In the last story, Angie and Artie discovered that their nanny, Clara, travels through time and space with her “boyfriend.” To keep them quiet, the Doctor and Clara take them to an alien theme park. But it seems the park has closed down and is under military control. The park’s owner, Mr. Webley, shows them round his exhibits, including some left over Cybermen from the last war they fought a thousand years ago in which the Cybermen were destroyed. Webley has rigged up one of the Cybermen to play chess (under the control of a vertically-challenge man called “Porridge”). But hiding in the shadows are thousands of tiny cybermats (“cybermites”), presumably left over from the war, ready to take control of the Cybermen and install upgrades. They start with Webley, then the children, and before long the Doctor is locked in battle with the Cyber Planner for control of his mind. As millions of Cybermen come to life across the planet, the lives of the Doctor, his companions, and every being in the universe hangs on a game of chess.
SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!
It seems when Neil Gaiman was charged with returning the Cybermen, he wanted to do it in a way that brought together the classic former inhabitants of Mondas (“The Tenth Planet”), and the new Cybus Industries alternate universe version (“Rise of the Cybermen”). These “new” Cybermen have undergone a bit of a redesign, which is in-keeping with past versions. Indeed, during the classic series, the Cybermen were re-vamped fairly regularly. According to Gaiman, these Cybermen are the result of an amalgmation of the classic and the new resulting from an encounter following the story “The Next Doctor.” I was never entirely happy with the “Cybus Cybermen” largely because it was a re-write of Cyberman history, and we never re-established the original history. Perhaps now…?
I like the new Cybermen, especially their ability to “upgrade” when faced with a new challenge (or, indeed, a weakness inherited from old code–did anyone else smile when the Doctor used gold?). This is not only true to the way Cybermen adapt and change, but it makes them far more formidable.
On the whole, I thought this was a good story. The plot mostly worked, and I especially liked the character moments–Clara in charge, the Doctor dueling himself, and even the soldiers who looked like army rejects, but showed themselves to be the equal of the best soldier, at least in terms of bravery and resourcefulness. My only major plot quibble has to do with the Emperor beaming everyone to safety when he activated the bomb. It wasn’t clear to me why he couldn’t have done that earlier. Did I miss something?
Aside from the gold, other nods to classic Who Cybermen stories included the cybermats, now reduced to cybermites, and the emergence of the Cybermen from their tombs, reminiscent of “Tomb of the Cybermen” and “Attack of the Cybermen.” The Doctor’s reference to Cybermen’s weakness to “cleaning fluids” dates back to the 1967 story, “The Moonbase,” where companions Ben and Polly mix a cocktail of chemicals that dissolve the Cybermen’s chest units. Also, did you catch the Doctor putting on a northern accent and saying “Fantastic”? And the use of “Allons-y”? Clearly nods to the Ninth and Tenth Doctors.
The Doctor, under cyber influence, tells Clara she’s “the impossible girl.” Once again, Clara is given reason to suspect something’s not right. And again, at the end of the adventure, Clara and the kids leave the TARDIS until the next time. For some reason I was reminded of Mr. Benn and his weekly trips to the costume shop for an adventure. Perhaps this arrangement is out of respect to Clara’s nannying responsibilities, though the Doctor hasn’t had much respect for his companions’ work schedules in the past.
Will the truth about Clara be revealed in the next episode, the season finale? Or will we be left hanging until November? This much I do know: both Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman have signed on for another year (hurray!), so whatever the truth is behind the mystery, Clara will be back.
If you saw this episode, please share your thoughts: the comments are open for as-spoilery-as-you-want discussion! I’ll be reviewing the season finale, “The Name of the Doctor,” sometime next week. In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here’s the Season Finale Prequel, “She Said, He Said”: