Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver

Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver May 11, 2013

We were told that, in the episode of Doctor Who “Nightmare in Silver,” Neil Gaiman aimed to make the cybermen scary again. It is arguable that he accomplished that, not only by making the cybermen a little scarier, but also making them part of something even scarier than they are. Spoilers ahead!

Some speculated about whether the ending of the last episode might lead to the kids in Clara’s care being included on an adventure. We did not have long to wait. The Doctor takes Clara and her charges to an amusement park – the best in the universe, supposedly. But it has been closed down and placed under quarantine, by order of the emperor. Having the backdrop where they first landed by the lunar surface was a nice echo of “The Moonbase,” which was another episode that increased the fear factor of the cybermen.

The “funny insects” – cybermites rather than cybermats – illustrate the theme of the episode, which is of cyberbeing that can be constantly upgrading, adapting to new circumstances. If this reminds you of the Borg, keep in mind that the cybermen were warning that resistance is futile long before the Borg were.

The reference to the “cyberwars” didn’t seem to me to intersect with any period we’ve encountered previously on Doctor Who, but I may just be having a lapse.

The reference to the Doctor as the “savior of the cybermen” because he brought children who could serve as “cyberplanners” to allow the cybermen to improve even further, as well as the use of the Doctor’s time lord mind to a similar end, was interesting but also puzzling. Wasn’t this in essence a recognition that there was something superior to the form of existence of the cybermen?

The cybermen are now part of a “cyberiad” – a collective existence rather more like the Borg than the cybermen ever seemed to be before.

At any rate, The Doctor responded to the claim “The next model will be undefeatable” by saying “Nothing’s undefeatable.”

The reference to the Doctor not being known in the cyberiad’s data banks, and his having been erasing himself from history, directly recalled events in “Asylum of the Daleks.” And since the next episode is the end of the season to which that episode is the beginning, that echo presumably is important to the story arc of the season.

The Doctor seems to have had a plan all along, and to have needed to be connected to the multiple cybermen on the planet in order to be able to neutralize them. But there is a clear indication at the end that the cybermen are by no means gone.

The Doctor seems to be sacrificing his queen and thus the game in order to get the children free. This is regarded as reflecting his inferior emotions – but here too there was inconsistency, as the cyberplanner inside the Doctor’s head seemed to be expressing emotion.

Be that as it may, I loved when the Doctor said “The time lords invented chess – it’s our game.” And then went on to “win” in a non-linear, wibbly wobbly sort of way.

For those interested in the intersection of Doctor Who with religious themes, there are multiple points worth focusing on. The emperor’s desire not to be emperor, recognizing that such a role is a burden and not merely a privilege, is interesting – as is the discussion of how one should respond to an offer to become queen of the universe. Seeking power isn’t necessarily wise. And the whole notion of being “upgraded” is itself a reminder that improving in some respects can come at a cost in other areas.

The idea of the Doctor as “savior” of course has religious connections one could explore. Most interesting, I think, is the fact that being savior for one group may well mean be the very opposite for another. Savior of the cybermen means humanity’s destruction – and vice versa. The same issues have often been explored in connection with messiahs (not only Jesus): does being Israel’s savior have to mean being the destroyer or subjugator of the other nations? The two Doctors arguing in the Doctor’s mind helped bring the binary nature of a savior’s role into focus.

What did you think of “Nightmare in Silver”? And if you haven’t seen it yet, do watch the prequel to next week’s episode, “The Name of the Doctor.” It is called “She Said, He Said.”

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