Monday, 4 April 2016

Story 150 - Silver Nemesis

In which the Doctor and Ace are enjoying some live jazz in a beer garden near Windsor. It is the 23rd November, 1988. The Doctor's alarm goes off, and he can't immediately recall what he set it for - only that some planet is in imminent danger. Other forces are converging on this place and time. A Nazi war criminal named De Flores has left his South American retreat the day before, along with a squad of armed mercenaries. He is bringing with him a bow made of a bright silver material. In the Windsor of 1638, the Lady Peinforte and her servant Richard Maynarde employ an aged mathematician to discern the date and place that a comet will arrive on the Earth. She kills the old man once he has told her what she wants to know, and his blood is used in a spell to help her and Richard travel through time to the 20th Century. They bring with them an arrow made of the same bright silver material. On their way to the TARDIS, the Doctor and Ace are fired upon by a pair of men who have cybernetic implants on their heads. The Doctor informs Ace that a comet he launched into space back in 1638, after a battle with Lady Peinforte, is about to return. He calls this "Nemesis". It must not fall into the wrong hands. The comet crashes to earth on some waste ground outside the town, Police officers who approach it are knocked out by gas defences. The Doctor and Ace arrive just as De Flores and his men turn up, followed close behind by Lady Peinforte and Richard. The mercenaries are about to kill Ace when a spaceship lands - and a party of Cybermen emerges.

The Cybermen and the mercenaries begin fighting. Lady Peinforte joins in, using poisoned gold-tipped arrows. In the confusion, the Doctor manages to steal the bow from its case, and he and Ace retreat to the TARDIS and depart. They go back in time to visit Lady Peinforte's mansion to look for clues, and then travel to present day Windsor Castle to look in the treasure vaults. The Doctor tells Ace that the comet contains a living metal named validium, which has great destructive powers. It originates on Gallifrey, where it was used as a defensive weapon. The comet was sent into a decaying orbit, passing the Earth every 25 years, when its arrival would coincide with some great period of unrest or disaster. Lady Peinforte had fashioned it into a statue of herself in the guise of the goddess of retribution, Nemesis. The Doctor hopes to find the arrow at Windsor, but it has been stolen. The statue only has critical mass when complete. It needs both the bow and the arrow to achieve this. The Cybermen seize the comet capsule and move it to Lady Peinforte's old estate, hiding it in her own tomb. Ace has a new ghetto-blaster, and the Doctor uses this to block the Cybermen from contacting their fleet, which he suspects is nearby. Scans to find the fleet prove fruitless, until the Doctor realises that it is hidden. There are really hundreds of Cyberships in orbit near the Moon.

The Cybermen wipe out the mercenaries and take De Flores and his henchman Karl captive, intending to turn them into Cyberslaves. De Flores wants to make a deal with them, seeing in them the embodiment of the Wagnerian Giants. Everyone converges on Lady Peinforte's tomb, where the Doctor is able to touch the bow to the statue after it has gained the arrow. He orders it to return to the place where it first landed. Richard points out that his mistress's tomb was empty. In a warehouse at the crash site, the Doctor gives the Nemesis its orders. The Cybermen arrive and Ace despatches most of them with gold coins fired from her catapult. De Flores and Karl are killed. The Doctor announces that he is giving the Nemesis to the Cyber-Leader. Lady Peinforte tells everyone that she knows secrets about the Doctor - that he is more than just a Time Lord. As the Nemesis is about to launch, she throws herself on top of it and is destroyed. The Cyber-Leader orders the statue to rendezvous with his fleet. Instead, it wipes it out, as the Doctor had earlier instructed it to do. Richard kills the Cyber-Leader with one of his mistress's gold-tipped arrows. The Doctor and Ace take him home to the 17th Century. The Doctor refuses to comment on what Lady Peinforte had said about him...

This three part adventure was written by Kevin Clarke, his only story for the programme, and was broadcast between 23rd November and 7th December, 1988. As you can see from the post title, this is the 150th Doctor Who story broadcast, and part one was shown on the evening of the 25th Anniversary of the show. The running order of the series was deliberately moved around to accommodate this, and the word "Silver" added to the original title. The Daleks had already launched this anniversary season, so it made sense to include the second most popular monsters - usually described as being silver - in this story.
When Clarke was invited to meet with producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Andrew Cartmel, he did not really have a clear story idea. He had wanted to have Daleks, but these had gone to Ben Aaronovitch. One idea he did have was that the Doctor would turn out to be God. This was naturally toned down, but did fit in with the plan to make the Doctor seem more mysterious and to perhaps not be quite what we thought he was.
Considering that Cartmel was the first story editor to get his team of writers to sit down and talk to each other, it is surprising that Silver Nemesis comes across as so much of a re-heat of the same season's Dalek story. We have more Nazis, and yet again the Doctor just happens to have a Gallifreyan super-weapon up his sleeve with which to destroy one of his old enemies.
Despite these similarities, Silver Nemesis is a very poor story indeed. At only three episodes, it is dreadfully padded. Characters spend ages walking, or driving, between scenes. The comet is moved just to give us a new bit of scenery, then moved back again to where it started. Characters are encountered along the way who add nothing to the story - namely a couple of comedy skinheads straight out of acting school, and an entirely pointless cameo by someone we've never heard of. There is a group cameo (of writers and directors, plus one actor) that it would have been nice to see - but we only see them briefly from behind, so what was the point?

