15 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 835: Nightmare in Silver

Dear diary,

During the promotion for Nightmare in Silver, Neil Gaiman commented;

“I thought, 'Let me see what I can do when I take the 1960s Cybermen and [incorporate] everything that's happened since'. So that's what I'm trying to do. I don't know if it will work.”

Indeed, a lot of the promotion for this episode saw both Gaiman and Steven Moffat talking about the way that this episode starts with the idea of taking the Cybermen right back to their 1960s roots, and trying to recapture some of the terror they embodied during that period. I think that, much as with the ‘Ever Dalek Ever’ claims at the start of the series, it’s simply a good line to feed to the press and get people interested in story, because I don’t think there’s much of a harking back to the 1960s in these new models at all, and even if it was the starting point, the journey has led them quite a way from there.

Where they have succeeded, though, is in making the Cybermen scary again - I think this might be the scariest they’ve ever been in the modern programme. I’ve always said that my favourite Cybermen story is the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip The Flood from 2005. For me it was (and still is, to some extents) the only story that has really captured the sheer terror in what the Cybermen are, and the way they think. Oh, I love that story. This episode, though, comes closest to making me think that there’s a completely different way of looking at these monsters - from a more technological point of view.

I can’t really describe how much I love the idea of Cybermen that can use the ‘upgrade’ catchphrase to mean - literally - upgrading themselves. The Cybermen in this story are very much presented as part of a computer system (again, I love the idea that the weaknesses to gold and cleaning fluids etc were down to flaws in the software, and that there’s still elements of that buried deep within them. It might not make a lot of sense when you really think about it, but in the moment of the story it’s an absolutely brilliant idea), and that’s a way that they’ve never really been seen before. It’s almost a pity that when they come back for the Series Eight finale, they’re not really presented in the same way (in fact, they’re little more than robot drones, there…).

And then there’s the design of the new Cybermen. I can’t deny, they do look rather a lot like Iron Man, but my word aren’t they beautiful? When the 2006 model of Cybermen were revealed, I wrote a letter to DWM being all pretentious and saying ‘I don’t know if I like them or not’. There was none of that with this design - I’ve loved it from the moment I saw it. There’s something so sleek and sexy about this particular look, and it fits so nicely with the idea that these are the most advanced Cybermen we’ve ever seen.

And they’re really unstoppable! That ability to constantly upgrade themselves to adapt to differing forms of attack makes these Cybermen a really powerful threat. I’d like to see this lot go up against the Daleks! The only problem this causes is that I worry their future appearances will see them slowly pared back in the same way the Daleks have been. I’ve already mentioned that they didn’t get a lot to do in Death in Heaven, but when the only way to defeat them in this story is to blow up an entire planet, it does make it a little trickier to actively fight them on a smaller scale…

One last thing I just wanted to mention - the children. I’ve seen so much hate directed at the idea of them being in this story over the last couple of years, but I think it rather works! Matt’s Doctor has always played well against children, and I rather like the idea of Clara getting ‘caught’ and blackmailed into a TARDIS trip (though, equally, I can imagine that if they had told their dad about it, as they threaten, he’d have told them to stop making up nonsense). It also has to be said that this particular pair of kids are written very believably - Angie in particular - which makes it all the more interesting as a sideline to the main Cyberman action.

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Ray Bayly