Some Mercury Left Over (Nightmare in Silver)

(70 comments)

Figure Who Even Knows: Matt Smith's Doctor Who faces down
himself with a facial prosthesis in front of a menacing green screen
projection.
This is an excerpt from a future chapter of The Last War in Albion, the precise placement of which remains ambiguous. Think of it as our “The Yesterday Gambit." 

Previously in The Last War in Albion: At the same time that Gaiman was working on The Ocean at the End of the Lane, he was also writing his second Doctor Who story, Nightmare in Silver, where he brought back the Cybermen, the very same monsters that featured in Black Legacy, Alan Moore’s first professional publication as a writer, and that Grant Morrison had employed in his early-career Doctor Who Magazine work…

“Dreams!! Visions!! We are Cybermen, Medic… we do not run from shadows!” - Alan Moore, “Black Legacy”

Gaiman had considerably more affection for Doctor Who than either Morrison or Moore (who was known to suggest that all of the actors to play the part after William Hartnell made Doctor Who seem like a pedophile). And so it is not, in this case, his mentor’s take that he turned to, but rather his own memories of the Cybermen from childhood. Indeed, they were the series’ iconic monsters for the period when The Ocean at the End of the Lane is set, due to some curiosities with the rights to the show’s usual iconic foe, the Daleks, which meant that Doctor Who couldn’t use them for several years. Gaiman’s seventh birthday fell on November 10th, 1967, two months into Patrick Troughton’s second season as Doctor Who, a season that both opened and closed with a Cyberman story, and the book’s main action takes place during the season’s penultimate story. 

Indeed, this is much of why Gaiman returned to the program to do a second episode, as there was little reason for him to otherwise. The BBC’s pay was, by his standards, meager, especially for the amount of time The Doctor’s Wife took. But that script had been one of the highlights of his career over the previous few years, winning him a Hugo Award and considerable acclaim. He’d had, for that story, a rare thing in one’s career - an editor who was as skilled a writer as he was, and the collaboration had sparked him to heights that his late career work had not consistently attained. But most of all, Moffat dared him to “make the Cybermen scary again,” and he couldn’t resist it.

Unfortunately, perhaps because Gaiman had time for fewer drafts, perhaps because Moffat was too occupied with other projects to edit as extensively, Nightmare in Silver harkens back to mediocrities like 1602 and Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader in which Gaiman offers a fairly hollow riff on pop culture nostalgia. Where The Doctor’s Wife had been progressively refined at Moffat’s urging to give more weight to its most interesting idea - Doctor Who being able to communicate verbally with his Tardis - Nightmare in Silver never settles down on one particularly interesting idea about the Cybermen. It is instead a series of visual set pieces: Cybermen moving with Wachowski/Snyder-stylized superspeed, or a rusting shell of a Cyberman used as the outer shell of a chess-playing mechanical Turk. It throws in several homages to Troughton-era Cybermen stories: a section of bouncing around on a stylized lunar landscape serves as an obvious homage to Troughton’s fourth story, The Moonbase, while a scene of the Cybermen bursting form “tombs” is a visual quotation of The Tomb of the Cybermen, which aired two months prior to the start of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. But as an episode of Doctor Who, it is a flatter and far weaker thing than The Doctor’s Wife.

Nevertheless, it serves as a sort of secret cousin to The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Indeed, Gaiman admits that “they were being written at the same time and I had the same stuff going on,” with the first and second drafts of the script being written on either side of the novel. This connection is not necessarily immediately obvious based on the transmitted episode, which differed significantly from Gaiman’s original ideas. Gaiman has admitted that while “I got 95, 96, 97 per cent of what I wanted” when writing The Doctor’s Wife, when it came to Nightmare in Silver, “a lot of the things I wanted didn’t really happen.” Some of these were simply budgetary issues - his proposal for a scene in which a host of Cybermen are killed via an electrified moat was intended to be massive in scale, with “1,000 dead cybermen in [the moat] and 100,000 marching over them,” an ambition that was unsurprisingly scaled back in the face of the realities of Doctor Who’s infamously small budgets. Gaiman had also called for the Cybermen to be completely silent, recalling how he found the 1960s Cybermen much scarier than the Daleks “because they were quiet, and they slipped in and out of rooms,” only to have this detail scrapped in favor of them being metallic stompers in the vein of what Gaiman described as the “clanky clanky steampunk Cybermen” that the series had been using since 2006.

