More "Meh" Than Nemesis

Review of Silver Nemesis (#151)
DVD Release Date: 02 Nov 10
Original Air Date: 23 Nov - 07 Dec 1988
Doctor/Companion: Seven, Ace McShane
Stars: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred
Preceding Story: The Happiness Patrol (Seven, Ace)
Succeeding Story: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (Seven, Ace)

Marching through our list of under-represented Doctors (in terms of the percentage of their stories I have reviewed in one form or another), we come now to the Seventh Doctor, whose lone encounter with the Cybermen happened to fall on Doctor Who's twenty-fifth anniversary.

While the production team—writer Kevin Clarke in particular—made a valiant effort to add a sense of significance to the passage of that particular twenty-five years (1963-1988), the result was perhaps not as compelling as they might have hoped. Making that span the orbital period of an eccentric object (launched, it turns out, by the Doctor himself some 350 years prior) was not altogether a bad idea (presuming it's orbiting the sun, that would put it beyond Jupiter, but not as far as Saturn, were it in a nearly circular orbit—which admittedly seems unlikely). However, the logical contortions they have to employ in order to make that quarter-century seem consistently historically significant are awkward at best (1913 is called out as "the eve of the First World War"; 1938 "Hitler annexes Austria"; 1963 "Kennedy assassinated").

As for the Cybermen, they're not even the eponymous Nemesis; that name actually belongs to a mysterious statue made of validium—"living metal." Frankly, I found the title to be more about misdirection than double meaning. While one could argue that both statue and Cybermen are silver nemeses, the Cybermen are relegated to a secondary or even tertiary role.

This sidelining is due to the fact that the writer has thrown in everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. The Doctor and Ace find themselves up against fully three different parties out to claim Nemesis for themselves. Aside from the Cybermen, there is a seventeenth century lady (Lady Peinforte) who has learned how to manipulate time and a neo-Nazi named de Flores who sees himself as the leader of the coming Fourth Reich. Both plan to use Nemesis to further their own quests for power.

While the mashup of so many plans for world domination makes for a rather muddled plot, there are smaller moments that add to the positive column for Silver Nemesis's overall appeal. Chief among them are interactions between Seven and Ace. (This pair is my all-time favorite TARDIS team, so keep that in mind as you make your own judgements.)

For example, there is a moment when they need to disable a Cyber-ship. As they hide in the bushes surveilling it, the Doctor asks, "I don't suppose you completely ignored my instructions and secretly prepared any Nitro-9, have you?"

"What if I had?"

"Then naturally you wouldn't do anything so insanely dangerous as to carry it around with you, would you?"

"Of course not. I'm a good girl. I do what I'm told," Ace says with no trace of irony in her voice.

"Excellent. Blow up that vehicle."

To some, such an exchange may seem like evidence that the Doctor simply doesn't like to get his hands dirty (as Danny Pink charged) or that he turns his friends into weapons. To me, though, it's simply a delightful show of camaraderie, and shows how the Doctor knows Ace and loves and accepts her as she is.

Remember also that this was a point at which the production team was trying to instill a new (or renewed) sense of mystery into the show surrounding the person of the Doctor, particularly about who he is (or was) in relation to the Time Lords. We can see that early in the story as the Doctor fills Ace in about what they're up against, yet avoids telling her too much.

"Validium was created as the ultimate defense for Gallifrey," he tells her. "Back in early times."

"Created by Omega?"

"Yes."

"And?"

"And Rassilon."

"And?"

"And none of it should have left Gallifrey. But, as always with these things, some of it did."

One should thus not be surprised when part of the denouement also hinges on the puzzle of who (and maybe what) the Doctor "really" is. Whether or not the gambit succeeds depends on the individual viewer.

I have a hard time rating this episode as a Cybermen story, as they are hardly the main focus. However, it's just weird enough to hold my interest through its three parts. I'll never believe it's as suitable an anniversary story as Remembrance of the Daleks, but on its own merits, it's firmly middle of the pack. If you are fans of Seven and Ace, it's probably worth a watch.

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Comments

Oh the memories this evokes! Sitting in my bedsit watching on a small black and white portable tv that I had bought while at Uni.

My first recollection is thinking even then that this was a total rehash of Rememberance, a story that had aired only 4 weeks prior and in a 14 episode season this seemed to be taking liberties somewhat!

Unfortunately the geek in me also picked up on the fact that the calendar changed by 12 days sometime after Nemesis was launched, Julian to Gregorian calendar I think. This is, or rather was important to me as it meant that the mathematician's calculations regarding the landing of the meteor were inaccurate. In those days it typified for me the slapdash approach being adopted by the Production team at the time, almost as irritating as the UNIT dating controversy. I may have been a trifle intolerant to JNT's reign at the time. Being a regular reader to DWB at the time didn't help! I have moderated since.

I also felt that the story was a bit rushed and when I saw the video with much of the deleted scenes restored it was an improvement for me.

Finally, the other thing that at the time wound me up was the trailing before the story that we would learn the Doctor's secret while inreality nothing of the kind was revelaed. Whether this was meant to be part of the Cartmel masterplan, I don't know, but looking back on it, it would have been crazy to make some big reveal. The mystery is always more interesting isn't it?

By Wholahoop
mrfranklin's picture

Always. When it comes to the Doctor, the mystery is always more interesting. That's why we can never know his name.

I love hearing from folks who watched these stories as they aired, because that's so far outside my own experience. Sometimes the way someone felt about an episode at the time hasn't changed (or has only intensified), and other times an opinion flip-flops.

It amuses me to realize that Who fans are effectively unchanged, though, because the kind of nitpicking and pulling apart the story that you refer to here sounds just like the kind of thing I do on the blog and that I see online all the time with the current episodes. The more things change...

By mrfranklin
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