The Doctor, Clara, and Angie and Maitland peek credits-in-a-sitcom style around the door of the TARDIS (I did the hand-claps from Friends). They’re on the moon! Well, it’s not the moon, but a “spacey zuma ride” and a Golden Ticket to what used to be the biggest and best amusement park in the universe. Yay, how fun…that would have been. Too bad it’s in total ruins and about to give rise to a hostile force trying to destroy the universe! My stars, if that just isn’t a day out with the Doctor all over!
While Angie complains about the moon, the TARDIS, the Doctor’s navigational skills and, you know, whatever else teenagers complain about when you take them time-traveling because they demanded you do so, a carnie type guy pops up asking if they’re his “lift off-planet”. Obviously this is a hip-hop-happening place to be if even the funfair employees are desperately trying to leave.
Cue a bunch of rag-tag soldiers, who explain the planet’s been closed “by imperial order”; some psychic paper fools them to thinking the Doctor’s a “proconsul” approved by the emperor to poke around. When the platoon moves out, Webley, seeing as how he’s stuck on the planet, offers to show the Doctor & Co. his “world of wonders”, “waxwork representations of the famous and infamous.”
While the gang gawks at his dusty curiosity-cabinet collection, Webley asks if “anyone here can play chess”. Artie can (the Doctor pouts a bit when his raised finger gets overlooked), so Webley sets him in front of the “miracle of modernity; we defeated them all, but now he’s back to destroy you,” a chess-playing Cyberman! “Get down!” the Doctor shouts, just in time for credits! Oh, and Neil Gaiman wrote this ep, for anyone who hasn’t already caught the tremendous buzz about him returning to Doctor Who after his very well-received DW 6.04 – The Doctor’s Wife.
Okay, back on track: the Cybermen as a whole were defeated. Angie rolls her eyes so we know she’s bored (honestly, this ep stumbled with her character; she’s so constantly called upon to huff and complain that it obscured some very nice natural moments the actress demonstrated).
“Yeah, that’s a fool’s mate,” the Doctor predicts; moments later, Artie’s beaten. The Doctor exposes the method letting the Cyber-shell win games: Warwick Davis, acting as the “brains” in a hidden compartment and going by the unfortunate name of “Porridge.” Oh, and at some point, robotic insects scuttle around suspiciously.
Angie gets an Imperial Penny from Webley while Clara declares the waxwork Emperor of the Universe “looks a bit full of himself.” Porridge warns you can’t say crap about the imperial family unless you want to live on the run the rest of your life. “They don’t sound very nice,” Artie points out. Porridge seems taken aback. I mean, what’s not to love about royals who run you down if you so much as whisper boo about them?
Back at the fake-moon-landing spot, the Maitland kids twirl in air in the “spacey zuma” with Peter Pan-ish moves.
“It was okay,” Angie admits, because for whatever reason this ep makes her out to be a killjoy rather than exploring in a line or two how she’s not always sunshine and roses because she’s coping with her mom’s death in addition to your standard adolescent suckiness.
Also, Clara kind of breezing in and out of nannying on a week-to-week basis cannot be helping Angie’s self-esteem. Don’t get me wrong: I like Clara’s interactions with the kids, and Coleman’s physical gestures toward them this ep in particular (including reaching for Angie immediately when danger arises) are lovely. But it might be cool to acknowledge Angie sometimes reacts poorly to Clara in part because Clara’s so distracted by new developments in her life, rather than making Angie randomly shout-y and sullen.
Time to get the kids home,” Clara decides. Nope. The Doctor needs to stay BECAUSE OF REASONS, mostly to do with those “funny little insects”. So he and Clara tuck the kids in for a nap, and the Doctor creeps them out by repeatedly telling them not to wander off so no one will need rescuing. Sweet dreams!
Webley gets seized by his chess-playing Cyberman, which intones, “Upgrade in progress.” Back with the Maitlands, Angie hates the future because it’s stupid and has no mobile service. I feel you, Angie; I get totally crabby when I’ve no reception. Contrary to Doctor’s orders, she WANDERS OFF!
Meanwhile, doesn’t it seem like Porridge is courting Clara? He takes her out to see the stars, or at least that big hole where there used to be a galaxy of a billion trillion people before they had to blow it up to defeat the Cybermen. So romantic!
Clara’s shocked at the death toll while Porridge (I keep wanting to call him “Pudding”) feels sorry “for the poor blighter who had to press the button.” Gosh, that wouldn’t have been you, would it, Pudding Porridge?
Over at the barracks, fail!Platoon realizes someone’s stripped the essential components from their machinery while Angie wanders in (nice security, dorks).
