Monday, May 13, 2013

A Borg by Any Other Name: An Overanalysis of "Nightmare in Silver"

Disclaimer:  No silver was actually used in the construction of these Cybermen.
Cybermen are made out of steel.

Let's start this week off with "quotes from the girlfriend":

GF:  Why is the Cyberman moving so fast?  It's like zombies.  The reason they're scary is because they're slow, but you still know that there's nothing you can do to stop them because they'll never give up. Once they get fast, they're not as scary anymore.

GF:  Why is he putting her in charge?  She doesn't really seem to be qualified for that.

GF:  (Regarding the Doctor becoming the Cyber Planner) It's like when Picard became Locutus of Borg.

GF:  Was Neil Gaiman under the impression that he was writing an episode of Star Trek and when he figured out his mistake he just swapped out the characters for Doctor Who characters?

GF:  When your episode is already knocking off Star Trek, to the point where their "freeze chamber" or whatever looks exactly like a Borg cube (she Googled a picture of a Borg cube to prove this to me), you need to do something other than transporting everyone at the end of the episode.  That's just the final nail in the coffin.  It's a "transmatter"?  Seriously!?

She's not wrong

GF:  I just feel like, if you're going to have a season like this without a good overarching plot, you need more interesting individual episodes.  Otherwise it's not worth it.
Me:  Well, I think that he ran into difficulty because of the companion shift taking place mid-season.
GF:  Right! And since then, we've only had one overarching mystery which is "Who is Clara?" which he just keeps saying.  He hasn't gotten any closer to figuring it out.


Okay, she has some points and some things I disagree with.  As a 28 Days Later fan, I actually like fast "zombies."  I think they're far scarier.  But I see her point about the Star Trek stuff.

I outlined some of the main differences between Mondas and Cybus Cybermen in my last post, but I forgot one main thing:  Mondas Cybermen were much less Borg-y.

Star Trek and Doctor Who have always had a really symbiotic relationship.  You can sift through either franchise and find countless references to the other.  They are each their own country's most iconic science-fiction franchise, and they started around the same time.  Therefore, it's natural that these two shows draw influences from each other from time to time.  The Sontarans, for example, were a blatant knock-off of the Klingons.  To their credit, though, the writers of Doctor Who put their own ironic twist on their version of the Klingons:  where the Klingons look like a great fighting force in the galaxy, the Sontarans look like the opposite of intimidating.  They're short, fat potato men.  Where you would expect something that looked like a Klingon to be a warrior, you would expect something that looks like a Sontaran to be a door stop.

As for the Cybermen and the Borg, it should be pointed out that the Cybermen predate the Borg by over 25 years.  That being said, the Mondas Cybermen (the Cybermen of the classic series) were much less Borg-y.  By that, I mean that turning other people into themselves was not their primary objective.  They did it, plenty of times, but it was not the be all and end all of their plans.  For the most part, they sought power.  They sought control over new worlds in lieu of the one they lost attacking Earth.  They tried to change time to bring their planet back.  They tried to gain weapons that would make them a more formidable force in the Universe.

The first Borg episode of Star Trek aired in 1989, the last year of the Doctor Who classic series's run, only a few months before both the Doctor Who finale, and only a few months after the final Cyberman episode of the classic series.  It could not be said that the Cybermen were knock offs of the Borg.  Nor is it that fair to say, the other way around, that Borg were a knock off of the Cybermen.  Certainly there seems to have been some Cybermen to Borg influence, but, as I pointed out before, the Mondas Cybermen weren't that Borg-y to begin with.

The only thing I can say for sure is that, when the show came back for the revived series, the newly rebooted Cybermen had completely gone back and, rather than playing off of the more complex motivations that moved the Cybermen in the classic series, they literally just turned them into a Borg clone.  The Cybermen were not a knock-off of the Borg, but as soon as they had a chance to do a Cybermen episode in the years after the Borg were invented, they turned them into Borg.