Gaiman also notes that he wrote “long emails… explaining what made the old Cybermen scary,” in which he talked about how the Cybermen had drifted away from their original concept as designed in 1966 (one year before The Ocean at the End of the Lane) by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. As Gaiman explains, when they created the Cybermen, “heart transplants were just about to start… people thought it was threatening and weird that you could have pacemakers or artificial limbs.” For Gaiman, this was closely related to the slightly later concept of the uncanny valley, a term first coined by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970, which talked about the way in which increasing the realism of a mechanical representation of humanity makes it more and more disturbing. But the redesigned Cybermen of Nightmare in Silver were relatively far from this - Gaiman notes that he was “very pleased with the face” on the new models, but that “the body wasn’t quite what I expected - it was more Iron Man.” 

But perhaps the most revealing change is one of setting. Gaiman’s original script called for the Cybermen to attack an English seaside fairground, which is to say, to have them attack a place not unlike Portsmouth. Indeed, the iconography initially described, of Cybermen stepping out onto a pebble-strewn beach, sounds not entirely unlike the Cybermen invading Mr. Punch. As with his moat full of a thousand Cybermen corpses with a hundred thousand more marching atop them, however, this proved outside the reach of the BBC budget, and so the action was moved to a dilapidated space amusement park, an attempt at the same Victoriana in space aesthetic that had worked so well in The Doctor’s Wife. 

It is difficult to imagine that the change was particularly harmful to the story, but it nevertheless highlights what Gaiman was trying to invoke. While on one hand grappling with the nature and shape of his own childhood fear, he was on the other trying to reshape a classic bit of British popular culture from the same period into a form that would invoke the same fear it did in him for a new generation. Like The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Nightmare in Silver is an attempt to depict and recreate the fears and anxieties of his own childhood. In this regard, it’s telling that his original draft focused more on two supporting characters, children under the care of Doctor Who’s then-companion, Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald, but that revisions to Clara’s basic character that changed her from a Victorian governess to a contemporary twenty-something de-emphasized this. As Gaiman describes it, “originally the companion in that script was called Beryl. She was a Victorian governess in charge of two kids. Beryl was a Mary Poppins figure, so the idea was to have a kind of Mary Poppins adventure. When Steven changed that plan and Beryl became Clara, I said, ‘Hang on, I’ve started writing the Victorian one.’ He was like, ‘It’s fine, she looks after two kids anyway.” (It is worth pointing out that Mary Poppins was also featuring, more or less contemporaneously, in the final volume of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, which came out in June of 2012, while Gaiman was working on the script for Nightmare in Silver.) But although the two kids were still available, this change altered the emphasis of the story - Gaiman notes that they “had less import and impact than in the original script,” which in turn moved the script away from the childhood horror that was at the heart of its original appeal to Gaiman.

But there were other factors that caused trouble for Gaiman’s story. One is that, as Gaiman notes, the fears invoked by the Cybermen in the 1960s were culturally specific. Gaiman himself notes, regarding the original fear of artificial hearts, that the fear has largely faded, commenting that while he’d employed that body horror in The Doctor’s Wife, “last year I met a really nice model whose legs had been amputated. She’d become an athlete. She had carbon-fibre sprung legs designed to run with. She doesn’t wear high heels if she wants to look taller, she wears different legs. It’s not that we lose our humanity, it’s more, ‘We’re human, we can do this…’” Instead he tried to base the Cybermen’s terror on contemporary technology, saying that “the scariest thing now is that they’re all in touch. They’re plugged into the web and we’re not” - a fear echoed in the script with the idea of the Cyberiad, which seems to be a sort of Cybermen computing cloud. But this meant that Gaiman’s script was stuck trying to have it both ways, simultaneously trying to bring the specific fears the Cybermen evoked in 1967 and trying to base them in a technological milieu that didn’t exist then. The result is unsurprisingly muddy.

Gaiman’s script was also hampered by the borderline incompetent direction offered by Stephen Woolfenden. Woolfenden’s camerawork is neadlessly leaden, with sequences taking place inside Doctor Who’s mind as he tries to repel the Cybermen’s attempt to convert him being particularly drab. These sequences consist of Matt Smith acting opposite himself only with a small facial prosthesis, with sides of the conversation being portrayed by banal shot-reverse-shot cuts of Matt Smith, blatantly in front of a green screen. Smith turns in a spirited performance as a ranting Doctor Who villain, but the sequences hardly come off. 

