Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver — but a dream or two come true …

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The portrayal of the Cybermen in the modern version of Doctor Who has always been something of a sore point among both fans and critics — they’re a classic villain, on par with the dastardly Daleks, but lately they seem to have lost the quiet terror they wielded of old. Thanks to contributing writer Neil Gaiman, that’s all about to change.

What begins as an innocent visit to an intergalactic theme park for Clara and her young charges Angie and Artie very, very quickly shifts to one of Doctor Who’s best suspenseful action pieces in a long time. But it’s not just an Aliens retread — it’s a great thinking piece for the Doctor, sometimes quite literally, as he is forced to match wits with a compromised version of himself in the ultimate game of chess. It’s not the first time this approach has been used (“Amy’s Choice” springs to mind, as does “Trial of a Time Lord”), but it’s one of the most effective.


All the while, Clara must play a role seen all too often in the show — the companion assuming an air of authority. But while this device is usually used to provide comedy and avoid awkward questions, this time it’s very real, and many lives are at stake. She knows this, and meets the challenge without a moment’s hesitation. What is she?


The Doctor as written by Neil Gaiman in “Nightmare in Silver” is an immensely powerful and mysterious being saving children and (literally) playing chess for the fate of the universe, just like in the old days. Longtime fans can’t help but be reminded of the last Cyberman episode with “silver” in the title — Sylvester McCoy’s “Silver Nemesis,” in which the most manipulative version of the Doctor to date is engaged in an ongoing chess game (again, literally) that would culminate with “The Curse of Fenric” and the shocking revelations behind his companion’s presence. Hmm …


Unlike those days, when the Cybermen were also in a bit of a rut, Gaiman has managed to give them back their terrifying birthright. Neutered by the technology that fuels them, and eclipsed for so long by Star Trek’s Borg, they truly “upgrade” to the occasion, becoming a lethal force that is barely escaped. Gaiman set out to make the clanking juggernauts scary again, and he has succeeded — but they’re also a worthy and believable character this time. Their origins behind the scenes may have been driven by a growing societal reliance on technology and artificial organs, but miraculously they are relevant once more. Google Glass early adopters, beware …


Warwick Davis (Return of the Jedi, Willow, Harry Potter) puts in a terrific performance as Porridge, a character I truly hope we’ll see again. The Doctor could use such friends in “low” places.

Up next is the ominously titled season finale, “The Name of the Doctor.” We’re told that nothing will ever be the same …

The Name of the Doctor

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