“I’m not scared, if you’re wondering,” poor Artie calls out. “I just think I ought to turn the lights back on.” Lights on, whew! Now we can see the Cyberman clamp his hand around Artie’s mouth. Jeez, see what happens when you leave your little brother alone with carnies?
The Doctor and Clara run in to confront a complaining Angie when a Cyberman busts in. “Upgrade in progress”: the soldiers’ fire doesn’t impact it at all. HOCRAP: the Cyberman apparently patched in the ability to move like the wind – nice bit of special effects there with the shots red-streaking the air while the Cyberman maneuvers around them.
The Cyberman promptly grabs Angie, who screams bloody murder, and hightails it out of there. The Doctor calls out fail!Platoon on being banished to this planet as a punishment because they suck. “As Imperial Consul, I’m putting Clara in charge,” the Doctor says. Say what now?
Clara gets a fancy broach apparently complete with commanding abilities; she echoes the Doctor’s order to “get somewhere defensible”. He departs to save the kids and find the insects. “Stay alive,” he advises Clara before shouting to fail!Platoon, “And you lot, no blowing up the planet!”
“Put me down, I hate you!” Angie shouts at the Cyberman carrying her, and frankly, I’m impressed she’s so articulate (because I would be screaming LIKE A BANSHEE if a Cyberman up and carted me away). “Please stand by, you will be upgraded,” converted! Artie says tonelessly as Angie screams.
Clara chooses “Natty Longshoe’s Comical Castle” for the “defensible” position, luckily bolstered by Porridge, who waltzes in to emphasize she’s in charge. I like Clara being competent, but where did her snappy military know-how come from?
In his search, the Doctor uncovers another mechanical insect. “Firstly, if anybody’s watching this,” he tells the bug’s POV, “these children are under my protection…Secondly, little metal machine, you are beautiful.” It’s always creepy-charming when the Doctor coos over hostile alien tech. Forget cybermats, dudes; now the advance scouts are cybermites.
Tooling around to find the cybermite’s transmit link, the Doctor poofs to a lab space where Angie and Artie await, Cyber-zombified. “We needed children, but the children stopped coming,” a half-Cyber Webley (his face is all Borg-y) tells the Doctor. “Hail to you, the doctor, savior of the Cybermen!”
If the empire knew what was going down, they’d apparently blow the planet to smithereens. Good thing the communicators are down, then! “I trust the Doctor,” Clara snaps, overruling fail!Platoon’s suggestion of hunting “the creature” that snatched Angie. Seems slightly odd she’s not barreling out to save the kids herself, but this general!Clara is yet another entirely new Clara-incarnation, so all bets are off!
Cripes, Webley’s been cyber-fied into an Exposition Bot. He explains the Cybermen built a Valkyrie on this planet “during the battle between humanity and the Cyberiad to save critically damaged units”. Apparently new kids gave the cybermites a way to regroup, using the “infinite potential” of a child’s brain to make a Cyber-planner (a unit for creating and overseeing battle schemes).
But pfft to kids’ brains if the Doctor’s brain is available! Cybers “can’t convert nonhumans!” has become a thing of the past; patches allow Cybers to use “almost any living components.” The buggies fling themselves at the Doctor, and soon Eleven is “incorporated” as they explore his “unfamiliar pulmonary” system and “remarkable brain processing speed.”
Now. Here is where the episode really gets, as Eleven says, “A-ma-zing!” Because with a fantastic wrench of his body, Matt Smith shouts, “Get out of my head! Stop rummaging in my mind!” and we’ve got a Cyber-Planner Doctor versus Our Doctor scenario, awww yis! And not only do we have split-personality Doctor battling the Cybers internally, we get to see the internal battle – the scene switches to the mental landscape.
The lighting and visuals here are pitch-perfect, making the inside of the Doctor’s mind seem like a cross between a map of shimmering galaxies, a network of computer circuits, and the glowing synapses of a humanoid brain.
Best of all is how Smith plays the Doctor’s Cyber-Planner side, with gleeful zeal that incorporates all the scariest bits of Willy Wonka’s jovial but menacing genius (we should have known the terrifying side of arriving with a Golden Ticket would soon surface). I pretty much gave myself permission to swoon as Smith swept around the set, almost balletic in his exultant mania, showing off the chilling charm of a Doctor gone almost 50% evil to stunning effect.
“This is brilliant….now I’m a million times more clever,” the Cyber-Planner enthuses. “I could call myself Mister Clever,” he decides, mentally pawing through the “raw data” including “information on Time Lords.” “Oh, this is just dreamy,” he croons. If this tricksy braggart of a Cyber-Planner seems rather a wee bit more emotive than our typical Cybers, who cares in the face of this much AWESOME?
