THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV STORIES "THE
AND "THE GREATEST
SHOW IN THE GALAXY."
'REVENGE OF THE
CYBERMEN / SILVER
NEMESIS' DVD BOX
RELEASED IN AUGUST
AND 'SILVER NEMESIS:
THE EXTENDED VERSION'
VHS VIDEO (BBCV4888)
RELEASED IN APRIL
EARTH, 1988. WHILE THE
DOCTOR AND ACE FLEE
FROM EMOTIONLESS MEN
PISTOLS, NEO-NAZI HERR
DE FLORES IS INTENT ON
HERALDING THE FOURTH
REICH. MEANWHILE, THE
LADY PEINFORTE USES
BLACK MAGIC TO PROPEL
HERSELF FORWARD IN
TIME FROM 1638 FOR A
WITH THE DOCTOR. AND,
AT THE SAME TIME, A
SPACECRAFT FULL OF
CYBERMEN SETS DOWN
AS THE DOCTOR EVADES
MULTIPLE ENEMIES, A
METEOR CONTAINING A
WEAPON IS HURTLING
TOWARDS THE PLANET.
THE STATUE WILL HOLD
THE POWER OF LIFE AND
DEATH OVER THE ENTIRE
23RD NOVEMBER 1988 - 7TH DECEMBER 1988
Revenge of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis are seldom found in any fan’s Top
Five Cybermen stories, and so it’s little surprise that 2 Entertain have resorted to marrying them up, wrapping them in a sleeve emblazoned with dazzling Cyber imagery, and releasing them as an exciting-looking Cybermen-themed box set. But whereas I feel that Revenge of the Cybermen is deserving of its ill repute, Silver Nemesis most definitely isn’t. It’s rather ironic then that, thanks to some fantastic bonus material, Revenge of the Cybermen is now one of the best-polished turds out there, whilst the poor old Silver Nemesis DVD is a much more modest affair.
Billed as a 25th Anniversary Special of sorts, what is arguably Doctor Who’s one hundred and fiftieth serial is one that I’ve always had great affection for. So soon after the young me fell in love with the Daleks, I found myself acquainted with another of the Doctor’s nemeses
in a story that is fast, vibrant, and utterly, utterly beguiling. Here the Doctor is playing chess against not one group of opponents but three distinct antagonistic factions, each of which
is thoroughly abhorrent in its own way, and each of which poses a very different danger to
the titular Time Lord, including the most personal threat that he’d ever faced at that point.
“Doctor who? Have you never wondered who he is...”
Indeed, the tired old handle “Doctor Who” is given a new lease
of life here. Kevin Clarke’s on-the-spot submission began with
just a single question, and it’s one that concisely defines both
Silver Nemesis and the season that it forms part of: “who is
the Doctor?” This impenetrable question burns throughout
these three episodes, culminating a taut and tense (and, as
I understand it, completely unrehearsed!) dénouement that
sees the Lady Peinforte come within a whisper of revealing
not only the Doctor’s identity, but the dark secrets of his past
Something was lost in the progression from Clarke’s original
“the Doctor is God” pitch to a script littered with allusions to
the Doctor’s involvement in ancient Gallifreyan events, but I
think that Silver Nemesis is all the stronger for it. Clarke’s final
script is swathed in an air of mystery that we hadn’t seen since
the days of William Hartnell’s Doctor, and that we wouldn’t see
again until David Tennant’s time. You don’t need to make the
Doctor God in order to reaffirm his mysteriousness - all you
need to do is sew a few seeds which call what the audience
knows into question.
What’s more, Clarke’s plot is one that fires that imagination
in many different ways, whilst also furthering the season’s
theme of portraying the Doctor as a proactive manipulator,
albeit with a suitably whimsical anniversary twist. In Silver Nemesis, the Doctor hatched his master plan so long ago
that by the time it came to fruition, he’d forgotten all about it!
“You mean the world’s going to end and you’d forgotten about it?”
The titular Nemesis is a statue carved from validium, a deadly living metal designed to be Gallifrey’s ultimate weapon. At some point in the Doctor’s past, he came across this statue in 1638; stole it from the clutches of Lady Peinforte; and then launched it into space inside
a mini-asteroid, far from anyone who might seek to abuse its great power. Unfortunately though, he got his sums wrong, and as a result every twenty-five years thereafter Nemesis’ orbit would bring it close to the Earth, each time heralding a catastrophe. Eventually, its orbit decayed to such an extent that it crash-landed in Windsor on 23rd November 1988, bringing with it hordes of Cybermen, a phalanx of neo-Nazis, and even two time-travelling Jacobeans, all of whom wish to exploit its might.
This story is often best remembered for its inclusion of the Cybermen, whose presence here is, admittedly, a little superfluous. As the show’s Silver Anniversary Special, producer John Nathan Turner insisted that Clarke shoe-horn the silver giants into his already crowded tale, providing the audience with the story’s only alien group of antagonists, and a top-tier one at that. And, whilst it would be easy to criticise the Cybermen’s gratuitous inclusion, I dare say that I wouldn’t have be half as rapt by Silver Nemesis as I was in 1988 had it featured only Peinforte and the Nazis.
