Never Work With Children: Thoughts on Nightmare In Silver

Neil Gaiman is a brilliant writer. His comic book stuff is pretty impressive and I’ve loved his novels (Neverwhere, American Gods and Anansi Boys) and his earlier episode of Doctor Who, “The Doctor’s Wife” was quite interesting and well done, however, in this his second Doctor adventure he hits a big problem.

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Kids.

Children are hard to write. Think about it, how many times have you sat through a film or TV show and the youth performer ruins the whole thing by being a bit of a twat. This is the major flaw in this episode.

I missed the previous episode, so I don’t know why, but this sees the Doctor (Matt Smith) traveling not just with Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) but the two kids she is au pair to- Artie (Kassius Johnson, awesome name) and his big sister Angie (Eve De Leon Allen). They wind up on a planet that was formerly a theme park, but is now abandoned. All seems quiet, despite the presence of a gang of soldiers on the planet.

However, the Doctor’s old enemies the Cybermen are lurking and start converting the the supporting players, including the kids. They even get the Doctor, thanks to advances in their tech. This causes problems as the Doctor must fight for control with his own mind, but challenges the Cyber Planner to a game of chess to decide who gets control. The Cybermen had been believed extinct and so catch everyone by surprise.

Meanwhile, Clara has to rally the troops to defend themselves and stop them from blowing up the planet as a last resort to stop Cybermen. She’s helped in this by Porridge (Warwick Davis) who works at the theme park but who appears to be keeping secrets and have a connection to the soldiers.

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Can the Doctor foil the Cybermen and get the kids back to normal?

Here’s the thing. I didn’t really care about the kids. When Angie, the mopey, tweener got grabbed by the tin men I just found myself wishing the Doctor or Clara would say “Ah, well, we’ve kept one of them safe, and 50% is a pretty good survival rate. Let’s just cut our losses.”

She was a truly terrible character, with this kind of petulant, sarky manner which was clearly meant to be “attitude” but just made her a completely unlikable twerp. I wanted her to be bumped off, but this is Doctor Who and essentially a kid’s show, so child death is off the table. And more’s the pity.

I don't know what Angie has just said, but I bet it was douchey.

I don’t know what Angie has just said, but I bet it was douchey.

There’s a moment in Jaws where a little kid gets munched, and it’s one of the film’s best moments. The first victim is a skinny dipping, drunk college girl and so fair game under movie law, but as soon as the kid gets gulped down by the shark it’s like a message to the audiences- “Nobody is safe.” It added tension and danger to every character.

But in Doctor Who, you know that even if the kid does get turned into a robo-brat it’ll just be short term and come the end the Doc will have returned them to their normal, irritating self. She was comatose for most of the episode, but the character of Angie bookended the episode with annoyance for me, and worst of all neither the Doc or Clara said anything, I’d have warmed to the Doctor more if he’d made some sarky comment or put down to her.

That being said, it wasn’t a terrible episode. I mean, the “twist” regarding Warwick Davis’ character was so obvious it doesn’t really count as a twist, but other than that it was alright.

The revamped Cybermen were a little scarier than normal, and borrowing the Borg’s trick of updating their defences was a nice touch. The detached hand scuttling around at least got rid of one of their flaws- they can’t really creep up on their enemies with their heavy footfalls.

I also liked the scenes where the Doctor argued in his head and fair play to Smith, who did well arguing with himself.

Clara continues to be foxy and spirited, quickly making her my favourite companion, and it was interesting to see suggestions of attraction between the two, especially as the Cyber Planner’s overplaying this was how Clara twigged what was up.

Another good idea was that instead of well oiled starship troopers, this week’s cannon fodder were a gaggle of misfits, failures and wasters who’d been lumped together in a punishment platoon. Gaiman’s ideas were good, and there was a fair amount of humour in the episode, but there’s the inescapable thought that Gaiman is too good a writer and is hampered by the show’s conventions and characters. I’ve always thought that one of the show’s major flaws is the actual Doctor, who knows far too much and so is never really caught completely out of his depth.

All in all, it was alright, but one of this series’ weaker episodes and I’d be perfectly happy if we never saw Angie or Artie again, unless they get whacked early on next time out.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 

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