Our Doctor snaps that he is in fact “allowing you access” to memories of Time Lord regenerations. Oh oh oh, the internal landscape flashes between Doctors, from One all the way up through to the regeneration from Ten to Eleven! *faints dead away* If the Doctor regenerates right now, he can destroy the Cyberiad.
In the face of this stalemate (they each control 49.881% of the brain, with 0.238% in balance), the Cyber-Planner Doctor and Our Doctor decide to play chess, winner takes all. Our mental landscape setting lets them shake hands on it, then it’s back to the double-personality Jekyll/Hyde conflict played out in one body. If the Cyber-Planner wins, “the Cyberiad gets your brain and memories,” including knowledge of time travel. “When I win,” our Doctor growls, “you get out of my head, you let the children go, and nobody dies, you got that?”
A soldier named Missy gets snuffed by a Cyber despite shrieking, “Don’t move, I’m in the army!” “It’s on its way, then,” Clara says when she learns of Missy’s radio-silence. General Clara Oswald has no time for regrets, baby!
Clara and the fail!Platoon’s leader butt heads over the trigger-unit to implode the planet. When Porridge yet again defends Clara’s Boss status, the platoon leader orders him upstairs for a chat.
Meanwhile, back to the A material: “Oh, you’ve been eliminating yourself from history,” the Cyber-Planner Doctor points out, his Borg-profile beaming. Doesn’t the Doctor know he can be reconstructed by the hole he’s left? In turn, Our Doctor knows how to de-construct the Cybers. Seems they’re still running code allowing their operating system to be scrambled by gold or cleaning fluid. “That’s your secret weapon, cleaning fluid?” the Cyber-Planner scoffs. “Nope, gold,” the Doctor retorts. Let’s put that Golden Ticket from the start of the episode to good use!
Okie doke, so fail!Platoon’s leader recognizes Porridge as, you probably have guessed by now, the Emperor. Ah, the good old days, he muses, like during the ice picnic “when the snow bears came and danced for us” (say what now?). But just because he’s run away doesn’t mean she won’t follow orders. She starts to activate the planet implosion, but a Cyberman sniper takes her down.
Clara, now truly in charge, deploys the fail!Platoon against the Cybers, finding their nifty gun that can vaporize the Cybermen needs to be supplanted by their Pulsar close-range devices. “Clara, don’t shoot, I’m nice!” the Doctor yells, echoing Rory as he approaches. Hey, she hasn’t let them blow the planet up yet, “good job!” As for the Maitland kiddoes, “bit of a bad news/good news thing going on,”; though he kidnapped the Cyber-Planner and is “sort of in control of this Cyberman” the bad news is that the Cyber-Planner is “in my head” and the kids are – “it’s complicated!”- in a bit of a walking coma.
But hey, more good news: the cyber-Planner is installing a patch “for the gold thing” and more reactivated Cybermen are on their way! “No, wait, that isn’t good news,” the Doctor realizes; he’s battling with the Cyber-Planner half for control again. Actual good news: “I have a very good chance of winning my chess match!” Say, they’re going to need to get him to a table and tie him up pronto, okay? Just leave his hands free to play chess!
“You’re playing chess with yourself?” Clara clarifies as the Doctor settles in a new room. “And winning,” he points. The Cyber-Planner side takes control, parodying recent regenerations verbally as he exclaims Nine’s “Fantastic!” and yells Ten, “I’m working the math now, allons-y!” Clara realizes he’s not her Doctor; he taunts her by saying he knows she’s The Impossible Girl.
“Why am I impossible?” Clara demands. “You can either die or live as one of us,” the Cyber-Planner jeers, announcing the other Cybermen are “waking from their tombs right now.” HIT ME, Our Doctor scrawls on a notepad; when Clara smacks him, the neural surge and bit of pain are “just what I needed!” to get the helm back temporarily.
But the shift is very temporary; Clara soon realizes she’s talking to “Mister Clever,” the evil 49.881% of the Doctor jeers. So “if you don’t mind, I have a chess game to finish, and you have to die pointlessly and very far from home. Toodle-oo!” Gah, it’s pure pleasure watching Matt Smith switch back and forth throughout the struggle for the Doctor’s brain!
Clara reasons fail!Platoon better electrocute the moat’s water with an unhooked cable to stop the Cybers as they advance. “Stop that, I felt that,” Our Doctor complains to his other half, who sing-songs, “Of course you did. It’s time to get up, wakey-wakey, boys and girls!” Damn, that’s scary. At his call, a jillionty Cybermen emerge from their tombs.
