Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Silver Nemesis written by Kevin Clarke and directed by Chris Clough

This story in a nutshell: Right in the heart of the Cartmel era sits this three part disaster that tries to mix Cybermen, 16th Century sorcery, skinheads, jazz musicians, Nazis, living statues, millionaires and lamas. It almost feels as though the writer thought that he could throw so much at the audience and hopefulyl some of it would stick.

The Real McCoy: Just as we are enjoying a nice relaxed scene between the Doctor and Ace kicking back and enjoying some music on a sunny riverside afternoon along comes the idiotic Cartmel staple of the Doctor leaving messages for himself to ruin everything. McCoy looks desperately cute when he is drenched after his little swim in the river. Unfortunately there is an infinite number of possibilities as to who might have wanted to kill them so narrowing it down might be a little difficult. He’s such a wonderful geek; some men have a little black book and fill it full of numbers and descriptions of their favourite shags but the Docto is full of planets in danger and if they are important enough he gives them a terminal rating! The Doctor holds up what looks like a mop whilst wearing a fez – so that’s where Moffatt got the idea! He’s quite cheeky ducking into the royal residential area of Windsor and only he would have the nerve to march up to the Queen and ask for the armed forces to be put on standby for his purposes. In the new series the Doctor commands the emergency services (as he did in Remembrance) but at some points in history he is just looked down upon as a mad man. Oddly the Doctor doesn’t try and prevent the deaths of the soldiers he just hops off in the TARDIS and lets them wipe each other out. They might be Nazi's but that doesn't mean that they aren't worth saving. Or have his plans become so important that human lives are a necessary evil. I would hope that that would never be the case. The Doctor greets the naked skinheads as though that is the sort of thing he discovers all the time in the woods. The mind boggles. The Doctor looks terrified that Peinforte is about to leak out all of his secrets, maybe he does have something dark hidden in his past after all. Is the 'Doctor Who?' element stressed a little too much? Perhaps, but it is a flea biting compared the obsession Moffat has had with the name these last two years. Maybe every 25 years we will have this issue come up.

Oh Wicked: I’m not sure if Kevin Clarke quite understood how to write for Ace because she seems to spend the three episodes glued to the Doctor’s side asking question after question and not really exhibiting much personality. Amazing how likable the Doctor and Ace are when they don’t say a word and simply whistle through the countryside. Perhaps they McCoy should have played out as a silent movie? There’s a lovely moment where the Doctor sends Ace to blow up the Cybership with the nitro nine she isn’t carrying but it does rather make a mockery of all the times he objects to it. Plus it does beg the question what sort of suicidal death wish Ace must have to carrying explosives in deodorant bottles about with her? The idea of Ace being scared of the Cybermen is one with merit because it an attempt to show them in a menacing light. It fails completely because this squad is the most useless bunch of Cybermen we have ever stumbled across, completely undermining the exercise.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Hello I’m the Doctor and I believe you want to kill me!’
‘Professor. Doctor…who are you?

The Good Stuff: Fiona Walker is such good value as Lady Peinforte and whilst the character is somehow both over and underwritten (she talks the talk but there is no real ambition in her schemes) she is a delight to watch chewing the scenery regardless. She understands how to dig out some entertainment in all this drivel unlike Anton Diffring who has popped over for a holiday and wandered onto set. Peinforte’s method of walking through a glass door is to smash it with a chair and politely step through. Now that's style. The Doctor mentions Validium being the ultimate defence for Gallifrey creating by Omega and Rassilon and it’s a shame that we never saw that story instead of this. The statue coming to life is easily the most impressive thing on display here; it looks like something awesome and angelic exploding into life. It was worth Sophie Aldred's anxiety because the shots of Ace high up on the warehouse gantry are the most visually impressive of the idea story. I like the idea of Jazz being a characterful component of a Doctor Who story...this just isn't that story.