More broadly, however, Woolfenden seems to have simply failed to understand Gaiman’s script. Admittedly much of the personal childhood connection was eroded in development, and one can fairly question whether those aspects of the script would ever have been entirely effective on an audience that wasn’t Neil Gaiman, but Woolfenden’s direction does not appear to grasp that the script is fundamentally about a childhood view of the Cybermen, shooting them as a fairly generic robotic monster and seemingly believing that the most interesting things Gaiman adds to the concept are slow-motion and bits like a Cyberman quickly pivoting to shoot someone who was trying to sneak up behind it. It’s not just the ignoring of Gaiman’s direction that the Cybermen should be silent, but the fact that Woolfenden is directing an episode about an army of robots, while Gaiman is writing a story about the monster under the bed and spaces of childhood wonder turning rotten and terrifying. The image of Clara and a ragtag band of half-competent soldiers trying to weather a Cybermen siege from within Natty Longshoe’s Comical Castle should be a disturbing nightmare of a slumber party gone wrong - instead, despite the beautiful exchange in which Clara asks, “real castle? Drawbridge? Moat?” and gets the wry answer, “yes, but comical,” the entire thing is basically shot as space marines fighting Cybermen in a castle.


The result is arguably one of the worst missteps of Gaiman’s career - for all the acclaim that The Doctor’s Wife got (and it’s ironic that Gaiman announced his impending return to the program while accepting his Hugo Award for The Doctor’s Wife, saying that “only a fool or a madman would try again” following the success of his first effort), Nightmare in Silver quickly attained a reputation as a somewhat infamous turkey, coming in third from the bottom in a Doctor Who Magazine poll of 2013’s episodes. But nevertheless, beneath the surface of a mediocre television episode lies another story, lost to the depths of Lettie Hempstock’s ocean, that is in many ways the prototype of one of the absolute jewels of Gaiman’s later career. Indeed, it is not entirely unreasonable to suggest that The Ocean at the End of the Lane owes its conceptual existence to Gaiman’s engagement with Doctor Who as much as it does to his marriage to Amanda Palmer. [continued]

Comments

Carey 2 years, 8 months ago

I've always felt the script isn't bad, but the story fails precisely for the reasons you give: this is Doctor Who envisaged as a Tim Burton film, a dark fairy tale set in a dilapidated but magical castle besieged by hollow knights, defended by a fairy tale heroine while her wizard battles a dark mirror of himself...

It's arguable that the worst thing that happened to Neil Gaiman when it came to scripting Doctor Who was getting a director as good as Richard Clark to direct him, which meant he lost sight of what was achievable on a BBC drama budget. But I feel that also is a problem with him as a writer: it's not as if this is the first time he has sought to achieve too much on a BBC drama budget (hello, Neverwhere) and he should have realised that the was asking too much. But this seems to indicate to me a problem from the production team as much as from the writer: why was he never told what he wanted was unachievable?

And then there is the comparison to Cold War: it's arguable that that story is Nightmare in silver "done right." Both stories seek to recreate the atmosphere and feelings of childhood Doctor Who, and specifically, season 5 "Base Under Siege" Troughton era Doctor Who. Cold War is written entirely aware of what the production team can do (a few moodily lit environments, cast number limitations made up for by casting brilliant character actors, the realisation of one monster, not an army) but suffers because of its lack of ambition: it adds nothing new to the mix. There is a lack of contrast to proceedings.

because, while I said Nightmare in Silver is an attempt to reclaim the season 5 era atmosphere, where it succeeds is as a script it reads as the Invasion meets The Mind Warrior. And for that it should be admired.

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Kyle Edwards 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Neil Gaiman writes the script for a Tim Burton movie. That would be the most perfect collaboration I've ever heard of.

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Carey 2 years, 8 months ago

Gah, that last line should read Invasion meets the Mind Robber.

I hate auto correct.

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prandeamus 2 years, 8 months ago

I dunno, I like it. The performances of the kids let it down, but I see no reason to be cruel to child actors.

s/neadlessly/needlessly/

Portsmouth is more docks than seaside, isn't it? Bournemouth might be closer analogy, although the size of the retiree population means that rather more of the population shuffle along with medical help than elsewhere .... well, that was a bit cruel of me, but you get the point I hope.

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prandeamus 2 years, 8 months ago

"The Mind Warrior" might be an interesting episode!