There is a good cast squandered. Returning to the show after 25 years is Fiona Walker as Lady Peinforte. She had been the murderous Kala in The Keys of Marinus. Richard is Gerard Murphy. De Flores is Anton Diffring, who had often played Nazis in feature films. David Banks plays the Cyber-Leader for the final time on screen.
Episode endings are:
  1. Ace is about to be gunned down by De Flores' men when a spaceship swoops down to land. She is grateful for the intervention but the Doctor is not so sure, as a squad of Cybermen emerge...
  2. Hunting for the Cyberfleet, the Doctor notices a lizard emerge from under a leaf. He realises that the fleet is camouflaged and boosts the signal on his scanner. He and Ace see a vast fleet of ships orbiting the Moon...
  3. Back in Windsor, 1638, The Doctor and Ace are being entertained by Richard. Ace asks the Doctor about the things Lady Peinforte said about him, but he replies only by putting his finger to his lips...

Overall, a very weak story to mark the silver anniversary. The Dalek season opener was much better, and had a lot less padding despite being an episode longer. It's not just that it got shown first. This was always going to be a poor story, even if shown in isolation. It was the lowest rated Cyberman story in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll.
Things you might like to know:
  • As previously mentioned, the whole running order of this season had to be rejigged so that this could open on the anniversary date itself. This leads to a couple of continuity errors in the next story, which we'll cover when we get to it.
  • The Cybermen get brand new costumes. They are no longer wearing the flight suits, and the paint used to colour them had the unfortunate side effect of damaging the material - leading to a condition called the actors termed Cyber-crotch.
  • The helmets and chest units were given a new chrome coating. Unfortunately this oxidised quickly, so they sometimes appear golden rather than silver.
  • Cameo time No.1. JNT wanted Prince Edward to make an appearance as himself, in scenes filmed at the real Windsor Castle. First of all, permission was declined to film at the Castle - only documentaries are allowed. They opted for Arundel instead. Then Edward was too busy with Andrew Lloyd-Webbers' theatre company. JNT got into trouble with his superiors for telling the press that the Royal Family had vetoed this. Apparently Edward would have agreed if it had been a more substantial role than just a walk-on.
  • Cameo time No.2. It was hoped that JR Ewing actor Larry Hagman (Dallas) would have appeared as the American tourist researching his family tree in Ye Olde Englande. Now that I would have liked to have seen. Instead, JNT brought in the Hollywood Musical star Dolores Gray, who was appearing in the West End at the time. Who? I hear you cry. Yes, known in Musical circles maybe, but generally unknown to the general public in 1988. Stop me if you've heard this before, but when she was driven down to the location, she inadvertently left a bag containing thousands of pounds worth of uninsured jewellery on the doorstep of her hotel. Fortunately, it was spotted by the doorman and retrieved.
  • Cameo time No.3. Yes, the group of tourists getting a look round the castle consists of a number of Doctor Who writers and directors, plus Nicholas Courtney. Others present include Vere Lorimer, Fiona Cumming, Peter Moffatt, Andrew Morgan, Graeme Curry and Kevin Clarke himself. Clarke gets a second cameo in a street scene with Lady Peinforte and Richard, just before they encounter the skinheads.
  • Cameo time No.4. The jazz band is Courtney Pine's. He was a big fan of the show.
  • At one point Richard Maynarde is praying and vows to return money to someone named Briggs. This is a reference to Clarke's fellow Who writer Ian Briggs.
  • It is ironic that Anton Diffring was often called upon to play Nazis. As a gay man, he had fled Germany in the 1930's to avoid persecution by them. Diffring claimed to be confused by the script, and said he only took the role as it would be filmed during Wimbledon fortnight and he couldn't see live matches where he lived in France. He was near the end of his life, and the crew had oxygen bottles on standby for him.
  • Talking of Nazis, JNT did not want the word mentioned, as the series had just been sold to Germany. The designer was not aware of this - hence the rather blatant swastika flag in De Flores home.
  • The Ace story arc gets hinted at with mention of a chess game that is going on in Lady Peinforte's study.
  • Her name derives from a nasty mediaeval torture method, where the victim had a wooden board placed on top of them, and onto which heavy weights were added.
  • From her dialogue, it is implied that it was the Second Doctor who had first encountered her back in 1638, and who launched the Nemesis comet into space. 
  • The old mathematician is played by Leslie French - one of Verity Lambert's first choices to have played the Doctor back in 1963.
  • Talking of the mathematician, how did he manage to plot the return of Nemesis if the calendar changed in the 18th Century? Well, the Doctor does mention he got some help and burns a piece of parchment, so presumably this is the work of Fenric.
  • We have another instance of weird weather in Doctor Who - something we'll see a lot more of in the New Series. I'd like to see anyone sit in a beer garden in shirtsleeves in late November in the UK. (Well, apart from Geordies of course. And Glaswegians). And what's with all the greenery?

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