Neil Gaiman blew us away with his first foray into Doctor Who, The Doctor's Wife, a bonkers and barnstorming episode that featured the Doctor teaming up with a personified version of the Tardis. For his second outing he had the unenviable job of making the Cybermen scary again, a task that he accomplishes with frightening success.
The episode is by no means perfect, with atrocious child acting and underdeveloped characters bogging down the story, but the major achievement of Nightmare in Silver was that it showcased just how terrifying the metallic men from Mondas can be.
The Cyberman have long been my favourite Doctor Who villains. Cold and calculating man-machines, the scariest aspect about them is that whenever they were defeated they would come back stronger, further replacing emotions with electronics. They've been poorly treated in recent years, their modern incarnations too human in their actions and reaching their nadir when defeated last time by James Corden.
Though the Cyberman's technological assimilation came first, Gaiman was clearly inspired for this episode by another science fiction alien race, the Borg from Star Trek. The Cybermen here can convert people instantaneously and can quickly adapt to their opponents tactics through upgrading from the cyberiad 'hive mind'.
It was a brilliant payoff to see Clara spend a great deal of time electrifying the water around the castle moat only for the first fried Cyberman to upgrade immediately in response. Their movements now are a lot more pneumatic, and at the same time they are decidedly clever in outwitting Clara and the army trying to stop them.
The Seventh Seal
Their most insidious ploy is in trying to assimilate the Doctor into being their cyber controller. As they discover, the Time Lord is a lot cleverer than any human and has far greater processing power than any machine.
It's an episode that really hinges on Matt Smith's energetic performance as he gets to show off the character's boundless energy and unstable mind as the two competing Doctors battle inside the Time Lord's brain. Staged as a psychological Seventh Seal, the intimate and the epic is contrasted wonderfully by the Doctor playing chess with himself whilst Clara leads the troops against the Cyber masses.
It's great to see Clara take charge of the forces and show off her initiative away from the Doctor. Pinpointing the ersatz castle as a defensive stronghold, she valiantly commands the soldiers against the horde of cybermen and holds out long enough for the Doctor to take control again and for Porridge to detonate the bomb.
It's a great turn by Warwick Davies as the down to earth emperor in hiding, though I wished we saw more of him on screen. Once again this was a two-part episode squeezed into 45 minutes, meaning we should have seen more not only of Davies, but also the stern captain played by Tamzin Outhwaite and Jason Watkins as the scene-stealing funfair operator Webley.
Instead we had to endure some atrocious child acting in the roles of Angie and Artie. I had to look up their names afterwards as they were definitely not established in the episode, and it sadly seems that for all his talents Neil Gaiman stumbles at the familiar hurdle of writing authentic and engaging children for television.
We are given no indication of who they are and why they are with the Doctor and Clara in the Tardis, with the typically thin characterisation being that whilst younger Artie is enamoured with time travel, Angie can only moan and complain about her surroundings. This isn't to be harsh on the two young actors here, but seeing as for example Mud, a film with two stellar child performances, is out in cinemas right now, something has clearly gone wrong in the production of this episode for the two child performances to feel like such a hindrance to the story.
Let's hope they don't travel with the Doctor and Clara for the final adventure of the season next week. Whilst Nightmare in Silver and some of the other episodes this year have definitely been enjoyable, the lack of structure in the series is of concern heading into the finale.
Whilst last season was dexterously built around the Doctor dying by that Utah lake, this year has delved little in to the mystery of Clara 'Oswin' Oswald. I'll keep faith in Steven Moffat to wrap things up in a satisfying manner, but can the mystery of the impossible woman be resolved in only 45 more minutes?