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mengu 2 years, 8 months ago

The direction is terrible. The beginning, where each of the four occupants stick their heads out one after another for no apparent reason continues to feel exactly that flat, and they're clearly looking at numerous signs saying it's an amusement park not the Moon. Angie's revelation is played at full clip, with no pause between "Well, he is the Emperor. I bet he knows the activation codes." and "Oh, come on. It's obvious. He looks exactly like he does on the coin", so it tips from sur[rising to shoehorned.
The script has problems too. I really dislike the re-emphasis of the Impossible Girl suspicion; Crimson Horror shows the Doctor as no longer caring when Jenny asks, and in general seems fully trusting. That works as consequences from him remembering Journey even thought Clara doesn't. This backtracks completely.

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prandeamus 2 years, 8 months ago

Also, this might be tangentially amusing: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-30512620 regarding the BBC's radio adaptation of Good Omens. Which, of course, contains comedy horror.

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Frezno 2 years, 8 months ago

Basically when this episode came out I raved about Mr. Clever, because Matt Smith confronting himself in the mind-scape of a Time Lord's brain felt like something out of Sandman. And Mr. Clever was the best part of the episode for me.

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ferret 2 years, 8 months ago

I'm easily pleased, so as with most Doctor Who I rather enjoyed this, despite the fully-converted Cybermen being over-robotic once more. That aside, the Cybermen actually have a plan for once that makes some sense, Warwick Davis and Tamzin Outhwaite are great, Clara gets to be assertive and work independently, the cybermites are a wonderful progression - and Gaiman is right, the uncanny-valley faces are lovely.

What bugs me is the character of Webley and CyberWebley. He's wonderful, and wonderfully played by Jason Watkins - but he's badly underused. Instead of having Matt Smith play the cyberplanner I'd much rather have seen him spar with CyberWebley both in and out of Matt Smith's head - at least until the castle where dual-Matt becomes more of a necessity, but it could have transitioned over at that point, probably improving the impact of Matt Smiths double performance by not having it outstay it's welcome.

Jason Watkins nails it beautifully with his "Hail to you the Doctor, saviour of the Cybermen!" moment: he's not robotic or souless, instead he has an individual personality coming through - just a twisted version of the original, which sounds like the sort of Cybermen I want to see more of. But no, they have him stand around like a statue for half the episode - why mute such an engaging performance?

The kid actors were fine with me, a better director could have got great performances out of them... but this is where Gaiman's script falls down - he gives them terrible lines to work with.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 8 months ago

I'd have thought the idea was more like Cybermen in Blackpool, surely?

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Doctor Memory 2 years, 8 months ago

Among the many things that bugged me about this episode: a shout-out to Stanislaw Lem that offered so many intriguing possibilities, only to turn out to be... just a shout-out, a throwaway reference to demonstrate how clever the author was. That's nice Neal, we've all read Lem: but given his example, why aren't you any better at this?

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jane 2 years, 8 months ago

Wasn't Gaiman's laptop stolen after the first round of edits? I'd heard that somewhere, that he'd made several more revisions which were subsequently lost, hence the almost unfinished sense of the script, unfinished in the sense of furniture not yet sanded down, let alone upholstered.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 8 months ago

What a mess (the episode, not this post). So many things went wrong, were changed or should've happened differently. There should've been another way. Another thing, in addition to the many flaws already noted, is that Gaiman said he felt only Matt could pull off the Mr Clever stuff - he said it was a lot of dialogue and that he probably wouldn't have done all that if it hadn't been Matt doing it. Which, in hindsight, eek, I can't agree. Matt's very hammy and OTT with it all (and can't do an Eccleston voice to save his life), and the whole "Doctor vs Clever" stuff is painful to watch.

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prandeamus 2 years, 8 months ago

Quite possibly. I'm a southerner, and naturally think of Bournemouth rather than Blackpool. :)

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jane 2 years, 8 months ago

Also, just want to say how much I love this post being a future except of The Last War in Albion, both for getting Who into the War, and getting the War into the Eruditorum. I love intersectionality.

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macrogers 2 years, 8 months ago

Increasingly for me, one of the most interesting ways to look at Season 7B is as a sketchbook of ideas that went on to be much better realized in Season 8. I don't mean to propose this was planned in advance, of course, just that there seemed to be an effort in Season 8 to deliberately re-use ideas that hadn't had stories worthy of them in 7B. "Death In Heaven," in some respects, feels like a "Nightmare In Silver" with much more frightening Cybermen and, in Missy, a significant improvement on Mr. Clever that doesn't require betraying the nature of the Cybermen to exist.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 8 months ago

Has anybody else noticed that Gaiman's book almost shares a title with the original pilot script for Doctor Who, titled "Nothing at the End of the Lane"? Wherein the TARDIS is invisible (and even more budget-friendly than a police box).

