Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Silver Linings Masterplan

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 7.01

Title: Silver Nemesis
Written By: Kevin Clarke
Team TARDIS: Seventh Doctor, Ace
Adversary: Cybermen, Lady Peinforte, Herr de Flores
Originally Aired: November 23 - December 7, 1988
Number of Episodes: 3

Synopsis: (from TARDIS Wikia) -
Earth, 1988: While the Seventh Doctor and Ace flee from emotionless men wielding futuristic pistols, Herr de Flores is intent on heralding the Fourth Reich. Meanwhile, the villainous Lady Peinforte uses black magic to propel herself forward from 1638 for a final confrontation with her sworn enemy — the Doctor.

As the Doctor desperately evades multiple enemies, a meteor containing a Gallifreyan super-weapon is hurtling towards the planet. Whoever controls the statue will hold the power of life and death over the entire universe...

My Review:
I mentioned before that when I started in on Classic Who, I tried to avoid fandom opinion so I could go into these stories with a fresh perspective and not be tainted by other people's perceptions. It was difficult to do, simply because these episodes had been around for years and years and many fans had already established their own opinions about them and weren’t shy about voicing them. Also, I thought it a little dumb to try and avoid spoilers for stories that were 20, 30, 40 years old.

I started to hear many Opinions about Classic Who from fans. And one of those Opinions is that “Silver Nemesis” was bad. Like, make-your-eyes-bleed bad. No real specifics given beyond... it’s just bad. So, I avoided it (plus, I was more interested in watching the early Hartnell stuff, and then skipping ahead to the Peter Davison era - I really didn’t have a rhyme or reason to my approach to Classic Who. I really was flying blind).

Then, I discovered Traveling the Vortex and fell in with their immensely enjoyable Friday Night Who tweet-alongs. Last year, they did a Cyberman Adversary Archive (the second time they tackled such a theme) and scheduled “Silver Nemesis” for Friday Night Who. I thought “Well, if I’m watching with friends, maybe it won’t be so bad.” We have a tendency to talk amongst ourselves if a story isn’t that interesting (then again, we have a tendency to talk amongst ourselves if Twitter trends something a bit off-the-wall - like a Jesse and the Rippers reunion - and never mind if the story we’re watching is interesting or not).

So, the “Silver Nemesis” Friday Night Who went on as scheduled. And, wonder of wonders, the story was not as eye-blindingly bad as “everyone” said it was. The Vortex Boys’ review of the story said as much, as did much of the feedback (including a contribution from yours truly). I think that was the first time I really started to consider that fandom at large may have their own opinions and they may pass them off as Conventional Fan Wisdom™ and speaking for the fandom in general - but I didn’t have to accept those assessments. In fact, it would be better if I didn’t, because most of the things I liked didn’t necessarily fall in line with Conventional Fan Wisdom™ and I’d had enough of being told what to like and dislike in fandom (one big reason the Harry Potter fandom fell out of favor with me - it felt like you had to agree 100% with the Big Name Fans or you were treated like a moron. Sure, it’s not a huge deal, but it was to me at the time). That was actually the beginnings of the idea for this blogging project, if I’m completely honest with myself - the idea of giving lesser-appreciated stories some credit and their due.

Anyway - “Silver Nemesis” itself. It was meant to be the 25th Anniversary story in 1988 - silver being the color associated with a 25th Anniversary (does that mean the 50th Anniversary special is going to be called “Golden Nemesis”? We already have confirmation of the Daleks - so why the hell not?) Cybermen are silver - so, it works!

I admit, it’s a little gimmicky (gimmicks? In the JNT era? No!), but it doesn’t detract from the story itself.  But if you're like me and consider "Remembrance of the Daleks" more to be the 25th Anniversary story (what with the Doctor and Ace visiting Totter's Lane and Coal Hill School in 1963 and that almost-meta-but-not-quite moment where the BBC announcer introduces a brand new science-fiction program), then "Silver Nemesis" doesn't have to be anything more than a regular Doctor Who story.  There are some brilliant concepts here - a time-traveling noblewoman from 1638 who's steeped in "witchcraft" that's really Gallifreyan technology (and, really, what is magic but science that we simply don't have an explanation for yet?), living metal that was developed by Rassilon and Omega (and quite possibly the Doctor, but he doesn't really want to get into too many details on that), a comet that comes back around every 25 years to cause mayhem in human history (and here I pause because I think that it's been 25 years since the last go-round and I think "oh shit, what now?").  The Cybermen are sort of an afterthought, I admit, and could have been used better.  Then again, Ace beat the crap out of a Dalek with a baseball bat earlier in the season.  Why not also have her take out three Cybermen with a slingshot?

