Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros Carry On Up the Cyber and examine this 25th anniversary tale
1988 was the 25th anniversary of Doctor Who and the decision was taken by producer John Nathan-Turner to celebrate this silver landmark by having the Doctor face two of his most feared adversaries during season twenty-five and tying them into the date the show was first broadcast, November 23rd 1963.
Remembrance of the Daleks kicked off that season and saw the Doctor returning to the junkyard in Totters Lane and facing the Daleks for the final time in the classic series to keep their suckers off the Hand of Omega. After enduring The Happiness Patrol (which most hardened Who fans regard as a stinker), the anniversary season continued with those tattered remnants of the planet Mondas once again threatening to destroy Earth—the Cybermen were back in Silver Nemesis!
The story opens in 1638, with the scheming Lady Peinforte discovering the exact date when a mysterious comet, named Nemesis, will finally crash-land back on Earth. The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) himself launched the thing and during a jazz performance by Courtney Pine in 1988 is reminded that what he has sown, he is just about to reap, so he and his trusty companion—and pyromaniac—Ace (Sophie Aldred) have to try and intercept it before anyone else gets their hands on it, including a bunch of Neo-Nazis, led by veteran Nazi De Flores (Anton Diffring) who plan to use the contents of the comet as a way for their Fourth Reich to come to power.
Meanwhile, Lady Peinforte (Fiona Walker) and her faithful manservant Richard (Gerard Murphy) have managed to shift themselves forward in time to 1988 in order to get their hands upon the Nemesis comet.
There is no getting around the fact that this story is essentially a rehash of Remembrance of the Daleks—a direct connection with November 1963 is established (in RotD, they materialise in that time, in Silver Nemesis, the comet last made an appearance back then), and the Doctor and the adversaries are battling to get their hands an ancient Gallifreyan artefact that has enormous power and could prove to be the undoing of the universe if it fell into the wrong hands. Even the denouement is awfully similar, which sees one of the Doctor's most feared adversaries seemingly dispensed with for good.
As always, the chemistry between Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred is wonderful—the pair of them almost certainly have the most natural spark between any actor to play the Doctor and anyone playing the companion, with possibly only Troughton/Hines, Pertwee/Manning and Baker/Sladen coming close. Their on-screen relationship is easy-going and natural, which more than suggests that this was also how it was when the cameras stopped rolling. The scene where they are relaxing in a meadow whilst jamming the Cybermen's transmissions shows a tranquillity and a relationship that had never really existed in Doctor Who before with the Doctor and Ace mellowing out and being friends—the closest being the first episode of William Hartnell's The Romans.
Sylvester McCoy gets to show little hints of his darker Doctor, with some of the master manipulator coming to the fore as he literally and metaphorically plays chess with the other factions. Sadly, some of the earlier elements of the Cartmel Master Plan ended up on the cutting room floor in here (in much the same way that the ’more than just a Time Lord’ stuff from Remembrance did), but what is in here is fascinating stuff that was never properly explored after the classic series ended—that is unless the revelation that the Doctor is half-human in the Paul McGann TV movie is an exploration of this.
Sophie Aldred's performance is strong here, as she gets to run the gamut of emotions, from scared to gutsy; Aldred's confrontation of the Cybermen in the final episode is great stuff, with a level of pluck, the intensity of which wouldn't really be repeated during her time on the show. Aldred always had the problem of playing a streetwise character who is saddled with the some of the most ridiculous insults ever written (this was due to the fact that this was a family show and Ace couldn't swear in the manner the character would in real life), but Soph handles the toe-curling barbs with as much grace and conviction as she can muster.
Anton Diffring had pretty much made a career out of playing Nazi types because of his chiselled good looks, striking physique and blonde hair; he certainly does what he does best in Silver Nemesis and this is always a good thing, as he has an air of authority that surrounds him and makes him a magnetic presence. If you’re wondering just why such a popular European actor was persuaded to appear in Doctor Who… well, let’s just say that he was interested in having a job in the UK at around the time when Wimbledon was on. Diffring is known to exploitation fans (such as ourselves) for appearances in films such as Paul Annett's The Beast Must Die and Jess Franco's Faceless. Sadly, Silver Nemesis would mark Diffring's penultimate role, as he died the following year at the age of seventy.