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Blueshift 2 years, 8 months ago

This episode really was a mess, which was extra unfortunate as throughout the disappointing season I'd kept thinking "Well, at least we have the Gaiman ep coming up, that's bound to be good".

The whole thing is just so... messy. There's no focus to the episode and no sense what it is really about. It seems to be about shoving as much cybermen-related ideas into 45 minutes as possible. The kids are awful in the episode (and I put the blame firmly in the hands of the writer there, as the aim of the script seems to be to make them as obnoxious and unlikable as possible. I can't fathom why you'd want to do that).

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BerserkRL 2 years, 8 months ago

Can't agree; I thought Doctor vs. Clever was one of the best things in the episode.

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David Anderson 2 years, 8 months ago

One of the major flaws of the story is that if the Doctor at around 15 minutes in shouts 'no blowing up the planet', then you should resolve the situation at 35 minutes in by blowing up the planet.
If you could have blown up the planet and beamed everyone up at any time, and hold off on doing so in order to rescue the recurring characters you ought not to have sacrificed a greater number of not actively unlikeable one-off characters in the mean time.

The Porridge-Clara subplot is underworked. I feel as if there ought to have been a much stronger scene at the point where Porridge is serving Porridge; it might have helped with the 'why didn't you beam everyone to safety earlier' aspect if Porridge had a fleshed-out character arc.

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David Anderson 2 years, 8 months ago

I mean to say, if the Doctor shouts 'no blowing up the planet', then you should not blow up the planet. That is also among the many flaws of Warriors of the Deep.

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EvilBug 2 years, 8 months ago

I say, the core problem with this episode is that it set itself like a military sci-fi. This seems to be a common pitfall for Doctor Who - it has set of iconic, but mismatched enemies, like Daleks and Cybermen that should be fought by an army of badass space marines, not a wacky guy in silly dress.

The Doctor is meant to investigate and discover true nature of menace, it's raison d'etre and than invent some sceme to beat it. But with Cybermen there's no mystery. So they march forward setting a one-sided battle which is not very fun.

And of course, there's blowing up the planet. The whole plot happened because Doctor and Porrige were dicks for no raisin.

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Anton B 2 years, 8 months ago

If Gaiman was forced to adapt his script about Victorian children and re-set them in 21st century London I can see his problem. Victorian children with a nanny or governess is all very classic English children's literature and their sense of wonder would have nicely echoed Troughton era Jamie and Victoria. Contemporary children with a nanny or governess however can only be read as hideously priveleged middle class and Gaiman couldn't resist putting the boot in by writing them as bratty and unlikeable. A little more time and perhaps the realisation that came by DotD that teacher makes more sense as a profession for Clara and we might have got Courtney a bit sooner.

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Anton B 2 years, 8 months ago

So...should they have blown up the planet?

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Carey 2 years, 8 months ago

One quick comment (as my original post was eaten up by google):

Gaiman had also called for the Cybermen to be completely silent, recalling how he found the 1960s Cybermen much scarier than the Daleks “because they were quiet, and they slipped in and out of rooms,” only to have this detail scrapped in favor of them being metallic stompers in the vein of what Gaiman described as the “clanky clanky steampunk Cybermen” that the series had been using since 2006.

If I recall correctly, the original edit for Nightmare In Silver featured silent Cybermen... and according to the production team they didn't work, and lost all sense of menace. Now it could be argued this was another failure of the director, and had he shot them more menacingly, they would not have needed the sound effects. But, it could equally be argued that this was one of the elements of the script where the Director actual understood what Gaiman was going for: an army of zombie knights, and correctly interpreting that idea with the necessary sound effects. As sometimes, sound does work well as a way of installing fear (think Darth Vader's rhythmic breathing being so iconic that he himself doesn't need to be on screen. The heartbeat sound of a Dalek city or spaceship has a similar effect).

But this for me is another indicator of the schizoid nature of the script.

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EvilBug 2 years, 8 months ago

I don't see any downsides in that.

