Silver Nemesis [Classic Doctor Who]

Doctor Who has long been my favorite show, but in recent years rewatchings of old episodes have been few and far between.  But recently I decided to spend some of my 50th birthday spending money on some of these adventures, and enjoy them with one or two of my nerdier daughters.

(Daily Doctor Who #10)

Silver Nemesis

Starring Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor.
Companion: Sophie Aldred as Ace
Written by Kevin Clarke.  Directed by Chris Clough.

Format:  3 episodes, each about 25 minutes long
Originally Aired:  November-December 1988  (Episodes 8-10 of Season 25)

Silver Nemesis is the 25th anniversary story for Doctor Who. It debuted on November 23, 1988–the 25th anniversary of the series, made heavy use of the theme “silver” (which refers to a 25th anniversary) and referred to the 23rd of November internally in the story. It’s the last story to feature the Cybermen in the original series, and the fourth and final time that David Banks appeared as the Cyber-Leader.

Spoilers Ahead!

Silver Nemesis is an ambitious story, attempting to incorporate a lot of elements into its relatively short three episode length. There is Lady Peinforte and her servant and their time-hopping journey to the present in order to recover a weapon that is attached to a comet which will be crashing into the earth at that time. There’s a modern day group of neo-Nazi’s who are after the same thing. And there’s a fleet of Cybermen who are also chasing the same prize. And then there’s the comet itself, which actually contains a deadly statue made of destructive living metal. There is a visit to Windsor castle, a cameo by the Queen (a look-alike, of course) and a quite lengthy but meaningless appearance by a rich American tourist. And oh yeah, there’s the Doctor and Ace, who dash around running interference between all these parties and dodging questions about the Doctor’s identity.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, almost none of this holds together well.

There are too many undeveloped concepts peppering the story, and the ultimate plot is so similar to the superior Remembrance of the Daleks from earlier in the season that the show even feels it has to call attention to this fact.

Neither the Cybermen nor the neo-Nazi’s add any real value to the story, both just being treated like a bunch of thugs chasing a treasure, except carrying guns of differing calibers. The Cybermen end up being a bit of a non-presence beyond being a bit of spectacle–they are meant to be menacing but are easily taken down by handfuls of gold dust, gold coins shot by slingshot, or arrows with golden tips (what??!). The Nazis are nearly totally devoid of personality and highly unmemorable (and also repetitious–we just had some Nazi-types in the Daleks story mentioned above). The living Validium statue is actually an interesting concept, but winds up painfully underdeveloped.

The villains with the most story potential are Lady Peinforte and Richard, but there story is undermined by random asides of disparate tones that the script keeps throwing in. And so we have jarring scenes of them being mugged by skinheads and giving them their comeuppance, or catching a ride with a rich American tourist with an outrageous accent. It’s weird to have filler like this in such a crowded story, but we do, and as such whatever narrative drive we might have had gets derailed. The Doctor’s madcap dash about the palace could fit into the same category as well. Some it is kind of funny, but none of it serves the story.

Strangest of all is the depiction of the Doctor himself. This era of the show was characterized by the so-called “Cartmel Masterplan”, where script editor Andrew Cartmel was deliberately attempting to insert elements of mystery into the Doctor’s backstory, and Silver Nemesis is the height of this effort. So as a result there are all sorts of hints given about who or what the Doctor actually is, and what he is actually up to.

Apparently writer Kevin Clarke had an idea of portraying the Doctor as basically being God, which just tells me that he had an odd idea of what God is like. It is implied (or more than implied) that the Doctor has enslaved the Validium statue in order to accomplish his plans. The statue even asks if it can go free now, and the Doctor says no, because “Things are still imperfect.” Not to mention that the statue apparently causes disasters on earth every twenty-five years when it passes by–things like the onset of World War II or the assassination of President Kennedy. Are they implying that all that is part of the Doctor’s plan as well?

It’s weird stuff that never really got followed up upon, which just serves to make Silver Nemesis an even more peculiar story than it already is.

On the positive side, the production values are reasonably high, and I think the bit with the Doctor and Ace enjoying the jazz concert by Courtney Pine at the beginning is pretty cool.

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