Another reason the modern, Cybus Cybermen are so much more Borg-y than the classic series, Mondas Cybermen is that the Mondas Cybermen weren't as automated.  They didn't need a less robotic person, like John Lumic, Mercy Hartigan, or, in this episode, the Cyber Planner, to speak for them.  There was always a lead Cyberman who was able to have conversations with the Doctor that almost hinted at crude emotions.  The Mondas Cybermen considered themselves to be above and devoid of emotion, but their desperate desire to restore their home planet suggested otherwise.  There was always at least one Cyberman with enough personality to taunt the Doctor.  The Cybus Cybermen are so robotic that they can't really threaten or intimidate the Doctor.  They function as an anonymous whole, just as the Borg do (or as they did before the introduction of the Borg Queen).

Now, it was rumored that these were going to be Mondas rather than Cybus Cybermen.  While this was never stated outright in the episode, these Cybermen had a few old Mondasian traits.  The first was their weakness to gold.  The Mondas Cybermen's respiratory units were clogged up by gold (but not, I should point out, by having a thin strip of gold-colored paper stuck to their faces).  Early on they could also be destroyed with certain chemicals found in cleaning products, as the Doctor mentioned.  They were able to overcome the chemical weakness, but never really the gold one.  There has been no indication before that Cybus Cybermen share this weakness, although, since they are parallel, there's always a possibility that they share the same weakness. The fact that the Doctor could partially fight off the Cyber Planner's control using gold was a hint that these might have been Mondas Cybermen.

Another hint towards them potentially being Mondas Cybermen is the Cyber Planner.  The Cyber Planner actually only appeared in 2nd Doctor Cybermen episodes, "The Wheel in Space" and "The Invasion."  Again, since Cybus Cybermen are parallel, it's possible for them to have a parallel Cyber Planner, but it still hints towards Mondas.

There were a lot of other nods back to the Mondas Cybermen as well, but none that definitively proved that these were Mondas Cybermen.  One is their facial design, which was a little more old-school than we've seen in the Cybus Cybermen.  The longer mouth looks a little more Mondasian, particularly like the Cybermen in "Tomb of the Cybermen" (unlike the Daleks, the Cybermen's design has changed significantly over the years).  This episode also bore a striking resemblance to "Tomb of the Cybermen" in certain plot elements, which makes sense as Gaiman said that he was partially inspired by "Tomb of the Cybermen" for this episode.  The plot of "Tomb of the Cybermen" is that a group of archeologists,  believing that the Cybermen are now extinct, look for the fabled "Tomb of the Cybermen" on their adopted planet, Telos, only to find that "tomb" was a codeword for "fully functioning cryogenic storage units that the Cybermen can easily be awakened from when disturbed."  The insistance that the Cybermen were extinct and the fact that they were in similar "tombs" shows a strong influence from "Tomb of the Cybermen."

And while we're on the subject, why the fuck did they think that the Cybermen were extinct?  We, as viewers, know that the Cybermen were still alive as recently as "Closing Time."  But that could have been a small ship that nobody else in the universe knew was still out there.  So then we have to go back to "A Good Man Goes to War" for our last Cyberman reference.  There, the Cybermen were a huge military presence in the universe, one that was feared by all races.  They had massive fleets all over the galaxy.  They didn't seem very extinct to me.

Therefore, it's possible that what they really meant was "Mondas Cybermen are extinct."  Still, that's not definitive.  As many fans have pointed out, the Cybermen in "A Good Man Goes to War" and "Closing Time," and even (I think) in "The Pandorica Opens" all lack Cybus industry logos.  This could mean that they were Mondas Cybermen.  Or it could mean that they no longer had any loyalty to their creators, Cybus Industries, and stripped themselves of their logos.  What is more likely, as I've stated before, is that the writers don't care about the different types of Cybermen anymore.  Cybermen are just Cybermen, they exist all over the universe, and they don't think the backstory is important so they just focus on the Cybermen's present.  I understand why this simplifies things, but it also reduces the Cybermen to a much less interesting character than they were in the classic series.  It just makes them Borg.

