Doctor Who complete reviews: Silver Nemesis
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
The Doctor celebrates his silver anniversary, but not necessarily in style...
These Doctor Who stories are flashing before my eyes at a fair old pace. It seems like only yesterday that I was reviewing 20th anniversary tale The Five Doctors. Now it's the turn of 25th anniversary story Silver Nemesis. Given the lightning speed passing of time, it'll probably seem like days before I'll be sitting before a 50th anniversary special. Given the Gold anniversary, it'll probably be set on the planet of Voga, as an army of Axons do battle with the natives and The Doctor – presumably to the strains of the dreary Spandau Ballet dirge, which always sounds to me like an elephant's got stuck halfway down a water slide at a swimming pool for yuppies.
Thankfully, there was no such crass pop toon to accompany Silver Nemesis, although if there was, they should have plumped for 'Silver Star' by The Four seasons – hey, even drummer/singer Gerry Polci sounds like he's singing “Sylvester” as a tribute to the leading man. Instead, Silver Nemesis does feature the one and only jazz legend Courtney Pine, in an unassailably cool cameo. The Doctor's never really been a particular music fan up until now, but in Silver Nemesis, he decides to take Ace to one of Pine's outdoor concerts – in the middle of a suspiciously summery looking November. Presumably, The Doctor's been digging out his old Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis LPs in a bid to convert Ace – well, she even asks Pine for an autograph, so the bid must have worked. Pine's music is also later used to jam a Cyber-signal – another example of the growing influence of music in Doctor Who. It sounds like a daft idea, doesn't it? Jamming an alien signal with jazz music – but that's Doctor Who in a nutshell. It's never afraid to deliver original, quirky concepts – even after 25 years, Doctor Who was still the most unique television programme ever.
Too bad then that Silver Nemesis doesn't quite live up to the high expectations of being the official 25th anniversary story. Don't get me wrong, it's reasonably entertaining fare, but there's a whole host of problems lurking around. For one thing, it's startlingly similar to Remembrance Of The Daleks. Both plots contain a manipulative Doctor using a legendary artefact to defeat two of his greatest enemies while warding off the unwelcome machinations of a plotting Nazi group. Coming so soon after Remembrance, Silver Nemesis feels like the poor relation here, since it feels lightweight by comparison. There's none of the richness or texture of Remembrance, and instead just comes across as a cheaper knock-off.
Take the Neo-Nazi bad guys – Ratcliffe and Mike were fully formed characters with histories and motivations. This time around we get De Flores, a kind of freeze-dried Del Monte man, and his undistinguished sidekick Karl. Not only are they a bit thick – they conveniently ignore the fact that the arrow case no longer contains an arrow – they're also very small beer indeed, either waiting around for something to happen or making pompous speeches about how the Cybermen are the great Super Race that will help the Neo-Nazis get their power. Inevitably though, both sides end up double crossing each other – guess who gets wiped out first. The performances from Anton Diffring and Metin Yenal aren't that hot either – rumour has it that Diffring took the part of De Flores so that he could go and see Wimbledon: you can almost see the boredom in his eyes as he desperately wants to go and see the tennis highlights.
"You would have thought the Cybermen would have produced some sort of anti-gold defence mechanism, but it's evidently never crossed their tiny metallic hydraulic brains"
The Doctor and Ace are also up against two other sets of adversaries, one of which is of course, the Cybermen. It's funny – to the audience of under-10's, they're a force of terror with their imposing height and blank skull-like features. Anyone outside that age bracket must be wondering how an incompetent gaggle of tin men have acquired the status of Legendary Doctor Who Monster. For a so-called powerful race, they're remarkably gormless and easily defeated. The Cyber-Leader is easily taken in by The Doctor's trick, and again, the Cybermen are killed by both gold coins and gold arrows. You would have thought they'd have produced some sort of anti-gold defence mechanism, but it's evidently never crossed their tiny metallic hydraulic brains. They're nowhere near as “Excellent!” as they should be – incidentally, I'm sure the new Banks Cyber Leader's eking out some form of alternative existence as the disembodied Bejeweled Blitz voice who bellows “GOOD! EXCELLENT!” on a non-stop loop to the hopeful player.
The final hopeful to get her mitts on the Nemesis statue is Lady Peinforte. Accompanied by her slightly bemused lackey, Richard, Peinforte is arguably the most powerful out of the three baddie groups. For one thing, she was the one to create the statue in the first place out of the living metal validium, which has highly dangerous properties. Peinforte's also a smarter cookie than the other groups in that she has a basic grasp of time travel as well as that old black magic to allow her and Richard to travel into the future to reclaim her statue. Her biggest trump card however is that she claims to know all sorts of juicy secrets about The Doctor. Woo-hoo! Apparently, The Doctor's been involved in deadly deeds concerning the Old Time and the Time Of Chaos. So finally we know who's really responsible for the travel cock-ups in the winter of 2010.