“Don’t thank them yet…”
One of the cornerstones of my childhood is the cliffhanger ending to Part 1, which sent me tearing into my Uncle Mick’s battered old hand-me-down Tenth Planet novelisation long before Part 2 ever saw broadcast. As a cynical grown-up, however, I must concede that the Cybermen hardly cover themselves in glory here - their dialogue is strewn with emotional ejaculations, they are outwitted by just about every other party, and even their might is easily thwarted by Peinforte’s “primitive toys” and Ace’s slingshot.
Yet the Cybermen are still used effectively enough to have left the most profound impression on my younger self. Silver Nemesis is teeming with half-converted human agents, lingering images of silver monsters slain by medieval arrows; there’s even an entire Cyber war fleet in orbit of the planet. What’s more, the Cybermen complement De Flores’ neo-Nazis sublimely, Clarke’s script wasting no time in probing the similarities and differences between the cold, (allegedly) emotionless Cybermen and the even more heartless and power-hungry fascists. It’s a real testament to Anton Diffring’s suitably clinical portrayal that even as a child, I was able to grasp that Herr De Flores is in many ways worse than the outer-space robot people.
For me though, the standout antag-
onist is the Lady Peinforte, a time-
travelling 17th century noblewoman
who wants “her” Nemesis back. In an unprecedented move for Doct-or Who, Clarke presents Peinforte
as a woman well-versed in the art
of black magic, which prior to this
story the Doctor resolutely denied
the existence of, but here accepts
as fact. As a result, Peinforte exudes a silent, unknowable sense of dread which the writer manages to sustain throughout the whole serial. There is no science fiction cop-out here;
no “science, not sorcery” moment. This sense of unease is then heightened further by the
knowledge that Lady Peinforte holds; the secret doors that she’s constantly threatening to
unlock. It wouldn’t work if they did it every week, of course, but as an exception to the rule
it’s devastatingly effective.
In many ways though, it is Lady Peinforte’s incongruously sympathetic assistant, Richard, who steals the show. Clarke cleverly contrasts Richard’s quite understandable reactions to the horrors of the 1980s with Peinforte’s cold and elegant poise. The 17th century man’s crippling fear ultimately gives rise to a noble bravery, whilst Peinforte’s quiet evil leads her
to an inauspicious and suitably hysterical end. Fiona Walker and Gerard Murphy are both absolutely magnificent in their respective roles, never cutting the ham too thick, yet imbuing their characters with just enough theatrical charm to work as intended.
Nemesis itself is a devastating idea, and as a child I actually found it more unsettling than
the Daleks or the Cybermen. To a youngster, its ghostly appearance is distressing in the extreme, and like Peinforte, the way in which it professes to know all about the Time Lord’s past imbues it with an eerie sense of power that catapults it into a league all of its own.
Yet despite this murky confluence of elements, Silver Nemesis maintains the most jovial of tones in all but its darkest moments. Half its scenes are underscored by the chipper sounds of Courtney Pine and his Jazz Quartet, while the narrative itself is punctuated with a number of comic skits involving celebrity cameos, skinheads, and even the Her Majesty the Queen. The sequence that sees Lady Peinforte and Richard set upon by two skinheads is without
a doubt the pick of the lot - in one moment, the thugs are in Richard’s face, demanding cash from their apparently foppish target. The camera lingers on Richard’s face as it contorts into a sneer and he simply hisses: “money, say you?” The next time that we see them, the two skinheads are hanging upside down from a tree in their pants, their clothes burning beneath them. If that’s not brilliant, I don’t know what is.
“Money, say you?”
And all the while, Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred walk the tightrope of high drama and comedy. None of the first eight Doctors are capable of the solemnity that McCoy exudes in some of Silver Nemesis’ most significant scenes, and he’d give most of them a run for their money when it comes to quirkiness too. His scenes with Ace are, for the most part, playful and mischievous, the pair of them clearly revelling in the adventure unfolding around them. It’s hard to believe that Silver Nemesis was only the fifth serial that they’d filmed together, because McCoy and Aldred’s rapport is so palpable; so perfect.
Silver Nemesis’ conclusion is often lambasted as the Doctor uses the exact same strategy to defeat the Cybermen as he did the Daleks just two stories earlier. If anything though, this brings an element of much-needed consistency to the show (“Double Bluff. A speciality of mine...”) and, more importantly, to the Doctor’s character. He’s cunning. He’s ruthless. And just in the same way that he masterminded the destruction Skaro, he destroys the remnants of the Cyber race. If it works, then why would he not use the same tactic again? How often did the third Doctor reverse the polarity of the neutron flow? How often did the fourth Doctor ‘sonic’ his way out of an awkward situation? If it works...
