Well, here we are, sitting on the brink starring at Doctor Who‘s Season 7B finale. A rather big finale at that, where all sorts of wild things are promised: The Doctor’s name, the truth of the “impossible girl”, the Fall of the Eleventh. (OOOoooOOOooohhh.) And, how did we get here? Let’s go back, two weeks back in fact because if you’ve been paying attention you’ll have noticed last week’s episode, “The Crimson Horror” wasn’t reviewed. My bad. To get us all back on track, Nerd Bastards proudly presents, a mini-review.
Welcome to Sweetville. And, what was probably the weirdest episode this season since “The Rings of Akhatan”, and unfortunately, the weakest. Actually, that may be unfair because even after all this time I’m not sure what to think of “The Crimson Horror.” It began like one of those episodes where The Doctor wasn’t in it except as a peripheral character with Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny (Catrin Stewart), and Strax (Dan Starkey) taking the lead. But that isn’t what this episode ended up being at all, and maybe if it had things would have worked better. Once The Doctor is back in action Vastra and Strax are basically sidelined and used entirely as comic relief. Though the episode was genuinely funny, on a second viewing a good chunk of the comedy falls flat. Jenny’s the only one of the trio given some time to shine, but even she’s eventually rendered useless.
The premise is weird, no getting around that. Mrs. Gillyflower (Dame Diana Rigg) finds a prehistoric parasite, Mr. Sweet – now a good front runner for creepiest, grossest Who villain – and by using his “necter” creates a toxic disease that’ll both preserve her chosen people for the second coming and wipe out the rest of the planet. What saves this episode are the pretty fantastic performances, especially from Rigg and her actual daughter, Rachael Stirling, who also plays her daughter. Rigg relishes the role of the absolutely mad Gillyflower, and Stirling gets a good bit of range, too, flipping from sweet, downtrodden Ada to going completely postal on her mother and Mr. Sweet. Y’know, turns out this is a great episode for Mother’s Day, even if it’s highlighting the worst kind of mother.
Plans are foiled and the day is saved, but I felt the real reveal of this episode would be The Doctor admitting something to Vastra, Jenny, and Strax about Clara. I mean, otherwise, what was the point of visiting Yorkshire in this period? Especially once they turned up and all kept asking how Clara was alive. So that was a bit of a let down and a wasted opportunity. What we are given is an ending that wonderfully sets things up for where they go next, a family holidy – The Doctor, Clara, and the kids off to visit the amusement park planet, Hedgewick’s World, in “Nightmare in Silver.”
Being Neil Gaiman‘s second swing at a Doctor Who episode, comparisons to “The Doctor’s Wife” are bound to happen. Personally, I find the comparison irrelevant because these two episodes couldn’t be more different. Where “The Doctor’s Wife” was a soul-searching, exploration for The Doctor about his relationship with his longest companion, “Nightmare in Silver” is a good ‘ole battle against one of The Doctor’s most iconic adversaries, The Cybermen.
Their new design is beautiful. If you can consider a homicidal robot bent on integrating all lifeforms unto itself beautiful. Gaiman has since explained these Cybermen are actually an amalgamation of our universe’s and the parallel’s Cybermen, last seen in “The Next Doctor” and “Closing Time.” Whatever they are, they’re awesome and frightening. I love the rounder, sleeker design, most noticeable in the heads, and the new way they walk is particularly unnerving with the little jerk of their shoulders with each step. Far more mechanical, and far more menacing. What I didn’t really care for was the fast speed The Cybermen seem to have developed. It’s used only once in the episode, and for that I’m thankful, but the whole thing seems a little gimmicky. I’ll be happy if it’s never referenced again.
Gaiman demonstrates he not has only a wonderful understanding of what makes Who work, but he’s very in tune with Matt Smith‘s Doctor. Nothing exemplifies that better than The Doctor vs “Mr. Clever”, the Cyber-Planner inside his mind. This episode is a tour de force for Smith who gets to verbally debate with himself while trying to win a chess game and save everyone on the planet. His performance is a triumph, nothing less. The transitions between The Doctor and “Mr. Clever” are so sly that at times it’s impossible to tell who’s talking. Unless you’re Clara, who also gives her strongest showing since “The Bells of St. John.” A companion is at their best when they’re given something important and very specific to do. Clara is in charge of not blowing up the planet, and while yes, in the end it explodes, during the 50 minutes before she excels at leading an army and fortifying their defenses better than most military leaders The Doctor encounters. She continues to be one of his most capable companions, and Jenna-Louise Coleman rocks it. She’s as tough as nails, she’s funny with a comedic timing we haven’t seen since Donna, and she has absolutely no time for The Doctor’s bullshit.
Also, since this episode only further confirmed this, I love the fact Clara isn’t necessarily traveling with The Doctor but is taken out on adventures then plopped back at home. It seems a much safer way of travelling with him, that is, if travelling with The Doctor is ever safe. But it also cements a clear difference in their relationship, where she is the boss and things are happening on her terms. Can’t imagine how this will come into play next week.
In a season already saturated with some of Who‘s best guest spots, Warwick Davis as Porridge, or rather Emperor of the Universe, is such a treat. I’m hoping we see him again because the Emperor of Universe is just such a convenient ally to have. Unfortunately, he’s responsible for what I feel was this episode’s biggest hiccup, that rather abrupt ending. What comes before is so damn good it’s easily forgivable but everything seems to wrap up rather quickly and is tied with a neat little bow. And what was with that marriage proposal!? I guess as the Emperor you don’t get out a whole lot and Clara did really shine this episode, so, who wouldn’t want to marry her? The only other thing that had me scratching my head what the inclusion of Artie (Kassius Carey Johnson) and Angie (Eve de Leon Alle). Really, they didn’t contribute much other than filling the typical role of the companions needing rescue, so why include them at all? And how about how freakishly clever they are? It’s always discussed what a clever girl Clara is but these kids figured out one, she’s a time traveler, and two, that Porridge was the Emperor. I don’t know, it seems fishy, like are these kids schooled by Krillitanes?
“Nightmare in Silver” could easily be my favorite episode this season, though it’s currently tied with “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.” Can you tell I love the episodes that really dig into the series’ 50 year history? Next week’s episode, though, I don’t have clue what to expect! It’ll be epic, it’ll be emotional, and I hope very, very exciting. See you here next week for the finale, “The Name of The Doctor”!
Doctor Who airs Saturday at 8pm on BBC America.