Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 13 Review: Nightmare in Silver

Nightmare In Silver

Directed by Stephen Woolfenden

Written by Neil Gaiman

Starring Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman

When you’ve written one of the best episodes of Doctor Who in recent memory, The Doctor’s Wife, a wonderful tale of the TARDIS, where do you go next?

You take one of the Doctor’s (Matt Smith) greatest foes – the Cybermen – and you make them more sinister than ever in potentially the best episode this series.

Then again, you are Neil Gaiman. This isn’t a surprise.

But boy are there some surprises this episode.

Nightmare in Silver is the penultimate episode of the seventh series of Doctor Who. At the end of the last episode, Clara’s time and space travel had been discovered by the kids she babysat. This week’s episode runs right after that event, with the Doctor taking Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), Artie (Kassius Carey Johnson) and Angie (Eve de Leon Allen) to the greatest amusement park in the universe. Or at least, it was once the greatest amusement park in the universe, until war with the Cybermen ravaged the lands and blew up an entire nearby galaxy.

The Doctor and company come across Webley (Jason Watkins), a collector of sorts who has collected the remnants of a few Cybermen models. After a short con figured out by Angie, its revealed that a man called Porridge (Warwick Davis) is working in cahoots with Webley, the two of them hiding from a squad of soldiers patrolling the planet after their conflict with the Cybermen.

Of course, the Doctor’s greatest foes never stay dead and defeated, and the Cybermen find a way to come back and upgrade, in probably their deadliest form yet. In fact, they’ve upgraded their sights and have their eyes on taking over something a little more… complex.

Neil Gaiman has written another fantastic episode with Nightmare in Silver. It has moments that create a wonderful amount of tension until the payoff, and it proves to show how deadly and remorseless the Cybermen are. People are killed and people are upgraded. No one is safe and everyone is in peril. And it’s brilliant. 

This is the episode this series needed. It’s miles better than Asylum of the Daleks from the other half of series 7 – another episode that brought back one of the great deadly foes of the Doctor in the Daleks – for this episode takes everything about the Cybermen’s past, present, and future, and actually does something with it. One of many scenes involving the latest version of the Cybermen illustrates just how much of a threat they possess, acting fast enough to bypass an entire defensive squad of soldiers to pick up their target.

Of course, it’s not just the Cybermen who are celebrated through their longevity and continuity: The Doctor has his fair share of lore that is celebrated this episode, and many of the other episodes this series actually. It’s as if the entire second part of series 7 is an extended celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who. Here, Gaiman makes it work very, very well. The linchpin of the episode revolves around a great game of chess between the Doctor and the threat of the Cybermen, very rather literally, and it is down on the Doctor to try and stop them from getting inside his head.

Very rather literally.

We get to explore the Doctor’s mind and see how it works, all the while learning more of what the Doctor has to hide as well as what the Doctor actually is, from his regenerations, to the mystery of Clara, to the very secrets of the Time Lords.

Matt Smith continues to showcase a brilliant acting range, proving exactly why he makes a perfect incarnation of the Doctor. Gaiman’s script demands much and Smith blasts through it excellently. To see him play against himself, switching back and forth at a click of your fingers is fantastic, Smith using all manner of voices and mannerisms, as well as showcasing how well he uses his physicality for the role. 

The episode isn’t entirely perfect, of course. The child actors are subpar which makes the first ten or so minutes a little annoying to watch, but as soon as the story kicks in and they are thrown on the backburner in order to focus on the Doctor, things become excellent.

With the Doctor and his epic chess match playing out, there is also the threat of Clara losing some of the limelight. And she does, but not too much. While the Doctor’s conflict goes right to the top, Clara takes charge of the situation on the ground, putting together a defensive strategy in a castle with a box of scraps to try and fight off the rapidly growing number of new Cybermen attackers.

There is also some good back and forth between Clara and the Doctor when they share the screen together, illustrating the wonderful chemistry they have, yet still slightly underused. The impossibility of Clara is brought to her attention, and more seeds are being laid between the two, but one could wish for a little more Doctor/Clara back and forth. 

Of course, this is just nitpicking, trying to find a way to make Gaiman’s script seem a little less wonderful. It’s just a surprise to see such a strong episode alongside a string of episodes that are decidedly a step down from this, that one tries to find ways to take it down.

In reality however, it’s a strong episode that comes right before the finale, a finale that shall hopefully take the ball and run with it to a brilliant conclusion.

Gaiman has certainly injected more life into this series of Doctor Who. It’s a very intelligent script that has wit, tension, conflict, resolution, and sheer joy for the source material. This is what Doctor Who should be. Strong protagonists, strong antagonists. Guest stars used to good effect, impressive character design (the Cybermen look fantastic), and a solid narrative.

Director Stephen Woolfenden did a fantastic job adapting Gaiman’s teleplay. The humour hits, the tension hits, the brilliant visuals hits, and the acting hits. Shame about the child actors though. Their performances bring things down, verging on the annoying. Thankfully they aren’t used throughout the entire episode, instead giving us more of Matt Smith doing what he does best:

Being the Doctor.

Moffat, you’ve got a hard act to follow.

Nightmare in Silver premiered on BBC One on Saturday 11th May 2013. It is available on BBC iPlayer, and Doctor Who will return next Saturday 18th May 2013 with The Name of the Doctor.

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