There is something reassuring about having David Banks playing the Cyber-Leader; his imposing stature and distinctive electronically altered tones exclaiming ’excellent’ always bring a smile to the lips. The same thing goes for Mark Hardy as his Cyber-Lieutenant, always by his superior's side, and always ready to reply ’Yes, Leader’ to pretty much anything. The Cybermen here seem to display more emotion here than in Earthshock—whether this was by oversight or design is open to interpretation.
Before Earthshock, the Cybermen were always in a state of change and there was little in the way of a constant thread; though they were tweaked a little in design for Silver Nemesis (the chrome detailing was the most immediately noticeable thing that was done), they remained essentially unchanged during the eighties and many regard that decade's Cybermen as the definitive ones. Silver Nemesis would be the last time that these incarnations of the Cybermen would be seen on television—that is if you exclude the appearance of a rather battered-looking golf-playing one in a sketch during the final series of Absolutely in 1992.
There are numerous cameos in this story, most of which are very sly and are mainly confined within the group of tourists at Windsor Castle (actor Nicholas Courtney, Who director Peter Moffatt and Silver Nemesis writer Kevin Clarke are among them). Jazz musician Courtney Pine puts in an appearance doing what he does best at the opening of the story.
American actress Dolores Gray puts in what is an extended cameo as an American tourist who is in Windsor tracing her ancestry; Gray seems a little out of step with the proceedings and frequently sounds like a British actor trying to do an U.S. accent in a very over-the-top manner and is quite painful to watch during her scenes. This character just comes across as JNT trying to squeeze another American character (though not nearly as dreadful as the ones in Delta and the Bannermen) into Doctor Who to make it more commercially appealing to America.
For all of the grand scale shift towards more ‘serious’ Doctor Who (the previous story with the Kandyman notwithstanding), there is a high amount of campery regarding Lady Peinforte and Richard, as they find themselves in the present day and trying to cope with being an anachronism. Fiona Walker quite frequently chews the scenery as though she's teething and it also doesn’t really help matters in that Richard looks and sounds like a comedy character that Robert Webb would play…
If we were to start getting pretentious, one could look upon the story of Silver Nemesis as being similar to that of Sergo Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, with several factions all looking for something valuable, and each party is in possession of one piece of the puzzle and after a series of encounters, they all meet up during the climax for the final showdown that will see the rightful person take possession of the sought-after item. Pretentious? Possibly, but the similarities are there, especially if you consider that the Cybermen weren't originally in Kevin Clarke's story (they were added at John Nathan-Turner's insistence because of the 25th anniversary), so that made three factions looking for the Mcguffin—the Doctor (Blondie), De Flores (Angel Eyes) and Lady Peinforte (Tuco), but if they had been looking for the same item as in Leone's epic, the Cybermen wouldn't have been amused...
Director Chris Clough had already had numerous directorial assignments on Doctor Who, but there are many who would argue that his track record had not exactly been glowing, with stories such as Delta and the Bannermen, Dragonfire and The Happiness Patrol under his belt. There is slightly less of the energy that was evident in Remembrance of the Daleks just a story or so previously. Shooting on OB videotape has the potential to sap some of the dynamism from scenes, but a good director and a good DP can overcome this limitation by getting creative—the location work in the aforementioned Remembrance and the following season's The Curse of Fenric being great examples of this. Clough injects some energy into the story, but it still feels somewhat stiff—things improve during the climax, as the various parties start facing off against each other, with some nice hand-held camerawork and comparatively fast editing.
We should point out that this DVD release of Silver Nemesis does not contain the extended version of the story that was released on video back in 1993. The decision was taken by 2Entertain to concentrate on remastering the version that was transmitted on television because the Special Edition of Silver Nemesis was originally mastered using footage that was not from the original master tapes and as a result, some of the extended footage was a good two or even three generations removed from the master-tape. Whilst the VHS medium was more forgiving of this sort of thing (though many fans had complained about the quality of the reinstate scenes on the VHS release), the nth duped footage would have stood out like a sore thumb on DVD. The additional footage is presented in the special features section, but this will still not please those who love the Special Edition version.
Along with the extended cut of this story, what is also conspicuous by its absence is the documentary ’The Making of Doctor Who’, which was filmed whilst Silver Nemesis was in production. It was made for American cable (PBS) and was included with the VHS release of Silver Nemesis, but has not been included here because of the tremendous amount of red tape that has surrounded it since its debut on video. The absence of this documentary, coupled with the nixing of the extended cut, makes it worth holding on to your VHS releases of Silver Nemesis.
