Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Serial 153: Silver Nemesis

Doctor: Sylvester McCoy (7th Doctor)
Companions: Ace

Written by: Kevin Clarke
Directed by: Chris Clough

Editor's Note: Hello, friends! Welcome back to our continuing coverage of "Evil" month. Of course, you might be asking "But Silver Nemesis and "Evil"? I dunno, man..." Well fudge fudge magic magic and the word "Silver" has an anagram for the word "Evil" in it (if you must know, it's an anagram for "Evil Sr." so there's that) and wonder of wonders I'm not writing this one. This is all Cassandra sharing her thoughts on the 7th Doctor and a buncha buncha Cybermen (also Nazis). So enjoy this one and I'll be back for a wonderful delight of a story next week!

Background & Significance:  I’ve never really paid attention to that traditional anniversary gift list, nor have I known anyone else who has, but apparently JNT thought it was a big deal. 

Now, I’m only guessing at that right now, because obviously I can’t talk to the guy (unless I was a necromancer or something), but you know what?  He was sort of right, in that 25 years of something is a big deal, especially when it comes to a television show.  Well, okay, it definitely is a big deal.  Silver for everyone!

Written by novice writer Kevin Clarke and directed by incredibly seasoned director Chris Clough (known for “Ultimate Foe” and “The Happiness Patrol”, among others), “Silver Nemesis” had a bunch of production snafus, including a very limited rehearsal time that resulted in all three episodes running long, actors not being available and showing up when they were supposed to, and location mishaps.  As a result of the various delays and problems, this story as a result feels a tad sloppy and rather rushed in places, especially when you consider they had to trim down and edit the episodes for time.  I personally would rather have spent a little more tender loving care with a 25th anniversary celebration, but production schedules being what they are, I’m glad it got churned out in any case.

Honestly, I think “Silver Nemesis” is a story that is generally overlooked.  When you think of ‘anniversary specials’ the big ones that come to mind are “The Three Doctors” and “The Five Doctors”, which commemorate the ten year and twenty year anniversaries of the show, respectively.  Nobody really thinks of the 25th anniversary of Doctor Who, but I think they should, because a quarter of a century is a pretty long time for a show to be continuously on the air.  It’s amazing.  But is this serial?

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?


Part 1

I wish this had some subtlety to it.  At least in the beginning.

Right up front there’s a bunch of “Hey! Hey, look at this! We’re being so clever and magical, look at all these references to our 25th anniversary!” which is cute, I guess, but it gets really old really quickly and just makes me roll my eyes.  I’m sure this was a JNT mandate, since we all know how much he loves himself some fan wank.

See, I’m much more a fan of the super subtle cameo that Nicholas Courtney, aka The Brigadier has in this first episode (along with director Fiona Cumming, and other people who worked on Doctor Who) posing as a tourist at Windsor Castle.  We don’t even see his face, but if you know where to look, you can spot him, and it’s awesome.  I love that sort of thing.  Give me more of those little subtle Easter eggs, not a blaring announcement that makes my ears ring with cheesiness.

But really, once you get past all that, this episode is actually quite good.  This is the second time I’ve seen it, and I found it rather enjoyable.  It’s a little complicated if you’re not paying attention, since the episode jumps between storylines like a frog hopped up on caffeine (teehee pun), but I like that.  It’s exciting and engaging and it makes me wonder how all of these characters are going to come into play over the course of the serial.

Of course, that is revealed pretty quickly, because everybody wants their hands on the titular Silver Nemesis.  Which is pretty cool and also a good, basic conflict that drives the action and the characters.  I’m down.

Speaking of, I’m also rather enjoying the characters who show up in this.  There’s the Nazi dude, De Flores, who is the smarmiest motherfucker I have ever seen.  And of course, Lady Peinforte and her faithful companion Richard.  I love these two.  Probably because I have a penchant for liking period pieces and badass females, and what do you know, Lady Peinforte is both of those things all rolled into one.  And she and Richard make a great double act reminiscent of Robert Holmes stories, which is always a plus.  And Richard is freaking hilarious to me because of how whiny and mystified he is.  I like the way he’s written in this so far because I really think that if you dragged someone from the 17th century into the 20th, he’d probably be acting like Richard.  He’s scared and impossibly impressed and overwhelmed by everything that’s going on around him, which I think is a really great touch because rarely do you see someone in Doctor Who reacting to time travel like any normal human being would.  Which is probably why I find his reactions so hilarious.

I also really think that McCoy is on pretty good form here.  I really like him in his last two seasons as opposed to his first, where he and the writers have no idea what they’re doing with him so they go for the funny instead of the intriguing character.  I’ve always liked McCoy as sly and manipulative and conniving, and I really think you can see some of that at work here, him orchestrating this whole Nemesis thing in the first place.  To have the Doctor talk about a major threat to the earth, and then have him reveal that he was partially responsible for it landing when and where it does is a fascinating move, and calls into question who the Doctor is and what exactly his goals are, which is one of the more interesting themes JNT wanted to explore in this serial (that is to say, more interesting than silver things).

