The Cybermen are second only to the Daleks in holding the honor of most iconic Doctor Who monster. Brought back in NuWho in proper menacing fashion, they slowly morphed into as much of a joke as the Sontarans. Shouting “DELETE” at anything that moved while being easily defeated by the power of love, the Cybermen desperately needed a fresh start. That responsibility fell to Neil Gaiman, author of The Doctor’s Wife, which is one of the most imaginative and endearing of all Doctor Who stories. So did he achieve his goal of making the Cybermen less like mindless robo-Nazis and more like the cold, calculating menace of days past? Let’s find out!
Last week Angie and Artie, the children Clara is nanny to, find out about the Doctor. This episode begins with them getting a ride in the TARDIS which I suppose is to satisfy their assumed blackmail. Apparently the Doctor decides the perfect place to take them would be the universe’s biggest amusement park. As they arrive the Doctor is waving a “golden ticket” around a la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I mention the ticket because it shows up again later…
Quickly the Doctor and company find themselves surrounded by Imperial Solders, from whom they learn that the amusement park is closed under “Imperial order”. The Doctor waves his golden ticket around as if they’re his credentials stating that he is the Imperial Proconsul, which ranks him above the soldiers and allows his little band to wander the condemned park. Seems safe, right? Webley, the new owner of the planet, shows them around and leads them to one particular attraction; a Cyberman playing chess. Of course it’s a puppet, but seeing one of his old adversaries properly freaks the Doctor out. Webley tells the Doctor that there are “no more” living Cybermen, as they were defeated by the Empire some 1000 years earlier. Observing this scene unbeknownst to anyone are some conspicuously cyber-like critters.
As it turns out the Chess-playing Cyberman display is actually a clever nod to The Turk, a famous showpiece used to fool people into thinking an automaton was really playing chess. In actuality there was a little person inside manipulating the device. And just as with The Turk, Porridge, played by Warwick Davis, is discovered operating the dummy Cyberman.
So the kids enjoy their visit for a while and everything is rather jolly, but when Clara urges the Doctor that it is time to take the children back home the Doctor says it’s not quite time to leave. He’s picked up the scent of the Cyber-critters. As everyone is settling in for the evening the Cyber-Turk comes alive and attacks Webley, releasing dozens of Cyber-critters that scurry across his body.
Meanwhile, Artie can’t sleep, and while going to find the light switch he’s snatched by a Cyberman! Right away more Cybermen attack. This is where we begin to see how these Cybermen are different from their predecessors. Firstly, now they apparently can teleport. Well, sort of. While one of the Imperial Soldiers is defending their position the Cyberman rushes forward in super speed, grabs Angie, and disappears. The Cyberman also speaks at one point, and it’s pretty cool that its voice is more like how it was in Classic Who. Much more menacing! The Cyberman brings Angie to the Cybermen control room where Artie is being held, and it tells her that she should prepare to be upgraded. Webley is also here, but he has been cyber-assimilated; a process which looks very much something the Borg might do.
The Doctor begins searching for the kids and finds one of the little Cyber-critters, to which he offers a stern warning to anyone watching through it that the children are under his protection. The Doctor notes that it isn’t even a Cybermat, but a Cybermite, furthering the theme of Nightmare in Silver; the Cybermen have evolved!
Webley serves as a voice for the Cybermen as they quickly begin to re-establish themselves, and he explains that they needed children’s brains to assist in their rebuilding. But, stating that the Cybermen have undergone “upgrades” we learn that they can now use any living components, not just humanity, and as such the Doctor gets partially assimilated. In a beautifully imagined scene the Doctor comes in contact with himself within his own mind. The Doctor struggles against the assimilation as he tries to get info from his alter-cyber-self, which is trying to turn the Doctor into a Cyber Planner. Within his head we see a flashback of his previous selves, and a declaration that he could regenerate at will if it was needed to stop his assimilation, as well as all his knowledge falling into the hands of the Cybermen. The Doctor proposes a deal with the emerging Cyber Planner, to play a game of chess, winner takes all. A little silly, if I’m being honest.
