Another Neil Gaimen episode was something to look forward to. The bad memory of the last time the cybermen appeared in the penultimate episode of a series was just a silly niggle, surely? Unfortunately, this one did turn out to be more Closing Time than The Doctor’s Wife.
Was it necessary to “make the cybermen scary again”? Did they stop being scary, or just get dealt a few duff stories? The problem with a cyberman that can move at something close to light speed is it’s not just scary – it is to all intents and purposes invincible. (And how come Angie didn’t suffer whiplash being carried away so fast no one could see her go?) The only way you can tell a story in which such a monster is defeated is to escalate the heroes’ power/weaponry to equally magical heights (a big magic gun that fires red lasers, for example) or just forget the cybermen can move fast and have them go back to lumbering again when they enter your castle. Equally, instand upgrades that can overcome any obstacle are a bit silly. (And surely you install upgrades as soon as they are available, rather than waiting for vulnerabilities that need patching to appear?)
This is a story that’s full of interesting ideas – the cyber wars (although this has been done in the spin-offs, for example the Orion wars, with more success), autonomous detachable body parts (but surely that’s limited to non-organic parts – so not a head?) or the cyber-mites (albeit somewhat too large to convincingly be capable of entering the human body so easily). But throwing ideas at a page doesn’t create a compellingly structured story… Each of these ideas needs space to be developed; cyber-mites on their own were a good enough threat to carry an episode on their own. Nor did the production help; we’re so used to Doctor Who looking fabulous now that the obvious studio set theme park jarred terribly; the platoon appeared to be clad in plastic toy armour and there appeared to have been no attempt to make the CGI ruis match the location foregrounds. Warwick Davis did, it is true, give a fabulous performance, but the reveal seemed an unnecessary twist and rather cheapened his character.
The Doctor tussling inside his own mind is not a new idea (The Three Doctors) but while it’s been made to work in audio plays, I don’t think it’s successful on screen and this instance didn’t change my mind. Somehow, despite being a different setup, it reminded me a bit of Meglos and if you haven’t seen that, no, the Doctor’s conflict with a potted plant was not his finest moment… Okay, Nightmare in Silver wasn’t quite as bad as Closing Time but it edges out Angels Take Manhatten as my least favourite story in this current, otherwise generally good, series.
So – next week The Name of the Doctor. I’ve avoided the spoilers resulting from the BBC’s accidental DVD dispatch, so this is speculation… But obviously there is absolutely no chance that we, the viewers, will hear his name uttered (it’s Endeavour, by the way) or find out the answer to the question Doctor Who? But I’m betting there will finally be an explicit reference to Omega in there… And will it turn out to be coincidence that one constant throughout this series, despite the change in companion, that the Doctor has dropped Clara/The Ponds back home after each discrete adventure… or will there be some narrative significance to this structure?