I’m about ready to move on, but before I do, I want to mention the cliffhanger, which I think is really good.  I love a story where you aren’t given the name of the main foe straight up in the title, so when they’re inevitably revealed in some dramatic cliffhanger, it actually comes as a surprise.  Now, I knew this was McCoy’s Cyberman story going into this, but I think it would be great if you had no idea what was coming and then BAM, Cybermen.  This reminds me a little of the end of episode one of “Earthshock” and it’s a great callback to that iconic story.

But I also like the cliffhanger because it seems like we’re going to get another stale Companion-and-Doctor-in-danger one, what with the Nazis pointing their guns and the looming threat to shoot Ace, but then it’s totally derailed by the appearance of the spaceship, and everything looks like it might be okay because Ace is saved, but then Cybermen show up and it just got ten times worse.  I really dig that.  Not only does it introduce the missing component to this adventure, but it’s unexpected and works effectively as a cliffhanger, still giving the audience their shock while also propelling the story forward.  Which is glorious and rarely seen in Doctor Who, I find.

Part 2

Between the first part and this, I got more than a little bit tipsy, so forgive me if I go off the rails a little. It should be entertaining for all.

The first thing about this that I’m noticing is that I’m really rather liking this script.  Going in for the first time, I was super super dubious, because this story seems to have such a bad rap in the Doctor Who community for whatever reason. I had heard that it wasn’t that great, and so I was prepared for something truly dismal… and was pleasantly surprised, which is the best.  I love going into a Doctor Who story and having it prove me wrong, it’s the greatest.

But seriously, I’m really enjoying this script.  The dialogue is witty and fun, there’s big action and explosions… it’s just tons of fun all around.  My one complaint about the dialogue is that there’s a bit too much exposition for my taste, where the Doctor will just tell Ace something and it totally halts the action while he explains what’s going on, but I’m willing to forgive it because I’m having fun and enjoying myself and laughing at Richard and Lady Peinforte encountering llamas.  Which is seriously the funniest shit.  I almost fell down laughing trying to explain it to Matt after a quick dance break.  (Insight into my life.)

I really like how Lady Peinforte and Richard are supposed to be one of the bad guys trying to get their hands on the Nemesis, and they are, but they also manage to be the comic relief at the same time, which is brilliant.  The funny isn’t undercutting Lady Peinforte’s ruthlessness or her being such a great shot with the bow and arrows, because it all stems from her interactions with Richard and how he’s scared shitless about being in the future, which I love.  The juxtaposition of someone evil and so dead set on what she wants with the normal Joe who works for her is a great one.  All of the people involved in the struggle for the Nemesis (Cybermen included) are pretty extraordinary, so to have a normal person in comparison just makes it really funny and entertaining, and brings a unique perspective on the events that we don’t tend to get in a Doctor Who adventure.  Everyone is so quick to adapt to what’s going on; I guess Tegan was supposed to be a reaction to that, but I think they failed miserably with her.  Though it would seem they learned their lesson and came back with a different approach to depicting a pretty normal person.

Also, how convenient is it that she has gold-tipped arrows?  Hmm. So convenient.  Though it’s pretty awesome watching Cybermen get taken out by arrows.

And the Doctor and Ace… I think it’s interesting that they haven’t really done anything yet.  I mean, sure, the Doctor had Ace blow up the Cybermen’s ship in an awesome exchange, but they haven’t really gotten involved in the plot of this.  They’ve primarily been jumping around from one location and time to another, trying to get one step ahead of everyone else after the Nemesis.  I think it’s interesting that they’re caught in the middle of this conflict, literally sitting around and waiting to see what happens until they can move in and dominate.  I still find what they do do in this pretty entertaining, especially when they jam the Cyberman transmission with some classy jazz music, but they don’t have much else going on.  I think this would be boring normally, but I absolutely adore these two as a team, and so it really works for me so far. 

It also takes the Doctor from being the entity responsible for this whole mess of the Nemesis returning to Earth, to a more passive position, forced to wait and watch and scheme from the sidelines.  Which, funny enough, is what McCoy evolves into as his stories march on, but with a little less sitting around and waiting.  Instead of orchestrating here, though, he’s a bystander trying to get back into the game with some devious  tricks up his sleeve.

