#11 Nightmare in Silver
Written by Neil Gaiman
This is the final installment of the “11 of 11” series and I am a bit sad. I began this series when I heard that Matt Smith was officially leaving DW, and now that it is almost November and with less than a month to the 50th anniversary episode of Who, well, my feels, guys. My feels.
I don’t want Matt to go! As a newly inducted Wholigan, this is the first time I’ve lost a Doctor on the linear time line. If you’ve know my “New to Who” story, you know that I didn’t watch Doctor Who in order, I jumped around in the series, finding episodes that entertained me, all the while desperately trying not to fall in love with the show. It was an unexpected love affair, and it wasn’t until River Song showed up in series 6 that I realized I’d inadvertently become a Whovian. I love David Tennant as Ten, don’t get me wrong. I, too, swoon over the fangirl favorite and adore every episode in which he sexily runs around, fighting nefarious aliens, falling in love with Rose, showing off to Martha and laughing with Donna. I cry when I watch “The End of Time” and never want to see him go. But Eleven. Eleven is the Doctor who fell in love with River Song. He is the Doctor who laughs away the pain of being Ten, Nine and the others, while remaining immensely powerful. He is still the Timelord Victorious, but with a bow tie and new best friends. Eleven never forgot life as Ten, he just refused to fall into a pattern of despair and self loathing. Eleven allowed himself to fall in love with River, to create a family in the Ponds and who, when that family is finally lost, discovered something to live for in the mysteries of the Universe and of Clara Oswald. Matt Smith has played Eleven’s ridiculously huge story arc fearlessly, with finesse that makes the role look easy. He goes from dark and intense to silly and childish in a matter of seconds, never afraid to utilize emotion, physical humor or emotional pain to drive the character forward. Peter Capadli definitely has bigger-on-the-inside shoes to fill. No one thought Matt could do it, and then suddenly, the show is an American hit, a internet sensation and new audiences across the globe are falling in love with time travel and the TARDIS, as Britain has been for years. But Matt Smith is moving on, Whovians. There’s no doubt he will do well after Who. He is young, attractive (in a Timelord-y sorta way) and has range. This episode, Nightmare in Silver, proves it. So, goodbye Eleven. You will be missed, mourned and meme-ed for many years to come.
AKA The Episode Eleven Kinda Loses His Mind
At first, this episode didn’t impress me much. The children in Clara’s care are petulant and obnoxious. I dreaded an entire show devoted to them manipulating the Doctor and Clara to travel all across the Universe entertaining them. Also, Cybermen have been done so many times, the idea seemed a bit boring. That is, until about 15 minutes into the episode. Audiences are presented with a new piece of Who-lore; the Cybermen have learned to upgrade instantaneously. Instead of the blundering mask-face opening up and consuming humans, they are able to use the little cybermites to take over nerve endings of the brain. Of any brain, human or Timelord. Well, this is new.
Of course, the Doctor is attacked and assimilated. Sort of. His massive Timelord brain fights against the take over and splits into two distinct personalities; the Doctor and Mr. Clever. Mr. Clever is a Cyber-Planner connected to the ‘Cyberiad’, the collective consciousness of the Cybermen, but cannot take over the entire brain because the Doctor is holding out a measley .238%. Until the Cyber-Planner can control at least a full 50% of the brain, there is a stalemate. The Doctor proposes the two personalities play chess to see who gains control of the brain. If the Doctor wins, the Cyber-Planner in his head vacates and gives over the children, who are already under Cyberman control. If Mr. Clever wins, the Doctor gives the Cyberiad all the secrets of the Timelords, which audiences know, should never, ever happen.
The chess motif throughout the episode is well done. Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite writers, has created an intense game of strategy essentially between the Doctor and himself. What I love about this episode, though, is the banter between the Doctor and Mr. Clever as they play the game. Chess is a game of wits, and the two personalities are both very clever and very different, indeed. Matt Smith has a completely foreign accent as Mr. Clever, his tone and mannerisms are strange, and he switches back between the Cyber-Planner and the Doctor seamlessly. As the Cyber-Planner accesses some of the Timelord’s memories, he shouts out old DW catchphrases; “Allon-sy!” and “Fantastic!” are both delightful to hear from the mouth of Eleven and frightening, as audiences realize the Cyber-Planner is tapping into the secrets of the Doctor.
While this chess game is going on, Clara is forced to deal with the invading Cyber-Army. Along with a rag-tag group of Imperial soldiers, she defends the planet as the Doctor fights for his life. I personally did not find this assertive Clara believable. She hasn’t displayed any sort of soldier-worthy traits in previous episodes. She has not organized nor done much more than follow directions when they are barked at her by the Doctor. Still, that is her saving grace in this episode. She freely admits that the only reason she has lived this long is because she does what the Doctor tells her to do. Finally! A companion that listens. Clara does help the soldiers stave off the Cyber-Army a while, but even her ingenuity cannot defeat the constantly-upgrading alien forces. The issue becomes, as soon as the humans find a way to beat the Cybermen, the aliens upgrade and fix the “bug”. It is a frightening addition to the lore and I hope future show writers remember to include this upgrade to a longtime Doctor Who alien race.
Finally, the Doctor does indeed out clever Mr. Clever, by frying the contraption connecting his nerve endings with the Cyber-Planner’s. He doesn’t even finish the chess game! It is a classic Doctor move, maneuvering out of harm’s way with intelligence, finesse, and a wee-bit of cheating (I prefer to call it luck). The Emperor, who happened to be on this particular planet hiding away from his emporer duties, is forced to blow up the planet to defeat the Cyberiad, but since all the people are transmatted off in time, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. The episode deals with the Cybermen in such a cut-and-dried way; they are essentially brought back for a single episode, and then the entire race is once again destroyed. Moffat has claimed he won’t use the Cybermen again, as they are getting old and aren’t scary any longer, but I think Gaiman does one of the oldest foes on Doctor Who justice by making the aliens new, exciting and frightening once again.
The Collectiva Diva
I didn’t write about River and “The Name of the Doctor”, are you surprised? In all honesty, I am saving it for next month and our upcoming Doctor Who week!! Get ready to celebrate Doctor Who and the 50th Anniversary episode…
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