Given that Dr Capaldi had just been seen off by the Cybermen, much like his Hartnell predecessor, I felt like tackling a few of the remaining cyber stories that were left in Whoflix’s unedited story pile and this was the one I decided to tackle first. It’s Neil Gaiman’s Difficult Second Album and he hasn’t written for the show since, which is a shame but there you go. They can’t all be as good as The Doctor’s Wife…
My biggest problem with the story wasn’t the story itself but the two brats in it, Arsie and Artie, with spoilt little princess Arsie being especially irritating. Why writers insist on putting kids in TV scripts I’ll never know as the place for child actors is musical theatre and nowhere else. Most child actors can’t act for the screen anyway, and the few that can are usually stage school brats whose parents are probably even worse than their odious offspring.
They both get the Adric treatment and almost all of the cuts made to this edit are to get rid of them from the narrative, which is much better without them. Of course, I wasn’t able to get rid of them completely but now we don’t have to put up with them any more than we really have to.
There were some non-Arsie & Artie cuts made to the episode, mostly to the platoon of plonkers battling the Cybs in order to keep things moving and, as ever, keep the focus on the Doctor. [Is it just me or do two of them look a bit like James Corden and Chris Chibnall? You know the two I mean…] And Porridge doesn’t propose to Clara, something that never rang true for the simple reason that there’s no drama to be had from a proposal you know someone won’t be the slightest bit tempted to accept.
The Cybermen make their latest upgrade a version that isn’t a million miles away from Iron Man, which of course isn’t what it’s based on at all, in the same way that the Kandyman wasn’t Bertie Basset and “Upgrade In Progress” is a much more chilling cyber-catchphrase than “Delete”.
Cybermites are a creepy addition to the metal men’s arsenal and Gaiman certainly succeeds in making the Cybs scary again when they can detach their heads to trick you or send their hands scuttling off to strangle & smother you, in a much scarier riff on The Addams Family than you might expect.
Matt Smith does a grand job of playing two versions of the Doctor, with a couple of subtle callbacks to his predecessors. Switching instantly between two characters, like Andy Serkis does with Gollum & Smeagol, is a fun acting challenge, one I bet Smiffy was delighted with. And it’s not as easy to pull off for the actor as the audience watching might think it is, even with the benefit of Smiffy being able to do each side separately.
Speaking of SmiffyDoc and CyberDoc, there are couple of things to notice about that flashback sequence in Smiffy’s head. The first is that the shots of Smiffy’s predecessors are the same ones that would be used later for the end credits of The Day of the Doctor. Which you only notice looking back at NiS having seen TDotD, very timey-wimey… The other thing is that both versions of the Doctor disappear just before then end, leaving the final frame as just the empty background. Weird. It’s at 19m 3s and 10f if you want to look for yourself…
As for Clara, she displays another ability we never knew she had until now, that of military strategist. Okay, so she is a bossyboots and would go on to be a teacher, but Captain Clara doesn’t feel organic to the character. It’s more of a plot function.
But then the Cybermen are themselves the ultimate plot function, an army of emotionless stormtroopers whose only role nowadays is to storm the barricades en masse. Gone are the days of Earthshock style confrontations with Cyberleaders. Which is why sometimes a lone adversary, like Skaldak in Cold War, is often more effective than a huge army. The Doctor needs an enemy he can talk to, but here that’s himself, or at least the Cyberplanner in his head. It might have been better if he had spent more of the story confronting CyberWebley, played by the underused Jason Watkins.
In a sense, the Doctor isn’t that different from the Cybermen himself is he, in that he too is constantly “upgrading” himself and changing his form and his functions. But that similarity is something we’ll have to wait for another story to bring out.