I have another complaint with this script, and that being that the Nazi characters are not fleshed out enough.  Sure, they’re Nazis, but make them more interesting.  (Though I do like De Flores’ coat, that’s some classy shit right there.)  Maybe the alliance with the Cybermen was an attempt to make them more interesting and instrumental in the story, but I think this has the opposite effect: now they’re eclipsed by the presence of the Cybermen and our interest in De Flores and his men has gone from one where we’re trying to get more invested in their characters, to seeing when the Cybermen are going to kill them.  The alliance with the Cybermen completely pushes them out of the arena, which I’m not the greatest fan of; I know the story needs to be wrapped up soon, but their characters are not satisfying to me; I don’t know hardly anything about them or their motivations to reach and obtain the Nemesis.  Which is lame.

Since I like ending a part with things I like, though, I really enjoy the location shooting, especially all the nature bits.  I think it’s cool to see all these explosions and fire fights and the Doctor and Ace hiding in the woods; maybe it’s mostly because I like big explosions and action in Doctor Who, but I dunno.  I also really like the scenes indoors as well, in the tomb especially.  It’s creepy and the lighting looks good, and I really dig it.

Part 3

Interestingly enough, I think this part is where it all falls apart for me.

Usually, the last part of a story is where everything just congeals and wraps everything up in a nice little bow, and all the bits that were introduced in the prior parts are explained in a (hopefully) satisfying way.  But I don’t think that happens here, which is really unfortunate because I want to love this serial instead of merely liking it.

There’s really great touches, like all the action in this part, what with Ace running around with a slingshot and taking out some Cybermen.  And man, do I love action in Doctor Who when it’s done well, because this is the stuff.  It’s also in this part that I realized how well this is directed; the shot where Ace is running in the warehouse and is dodging Cybermen shooting at her is excellent, in my opinion.  That’s the shot that really brought to my attention how good a director Clough is.  Great stuff.

I just wish this end game were a little more clear and not as crazy and jumbled and wtf as it is.  The script is really solid until it has to get rid of the Nemesis and wrap everything up, in my opinion.  That’s where it fails for me.  And don’t get me wrong, the way the Doctor gets rid of the Nemesis and defeats the Cybermen is clever and sneaky and totally a McCoy move, I just wish it… I don’t know.  Was explained more?  Set up adequately?  I think a nice mixture of both of those things. 

And I think I like this whole motif with the Doctor’s secrets and his identity and such, but it comes a little too heavy and a little too late into the story for me.  Again, I think if it’d been scattered more throughout the story in the first two parts instead of all of that being laid on real thick in the last ten minutes of this story, it would be a lot more compelling.  I get that they’re trying to set it up for a more darker and scheming Doctor, but you don’t have to bash me over the head with the questions.  Spread them out, build up to them.  Subtlety.  (We seem to have come full circle.)

This part still has some great touches.  The random Southern heiress that picks up Richard and Lady Peinforte is delightful if not eye roll inducing, and Richard attempting to small talk with her while Lady Peinforte muses on world domination is hysterical.  I absolutely love Ace taking out Cybermen with a slingshot and all the crazy actiony stuff with that.  Maybe I’m just in an action movie mood, but I love this.  There are a lot of explosives in this story, and it’s glorious.  Although, a lot of Cybermen die in this.  (And they all sound the same when they bite it, did you notice that?  I wonder why that is.  It’s not like they all have the same voice, either, so it’s like what?)

And I like the bit where the Cybermen don’t understand the jazz music the Doctor is transmitting because they’ve removed all their emotions, that’s a really interesting philosophical thing that is just barely touched on—and maybe it’s just supposed to be a joke, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and saying that my deep philosophical reading into that one line was intended by all parties involved.

I just wish the resolution of this wasn’t as weird or hamfisted.  Also, can somebody explain to me what happens to Lady Peinforte and why she loses her shit and the Nemesis eats her, because I have no clue.  (Again, maybe if it were explained adequately.  Or maybe it’s just the alcohol. The world will never know.)

Also, the way the Nazis die is SUPER lame.

Final Thoughts?:  There's a lot to love in this story.

I'm actually kind of sad that it has as bad a reputation that it does, because I think this is quite enjoyable .  Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but entertaining and surprising and a fun little romp, which I think is good for an anniversary celebration, because it depicts the show as it is, with all its glorious awesomes, and silly things, and yes, even some fumbles.  But it's true to the show, and I like that about it.

I like that it's funny, I like that there's explosions, and monsters, and Nazis, and time travel.  I like that some bits are really well-done, and some are ham-handed and cheesy.  I like that it calls into question who the Doctor really is and what his motivations are, I like how it explores the past and the future, the natures of good and evil and the grey areas in between.  I like how it illustrates the dexterity and potential of the show and it's characters, how it highlights how charming and kick-ass the Doctor and his Companion can be.

So, while not perfect, I really think this serial successfully celebrates everything Doctor Who was and will be.  Because Doctor Who isn't perfect.  But I can still really enjoy it.  And I do.