The Bad Stuff: Typical of this era of Doctor Who we hop about like a fly on a griddle from one narrative strand (and time period) to the next with no real explanation as to why until it is too late. There’s no reason to believe that just because they filmed in sunlight around a few exotic plants and found a parrot to shoot that the production team didn’t take a trip to South America…oh wait there is. The idea of a man trying resurrect the Nazis and create the Fourth Reich is such an hackneyed idea it is beyond a clich√©. And what a shame that Anton Diffring is taking the whole thing so seriously (even if he didn’t have a clue what the story was about) as we could have had some fun with the character of De Flores but instead he’s a crushingly dull stereotype. Think back to the villains of season 24 (except Kroagnon), they were all much more appealing than this cut price Fuhrer. If you watch carefully you can see the Cybermen stooges enjoying a pint and watching the Jazz performance. Talk about blending into the background. What’s this? A few drops of blood and you can travel in time? Since when has Doctor Who subscribed to that kind of alchemy? There are two ladies sitting in the cafe when Peinforte and Richard materialise in a screaming fit and they barely react at all, simply get on with enjoying their tea and looking slightly perturbed by the noise. Obviously this is the sort of thing they experience every time they go out for a cuppa. Beyond it being a really poorly directed scene who precisely gassed the policemen and how did they know that they would be there? It is just like Cartmel's script editing to forget to explain away moments like that. Fancy sticking in a long shot of Windsor but filming at Arundel, I would have just stuck in a line saying that the treasures were being kept at Arundel for safe keeping and the Queen was making a visit. The editing is horrendous when the story cuts from the Doctor talking with the Queen’s aide to De Flores discovering the Nemesis, you really can tell that this story has been hacked to bits without much care. What a crap Cybership. Bring back the saucers on strings! How does a gunfight between Nazis and Cybermen lack any kind of pace of and excitement? I don’t know but if you want to find out watch the unexplosive yawnathon action scene in part two. Keff McCulloch’s disco music of death really comes into its own in episode two – just listen to how nauseous the score is when the Cybership is landing in the field. What is the Cyberleader saying when they attempt to cut the statue free? Oh dear, the skinheads are so appallingly written and performed you feel sorry for the actors having to chew on such a middle class BBC approach to young thugs. 'What are you, social workers?' Ooh, better watch out. With language like that this lot is likely to do you a mischief. The shot of the Cybermen listening to jazz uncomprehendingly just about sums up the clash of narrative styles that simply do not gel in this adventure. There are lots of low angle shots of Cybermen that are trying to make them look menacing but when they can be defeated by anything from an arrow to a gold coin to a gentle shove with gold dust it's a fruitless exercise. Handily there is a huge crack in Peinforte’s tomb to break it in two. I almost dropped off around the time the Nazis and the Cyber Race started talking about an alliance, the dialogue is astonishingly banal. The reveal of the Cyber War Fleet is packaged into a cliffhanger which might have worked had they not look liked a bunch of egg boxes hanging about in space. Gah, the sequence where the Doctor dazzles the Cybermen with his illegal checkmate is so abysmally directed it makes the Cybermen look (somehow) even more ridiculous than they have already achieved in this story. Why the fuck don’t they just gun him down instead of holding his hat and brolley? Forgive me for being a little ignorant but if the chess game in Lady Peinforte’s study is to take on greater meaning in The Curse of Fenric does that mean that Fenric popped up in her study and set up the chess set knowing the Doctor would appear at some point? How did he do that if he was trapped in a flask like a genie in a bottle? If this was a planned arc then why wasn't this moment given more significance? Why is the McCoy era so amateurishly stapled together? Were these Cybermen reject stock or something? One of them blasts away at Ace about twenty times and fails to hit her and yet she hits the bull’s-eye first time with her gold coin and takes his chest out. Shouldn’t they have targeting senseors in their eyes and shit like that that allows them to target things accurately? Then you get Ace taking out three of them that have her cornered…what has happened to these once menacing creations? I DON’T BELIEVE IT! Two Cybermen have both the Doctor and Ace well within in shooting distance and instead of blasting the crap out of them they let the Doctor trick them into walking to their deaths? And since when have the Cybermen been defeated by a jet of flame? Argh! This is horseshit! He even tells them what he is planning to do! I’m not sure why Lady Peinforte leaps into bed with the statue at the end (‘She is one with your statue’ – yeah, great explanation, thanks!) but it feels like Clarke was ready to wrap everything up and so cobbled any old climax together. The Cyberleader’s speech about the superior creed of his race is barely audible and utterly unmemorable – what happened to the days of Earthshock when this sort thing was dramatised properly? Nowadays it feels like you shove  couple of inept Cybermen into a story that clearly isn't designed for them and that should be enough to bring in the ratings (and it worked too). Clearly model effects have reached a stage where they can be realistically achieved – remember the impressive destruction of the Nostferatu at the end of Dragonfire – so what is up with the duff electronic firework when the Cyber fleet is destroyed? The final indignity to this bunch of Cybermen sees the Cyberleader stabbed in the chest with an arrow. An arrow! The superimposed top of Lady Peinforte’s house wobbles precariously in every scene it features. As has been pointed out over and over again Silver Nemesis has exactly the same plot as Remembrance of the Daleks with an awesome Gallifreyan weapon launched by the Doctor causing all manner of problems for him and with it he tricks the nasties who are after it into destroying themselves. Except one story is a classic and the other is shite. Not only does Ace have to explain the conclusion but she also brings up that it was ‘just how he nailed the Daleks!’ Why precisely are the Cybermen in this story? 'It is is the silver anniversary and they are silver...' is the explanation that we get in the documentary that accompanied the VHS. Few Doctor Who stories have had such an insubstantial reason for existence. Apparently the main theme behind Silver Nemesis is that the Doctor is God...but it is an idea so lost in it's execution that I would just pretend that it was never suggested. It's a rubbish idea anyway.

