“SILVER NEMESIS” – Season 25, Serial 3, Story 151 – It’s back to Earth as the Seventh Doctor and Ace try to stop a Lady Peinforte, some 1980s Nazis, and the Cybermen from capturing the Nemesis, a statue made out of validium, which is living metal and was created by Rassilon. (Did you just go, “Ooooooooooh?” Because you’re supposed to go, “Ooooooooooh” every time someone mentions Rassilon.) There’s lots of running around and time-hopping between 1638 and 1988 and lots of guns being fired. Ace gets to blow up a spaceship and Lady Peinforte threatens the Doctor by telling him she’ll tell everyone his secrets. He says doesn’t care because he’s seen the future and River Song does this bit better than Peinforte ever will, and then he tricks the Cybermen into blowing up their entire fleet. Because If It Was Good Enough For the Daleks, It’s Good Enough for the Cybermen.
Every so often in a show that’s been kicking around for a few years, you’re going to get a serial like SILVER NEMESIS, whether you’re talking about DOCTOR WHO, Law & Order, or Monday Night Football. There is nothing glaringly wrong with SILVER NEMESIS, but there is nothing dramatically right, either; it is, for better or worse, just another story among many, worthy of an indifferent shrug and nothing more.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s not right about NEMESIS. (And I think it’s correct to say “not right” instead of saying “wrong.” It’s generally too bland to be “wrong.”) There’s a classic villain, time-hopping, an interesting plot, great chemistry between the Doctor and his Companion, a quick pace, a classic vibe, an attempt to build in more mystery about the Doctor’s background, and a solid resolution. It’s even got the benefit of being only three episodes long, forcing the writers to get on with the story instead of padding out their stories with unnecessary scenes.
This is the second serial in a row, however, that I was glancing at the clock, wondering how much longer it was going to take to be finished.
So what’s “not right” with NEMESIS?
There’s no tension.
In the second half of the last episode, the Doctor and Nemesis have an interesting chat that sheds some darkness on the Doctor’s actions, and Lady Peinforte makes allusions to the Doctor’s past on Gallifrey and his actions during the Time of Chaos. Finally, we start to feel some traction in the story, but for two and 1/2 episodes before that … there’s no surprises, nothing clever, no real conflict. It’s a straightforward story that isn’t so much boring as it is obvious. Like in REMEMBRANCE OF THE DALEKS, the Doctor has a slowly unfolding plan, but unlike REMEMBRANCE, he’s more secretive here, keeping more and more to himself, and there’s no fun cast of characters surrounding him to bounce ideas off of, or to get in his way.
The three sets of villains are all pretty lame, too. There’s the neo-Nazi group who are after the Nemesis statue, but don’t really add anything to the story except for their guns. There’s Lady Peinforte and her assistant Richard, who provide a bit of an attempt at comedic relief. I say “attempt,” because they’re really not all that funny (certainly not in the classic Bob Holmes funny duo kind of way), and what humor there is comes from Edward being a bit of a scaredy cat at being 300 years in the future, and Peinforte being a stone cold bore. So it’s not so much that they provide the comic relief as the reactions to them that try to be funny.
And then there’s the Cybermen.
I have a soft spot for the Cybermen, given that they were the villains in the brilliant TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN, the first Patrick Troughton serial I watched. They’re also responsible for killing Adric in EARTHSHOCK, probably the best (or second best) Fifth Doctor serial, and not just because it was the last time we saw Adric. It’s one of the few Fifth Doctor serials where there’s real tension and energy.
Here, however, they’re just limp villains, with nothing differentiating them from any other standard, run of the mill threat. Oh, you want to take over the Earth, make it the new Mondas, and thus your new base world for taking over the universe? Get in line, silver boys.
I guess I’ll give them a few points for inspiring Kylie Minogue’s fetching “Silvanemesis” look during her 2002 tour, but it’s not like I knew that until about 15 minutes ago when I stumbled across the factoid on accident on the “Silver Nemesis” Wikipedia page when I was trying to figure out how to spell “validium.”
In NEMESIS, they could be any number of WHO villains. Plus, their weakness to gold has reached ridiculous levels, Basically now, if you throw a gold nugget at them they explode and fall down. They’re weaker now than my can of Mountain Dew Throwback.
The best scene in the serial doesn’t involve the Cybermen, but the scene in Part Three between the Doctor and Nemesis. We learn there’s a long history between the two, and the Doctor is using the statue for his own purposes. She asks the Doctor if she’ll have to destroy the entire Cyberfleet, and he says yes. Nemesis then asks if she’ll be free after doing this and the Doctor silences her; the exact nature of this relationship isn’t made clear but it makes for a far better (and far darker) mystery then what comes at the end, although Peinforte’s accusations get much more screen play.
In the final act, the Lady Peinforte starts teasing Ace by telling her she knows more about the Doctor’s history than Ace does. Ace gets really upset about this but the Doctor plays it cool. When Peinforte threatens to reveal his secrets, the Doctor appears ready to give her control of Nemesis to buy her silence. Peinforte apparently got all this info from the Nemesis statue and it details the Doctor’s activities during the “Old Time, the Time of Chaos,” but she never spills the bean-dip on any of it. When the Doctor pulls a swerve and gives control of Nemesis to the Cyberleader, Peinforte jumps onto the statue (which is lying in a space transport sled thingie) and merges with it (thus explaining why she wasn’t in her own coffin earlier). Since the Cybermen don’t care about the Doctor’s secrets or the Time Lords’ secrets (really? Maybe this is why you suck so hard at winning), the Doctor is cool with them having Nemesis, which then goes to space and blows up every last Cyberman.
Didn’t we just -?
Yeah, two serials ago in REMEMBRANCE.
It’s hard not to view NEMESIS against REMEMBRANCE since they occur so close together, and since they so similarly destroy one of the Doctor’s long-term villains. Like the Daleks, this is the last time we’ll see Cybermen in Classic Who, and like with the Daleks, the Doctor tricks them into destroying themselves.
Only not so cleverly or passionately. McCoy plays it like the Cybermen are a nuisance rather than a real threat, like that annoying fly that buzzes around your apartment for a few days that you don’t kill because you’re too lazy to walk across the room, only now it’s within striking distance, so you might as well end it before your next program comes on the TV.
Put against REMEMBRANCE, NEMESIS comes off as bad, been-here-before storytelling. That’s a bit harsh, but taken on its own, NEMESIS can’t rise above blandness, and in that blandness, I’d be willing to bet, there must undoubtedly be fans who love this story for giving you almost exactly what one expects out of a classic WHO episode from the time before Companions were whiny malcontents. Similarly, there must be fans who hate this episode for playing it safe, for not being nearly as good as REMEMBRANCE, and for removing another classic foe from the board.
For me, it just feels a bit tired. There’s a feeling here like that of the early days of Colin Baker’s run, where you can tell the actors are trying, but there’s just not enough greatness in the script to put that effort to good use.