Expectations couldn’t be anything but high for this episode of Doctor Who. The Cybermen were promised to be back – bigger and better, but hopefully less colourful than the Daleks 2.0 – and it was also a return to the series for Neil Gaiman, after his incredible episode, The Doctor’s Wife. Although the man himself spoke of how different this episode would be, I was still anticipating good things. And mostly, I was not disappointed.
It was bound to be a psychological experience, as that is what Gaiman specialises in. Last time, it was humanising the TARDIS to reveal the relationship between the Doctor and his ship. Here, it was humanising a Cyber Planner (or, preferably, Mr Clever), and forcing Matt Smith to do some acting overtime. Playing both the good and bad sides of himself, wrestling the inner demon in front of our very eyes, it was a stunning piece of work by Smith. We’ve seen him stretched in a number of different ways, on a number of different occasions but this felt like something different, something… exhausting.
The Cybermen were truly terrifying this time. Previously, they have been chilling – their incessant marching, their vice-like grip, and their inability to relate to any kind of emotion. But on the flip side, they’ve also been a bit laughable. Clunky men in silver suits, stomping about and chanting Delete, most of the time they are easily thwarted. In this episode, they have been busy upgrading themselves so their silver suits are sleek, their stomping can be fast-forwarded Matrix-style, and an army of them seems impossible to overcome. In fact, you know it is bad when the only way to get rid of them is to blow up the entire planet they are standing on.
There were two stowaways on board the TARDIS this week, as the kids that Clara looks after realised what she had been up to and demanded a trip into space. That explains why we ended up at a theme park (which provided plenty of opportunity for fun – the Comical Castle being a highlight), but it also allowed us to see the softer side to Clara. She’s been a pretty brave and stoic companion up to now, and even this episode, she was very happy to take on the Major General role and plan their defense against the Cyberpeople. However, with the kids she was gentle and caring… albeit crazy enough to think they could nap in a strange room full of manequins.
I had one overriding issue with the episode, and I’m not sure if it’s because I missed something or not. At the end, the newly-revealed Emporer beamed them off the planet. I couldn’t see why he didn’t do that at the beginning, and save a lot of time/effort/lives? I don’t know, I’m sure I must have missed a throwaway line somewhere. Regardless, it didn’t really take away from my enjoyment because there was so much else to love. The giant chess pieces. The fact that Clara goes home and only travels with the Doctor on Wednesdays. His description of her with a funny nose. Warwick Davis’ marriage proposal. The brief glimpse of the previous Doctor’s faces.
A truly great episode, one of the best of the Clara era and perhaps even longer than that. Next week, many are saying we’re going to find out what is going on with Clara, the big mystery, I’m not so sure. I’m still waiting to find out what happens when Silence will Fall and all that. Either way, I can’t wait!