Nightmare in Silver
As I said on the podcast, I felt (and still feel) quite ambivalent about this story. It certainly winds up in the positive column, if for no other reason than I feel a happy glow when I think about watching it. Note that this glow is less glowy than the one that suffuses my soul when I think of something like “Hide.” Still though, glow.
I did manage to get in most of what I thought about “Nightmare in Silver” on the podcast, but there were a few bits and bobs left over that I shall spill out here. Most of it deals with Clara, so let’s get to that first, shall we?
I had slightly mixed feelings about Clara this time. I still adore her, but as I said, her utter competence seemed a bit of a surprise. Surprise aside, she did great.
As usual, she had me hooked from really early in the episode. When the Doctor flashes his psychic paper, we get a brief close-up on Clara, in which she displays a truly amazing smile. It’s happy and slightly proprietary, with just a hint of shaking-her-head at the Doctor’s antics. Or “her” Doctor’s antics–as I said, there’s a hint of ownership–or perhaps simply partnership–in that look. In this one brief moment, I think I learned more about their relationship than in the rest of the story. But let’s be clear: I’m still not on team-romantic-Doctor. I read this as deep, deep affection, but not of the sexytimes variety.
I do agree with Deb that her reaction to the children’s plight isn’t nearly freaked-out enough. Does she trust the Doctor that much by this point? If so, it’s too much, as she’ll likely find out. To her credit, she’s not totally blind: “Do you think he knows what he’s doing?” “I’m not sure I’d go that far.” Brilliant.
Another touch I loved was when the Doctor returns, partially Cybernized, and says he has bad news. Clara immediately points the big Cyber-gun at him. Subtle bits like that are why I scoff at the Clara-haters. I’ve seen folks say they think she’s bland and boring. I beg to differ. She’s not a collection of quirks, she’s a realistic person who behaves in a consistent manner. “Characteristics” do not equal “characterization.” Clara has few of the former, and crap-tons of the latter. The show has a long history of providing role models for young girls (and boys!). I think if I was still a young’un, Clara would be the companion I’d've gravitated to. I’ve always been drawn to the companions who are less caricatures and more characters.
Oh, and as for the complaint that she’s another mystery, I see that as a completely separate issue. Yes, there’s a mystery surrounding her, but she’s very clear that she wants to be seen as her own person. I’m happy to do that. It doesn’t matter what’s revealed about her on Saturday, she’s still the person we’ve been watching, and I’m loving that person. One’s history (or future or chemical makeup or existential origin) doesn’t stop me from judging them based on their current actions and personality. I hope that’s something I can always say about myself.
Her response when the Cyber-Planner tells her she’s impossible is so very Clara (a phrase I couldn’t well use if she didn’t have a personality to speak of). You can tell she’s processing it and not sure what to think, but she immediately comes back with a very firm “Why am I impossible?” She’s not taking crap from this Clever fellow any more than she does from the Doctor.
She’s incredibly quick, but as we discussed, she’s not infallible. Another example is when Mr. Clever says the kids’ve got a better chance at getting out of there alive, and Clara immediately twigs. “Which one of you said that?” But then later, she rattles off their weapon strength without bothering to check to whom she’s speaking. She’s smart enough not to hand over the detonator, but not wise enough to stay out of arm’s reach. It’s rare to get that sort of realistic balance in a tv character. So often when someone’s clever, they’re always clever—so much so that it becomes tiresome.
I will say that I’m not sure how to read the shenanigans with Mr. Clever professing romantic feelings on behalf of the Doctor. It could be that he stoops to subterfuge and pretends to have feelings that aren’t really in the Doctor’s head, simply because he thinks that’s what Clara wants to hear. This could make sense on the basis that the Cyber-Planner is (supposedly) non-emotional and doesn’t really have a true grasp on how people react to complicated emotions.
On the other hand, he could be pulling out real feelings the Doctor’s hiding and using those as a tool to get what he wants. (Again, his lack of emotional maturity would hinder him from anticipating Clara’s reaction.)
Though to be fair, he never does get around to saying exactly what kind of feelings they are because Clara slaps him.
