Friday, October 2, 2015

Silver Nemesis - "This is my favourite kind of jazz, straight blowing."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Silver Nemesis - Details

Season 25, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #154) | Previous - Next | Index

It's the 25th anniversary story. At 10 we got "The Three Doctors;" at 20 we got "The Five Doctors;" at 25, we got this. We're not underwhelmed because it's a not a multi-Doctor story, only because the Silver Anniversary was celebrated, mainly, by adding some chrome to the Cybermen.

But, fine, you can't blame the story for not being a blowout. Just like I'm not going to hold any episode of this, the tenth year of New Who, accountable for not being "The Three Doctors," either. Actually, for as much grief as this story takes, it wasn't horrible. It wasn't what you'd call "good," certainly, but it does some interesting things, has plenty of action, and has certain amount of ambition. That goes some way to covering up the usual problem we have with this era of Doctor Who -- that it makes precious little sense. The first episode is fast-paced and hinting it's going to fly apart at the seams, but gets the story off to a fast start.

Frankly, we're lucky it's only as bad as it is, because when you hear the author explain what he was doing here, how he pitched the story, it's fucking awful. In fact, if challenged to come up with the worst possible idea for a story, for the series as a whole, the idea he pitched is exactly the one I'd have given as the answer to the question. His idea is: the Doctor's big secret, the secret of who he is, is that he is God.

As underwhelming, as bad, you might argue, as this one is -- at least John Nathan-Turner had the sense to tell him he could write it that way as sub-text, but he couldn't come out and make it explicit diegetically, nor could he say anything along those lines in interviews, or in talking about the story. (Apparently, since JN-T has passed, he's not shy about saying so now.)

So, as much as we all castigate Nathan-Turner for ruining the series, we can at least point to that one instance of him recognizing that could not happen. Had that happened, I don't imagine the series would have ever come back. It would have alienated the bulk of its fandom and we wouldn't be talking about it any longer, except to remark that it really went to shit at the end.

Stray Thoughts:

The Fourth Reich rising South America has a Boys From Brazil vibe that is as hilarious as it possible for Nazis to be.

One of the things this one does that I like is it hard cuts from one place and time to another, expecting the viewer to keep up. One instant we're with the aforementioned Nazis, next it's 1638 and we're pivoting on the artifacts that combine to form the macguffin of this story.

That's Courtney Pine "straight blowing," as Seven puts it.

Seven dons a fez there briefly at Windsor looking for the silver bow. Then Ace. Even then, he couldn't just walk by a fez.

"Don't be afraid, we won't hurt you!"

The 25 year cycle of disasters ostensibly brought on by the orbit of the Silver Nemesis is thin and diminishes the story.

Lady Peinforte is almost an interesting villain, but her motivation is a lazily written 'I am evil' stance. Had the character been a man, he would have twirled his moustache. That she had some past interaction with the Doctor and the ability to do black magic up some quick and dirty time travel should have made her intriguing, instead it came across as merely muddled.

There's a moment where Seven does a bit of a chess dance through the cybermen that was a good example of his disarming charm and quick wittedness. (Read after, I think in About Time, that scene was McCoy basically directing himself. If true, that the one scene in the story that felt well-executed wasn't even a credit to its proper director, it goes to show how dire the production is.

The scene where the Doctor and Ace get a lift from an American Southern lady feels like a celebrity cameo, but the kind where you don't recognize the celebrity. Well, I say it feels that way, but I mean, it's exactly that.

The moment where the Doctor tells the Nemesis he's not done manipulating her,"Things are still imperfect," is an unsettling bit of dialogue even when we don't have the author's admission of what he really intended for the Doctor in mind. This Cartmel Master Plan business, which Tat Wood pretty effectively analyzes as more of a fan phenomenon than an actual master plan, per se, wasn't headed in an interesting direction if the Doctor was going to turn out to be only a sort of god either.

Lady Peinforte's mathematician was played by Leslie French, who was up for the first Doctor role that, of course, eventually went to William Hartnell.

Additional Resources: transcript

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The ideas are all there, but the script doesn't actually execute them, wandering off for comedy subplots instead. Peinforte's threat to reveal the Doctor's true nature is a hollow letdown as it turns out nobody cares. The neo-Nazis are mere canon fodder. The Cybermen are predictably stupid. Peinforte commits suicide by jumping into a statue. The Doctor's manipulations are hollow. The statue gestures at ancient Gallifreyan secrets, but in the most insubstantial way possible, mostly constituting creating yet another Most Valuable Mineral in the Universe and this time giving it to the Time Lords.
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