Some Mercury Left Over (Nightmare in Silver)
|Figure Who Even Knows: Matt Smith’s Doctor Who faces down|
himself with a facial prosthesis in front of a menacing green screen
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.…