“Now if you don’t mind, I have to finish my chess game and you have to die painfully and very far from home.”
What starts as a quick visit to a space-themed amusement park quickly turns sour this week as the Doctor finds himself facing some old foes and protecting some new friends. The Cybermen return and finally reclaim their title as an enemy worthy to be feared, complete with new upgrades and mental hack techniques. Writer Neil Gaiman delivers in this cerebral, heart-pounding episode that will surely be a Doctor Who classic and fan favorite for years to come.
Beginning where “The Crimson Horror” left off, Clara has decided to allow the children she nannies (Angie and Artie) take a trip in the TARDIS in exchange for their promise to keep her time-travelling escapades a secret. But instead of a bustling tourist attraction, they find an abandoned theme park, only inhabited by an old employee, a disorganized platoon, and, of course, Cybermen. We are introduced to Warwick Davis’s character “Porridge,” who we later find plays a much larger role than the mechanic as which he masquerades. The Doctor soon discovers small mechanical insects, which convert life forms into Cybermen by attacking them in hordes (quite a step up from the Cybermat of series 6). Angie and Artie are, of course, attacked, and Clara is left in charge of the local platoon while the Doctor goes after them.
The Doctor does not escape his robot foes as easily as he once did, as they have developed the technology to control more than just human life forms. He gets mentally hacked, and for the majority of the episode, fights for control over his mind. He and his hacker play a life-or-death game of chess, during which we get a glimpse into the working’s of the Doctor’s mind and are treated to particularly wonderful acting by Matt Smith. This was most definitely Smith’s standout performance of this season thus far, and his flawless transitions from Doctor to Cyber-Doctor were legitimately creepy at times. We even got a flashback of the Tenth Doctor (“Allons-y!”), which gave me chills to an even greater extent than did the Cybermen.
Even though they are not one of my favorite Doctor Who baddies, the Cybermen received some pretty neat upgrades this episode, including a full-body makeover, a speed boost, and the ability to upgrade instantaneously while adapting to their surroundings. They’re smart, adaptable, and agile–a far cry from what we’ve seen in Doctor Who episodes post-reboot. The Cybermen are back, and have proven themselves to be a worthy opponent of the Doctor and his companions, rather than the bumbling tin cans that many had begun to write off as a joke. But that soulless stare will definitely haunt me tonight.
I honestly don’t have many criticisms of this episode, and thought it was by far the best we’ve seen this season (as expected, with all of the hype about Gaiman’s screenplay). Warwick Davis was wonderful as always, and Clara really took the helm when the Doctor needed her to lead. Even the kids weren’t quite as annoying as I had anticipated (though this could be partially due to the fact that they were in walking comas for half the episode). Though, Angie’s attitude and Artie’s foolishness probably could have been toned down a bit. But reckless children aside, this episode was fantastic, and is a must-watch for any fan.
Alex Kingston returns as River Song next week for the season finale, and Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are back as well for the episode that will hopefully reveal the solution to the mystery of the Impossible Girl and the Doctor’s “biggest secret.” “The Name of the Doctor” airs next Saturday, May 18.