The Doctor flashes between his actual self and the Cyber Planner as “himselves” are playing chess. During their dialogue the Cyber-Doctor asks the real doctor a question; why has the Doctor been trying to erase himself from history? This is actually quite interesting as the Doctor’s attempt to try and erase himself from history hasn’t been mentioned since Dinosaur’s on a Spaceship, earlier this season. I suspect including this has to be a sly nod to a larger over-arching storyline. I guess only time will tell…
As the Doctor talks to himself within his own mind he stumbles across the fact that the Cybermen’s weakness to Gold, a fact mentioned numerous times in Classic Who, has survived their evolution. He slaps his golden ticket against the Cyber implants on his face and suppresses the Cyber Planner’s advance, at least temporarily.
Clara and the soldiers search for other Cybermen and quickly find themselves at a disadvantage. We see a much smarter, more strategic Cybermen than those in recent memory. Cybermen who can separate pieces of themselves—like a hand, or their head—and use them as traps. Clara fights back by blasting one to pieces but it’s too late for some of the soldiers, as they’ve already been assimilated.
The Doctor leads the children and Webley back to Clara and the soldiers, and apprises her of the situation, primarily the condition of the children. He tells her the Cybermen are working on a patch to the gold weakness, which means his time of being safe from the Cyber Planner is running out. He sets up the chess game and allows the Cybermind to link up with him again. As the Cyber-Doctor re-gains control he talks to Clara, telling her how interested in her the Doctor really is; because she is the “impossible girl”. During this exchange the Cyber-Doctor is able to reactivate millions of Cybermen who have been hibernating in a hive-like structure that is again suspiciously similar to the Borg.
As the Cybermen descend upon the base the Doctor continues to lose control. Finally surrounding the base with incalculable numbers, the odds don’t seem too great for the TARDIS crew. The Doctor’s struggle against the Cyber-Doctor comes to a head, and during their exchange we learn that the Time lords invented chess—which is amusing—and the Doctor doesn’t plan on being beaten at his own game.
The Doctor manages to short out the Cyber Planner and regain control over himself. Unfortunately he has only delayed the inevitable as they all still need to escape the planet and destroy it to eliminate the Cybermen. This is where the episode loses its strength. The perennially grouchy Angie managed to figure out that Porridge is the Emperor. Yay, how convenient! Porridge activates the detonator which will destroy the world in eighty seconds, but luckily they are all picked up by the Emperor’s ship using a Transmat system. The Doctor’s TARDIS is procured at the last second before the planet is destroyed, taking the Cybermen with it.
The episode ends with the Doctor and Clara dropping the kids off at home, but also with Clara leaving as well. I can’t figure out why the Doctor drops Clara back home so much. Why doesn’t she live aboard the TARDIS like every other proper companion? I feel like this is a bit of evidence towards my theory that the Doctor is actually traveling with many more versions of Clara that we’ve been led to believe. Just before the trailer for next week’s episode we see a quick image that lets us know the Cybermen haven’t been completely destroyed….
Matt smith is outstanding in this episode. Playing two different Doctors struggling for control was no easy task, and could have come across poorly, if not for Matt’s unique quirky talents. I find myself enjoying the 11th Doctor so much more in this season they ever before. I only hope we’re not too close to his exit.
While I really enjoyed this episode I don’t think it was anything too special. I loved how the Cybermen were re-introduced and made more threatening again, but there was almost a “patchwork” feel to the episode. There really was no reason for the children to be along for the ride. Without them the episode still would have worked if the Doctor simply had to rescue Clara solely. The bit with Porridge being the Emperor also really didn’t add to anything. The entire episode felt like it was something I had already seen before. It actually reminds me of the episode where the Doctor, Amy, and River team with a unit of soldier-priests to defeat the Weeping Angels. Nightmare in Silver was pretty much that episode exactly. Everything to do with the Cybermen was spectacular, but everything else was lackluster and familiar. Compared to Neal Gaiman’s The Doctor’s Wife, this episode was not as good as it could have been. At least the Cybermen never said “DELETE!”
It has been confirmed that in next Week’s season finale, The Name of the Doctor, the Doctor will finely arrive at Trenzalore, the one place he should never go. Will we learn the Doctor’s name? Will we find out who Clara really is? I can’t even begin to venture a guess, but I’m sure it will be big and ridiculous and amazing!
image source: [doctorwhotv]