Review [DW]: “Silver Nemesis”

25×3. Silver Nemesis
Writer: Kevin Clarke
Director: Chris Clough
Script Editor: Andrew Cartmel
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The Doctor and Ace become involved in a battle for control of the Nemesis statue, a piece of “living metal” originally designed by the Time Lords which has crash-landed near Windsor Castle, between the Cybermen, the powerful Lady Peinforte from the 17th century, and a group of South American Neo-Nazis. The Doctor schemes to keep the Nemesis away from all three factions and destroy the Cyber Fleet, while Lady Peinforte threatens to reveal his true identity.

Review: One could be forgiven, so soon after “Remembrance of the Daleks,” for viewing “Silver Nemesis” and thinking, “Wait a minute, didn’t I just see this story?” Once again, multiple factions are competing to get their hands on a Gallifreyan relic; once again, the Doctor comes off as a more mysterious and scheming figure with hints that he’s played a larger role in Time Lord history than he’s previously let on, while setting a trap for a returning enemy; and once again, human right-wing extremists are in the picture. These are all potentially worthwhile concepts, as “Remembrance” proved, but the script doesn’t really elaborate on them or make any point that hadn’t already been made in “Remembrance.”

Instead, it feels second-rate and lacking in subtletly: we’re told outright that the Doctor is guarding a secret about his past instead of having it implied through conversation with Ace, we get literal Nazis instead of British fascists, and the action scenes often lack an effective sense of space while both the Cybermen and the Nazis appear unable to hit the broad side of a barn. The Nazis in particular seem like an unnecessary and irrelevant addition for a Cybermen story. While the Daleks and their creator are driven by a sort of eugenicist ideology and by xenophobic hate in general, the Cybermen are more a symbol of mechanistic logic taken to inhuman extremes – their purpose and modus operandi really have little in common with the impulses and ideology behind Nazism. Of course, the original concept behind the Cybermen itself seems to have been watered down over the course of the series. There are occasional references to “logic,” and they seem to have taken preliminary steps towards turning two captured humans into Cybermen, but for much of the proceedings, they just function as generic baddies in silver suits. Unlike after “Remembrance,” which breathed some new life into the Daleks, I think I’d be fine with not seeing the Cybermen again after this even if I didn’t know that the original series was nearly over.

The character with the most potential is probably Lady Peinforte, who hails from the pre-modern era and yet seems to know something about the Doctor and the Time Lords and uses what the Doctor himself characterizes as “black magic” to travel through time. (Normally Doctor Who steers clear of the supernatural, but if “Snakedance” can have its borderline-magic rituals, then I suppose “Silver Nemesis” can have its magical time travel.) Unfortunately, her dialogue isn’t always the best: one of her lines is literally “I am evil,” and the way she spends a car ride indulging in “it will all be mine!”-style cackling to a perplexed fellow passenger is amusing but logically dubious – she ought to be keeping quiet so as not to call attention to herself. As for the Doctor’s role, I’ll admit to being intrigued by Peinforte’s threat to reveal his true identity and her allusions to “the Old Time…the Time of Chaos,” but I wonder if they’re taking this darker turn in his character too far by having him respond somewhat coolly when the Nemesis statue – which is apparently sentient – asks if it will be free, as he is determined to use it to destroy the Cyber Fleet. I can buy the idea that Rassilon and Omega might have once created a living creature to use as a weapon for the Time Lords – Doctor Who has never idealized Gallifrey or the way the Time Lords use their power – but why doesn’t the Doctor try to free the Nemesis from its destructive purpose altogether? That would have still kept the three competing factions from harnessing its capabilities and been more in keeping with his character, while still preserving the mystery of his identity and his involvement with Time Lord history.

Finally, there are some attempts at lighter moments that just don’t sit quite right in the context of an otherwise dark and mysterious narrative. The entire notion of the action taking place in and around Windsor Castle feels like the script trying too hard to be clever, especially when it’s made to appear that the Queen has just walked by with her dogs and the Doctor then tries to catch up with her to ask for the assistance of the police and military. For one thing, he has to know that the Prime Minister would be the one who would actually make such a decision, and the sort of visual trickery employed here accomplishes little other than to call attention to itself. A later scene in which two muggers try to accost Peinforte and her servant Richard, only to be discovered hung upside-down from trees in their underwear shortly afterwards, similarly comes off as an artless distraction rather than an effective piece of comic relief.

To its credit, “Silver Nemesis” does seem to know that it’s a retread – Ace remarks at the end on how the Doctor had set a similar trap for the Daleks, and a couple of references to “unfinished business” suggest that the Doctor is also aware of the parallels – but acknowledging that we’ve already been here and done this can’t make up for the fact that, well, we’ve been here and done this.

Rating: **1/2 (out of four)

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