The Doctor Who Restoration Team have done their customary excellent job of breathing new life into something that was previously looking a little on the tatty side. Though the latter Doctor Who stories that were recorded on half-inch videotape could not possibly complete in image terms with those shot on one-inch, Silver Nemesis still looks pretty good here—we viewed this upscaled and there were some medium and long-shots that looked fairly ghastly, but any softness or lack of clarity displayed on DVD is certainly down to the source material rather than the transfer.
The colours are pretty vivid; the location work looks particularly good; this entire story was shot on video—well, apart from the exploding model shot—so there is no jarring change between video for interiors and film for exteriors.
Silver Nemesis comes to DVD with a newly-remixed soundtrack; presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, there is a nice amount of fidelity to the audio, not to mention a considerable amount of low frequencies out of the subwoofer. The second episode really presents an immersive soundstage, with all manner of spot-effects flying around; it’s really entertaining and there is one certain moment in episode two that has a moment which caused one of your humble reviewers to almost require a change of undercrackers.
Audio Commentar:: Actors Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred are joined by director Chris Clough and script editor Andrew Cartmel. Sylv and Sophie are always great fun on a commentary track and this one is no exception (well, maybe Sylv's a little more subdued than usual, but not hugely). Andrew Cartmel is his usual laconic self, with a good line in dry humour and Clough throws in some nice anecdotes. Things really begin to heat up during the climax of the final episode, as the problems of time constraints and Sophie Aldred taking Clough to task over the issue of being conned into filming a scene up on a catwalk when she's afraid of heights.
Industrial Action: This featurette examines the production of Silver Nemesis. It features contributions from actors Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Gerard Murphy, director Chris Clough, writer Kevin Clarke, script editor Andrew Cartmel, stunt arranger Nick Gillard (who went to work on the Star Wars prequels) and also jazz musician Courtney Pine (who reveals that he was a big Doctor Who fan). This is entertaining stuff, even if it does have something of an overlap in terms of information with the audio commentary—it's also interesting to see Sylv wearing a black version of his hat during his interview, which could be looked upon as the natural progression of his Dark Doctor if the series hadn't have been axed.
Deleted and Extended Scenes: This is probably the most controversial extra on this disc, as many fans were hoping for the extended version as mentioned above. Around twenty minutes of scenes that were cut from the broadcast version are presented here and whilst the footage fleshes out some aspects of the storyline, there is quite a bit here that could be considered dead wood and was rightfully excised.
Trails and Continuity: For those of us of a certain age, this is a lovely bit of nostalgia, as the trailers bring you right back to when the story was broadcast. Younger viewers can marvel at just how comparatively underwhelming advertising of programmes was back then. The best part of this feature is that it opens with the trailer for the entire season, which includes specially-shot footage with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred.
Isolated Score: Keff McCulloch's maddeningly uneven music score is presented unmolested by dialogue and sound effects.
Photo Gallery: Presenting the viewer with numerous publicity stills and images from this particular story and running for around eight minutes, this is good stuff, with plenty of chances to admire the newly chromed-up Cybermen. The most interesting images are those that served as the basis for the portrait of Ace that was seen hanging in Winsdor castle in one of the deleted scenes. All of this is set to Keff McCulloch's score, with some assistance from the Radiophonic Workshop.
Production Subtitles: Hats off to 'em again, as one of the most dependable special features comes up trumps once more with more fascinating information than you could shake an arrow at.
Coming Soon: Dear God Almighty—it’s Time and the Rani! It's enough to make you fall off your office-chair in horror...
Silver Nemesis could most charitably be described as mindless fun—whilst it was a nice idea of JNT to bring back the Daleks and the Cybermen for the 25th anniversary (seeing as the Cybermen were silver in colour anyway made them more relevant), the execution of Silver Nemesis just didn’t have the same sort of pizzazz that Remembrance of the Daleks possessed, but there are some fun moments and plenty of action during the climax.
Our best advice to the unsuspecting viewer is to just enjoy it—particularly the interplay between Sylv and Sophie—and let it wash over you without paying too much attention to it, otherwise it starts to crumble before your very eyes, like Christopher Lee’s Dracula in sunlight.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 9th August 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, Production Subtitles (English)
Extras: Audio Commentary, Industrial Action, Deleted and Extended Scenes, Trails & Continuity, Photo Gallery, Production Subtitles, Coming Soon trailer, PDF Materials
Easter Egg: No
Director: Chris Clough
Cast: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, David Banks
Length: 75 minutes
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