However, as I’ve hinted above, the Silver Nemesis DVD is despairingly lightweight. Much
to my exasperation, neither the extended edition of the serial nor the American Making of Silver Nemesis documentary that were released on VHS are included here. This is quite shameful, particularly given that serials such as Enlightenment, Planet of Fire, Battlefield and The Curse of Fenric each had special edition versions created from scratch for their respective releases – surely a more expensive labour then remastering an already existing edit? It’s not even as if the Revenge of the Cybermen / Silver Nemesis box set retails for any less than the Kamelion Tales box set (which housed Planet of Fire and its new special edition) did.
It’s some consolation though that the extended and deleted scenes that were used to craft the extended edition of the story are at least included here as an isolated special feature,
but cut off from context the experience isn’t the same – after all, who wants to sit through deleted scenes on their own? Whenever I come across them on a Doctor Who DVD, I’ll always give them the once-over for posterity’s sake, but that’s all they’re good for when presented in this fashion.
“I remember saying to somebody that I'd never again have the opportunity to write a show that
included neo-Nazis, creatures from outer space, Jacobean theatre characters...”
Nonetheless, I’m always impressed by DVDs that boast a single consolidated documentary rather than a number of piecemeal ones, and Industrial Action is exactly that. Clocking in at just over half an hour, this enlightening programme covers everything from the actors’ lack
of rehearsal time to Prince Edward’s near-involvement and Lady Peinforte’s (near) iambic pentameter. I learned a great deal about Silver Nemesis’ production here that I had been previously ignorant of, most notably that the story’s scenes set inside Windsor Castle are swarming with Doctor Who celebrity extras, including Nicholas Courtney! Next time that you watch Silver Nemesis, be sure to play “Spot the Brig”! As such it’s impossible to condemn this release entirely, but it’s fair to say that it should have - and could have - been so much better. It’s rare that you’ll see me say that about a classic Who DVD.
In addition to the above, the Silver Nemesis release boasts all the standard photo galleries, isolated scores and accoutrements, and as always it’s a real pleasure to listen to Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Andrew Cartmel discussing their memories of this production in the main feature’s commentary track.
In the end, even when I put my rose-tinted specs aside, Silver Nemesis still stands out as being a luminous example of Doctor Who at its very best. It’s intelligently written, beautifully portrayed, dark and mesmerising, and even just plain silly. I’m bitterly disappointed with the parsimonious DVD release, but I am at least grateful that one of the most gaping holes in
my Doctor Who DVD collection has finally been plugged.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008, 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
In an aberrantly frugal move for 2 Entertain, the August 2010 DVD release of
Silver Nemesis did not include either the extended edition of the serial that had previously been released on VHS or the hour-long American documentary that accompanied it. This subsequently caused a considerable degree of consternation amongst fans of the series’ 25th anniversary story, myself included.
Looking back on the old video some seventeen years after it hit the shelves, it still stands
out as being one of the most remarkable in BBC Video’s Doctor Who range. It’s bespoke packaging - a fetching fusion of metallic green and shiny tin foil – is still capable of catching a contemporary eye, and the fact that it had any bonus material at all on it, let alone an hour-long documentary, only sets it apart further.
Above: Sylvester McCoy waxes lyrical about the pressures of production in The Making of Silver Nemesis
However, Eric Luskin’s Making of Doctor
Who – Silver Nemesis is far from being
the slick, Confidential-style documentary
that the DVD connoisseurs of today take
for granted. In fact, it’s probably dated far
worse than even the Whose Doctor Who?
programme included on The Talons of
Weng-Chiang DVD. Not only is it riddled
with Deidre Barlow spectacles and a glut
of factual inaccuracies (since when did
the Cybermen appear in Season 21?),
but it lacks any sort of pace or vigour.
Nevertheless, it does contain exclusive
footage of rehearsals and behind the scenes of the production, and thus offers a little more insight than the DVD’s (admittedly superior) retrospective.
The three extended episodes themselves are the video’s real selling point. Whilst I wouldn’t go so far as say that the truncated, transmitted version Silver Nemesis doesn’t make sense in the same way that Ghost Light doesn’t, the extended version does put paid to one or two plot holes as well as allowing the story much more time to breathe. The Nazis are far better served by this extended edition especially, with much of their explicitly-Nazi dialogue having been restored together with their Part 3 subplot, which so far as I can tell was dropped from the transmitted version entirely. The extended version also answers a question that always bugged me as a child – why on Earth do the Queen’s aides simply let the Doctor and Ace
go after they’ve infiltrated the Royal Apartments? Well, their elaborate (and embarrassing) escape sequence featured here provides an answer.
“Unfortunately Wagner must be re-written. The Supermen must control the Giants.”
Ultimately then, the shiny Silver Nemesis VHS has the distinction of being the only Doctor Who video so far that warrants retention post-DVD – at least until 2 Entertain see the light and put out a jazzed-up special edition Silver Nemesis DVD movie. As one can pick up a copy for next to nothing on eBay these days, then if you still have the facilities to play an old plastic cassette I would definitely recommend tracking this one down. There are worse ways to spend a pound...
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
In this story, Ace wears Flowerchild’s earring on her jacket before she finds it in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. This is a result of the season’s running order being changed so that the broadcast of Silver Nemesis would coincide with the series’ silver anniversary. Blame it on the timey-wimey.
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