But then we have Clara’s reaction to what he said. Jenna Louise Coleman plays this perfectly down the middle. We can’t tell if she was secretly hoping for those very emotions or if she’s pretty darn sure they’re nonexistent and is perfectly happy with that state of affairs. (Or lack of affairs, as the case may be.) I know which I’m hoping for, but well done Jenna for keeping us guessing!
Ok, now on to all the non-Clara (and thus less important) stuff…
- I love that Porridge ended up being the emperor. I was incredibly slow and didn’t pick up on that at all. I love it when a show can surprise me like that. (Unlike last week, I knew the Doctor was “the monster” from the moment Ada uttered the word monster.)
- There were some fun Doctorish bits in this. I loved the “somebody tie me up” line. And I positively adored how he wrote “Hit me” with his left hand while Mr. Clever was talking. That’s so Doctorey.
(Yes, those are the only nice bits I didn’t already mention on the ‘cast.)
- Spacey Zoomer is kind of a silly name. It would be fine for a roller coaster, but a thing that just lets you jump up and down weightlessly? Seems incongruous. And a little boring.
- As I said, I wish the upgrades wouldn’t’ve happened so fast. One scene in particular could’ve been much more effective. Clara’s clever idea to electrify the moat really didn’t pay off. I’d’ve loved to see a few Cybermen go down before the upgrade kicked in. We’d have gotten to see more relief and celebration from Clara and the soldiers, and it would have been all the more scary when they overcame it and continued their march. Like nearly everything else in this story, that scene felt rushed.
- As I briefly mentioned on the podcast, Matt Smith didn’t quite do it for me in this episode. I think this is the first time I’ve ever said that, and it makes my heart hurt a little bit to do it, but there it is. He was acting his little heart out as the Doctor and the Cyber-Planner, but it just never quite gelled for me. There wasn’t enough nuanced difference between the characters for my liking. (I do understand the need for some similarity in order to trick Clara later, but a stronger delineation between the two wouldn’t have precluded a Clara-fooling scene or two. One could always imitate the other.) As I said, the physical bits of it were brilliant—Matt Smith always shines there, but the raw performance let me down.
- I like the idea that the Doctor uses a tricksy bluff to take down the baddies in the end. That’s another very Doctorish move, but I’m not sure chess was the best way to achieve that. I know it’s a complicated game, but there are still a finite number of possible moves—especially if you only have to calculate out to three! How many Cyberbrains should realistically be needed to figure out conclusively that there’s no way the Doctor can legally win? I’m thinking just a handful. It should not have taken as much time as it did.
- I’ve chosen to handwave this particular issue by telling myself that because the Cyber Planner was residing in the Doctor’s head, he was able to use sheer force of personality to convince it that he truly had the winning moves, so it was a bluff wrapped in a brute-force trick.
- (Sadly, I’m not really buying this explanation.)
The Bit I Messed Up
I totally got the director’s name wrong in this ep. It’s Stephen Woolfenden. I knew it started with “Wolf” but I totally cocked it up from there. Apologies to Mr. Woolfenden. And nicely done on this story!
The Bits My Cohosts Schooled Me On
- We touched on the kids briefly, and Deb mentioned how people would likely have problems with the daughter Angie. *raises hand* I was one of those people. Wandering off on a strange planet and entering a bunker full of soldiers seemed pretty unrealistic to me. Deb set me straight there (kids! who knew?), but I still had no fun watching her snottiness.
- I liked that the Cybermen could turn their heads around so fast (and remove them), but then Kat pointed out that means the last vestiges of their humanity seem well and truly deleted. I think that does make them slightly less effective for me. Perhaps having full humans that were only a wee bit Cyberized on the surface was an attempt to balance this out, but it didn’t quite work for me as well as a former-person-in-a-cyber-suit. Why bother being humanoid at all anymore?
- I’m a bit worried that Angie is going to return in a future episode. Her line about being queen of the universe someday seemed a little forced–like it was placed there for a reason. And she does have a brand new phone, courtesy of the TARDIS. (What?!) I just hope that if the character does reappear, she’s much older, wiser, and less of a brat.
- I noted the dialogue about the Doctor erasing himself from history, and I suspect that will lead into the coming finale, though I am carefully avoiding specific speculating. I’m just excited to watch it and be (I hope) delightedly surprised.