And, of all people, I thought Gaiman would be up for ferreting out this distinction between Mondas and Cybus Cybermen.  His script for "The Doctor's Wife" was so nerdy that even the stage directions had classic series references, referring to the bubble universe as a "76 Trotters Lane at the end of the Universe."  "The Doctor's Wife" was filled with so many fun, fanboy references.  "Nightmare in Silver," unfortunately, lacks most of these, and when it does indulge it is very subtle.  Harkening back to the old Cybermen was a little cool, but there was a lot more he could have done.

The choice of setting was almost Moffat-esque.  This story could have taken place virtually anywhere in the Universe, but Gaiman thought it would be more fun to place it in an abandoned amusement park.  And he was right.  Like I said, whenever Gaiman thinks he's being scary, he isn't scary, he just creates a general air of creepiness.  But he's always good at creating that air of creepiness.

The Time Lords invented chess?  That's a nice "Fuck you, India" from Gaiman.

The addition of the children that Clara was taking care of was very interesting.  I was happy to see that. Moffat might be moving towards putting them in the TARDIS with the Doctor on a regular basis.  There's an upside and a downside to it.  The upside is that, after having two companions for so long (Amy and Rory), a single companion makes the TARDIS seem a little lonely.  Certainly, the show has always gone back and forth between single and multiple companion eras, but something about the Doctor-Amy-Rory dynamic was so good that I think I at least want to see the TARDIS turn into a sort of family home again, regardless of who the characters are.  The downside, of course, is that it's much more perilous for him to be bringing small children into danger.  It's one thing for him to bring fully consenting adults wherever danger may rear its head.  It's another thing to do the same with kids.  It might not be something that parents groups are going to want to see.

It might also help if Clara and the Doctor started to click a little more.  Clara is a wonderfully strong companion, I strongly believe that, but I don't feel like she and the Doctor have the kind of chemistry that Amy and the Doctor had at this point in their relationship.

Matt Smith did an excellent job of playing himself and the Cyber Planner at the same time.  If we ever needed to see Matt Smith play an evil clone of the Doctor, we now know how good he'd be at it.  He can play a villain just as well as he can play a hero.

The greatest quote this week from the Doctor Who message board Gallifrey Base was this:  "Is this the part where you regale me with a long list of dramatically interesting televised chess scenes?"  He's right:  Playing chess is not very exciting unless, as we saw in "The Wedding of River Song," the queen gets increasingly and fatally electrified the more you move it while futuristic Andy Warhol people cheer you on.  But the Doctor's "mate in 3" ploy was pretty cool.

But let's be honest, that was a bit of an easy ending.  If the midget Emperor just activated the bomb at the beginning, none of this would have ever happened?  I understand why he wanted to preserve the planet and why he didn't want to be the emperor, but at least one person died, and there were more lives lying in the balance, two of them children's.  Just activate the thing, you dick!

Overall, I found this below average for a Gaiman episode, but above average for a Cyberman episode.  It was a good bit of fun with the old Cybermen, and it subtly revelled in Cyberman lore, but not quite in the joyful way that Gaiman did it in "The Doctor's Wife."  Still, I want him to write a lot more episodes so that he becomes a viable candidate to take over for Moffat when Moffat leaves.  Hey, it's not impossible, right?  #anyonebutgatiss

But we now come into the season finale, which looks like it could change things significantly, even if--as I suspect--it will not actually reveal the Doctor's name.  And it will be nice to get the Clara mystery out of the way.  I was interested in it at first but, as the girlfriend pointed out, all we've gotten has been the Doctor saying over and over again "She's not possible!"  Very few clues have emerged.  We're not very much closer to knowing who she is than we were before.  It could have been a great mystery, but it's time to just get it over with if they're not going to add anything to it.

But the Doctor's name is something much bigger.  It is the culmination of everything that has come so far in the Moffat era, as well as the culmination of the great prophesy we were first introduced to with Prisoner Zero's cryptic warning:  "The Pandorica will open.  Silence will fall."  We now know what the Pandorica and the Silence are, but their entire purpose had to do with keeping the Doctor from going to the fields of Trenzalore.

Next to Trenzalore.

No comments:

Post a Comment