I have to talk about Lady Peinforte in this story because she is magnificent! I sort of wish they'd dispensed with the Neo-Nazis and just had her and the Cybermen and the Doctor trading barbs (and really - what is the Seventh Doctor's era's obsession with Nazi-esque characters? "Dragonfire" had a guy in a Nazi-style uniform and he kind of had that quality and "The Curse of Fenric" had actual Nazis. Honestly, I'm just curious).  Lady Peinforte is a lot like the Rani - she knows what she wants, she's going to go after it, and she's not really interested if you're comfortable with her reasons - either shoot the silver men or go cower in the corner! And while we're standing here being all impressed with Ace and her slingshot (rightfully so), spare some praise for a woman who can take out Cybermen with a bow and arrow! A gold-tipped arrow, sure, but a freaking bow and arrow!  Whatever circumstances she met the Doctor before, he has obviously made an impression on her, so much so that she regards him as her equal and can only threaten him by revealing his secrets.  And when you have a villain standing toe-to-toe with the Seventh Doctor, with all his "Grand Chess Master" style - it's pretty chilling.  I think that scene at the end when they're all in a bit of a stalemate (no pun intended) is one of the best moments in Doctor Who - one that took me completely by surprise and needs to be revisited.

Speaking of the Grand Chess Master - there is this theme of the Doctor's neverending chess match with the universe.  Many people have heard of the "Cartmel Masterplan" which basically boiled down to the idea of giving the Doctor back more of his mysterious nature and there are quite a few details in this story that lend to that.  Lady Peinforte alludes to knowing many of the Doctor's secrets - which, he isn't too worried about those secrets coming out, but there's always this double-play that the Seventh Doctor is working on.  Whenever I watch a Seventh Doctor story, there's always this underlying streak of mischief or malice (depending on how severe the Doctor's playing it) beneath the clownish exterior.  It's something I haven't explored very much for myself, but I am intrigued by it.  I think the Eleventh Doctor has a touch of this in his character as well - that there are things that we don't know about him, even if he tells us what's going on (like his adventures with River Song or that 200 year gap when he was traveling on his own except for those intermittent moments when he thought to go back for Amy and Rory - and what does he get up to when it isn't Wednesday and he's taking Clara somewhere on her day off? We never find out and he doesn't seem to be in a hurry to let us in on that secret).

Speaking of Eleven - Fez Sighting!

And I think he's got a mop there too! Or something.
I guess Ace is more appreciative of fezzes than any member of the Pond family.
I've talked about them separately in this review, but the Doctor and Ace - yeah, I can see why people rank this Team TARDIS as their favorite.  Before I'd ever seen one of their stories, I just looked at them and went "How in the world does that work? A older, professorial-looking guy and an '80s-punk chick with a boombox and a baseball bat?"  But then I watched them interact and just loved them both!  Their personalities complement each other and strike all the right harmonies.  My favorite part was when the Doctor is asking Ace if she's been good and not mixed up any Nitro-9, to which Ace responds that she's a good girl and does what she's told.  And then the Doctor tells her to blow up the Cybermen's ship - presumably with the Nitro-9 that she's not carrying (I notice a lot of stuff blows up when Ace is around. And you'll get no complaints from me on that topic).  It's the mentor-student relationship that shines through - something that Doctor Who has done somewhat in the past, but never as good as with Seven and Ace.  It's a neat little dynamic and one that I don't know that you could replicate with anyone other than Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred (though I won't complain if anyone wants to try in the future).

I guess my point in reviewing "Silver Nemesis" is that - while there are flaws and I'm not excusing them - there are reasons to enjoy this.  It's not the "Holy-Crap-This-Is-Terrible-Remove-This-Offensive-Thing-From-My-Sight-Immediately!" story that I was led to believe it was.  Mostly, where it falls down is that there were too many things going on and that got in the way of everything fitting together (I mean, not everything can be as jam-packed as "The Five Doctors" - which does the "Everything and the Kitchen Sink" thing very well).  But I can appreciate what they were trying to do and I am fairly good at filling things in with headcanon and I can pretty well ignore the things I don't care about (like Neo-Nazis.  Seriously, guys. You lost. Do you just want to get your butts kicked a second time?)  There are parts that are worth watching and enjoying.

