An anniversary story about the defence of Gallifrey, with a time twin zone timey wimey story split between the present day and the 16th or 17th century, and explicitly asking the question “Doctor Who?” It appears that, like the Nemesis comet, these are things that come around every 25 years.
I’m dubious about specials in general – even when they don’t have multiple Doctors – lots of build up and promise of spectacle, but my favourite Doctor Who is often the ‘small scale’ stuff: The Mind Robber, The Keeper of Traken, Blink, Midnight… So it’s rather welcome that Silver Nemesis is a low-key celebration of the first 25 years of Doctor Who and a relief that it doesn’t deserve its dire reputation.
Sure, the Cybermen are something of a wash-out as adversaries, and the neo-Nazis don’t seem to have their eye on the ball (as well as being writer rather ineffectually, the performances are quite… laid back, shall we say). But set against this, this dynamic between Ace and the Doctor is becoming rather wonderful; the best pairing in several incarnations. It’s a treat just having a team who are enjoying themselves – and an even better treat to have Courtney Pine laying down a special Doctor Who groove – “I could listen to them all afternoon” says Ace “And so we shall.” replies the Lord of Time.
McCoy is building on his ‘revised’ performance from Rememberance of the Daleks, and so we get a very controlled, thoughtful Doctor (and no playing of the spoons). Ace again gets to show her mettle (“Don’t worry, Doctor. I’ll look after you.”) showing enormous courage while literally facing death. (Apparently the fear that Sophie Aldred registered in this may not have been all acting, since she persuaded to do the scenes on the elevated gantries despite her fear of heights…) Despite the absurd premise I rather enjoyed the Lady Peinforte storyline if only for the anachronistic sight of noble Elizabethans hitch-hiking to 20th century Windsor (“All this will be mine.”) and being mugged by skinheads (“Will you be turned into rats?”)
The nicest anniversary element to this one is all the figures from the show’s past appearing without being crammed into the story, just appearing briefly on screen – not in character (indeed, the only actor is Brigadier Nicholas Courtney) but just as extras. It’s lovely thing to know as you watch the scene, and takes nothing from the story if you don’t.
So, Doctor Who? “Doctor who? Have you never wondered where he came from, who he is?” Frankly, no, say the cybermen, echoing the this viewer’s feelings on the subject. “I shall tell them of Gallifrey, tell them of the old time, the time of chaos” threatens Lady Pienforte but she doesn’t, of course. Apparently, the writer thought he was God. That doesn’t come across at all, but we already know who the Doctor is. His past and his secrets won’t change that any more than knowing his true name.
Silver Nemesis is not trying to be the best Doctor Who ever and nor is it. But where it succeeds is in giving the anniversary a nod but keeping it peripheral, and just getting on with relating another adventure in space and time. Because having Doctor Who on our screens after all these years is still a wonderful present.
Happy birthday, Doctor.