Nightmare in Silver
The Doctor: I’ll explain later.
Production Code: 3.12.
Doctor Who Season: S33 (Ep12).
Story Number: 238.
The upgrade of the Cybermen…
It begins with artifice. When the Doctor Who production team of the 1960s attempted to realise the the surface of the moon for the Cybermen story The Moonbase, they had the more-forgiving and velvetly monochrome of the television screens of the day. Now it’s 2013 and the pin-sharp colour of HD screens exists – to have the Doctor step out onto a not particularly impressive scene, that’s not a great start to a state-of-the-art entertaining episode, unless the moonbase itself is supposed to be an invented entertainment: and it is. The sense of place – the setting for the story – is established (or not, as will be discussed) with later sequences.
The process of the production team realising Neil Gaiman’s script for the screen has become one focus of attention after broadcast of the episode, not least because Gaiman himself has taken to Tumblr to clarify some of the seeming gaps in plot-cohesion, such as what was supposed to happening when the Cybermites were swarming over the phone.
Neil Gaiman is the one Doctor Who scriptwriter that could be said to have an extensive fanbase that would be drawn to Doctor Who – to watch “the Neil Gaiman episode”.
This idea tends to erase the hands of all the myriad other people involved in creating 45 minutes of television, and when the story is an undoubted triumph like his previous script The Doctor’s Wife then praise is directed to the pen of the master scribe.
When an “authoured” story – like Nightmare in Silver – doesn’t quite reach the giddy heights of the fan-consensus Instant Classic then the reaction of the fanbase is to say then perhaps the rest of the production team didn’t quite realise the master scribe’s visionary writings for the screen perfectly. That might not always be correct – was it what happened for this Doctor Who story?
Contrast the storytelling – which includes the camera choices and images used to communicate the events – with that of The Crimson Horror. Both stories include a map of the territory of the story. It’s not an exact comparison as Sweetville is much more compact than Hedgewick’s World, the “biggest and best amusement park there will ever be”.
With The Crimson Horror‘s map, you see the factory, you see the dwellings beside it, and you later see the exteriors and interiors of these as part of the story.
Nightmare in Silver has two interiors – Webley’s Collection and the Cybermen’s Valkyrie – which you wouldn’t perhaps expect be on the map, however there are no clear expressions of what their exteriors are either.
The comical castle is shown on the map as one possible choice for the platoon to relocate to when Clara is asking about their options. The opportunity to highlight the Spacey Zoomer moonbase as a place too is not taken, though there is a Big Wheel which would seem to be something like what was shown on the ruined vista shown earlier.
This vista shown earlier – the character Webley shows the TARDIS travellers this as they step a few paces from the “moonbase”, and then, what would seem to be vital dialogue:
It closed down. Wish I’d known that before I landed here. But let me show you my collection. Come along. Follow me. This way. This way in, come on. (Laughs) Welcome to my sh[inaudible]. Webley’s World of Wonders. Miracles, marvels, and more await you. I am impresario Webley.
(The subtitles by Red Bee Media for the BBC say the inaudible word is “show”.)
He talks of at least one thing of his collection having been “displayed before the Imperial Court” – the Cyberman Chess Player – so presumably “Porridge” joined his touring show when Webley was there.
That touring notion and “It closed down. Wish I’d known that before I landed here” suggests that this collection is on Webley’s ship – however everything else of how the story is told suggests this is an room of the amusement park complex. There’s no establishing image of an exterior of any spaceship, and the way Webley emerges from a door in a wall of the “moonbase” suggests that’s what he leads the others into.
He does talk about waiting for his “lift off-planet” – “Dave’s Discount Interstellar Removals” so that suggest he’s expecting his collection to come with him when he leaves.
Webley is an interesting Dickensian character, even more so when contrasted against these 21st Century characters (and the Doctor) on a day out – he’s trying to survive as a showman on this closed-down-amusement-park world. However, after being “upgraded” to CyberWebley the character is moved off from centre-stage halfway through and only has one line in the second half and no lines remarking upon his demise – forgotten by the other characters and story.
His collection is fascinating too, which it’s why it’s frustrating it doesn’t get the same clearly-told television storytelling as the elements of Sweetville from The Crimson Horror.
Another great interior that doesn’t have a clear establishing exterior image is that of the “Valkyrie” – indeed it doesn’t get any explanation at all apart from a brief line.
As the humans battled with the Cybermen (presumably a thousand years ago), “the Cyberplanners built a Valkyrie to save critically damaged units, bring them here, and, one by one, repair them”.
“The people who vanished from the amusement park, they were spare parts, for repairs” – says the Doctor, but was that even mentioned before?
So as location or backstory: both Webley’s collection and the Cybermen’s Valkyrie are not particularly clear storytelling – so does that mean Gaiman isn’t storytelling clearly?
Doctor Who is more that just a script so, no – however The Doctor’s Wife is still Gaiman’s best Doctor Who story.