All these tantalising titbits are another big part of the Cartmel Masterplan (shouldn't they make some sort of film called the Cartmel Masterplan?), in which the script editor laid out his schemes to make The Doctor just that bit more than your average Time Lord. Apparently it's not enough to make The Doctor a hero who saves the day on a regular basis, no – we now have to have some quasi-legendary background about the Doc. In the end, the Cartmel Masterplan never really comes to much, since we get a fair few hints about The Doctor's lofty powers, but they're never dwelt on. I guess if Doctor Who had survived the axe in 1989, we might have had some sort of resolution to the whole shebang, but the chop meant that it's all left hanging in the air.
Anyway, back to Peinforte, and while at one point, she seems to hold all the cards, there's no getting away from the fact that she's not a very good baddie either. Instead she comes across as a slightly unhinged loon with a cuddly toy dog on her head. She spends most of the third part staggering about with a demented, wide-eyed expression on her fizzog, while shrieking at the top of her voice about her “POWER!!” Poor old Richard's evidently wishing he could get back to 1638, where he can go wooing more level-headed laydeez with some cooing ballads on his lyre. Fiona Walker's performance is generally fine, but she does tend to ham it up in the last part, and so Peinforte again just comes across as a stock crazy instead of a three-dimensional character.
For a three-part story, Silver Nemesis oddly contains too much padding. Back in 1993, the BBC released the story in an extended form, which seemed to drag on for aeons. Some fans complained that the DVD release didn't include this – a bit odd, when you consider that some DVDs contain alternative or extended versions of the broadcast story. But then, given the sheer amount of deadwood lurking in Silver Nemesis, maybe it's not so surprising. Silver Nemesis is chock-full of silly detours and pointless interludes. Presumably they're meant to make the story that bit more quirky and entertaining, but most of the time, this reviewer was just left scratching his head in bafflement.
"The story comes across as a random collection of oddball set pieces that don't really hang together as a coherent whole"
Take the comedy skinheads – what's that all about? They seem to have been dragged in from Russ Abbot's Madhouse, all clichéd threats and comedy scowls. And naturally – ho ho ho – they're left stripped and dangling from a tree by Peinforte and Richard. Then there's the eccentric rich American tourist Mrs Remington, a Dynasty reject with a Pertwee-esque bouffant and a mission to trace her English ancestors. Again, there's no real point to Mrs R, and the way in which she treats Peinforte and Richard (rightly) as a couple of weirdo eccentrics reduces their credibility further. And as for the silly sequences in which The Doctor hypnotises Windsor Castle staff with groovy glasses – well, he's obviously paid a visit to General Smythe's Opticians recently.
So Silver Nemesis feels oddly disjointed – the story comes across as a random collection of oddball set pieces that don't really hang together as a coherent whole. Furthermore, the whole thing seems a bit rushed and amateurish at times. There's no real rhyme or reason for events, and you get the impression that this story needed a tighter script in order for it to work. And when that story's the anniversary tale, that's a big problem.
It's not all bad though. Sylvester and Sophie continue to impress, and their chemistry is very much in evidence here. The Doctor's being portrayed more as a cosmic manipulator, but there's still a compassionate streak, such as when The Doctor covers up the mathematician's dead body and hides it from Ace. The all OB shoot lends the production a more organic feel, and there's some good location work and snappy action set pieces from Chris Clough. The effects are OK, although the cardboard Cyber Ship looks terribly false, wobbling about over the action. And once again, Keff McCulloch's still apparently hammering his Casio Keyboard for under-fives with a mallet.
As a piece of lark-about escapism, Silver Nemesis delivers. It's enjoyable enough with one or two neat ideas and a great little cameo from Courtney Pine. As a big anniversary story, it doesn't quite live up to its promise. There's some bold concepts floating about, but somehow they don't come together, since they're either too half-baked or too ridiculous to work. It would have been better to go with Remembrance Of The Daleks as the flagship tale, since it's much more sophisticated and well-rounded. As it is, you get the hint that this story was chosen just because the Cybermen are silver – Happy anniversary, folks.
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.
[ Yes, we know that Greatest Show comes after Silver Nemesis and The Happiness Patrol. Sorry for the chronology glitch, but what do you expect when you hang around a Time Lord?]
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