Cyber-Planner Doctor tries to trick Clara, explaining he has special feelings about “how funny you are, so funny and pretty.” She slaps him hard (probably in my top five favorite Clara moments of the ep) to set him straight; even if he did feel that way, he’d rather die than say it. But the Cyber-Planner still manages to grab the planet-imploding remote device and crush it. “My move,” the Doctor blurts. “What do you mean?” Clara asks. “It means, boys and girls, they’re heeere,” he howls, and damn, DAMN, this is some excellent acting from Matt Smith here!
The road to Natty Longshoe’s Comical Castle is lousy with Cybermen blanketing the terrain on their way to take down the fail!Platoon and the Doctor.
The chess pieces smack down as the Cybers march forward, matching the rapid shift between scenes. Clara’s strategy of electrocuting invading Cybermen goes to hell when the Cybers “upgrade” again. “Keep yourself safe,” Clara advises Porridge, ordering the fail!Platoon into position.
“You can take my bishop and keep limping on for a little longer, or you can sacrifice your queen, and get the children back,” the Cyber-Planner crows. There’s gorgeous physical manifestation of the mental struggle here throughout the chess moves as the Doctor sacrifices his queen. “All for two human children you barely know,” the Cyber-Planner mocks even as Porridge hustles up with the Planet-Smashing Bomb and pulsars Cyber!Webley to death.
With the soldiers outside cornered, the Doctor rallies. He’ll defeat the Cyber-Planner in three moves, because you know what? THE TIME LORDS INVENTED CHESS! “How?” the Cyber-Planner objects. “Figure it out…or don’t you have the processing power?” Enraged, the Cyber-Planner summons “local resources” to harness the “extra processing power” of three million Cyberians to work on “one tiny chess problem” and ultimately defeat the Doctor
The Doctor yells, “That’s cheating!” But the maneuver pays off – the Cybermen freeze seconds away from converting Clara and the fail!Platoon. Time for those three moves: “move one, turn on the sonic screwdriver; move two, activate pulsar; move three, amplify pulsar!” “Haha, see you!” he shouts and pulses himself even as the Cyber-Planner half of him echoes, “That’s cheating!”
“Just taking advantage of the local resources,” the Doctor says smugly, face-free of Borg attachments.
“Do you think I’m pretty?” Clara demands on her return, trying to prove he’s Our Doctor. “No,” he says sullenly. “You’re too short and bossy, and your nose is all funny.” Okay, best evidence of the Our Doctor attitude I can imagine!
Good thing the Planet Smashing Bomb unit has a fallback voice-activation to defeat the looming Cybers. Oh, but whoever will activate it? Angie proves she’s been paying attention and points out, hello, Porridge is the Emperor! “He looks exactly like he does on the coin and on the waxwork!”
Poor Porridge hesitates; he doesn’t want to be emperor again, but he also doesn’t want the Cybers to win. “I, Ludens Nimrod Kendrick Cord Longstaff XLI…Imperator of Known Space, activate the Desolator,” he pronounces. The entire planet will blow in 80 seconds, but that’s enough time “for the Imperial Flagship to locate me from my identification, warp-jump into orbit, and transmat us to the space room.”
A second later, everyone’s safe on the Flagship. “Nice ship, bit big, not blue enough,” the Doctor sniffs, unimpressed. Porridge agrees to transmat the TARDIS just in time before the planet’s imploded to eensy bits.
Porridge muses wistfully it was “good not to be lonely emperor of a thousand galaxies with everyone waiting on me to tell them what to do.” Awww, he doesn’t have to be lonely, Clara demurs. Marry me, Porridge answers. To Angie’s disappointment, Clara gently refuses even if “when someone asks you if you want to be Queen of the Universe, you say yes!”
Porridge jokingly offers to execute everyone (think you dodged a bullet there, Clara) before letting them go. Back on earth, Artie politely thanks Clara and “Clara’s boyfriend” while Angie’s happy that she has a new phone courtesy of the TARDIS.
“Impossible girl,” the Doctor mutters as Clara leaves, “a mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that’s just a bit too tight.” Seriously, say what now? Not only is the line skeevy and weird for the Eleven/Clara dynamic, it sounds more like a reference to Amy Pond’s wardrobe than Clara’s.
Oooo weeee boooo pathooo! Even if the hodge-podge of interweaving stories in this ep seemed oddly paced at times, the payoff of the marvelous Doctor-versus-Doctor central conflict blew absolutely everything else away. For that reason alone, Nightmare in Silver may well be my absolute favorite episode this season. How about you all? Did you dig the struggle between the Cyber-Planner and the Doctor? And who’s excited and/or wary for next week’s season-finale reveal of, you know, Doctor Who? Please do join me for recap, discussion, and of course punch and pie!