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 8 months ago

I never would have thought there would be a connection between The Ocean at the End of the Lane and "Nightmare in Silver," but this was fascinating to read! I enjoyed "Nightmare" initially just because of the double Doctor and it had me more engaged than previous weeks, but it is quite messy as others have noted. I can see how this could have been much better (and something I would be more interested in) if the original atmosphere was maintained. A lot of "The Doctor's Wife" did have to be cut out and changed because of budget, but in that one's case, careful time was taken and it did not severely alter what was trying to be done with the story. (I'm also not really a comics person, but I'll definitely check out Last War when you get to Gaiman's novels.)

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Daibhid C 2 years, 8 months ago

ISTR I quite liked Artie. But Angie is, well, Kelsey from "Invasion of the Bane".

I'd point out that Victorian kids with a nanny or governess were also privileged and middle-class; Jane and Michael Banks were a pair of spoilt brats.

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peeeeeeet 2 years, 8 months ago

Jason Watkins was the latest in a long line of great character actors given relatively trivial material by the modern series. On the flip side, though, I appreciated that while Warwick Davis' short stature factored into the plot a little, it didn't define him to the exclusion of everything else. Sad that that should be such a low bar in this day and age, but it was still nice.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 8 months ago

He said he wanted silent, lurking Cybermen, but then wrote scenes where armies of them attack en masse. And fair enough, an army of silver robotic guys really SHOULD make servo-noises and have a heavy footfall. Design lets the side down as well - they actually made them look MORE like Iron Man than they did before (personally I don't care for the new faces, either - they look much less scary to me, almost like Lego people).. Whatever happened to making them techno-zombies? And did Gaiman really think our "fear of interconnectedness" would have as much of a gut-punch of fear associated with it as spare-part surgery did? Sigh.

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Jesse 2 years, 8 months ago

Well, I liked it. I've also forgotten almost everything about it, so I won't mount a defense. But I'm glad to see, in this comment thread, that I am not entirely alone.

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Daniel Tessier 2 years, 8 months ago

I still think Jason Watkins would make a top notch Doctor. In fact, there's quite a list of actors wasted on bit parts who could have made excellent Doctors.

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Steven 2 years, 8 months ago

The note on the setting was new to me and such a shame, it made me think of Neil Jordan's Byzantium, which is wonderful, and a Vampire movie that decamps to a run-down ex-working class holiday seaside town (Hastings? I think).

It's a brilliant, wonderful setting that takes a good film and makes it a really, really great one.

It's a setting that could lend itself so well to Who is engaged with properly. Given time, a budget, a good director, Gaiman could still be the one to do it.

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David Anderson 2 years, 8 months ago

The plot as it stood at, say the point where the Doctor brings the children and Webley to the not-so-comical castle ought not to have been resolved by beaming everyone to safety and blowing up the planet.
The plot as it stood at that point ought to have been resolved by some combination of Clara, the Doctor, and other characters coming up with a clever trick to defeat the cybermen.

A different story could have resolved with Porridge only being able to beam everyone to safety once he's been recognised by a child. (And maybe that story existed early on in the writing process.) That would be a faintly Fisher King motif of the sort that would appeal to Gaiman. But what we've seen on screen doesn't have the right atmosphere for that. You need something that's more obviously running on fantasy rather than sf logic.

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Anton B 2 years, 8 months ago

That's true but the patina of nostalgia lends them charm.

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Jarl 2 years, 8 months ago

Surely The Fires of Pompeii has shown us this is no problem for the show anymore.

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Steven 2 years, 8 months ago

I remember reading not long after this came out someone saying over on a forum that the director appeared to have tried to boil a pizza, in regards to the treatment of Gaiman's script.

Stuck with me, because so true.

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Daru 2 years, 8 months ago

What was the shout out?

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Daru 2 years, 8 months ago

From something I read somewhere from Gaiman, we were also meant to have what sounded like an interesting scene with Cybermen from different ages including the Tenth Planet version present.

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Daru 2 years, 8 months ago

I really enjoyed the Doctor vs Clever too.

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Daru 2 years, 8 months ago

Hadn't noticed, but really interesting yes! Ta for mentioning it.

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Daru 2 years, 8 months ago

Love this essay being a part of The War - and also thought the connections to Ocean at the End were great too, had not thought of that at all.