The Shallow Bit: I hate to be pedantic but is there really a type of jazz called ‘straight blowing’?  Because it sounds filthy! Enjoy a moment of bondage on JNT as two skinheads are stripped to their boxers and left hanging from a tree.

Result: Ironic that Revenge of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis should be paired off into one DVD box set because they are not only two of the worst ever classic Doctor Who stories but they are also two of the most abysmal uses of the Cybermen as well. Silver Nemesis as a script is one of the worst pieces of writing in the shows history; the story literally jumps from location to location with no clear narrative progression, no time to get to know the characters, the plot is simply vomited up in great chunks of exposition and yet oddly there is time for plenty of dull and pointless padding (the Queen, Lady Remington, the Jazz, the skinheads...none of which add anything to the story). It's clear upon watching that the material has been hacked to pieces with some real slipshod editing and Chris Clough’s direction is remarkably bland for somebody who was providing some very atmospheric and exciting work a couple of years ago. The best thing Silver Nemesis has going for it is a large amount of location work, Fiona Walker chewing the scenery delightfully as Lady Peinforte and the occasional sweet moment of seventh Doctor and Ace interaction. Against that there are three badly written sets of villains with the Cybermen coming off especially poorly in their last appearance in the series for over two decades. Whilst I think that JNT had a far greater love affair with the Daleks than he did the Cybermen (the Daleks of Resurrection, Revelation and Remembrance kick some butt), Earthshock brought them back in unforgettable style and Attack was the first time in an age that a story seemed to be specifically tailored for them to appear (they provided some memorable assassination sequences in The Five Doctors too). Silver Nemesis' Cybermen are so useless that a whiff of a breeze would make them collapse screaming. They're an embarrassment and the way that the Doctor and Ace run rings around them with the most childish of tricks undermine their menace terminally. Final proof I think that there is no point in making everything look pretty when the writer and the director have fallen asleep, it doesn’t matter how expensive a story looks (although Silver Nemesis feels as though a couple of fans have taken a camcorder outside and decided to film a Doctor Who adventure of their own) if the content is dull as dishwater: 2/10


Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

Oh no! I love this story, I find it so fun. Cybermen, Lady Pentiforte's antics... Mrs. Remington.

Joe Ford said...

Well we had to have a major disagreement at some point, Audrey! One thing going through the eighties stories is that it has proven what an up and down period of the show it is!

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Anthony Pirtle said...

I had the same impression when I first saw this, that it was basically "Remembrance" with Cybermen, which felt weird, not just because it's poorly done, but also because it's in the same brief season. "Remembrance" gives the impression that Doctor Who's show runners are still brimming with ideas about where to take the show. "Silver Nemesis" almost immediately dispels that impression, and that's the most disappointing thing about it for me.