You have to give a round of applause to Neil Gaiman; the man is a genius of sleight of hand. When he was given the task of making the Silver Giants from Mondas scary again – a trait they’ve lost big time, climaxing in their last loathsome appearance in "Closing Time" – in Gaiman the fans trusted. And yes he has delivered. But not in the way many fans will expect.
Right from the off – Gaiman, the Showman, sets the stage on a stage. I mean is anyone fooled that the Tardis hasn’t really landed on the moon? No, we’re on the galaxy’s foremost amusement park – now badly in need of a lick of paint, where a punishment platoon with a handy planet-cracker are waiting around hoping the Cyber scourge will never raise their metal heads again. There’s a mad Showman who likes collecting broken down Cybers and learns one to play chess (sort off), and yes, there are Kids in the Tardis! Kids! Number one rule is broken! Clara must have really twisted the Doctor arm badly to make him change his mind!
And then there’s Warrick Davis as Emperor Porridge. Gotta say I love Warrick. I met him once at a convention and he’s a great little guy (never say that out aloud). The moment he pops up in the cubicle working the Chess Playing old Cyber “I’m the brains” I raised a smile. He plays a deft role here – we’re lead along the red herring path thinking he’s some caretaker or the Army’s mascot. Trust Gaiman to turn the tables when he’s the Emperor who blew up an entire galaxy to rid the Universe of the Cyber menace.
Another aspect which made this a very different Cyberman story was the inner battle between the true Doctor and the Viral Cyberplanner – complete with a lovely cameo of every past Doctor. The idea of using chess as a motif to show the conflict between the opposing personas was very inspired – even to the point of using a Gollum like pastiche from Lord of the Rings as we switch between lovable Eleventh and Borg Doctor. Some will argue that the sequences were too long winded and spoiled the potentiality of making this an all out action-fest – but when you’re watching a script from the writer of Sandman and soon to be Guardians of the Galaxy expect the unexpected.
The Punishment Platoon were a real pleasure too – a right bunch of un-strereotypes from a geeky weatherman to an Ex-Eastender. I liked the part when one of them was attacked by a headless new Cyber – which leads me to the real crux of "Nightmare in Silver."
So, the verdict on the new Cybers: Well, overall pretty good. Nice visual touches to the classic "Tomb of the Cybermen" types, yes, less speaky and more brutish and definitely unpredictable like voluntarily decapitating themselves or tossing a hand to ensnare a unwilling new recruit. Jury’s out on the new Wally West speedster powers which were well realized, but unfortunately we’re still stuck with the stomping SFX’s – okay, quieter - but it would be better if they were silent like their classic 60’s counterparts.
"Nightmare in Silver" leaves a tantalizing glimpse that even after detonating that handy planet-cracker – one solitary hand floats away in the ether – perhaps a nod to the original working title of "The Last Cyberman." Yes they will be back. They will survive. Question is: Will Neil Gaiman write the next encounter? For now – we’re seven days to the series finale when the "Name of the Doctor" will be revealed. Are you edging your bets whether Steven Moffat really will shatter the fifty year myth? I can’t wait.