At the end of the day, it's ultimately up to you what you like and dislike.  A few days ago, I came across this post on Tumblr (it's not about Doctor Who, but the concepts are the same) - what you like and dislike is linked to what sorts of past experiences you bring to the table.  A lot of people have this idea that's left over from the 1980s that all '80s Who is trash (which, I'm going to get into in more depth in this Bonus Section) - but I'm a New Whovian, so I don't have those preconceived notions.  Even when other fans tell me that 1980s Who is crap, I look at it and say "I don't think it's crap - are we watching the same show?"  So, yeah, I don't hate "Silver Nemesis."  And I don't hate the 1980s.

Bonus Topic -

I've been wanting to discuss this, but it always made my reviews so much longer and I've had to cut it out. But since this is the last TV story from the 1980s that Librarian in the TARDIS is going to tackle, I'm just going to stick it on here at the end as a bit of an Epilogue to '80s Who. Chime in if you have your own thoughts (or if you were actually there in the 1980s - I'm too young to really remember much) -

Recently there was an article floating around that tackled the claim that 1980s Doctor Who was rubbish. And my take on it goes thusly: Doctor Who fought for years to gain respect at the BBC - probably even from the earliest days of the show (and here we give thanks for the Daleks). The public loved the hell out of the show, but it wasn't so kindly thought-of by the Powers That Be. The BBC wasn't really thrilled that their most popular show wasn't a period drama or a soap opera - it was a show meant for children. As far as I can tell, they couldn't even consider getting rid of it during Tom Baker’s run otherwise they would have had riots and general uproar about it. But after Tom left... they could start putting jokes and snide comments in the press to make it sound like the show was crap.  It's just like Conventional Fan Wisdom™, except it came straight from the BBC.  Add to the turmoil over budgets and all those other behind-the-scenes shenanigans going on, it created the perfect storm for cancellation (and the fact that the audience who were kids in the '70s had become adults and were suddenly “too cool” for all that stuff they did as kids and tried to distance themselves from it. Everyone does that - don’t try to pretend you didn’t). So, what people remember about 1980s Who is probably more about the generally broadcasted opinions and Conventional Fan Wisdom™ at the time than if the stories themselves were bad.  The long and short of it is that in the 1980s, it was cool to hate on Doctor Who and its fans.  And a lot of those attitudes linger on in the Old Guard, even today.

Thing is, the internet has made it easier to find people who hold similar opinions to yours. In the 80s, it was probably a lot harder to find fellow fans of Doctor Who, never mind finding fans who share your tastes in the show (and we won’t even get started on the availability of the episodes themselves. Between iTunes downloads and Amazon Prime shipping and day-and-date airings on BBC America and other less *ahem* savory tactics - we in the internet generation certainly have a lot to be thankful for). So, the media could run roughshod over the show all they wanted without risking much dissent from fans or the public. A fan’s only recourse was writing a strongly worded letter to the Radio Times, but they couldn't really print all the letters and the few they did print could be played off as a few isolated and delusional nuts that need to get out of their mothers’ basements and get a freaking life already! The public in general wasn't going to kick up much of a fuss because they didn't want to be branded as irate fanboys who just needed to grow up and get girlfriends. Besides - the entertainment industry was always there with something new to spoonfeed you anyway.

Fandom eventually moved underground - and there have been pages and pages of experiences related about this written by people who were actually there. My take on all this - if fans back then really knew how many like-minded people there were and had a way to connect to each other and gather to make their voices heard, Doctor Who never would have been treated as poorly as it had been (and I guess the BBC has learned its lesson because they eventually came crawling back, hats firmly in hand and a penitent mea culpa on the lips, to give us a spectacular reboot)

(I know - it’s weird that I’m talking like I was there and I went through all this, when in reality, I was still in diapers when this crap was going on and I had zero clue about any of it. But you hear enough about fellow fans’ experiences and I start to empathize with them and relate their experiences in general geekdom to my own - elementary school was hell on a girl geek in the early '90s. By the way, current generation of kids - you’re welcome).

This abuse by the general media still happens to a certain extent, but fans now have support system of other fans and we can all give the collective finger to the media Powers That Be (Rule Of Thumb: Do Not Piss Off Tumblr).  Even when you deal with fans that you don't agree with, that's okay - go find someone who you do agree with and go play in that corner of the sandbox.  That's the beauty of Doctor Who - there is so much to love and to participate in that you really don't have time to hate on anything.  At the risk of sounding like one of those damn hippies - life is too short to hate things. Find something to love and let other people do the same.

I dunno - it's worked out for me so far.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 7.02 - Shoreditch Needs a Holiday

Previously -
Review 6.04 - The War Games People Play

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