Doctor Who: Nightmare In Silver spoiler-free review
Don't expect The Doctor's Wife 2 from Neil Gaiman's latest Who episode, Nightmare In Silver. Here's Simon's spoiler-free review...
There's a bit in the film The People Vs George Lucas, where Neil Gaiman, and we're badly paraphrasing here, basically summises that fans generally tend to want more of the same, rather than anything particularly new. It's in specific relation to the Star Wars franchise that he's talking, but when it was announced and confirmed that he'd be tackling a second Doctor Who adventure, something along the lines of The Doctor's Wife again sounded really rather tasty.
That's not Gaiman's style, though, and he clearly isn't looking to do that. And while there's an element about Nightmare In Silver of taking something of a Doctor Who icon - the Cybermen, rather than the TARDIS, in this instance - and digging deeper into it, it's a very different tale we get here.
At first, when Nightmare In Silver kicks off, it all looks a bit Westworld/Jurassic Park-y. That's because we're at a futuristic theme park, where the Doctor, Clara and their companions are soon exploring. But come home time? Well, it pretty much goes without saying that all doesn't go to plan. And by the time the episode has ended, we've had touches of Dalek (for the second time this series), Remembrance Of The Daleks and The Curse Of Fenric, crossed with a bit of Star Trek: The Next Generation. That's if you like drawing Venn diagrams as much as we do.
Gaiman certainly has fun with the Cybermen here, and does some work to try and inject the fear factor a little more into them (they're not the same creatures of 2006 onwards, certainly). It's not entirely successful in that regard (spookiness has never been the forte of the Cybermen), but he does introduce upgrades that make them more formidable foes for the Doctor to face. Never have the cybermen felt more dangerous and lethal. And you'll have little doubt that Neil Gaiman is a full-on Doctor Who geek too. No doubt at all.
As for the episode itself? It really depends what you're expecting. Whereas The Doctor's Wife was the standout episode of the series six run, we wouldn't say that Nightmare In Silver is the highlight of series seven. That's no slight against it: it's still a good episode, it just has, ultimately, different goals and a less nerd-gold story to tell. Plus, The Doctor's Wife, if we're being frank, set a bar so high that it's hard to imagine too many episodes reaching that level for some time yet.
Nightmare In Silver certainly doesn't lack ambition either, and it's crammed to the rafters with ideas and little touches. It also hinges, arguably more than ever, on Matt Smith's central performance. An awful lot is asked of Smith in this episode, some may argue a little too much. That's not a dig at Matt Smith there, either, to be clear, and it's something we'll explore more in the spoiler-filled review on Saturday night.
Of particular highlight is an excellent guest turn from Warwick Davis, and some strong direction from Stephen Woolfenden. Furthermore, it feels as if any nips and tucks around the budget for this years' run have been re-invested in the visual work of Nightmare In Silver.
It's a good episode, this. Don't go into it expecting The Doctor's Wife 2, and instead look for an entertaining reinvention of a foe that desperately needed a retune, and you'll likely get a lot more out of it. By the end, even though it's a bit of a bumpy ride at times, the campaign for Neil Gaiman to do a third Who episode will surely be underway.
Read our spoiler-filled review of the previous episode, The Crimson Horror, here.
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