Make no make, expectations can lead to bittersweet results. In the case of Doctor Who, there were few episodes in Season Seven with such expectations bestowed upon them as Nightmare In Silver, Neil Gaiman’s second standalone tale after 2011’s hit The Doctor’s Wife. You’ll no doubt have noticed a significant level of negativity surrounding this Cyber-adventure, yet for this reviewer there was still a lot more to like than there was to criticize, in a thrilling romp which successfully brings the Cybermen back to their rightful Cyber-throne. (And yes, we did wonder if we could get the term ‘Cyber’ into that paragraph any more times than we already had!)
As obvious as it may seem, Doctor Who’s Spring 50th Anniversary run was undoubtedly defined by its performances from the main and supporting cast alike. Indeed, in Nightmare we have a stunning dual-Doctor performance from Matt Smith, an assured portrayal of Clara that seems to allude towards what the companion will get up to post-2013 without an ‘impossible’ mystery to solve. Better yet, Warwick Davis and Trollied’s Jason Watkins both gave thoroughly compelling turns as their whimsical misfit characters who fitted well into Gaiman’s usual band of ‘patchwork’ recruits.
Another key element of success this time around was the area where indeed success was warranted: the Cybermen. Far from the hulking steel megamoths that have plagued the show ever since 2006’s Season Two and turned these classic foes to farce, we got a stunning new depiction of these deadly adversaries that truly reinstalled a sense of power and invulnerability to their race. Considering that the only way the Doctor and the Emperor could put a stop to the re-rise of these Mondasian foes was to destroy an entire planet, it leaves the question as to how on Earth the Time Lord can hope to best his arch-foes should they ever return to Earth, which is a grossly exciting contemplation if ever there was one.
There were one or two loose elements where the quality dropped below Gaiman’s awe-inspiring Season Six adventure The Doctor’s Wife, though. First up, whereas for the majority the supporting cast of each episode has helped massively in their success, only Davis and Watkins shine here, with Clara’s two foster-children bordering on a Fear Her level of irritance, Tamsin Outwaithe’s renegade commander little more than a stunted plot device and the remainder of the Punishment Platoon offering little in the way of memorable performances. Also, it would have been nice to see the Cybermen get a chance to properly state their intent of universal upgrading and domination, as well as an ending that had a more heavy influence on the events to come in The Name Of The Doctor. While for the most part the ‘fourteen standalone blockbusters’ approach has worked superbly in terms of variety and compelling viewing, equally in some instances such as here and The Power Of Three it did seem to rob certain storylines of a degree of substance that perhaps one or two two-part episodes could have catered for better.
Do we let the weight of expectation override Neil Gaiman’s second Who outing, then? Nope- instead, we appreciate Nightmare In Silver as a strong penultimate instalment in the Spring 50th Anniversary run. It’s not quite the silver gem that The Doctor’s Wife was, lacking in terms of a well-rounded supporting cast and also seeming to struggle to redefine one or two sets in Cardiff that have been reused on a couple of instances here and in the show’s various spin-offs. All the same, in terms of reintroducing the Cybermen within the space of 45 minutes and reigniting our passion for those heartless foes of the Time Lord fifty years on, Neil Gaiman has still done a great job with Doctor Who: Nightmare In Silver, proving that expectations aren’t everything when it comes to a ‘sequel’ adventure.