I did enjoy various elements of this story, but yeah they never formed into a coherent whole:

- Warwick Davis as Porridge
- Punishment platoon
- Old funfair setting - but would have loved the English seaside a whole lot more.
- Jason Watkins
- Doctor vs Clever
- New cyberman faces
- The Silver Turk and the cybermites

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Daniel Tessier 2 years, 8 months ago

True, but we'll never have room for all of them. Plus they keep casting potentially excellent Doctors as the Master.

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ferret 2 years, 8 months ago

That's a rather nasty plothole - so Porridge got a lot of people killed and risked everyone's lives and risked allowing a new cyberwar to start just to avoid going back to being Emporer... to the criticism of no-one in the show.

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Blueshift 2 years, 8 months ago

Wasn't this also the story that introduced the 'Cybermen converting via nanite technology' that makes them completely and totally overpowered? I mean, once you can do that you pretty much erase the need for an army and just have them use cyber-germ warfare. By the time of Dark Water they can instantly raise an army in seconds just by a bit of cyber-rain.

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Doctor Memory 2 years, 8 months ago

"The Cyberiad" is the name of a collection of Lem's short stories, all centered around a pair of intelligent robots living in a quasi-medieval future.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cyberiad

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Daru 2 years, 8 months ago

Brill thanks! I am a big fan of Lem's but had missed this in the show as it's been ages since I saw it.

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Doctor Memory 2 years, 8 months ago

Yes it did -- and did so less than a year after "Asylum of the Daleks" posited the exact same power for the Daleks. If only this show employed some kind of "script editor" or "executive producer" who's job it was to take the longitudinal view of the writing and ensure that they didn't apply the same lazy retcon to two of its major species/characters in such a ham-handed fashion.

Although at least with the Cybermen, conversion-via-infection kinda made sense for them narratively: you can see it as the next logical step after the assembly-line conversions of "Doomsday". The Dalek nanites...not so much.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 8 months ago

The bit that stands out to me is Matt shouting "WEEEEEEE'RE HEEEEEERE!" I nearly just stopped watching. It was more the fact that it was flat - Matt v Matt against a greenscreen with a few effects thrown on, and then when he's sat at the chessboard, it's just all very *shrug*

I'd much have preferred to see him have a showdown with Webley or something.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 8 months ago

I've also read somewhere that the Cybermen's feet were squeaky, another reason to bring back the 'stomp' sound effect. What puts me off more is the walking sound effect, which is very similar to the one they use in Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers (once I recognised it, I can't unhear it).

I also agree about the bodies and the heads. The bodies should be much less detailed, more 'plain', rather than being 'beefed up' like Iron Man. The heads... yeah, Lego people sums it up. I'm not a fan of the 'roundness' of them. Although I do like that these Cybes are seemingly more flexible (see the moment when one steals the weapon from Clara's hand).

Interestingly, Gaiman's script also featured a scene with a Cyberman Council of some kind, which would've shown a Tenth Planet design Cyberman too. (More on this in the DWM Essential Cyberman mag.)

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Katherine Sas 2 years, 8 months ago

Nice!

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Katherine Sas 2 years, 8 months ago

"I put the blame firmly in the hands of the writer there, as the aim of the script seems to be to make them as obnoxious and unlikable as possible. I can't fathom why you'd want to do that" -- I have to agree, which is bizarre given his otherwise deft characterization of children elsewhere. Brats are fine if there's a point to their brattyness, but their mostly just there and then they're shoved aside for good.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 8 months ago

Yeah...at the end of the story, after the Cybermite is seem flashing its signal, we were to cut to a Cyberiad council with a lot of old Cybermen being led by a 10th Planet model. I nice idea, but not really a SCENE per se, you know? It adds nothing to the plot or theme of the story, and is there just for fan-service. And Gaiman's idea that they could just pull Exhibition costumes and put them on-screen is kind of naive IMO.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 8 months ago

This is one of those scenes that shows that Doctor Who is practically the reason for the phrase "your mileage may vary." I personally hated the entire Mr. Clever plot (it wasn't big OR clever) but I know some people for whom it was the only enjoyable thing in the episode.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 8 months ago

Yeah, that's right, though I see that as a bit of fan-service and nothing that would have added anything to the plot. Plus, impractical to get Exhibition costumes HD ready...for my money they'd have been better off showing a bunch of new Cybermen reporting to a single 10th Planet version, enmeshed in a web a la the Controller in "Parting of the Ways."