Next Time!:  Third Doctor! Jo! The Master! And his Asian companion? UNIT! Brainwashing! Prison riots! And everything's in black and white! Matt's back to discuss "The Mind of Evil"! Coming Next Tuesday!


  1. Awesome to come across a favourable review... I really like this one and I just couldn't understand why other fans don't. Thanks!

    I loved Lady Peinforte and Richard too, and I'm a big fan of Cybermen, and Ace and 7 are probably my favourite Doctor/Companion duo, or at least on an equal footing with 2 and Jamie or 4 and Sarah Jane. This is just a really fun story and I absolutely love it :)

  2. Why fans don't like it:

    1. Lady Peinforte time travels. With magic.

    2. A mysterious Doctor is cool, but the mystery is meaningless. It doesn't actually come from or go anywhere. Mystery isn't the act of making the audience not understand, just to say "who knows!" The rule: even if you never plan to go back to it with an explanation, you must HAVE one. It forces your writing to make internal sense & stand up to scrutiny. Then you CAN go back to it if the show is a hit; you don't have to retcon to write a sequel/prequel.

    3. The Cybermen. In several parts:

    3a. They were redesigned foolishly. The overall costume looks tougher & heavier; that's good & the silver is a nice touch. However, an important feature of their chests was forgotten. The fake looking piping on the chest is fake because the original designer of that piece for Earthshock intended it to be subtle, viewed through a transparent part excluded in this re-design. The grill was removed (their heat exhaust/air intake). Aside from looking cheap, this change SHOULD mean the Cybermen are no longer affected by gold dust. See item 3b. Their hands are uselessly big/clumsy. Their weapons are clumsy & the effects are lame (i'd rather a cheap video effect than a puff of smoke from badly designed practical pyrotechnics).

    3b. The Cybermen redesign eliminates their classic weakness since Revenge of the Cybermen. If you're going to remove a weakness, REMOVE it. Instead, it changed from unlikely (Cybermen can't design chest units to avoid the vulnerability?) to ridiculous. If a machine gun can't penetrate Cybermen (proven, realistically, possible in Attack of the Cybermen), why in the hell would an arrowhead pierce the same armor? "Because it's gold" isn't how it works. Worse: Ace killing Cybermen with gold coins. Huh? Really? COINS? If she were shooting them with guns, people would complain of violence, especially as Ace is a teenager. But, the gimmick side-steps violence, & hey, "they're monsters anyway." It wouldn't have been hard to leave the chest units with the prior design (these are the same moulds used; someone just didn't understand the design & saw the interior detail as a final product, which it isn't). If they'd kept the prior design, i'd be more inclined to accept an arrow piercing a non-armored grill. Still begs the question: how the eff does a girl with a slingshot penetrate them with soft gold coins? Slingshots don't provide near enough kinetic energy, etc. As stated by a DW Magazine: "Cybermen aren't bothered by the mere presence of gold."

    3c. The Cybermen are a force of war plaguing the universe. How can a girl wipe out a platoon of 'em, regardless of tools? The story eliminates all feeling of competence & risk/danger of the enemy. Voyager did this to the Borg (take compelling & dangerous foe & reduce them to easily defeated, uncompelling cannon fodder).

    4. Lady Pienforte's resolution is nonsensical. She wanted to possess Nemesis. i get that. When she feels unsuccessful against the other factions, she merges with Nemesis? Suicide is incongruous with her character thus far.

    5. Uselessness of many characters in the story. It's all prop & labels without function or meaning. Neonazi guys as excellent example.

    i could go on.

    It's a bad story. It has good elements, like the way Pienforte & Richard deal with the skinheads, Ace's portrait in Windsor Castle (cut) & some amusing fan wanks (attempts at continuity, but the goof in rearranging episode order screwed up Sophie Aldred's attempt at adding to her costume with Flowerchild's earring, found in the following story - JNT berated Aldred for this, instead of himself for mindlessly reorganizing stories so Silver Nemesis could air on the actual anniversary; that's cheap & doesn't service storytelling, while little continuity bits can contribute at least a little).

  3. Oops. i have to apologize: i was wrong about the mystery elements injected into this story. They were in fact part of a grander plan that was not able to be completed due to Doctor Who ceasing production. Check out Lungbarrow on wiki (featuring parts of the Cartmel masterplan) It includes how some of that master plan got put into action in the New Adventures novels. Be aware that it's essentially spoiler material for the books. i don't know if any of it actually ever got adopted into the new Doctor Who series currently running (as of how much i've seen of it -David Tennant's second series, yes i'm behind- nothing seems to be included from that plan).

    Sorry for speaking in ignorance on that bit! Now i think i'm even more let down by the series cancellation in 1989! Surely i wouldn't have agreed with all of it, but still. Nice to know some long term plans were being made to shape the Doctor's mythos. The original series didn't do that very much at all. i hope the new series does (i must catch up).