Saturday, 18 May 2013

Doctor Who: A Nightmare in Silver

Doctor: 'The impossible girl. A mystery, wrapped in an enigma, squeezed into a skirt that's just a little bit too tight.'

Well, that'll teach me to get my hopes up. I suppose it was a bit much to expect something equalling the quality of 'The Doctor's Wife', but I expected more than this. It wasn't terrible—but it wasn't overly memorable either. Did Neil Gaiman succeed in making the Cybermen scary again? Not really, no.

Some of the new mythos worked; I liked the streamlined suits, and them replacing the Cybermat with Cybermites. (Cybermats hang down, Cybermites point up.) Less successful was them replacing their wretched 'delete' catchphrase with the only slightly less annoying 'upgrade'. And if you're going to give them super-speed, then at least allow them to use it. There's no point in showing off how fast they can run, only to have them walk in formation at three miles an hour when it's time to kill someone. They could have finished off the Punishment Platoon in seconds—instead they managed to walk just slowly enough for the Doctor to triumph.

No matter how many times they get made-over or evolve, the Cybermen never seem to have the same impact they did during the classic era. Yes, their armour was a bit crap back then, and their heads occasionally looked like penises, but there was something about them which made you take notice. The fact that they looked like blokes in suits actually worked in their favour—they were a grotesque parody of humankind. I'm just not getting that with the modern era Mondasians.

Warwick Davies was the real stand out performer tonight. He was the only actor who did his lines justice. I loved the foreshadowing of his 'I feel sorry for the blighter who had to blow it up' comment—only for him to become the button pusher. (Was the suggestion there that he was responsible for pushing the button the first time, too?) Then he proposed to Clara, and I heaved a heavy sigh. Clearly, the inexplicably named Porridge was a lonely chap, and when a cracker like Clara turns up, I suppose you have to give it a go—it just seemed totally unnecessary. It was an emotional moment which completely failed to ignite; which was a shame because Gaiman's emotional set pieces are usually spot on.

I'm also a little torn over Matt Smith's tackling of the Doctor/Cyber Planner exchanges. Usually, I'm singing his praises every week, but I'm not certain he made the right acting choices here. Admittedly, the dialogue lacked Gaiman's usual sparkle (evidenced by the lack of quotes below), but the whole sequence felt a little too over-the-top. Yet when Matt played it straight, there were some seriously chilling moments—brilliant, in fact—but they kept coming undone by Matt flapping his arms around and generally Doctoring it up. Maybe it wasn't his decision, maybe it was a directorial choice, or maybe the script demanded that sort of flouncing around, but it didn't really work for me. It kept pulling me out of the scene.

Jason Watkins was initially a joy as Mr Webley. In fact, the whole extraterrestrial theme park bits worked really well. The exterior CGI looked good, Webley's collection of horrors were perfectly odd, and Webley himself was the perfect eccentric host. And then they made him stand around for half the episode, doing nothing. Even Tamsim Outhwaite's character, the imaginatively named, Captain, didn't get much to do before dying an unspectacular death. I did get a laugh out of Missy shouting 'Don't move, I'm in the army' and the Doctor admittedly had a few decent lines, but apart from that, nothing really stood out.

I'm not sure I liked what they did with Clara, either. She started off the episode well, but once the Doctor gave her control of the Punishment Platoon, she became all loud and shouty. Just four weeks ago she failed to negotiate a deal with the Ice Warriors in 'Cold War' and was exhibiting a severe lack of confidence. What's happened in the meantime to turn her into a battle tactician? Obviously Clara's smart, but smart enough to command an army? Was it some kind of repressed past-life experience bleeding through—to be explained next week? Or maybe some character development which took place during an unseen adventure? Or was it simply a slight continuity blip for her character? I still love Clara, but this wasn't her best week.

And how annoying was Angie? She was visiting another planet for the first time in her life, meeting actual aliens, and yet all she could do is moan about there being no phone reception. She was such a caricature. How can a young adult author par excellence like Gaiman write such annoying child characters? I burst out laughing when Angie shouted at that Cyberman, 'Put me down, I hate you'. It was like something out of Kevin and Perry Go Large. And why would she leave her younger brother alone in the most nightmarish setting known to man? Even I wouldn't have slept amongst all those partially-lit monsters... at my age... and I'm a big boy. Use the beds in the TARDIS for goodness sake!

Reaction to this episode online appears to have been mixed. Evidently it was a real Marmite episode. Unfortunately (for me) it stung my lips, made my teeth go black, and made me go ewww! The evolution of the Cybermen stuff I liked (even if I wasn't particularly impressed with what Gaiman did with them), the theme park had great atmosphere, and there were some decent character moments—but it all just felt a little jaded. For a penultimate season episode, it didn't advance the season arc one jot—we still know nothing about Clara. In fact, we haven't learned much all season. If the answers don't come next week, I'm going to be peeved.

Other Thoughts:

—I'm still getting 'the Doctor fancies Clara' vibes. He seemed very excited at the thought of her tight skirt.

—The Doctor defeating the Cyber Planner over a game of chess was very 'Curse of Fenric'.

—Artie was in the chess team at school and yet got beaten by Fool's Mate? What kind of chess moves are they teaching?

—'Cyberman! Get down!' Why? There's nothing to hide behind. They'll just shoot you on the floor. How about running away instead?

—The Cybermen are becoming suspiciously like the Borg. Odd, since the Borg were at least partly influenced by the Cybermen.

—The kids who played Angie and Artie were dreadful actors.

—No way did Clara's slap across the face hurt that much. Man up, Doctor, you wimp!

—Playing chess to resolve a stalemate only works if the game doesn't end in a stalemate.

—A tip for Clara: next time your right hand is holding something important, and someone grabs it, simply use your completely free left hand to free the object and stop it falling into enemy hands.

—An anti-cybergun shot to the chest causes complete disintegration, yet a shot to the head causes it to explode leaving the body intact? How do these guns work exactly?

—The floating Cyber-tech at the end obviously leaves room for more Cybermen stories. Shite!

Quotes:

Missy: 'Don't move, I'm in the army.'

Clara: 'Do you think I'm pretty?'
Doctor: 'No. You're too short and bossy, and your nose is all funny.'

Doctor: 'Nice ship. Bit big. Not blue enough.'

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