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Terry 2 years, 8 months ago

Would it be fair to apply a five-year limit to the time between transmission of episode and Eruditorial examination? (Eruditoriam + editorial, very clever portmanteau I think)

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Daru 2 years, 8 months ago

Oh yeah for sure, just holding out in my head for what could have been the better version of the story, even if based on naiveté.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 8 months ago

That would've been cool. Given Gaiman wanted at least one oldskool Cyberman, and apparently Peter Capaldi wants to see Mondasians return, I hope that they might be on the cards for Series 9/10. The body horror thing, whilst dated, can still work today.

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Daibhid C 2 years, 8 months ago

"Brats are fine if there's a point to their brattyness"

True. I brought up Mary Poppins, and if the idea is that Clara is a Magical Nanny at one remove, as it were, then the purpose of the episode should be that Artie and Angie Learn Better. But they don't learn anything, really, except "Do not taunt the Cybermen".

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Daru 2 years, 8 months ago

Aye the Cybermen have lost their scares since moving further away from the body horror aspect of them. I would love like you Lewis to see them in 9/10.

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mimhoff 2 years, 8 months ago

I'm sure I'm not saying anything new here, but there was so much in this episode that it didn't focus on anything good.

I liked the chess game, from its setup when played by the Mechanical Turk to the end when the Doctor bluffs his way to victory (though even one computer would take no time at all to check whether "mate in three" is possible or not). But there's talk in the story about sacrifice, of blowing up the galaxy to stop the war, and then the Doctor's sacrifice is losing material in the game to save the children? And then it turns out there was a solution that saved everyone all along? Chess is great for metaphors, let's see the Doctor really put his queen in danger!

It's also interesting on rewatching to see how Clara isn't really in charge of the platoon...

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Seeing_I 2 years, 8 months ago

How is body horror dated? We still have bodies, don't we? Or am I behind the times again? LOL

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Seeing_I 2 years, 8 months ago

I will give the episode this - the image of those Cybermites swarming out of the rusty shell of the "Turk" was very memorable and creepy.

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

Add me to the list of people who enjoyed this episode. Most if not all of the criticisms I've seen here are valid, but it still had a Gaimanesque spark left in it that, for me, made it more fun than some of the other episodes of the season. I respond pretty positively to appealing, unusual characters like Porridge and the rest of the Bad News Bears platoon, and I'll take a mishmash of interesting, memorable images that don't quit fit together over a watertight plot that's relatively unambitious any day.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 8 months ago

Edward Brayshaw, as good as he was, would not have been a very good Doctor, I think. Same with Ainley. And I have my doubts about Roberts...

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 8 months ago

Pity they turned the Doctor into what may be his most annoying evil incarnation.

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David Anderson 2 years, 8 months ago

It's disturbing to hear the Eleventh Doctor say 'dreamy' because it's almost but not quite something he would say, in an uncanny valley sort of way.
It is, however, wrong in an entirely different way to hear someone possessed by cybermen say 'dreamy'. One can't imagine any circumstance, even possessing the Eleventh Doctor, in which a cyberman would use that word.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 7 months ago

I meant the concept of the Cybermen as designed in '69. Attaching new limbs, putting metal into ourselves, designing 'spare parts' ... these days it isn't a scary thought at all, it's actually happening and prosthetic limbs, etc., are just a natural thing. LOL.

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TheGhostSquirrels 2 years, 4 months ago

One of the advantages of being an autocrat, no one every criticizes anything you do. (Or, to repeat Mel Brook's oft quoted, and more pithy, version, it's good to be the king.)

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TheGhostSquirrels 2 years, 4 months ago

Is it just me, or was there something about Mr Clever's rants, especially when he first appeared, that sounded far too much like the worst of the "post-regeneration trauma" speeches? If so, I don't know if this is clever or unfortunate. I guess a bit of both, clever in tying back to the normal resurrection patter, unfortunate because most post-regeneration trauma scenes were so pathetically bad, old or new series (or TV movie, for that matter).

Actually, the other thing it reminded me of was the stream of silliness spouted by the tenth doctor when taken over by "the last human" in "New Earth", which may be one of the reasons I am not particularly fond of the Mr Clever character.

Come to think of it, the new series has done a number of scenes centering on "character spouts nominally amusing nonsense when taken over by someone else", from "New Earth" to "The Doctor's Wife" to this one. (I know, I am in the minority in not adoring the TARDIS-turned-human(oid) in that episode, but then again, I am also not a big Gaiman fan either, so I am used to hearing how wrong I am in that regard.)

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