedy gasp from one of the soldiers. The Cyberman-killing gun gives up the ghost and Clara's attempts to twat a Cyberman medieval style fail miserably as it grabs the mace from her hand before immediately tossing it away, the intervening seconds being manipulatively used in promotional material to make it look like one of the Cybermen was going to be wielding some kind of ceremonial weapon. The Planner's getting frustrated with the Doctor, however, who claims to be able to win in three moves, and conveniently enough just before ushering Clara and her fellow stooges into the dark beyond they falter and stop, all their processing power being devoted to trying to discern the truth of the Doctor's claim. This is actually quite an intelligent solution. I once entered the pattern of an unsolvable Rubik's Cube into a Rubik's Cube solving program, not realising it was unsolvable, and had I not realised that my cube was a piece of knock off unsolvable crap and cancelled the program it would have just kept going trying to find the solution. It's an awful shame that this kind of genuinely interesting writing doesn't crop up elsewhere in the episode. It is, of course, hampered by mediocre acting, lazy direction and a budget that has obviously been shattered by making new Cyberman costumes.
The whole reason Warwick Davis was cast: only he could sit on
the throne they could afford to make without it collapsing.
The Cybermen temporarily defeated, Angie reveals that she's somehow figured out, predictably enough I suppose, that Porridge is in fact the Emperor and that he can reactivate the bomb, destroying the planet and killing the Cybermen. With some reluctance he does so, and our heroes narrowly escape to a shitty pseudo-Roman set which is meant to be the Emperor's spaceship. The Doctor gets another decent line here: "nice ship, bit big." The planet we kept getting told would implode if the bomb was activated now explodes. Mistaking her limited characterisation for a kindred spirit in the noble tradition of phoning it in hard core, Warwick Davis asks Clara to marry him. She of course shuts him down. I feel a tad sorry for the Emperor and the ideas of the burdens of leadership which are conveyed without much subtlety but Warwick Davis clearly couldn't give a shit and as such neither could I. Back in the TARDIS Artie thanks the Doctor for the trip with all the warmth of a robot thanking a mechanic for changing its oil and the Doctor tells Angie "I've got something for you," but sadly it isn't a knuckle sandwich. Clara pisses off and the Doctor rather worryingly observes that her skirt is "just a little bit too tight." Firstly, it isn't in this episode. Secondly, wow. Really? That's the kind of thing the Doctor says now?
"No, no, I don't feel different. It's not weird now at all."
 Considering that this was written by Gaiman, Moffat's heavy-hitter, this episode feels exactly like what it is - a piece of filler. It does nothing interesting with the Cybermen, the guest cast either can't act or are so badly written and directed that it makes no difference and Matt Smith is completely wasted playing an even zanier version of an already zany character. This review might come across as rather dry, but honestly I felt so bored watching this. The only emotions I experienced were a few cringes as a result of the kids and Matt Smith's overacting. Considering Gaiman's rep and the cultural cachet he brings to the show, surely they should be putting the dosh behind him to really serve the Smith with some top notch, A-Grade material. Instead we get this forty four minute waste of time. I only did this because I want to have a complete set of reviews for the Anniversary stuff, and having rewatched this I hope to never see it again. I don't know what went wrong here, but obviously something did, and it shows, because this is undoubtedly the worst episode of this half of the series and one of the worst of the entire Smith tenure. A nightmare indeed.

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