On Saturday I had a very strange experience. For the first time I got to see a production of one of my own scripts, but one that I wasn’t involved in in any real way. I wrote the script, obviously, and had talks with the director along the way — and did some ruthless editing in the final stages when the show was over-running – but by and large I came to the show with completely fresh eyes.
It was fun, and a great production and great central performance, but also had the quality of recalling a dream. I’d written the first draft back in November, caught in a feverish few weeks with a throat infection and not much time on my hands. Couple that with it being my first time working from biography to adapt someone’s life, and I was afraid that everything was muddled. But in the end everything worked out fantastically, and I didn’t have to use my prepared speech where I stand up in the middle of the performance and scream “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY WORDS?”.
A friend of mine who’d seen the show complimented me on my writing of a female character, and I did a bit of a theatrical spit-take. I always find that a very strange thing to say, and my friend acknowledged the strangeness of it, but said it had crossed her mind. The play was about Eva Gore-Booth, who was a crazy awesome suffragist and lesbian, so she had woman written all over her early 20th century body.
It just feels strange, like if you designed a house for someone and they’re first compliment was “I like that it has walls”. I mean, thank you, but…
This is a round-about way for me to talk about character motivation. To write someone as being a woman doesn’t excuse you from doing all the other character work required, otherwise you just end up falling into the trap of The Smurfette Principle. But making a person female should inform their character, because societal conditioning means that men and women so often experience the world differently.
This is what happens when I get a compliment, I just start talking until the person forgets what they originally said.
The subject of character was, then, what floated to top of my mind when I was watching this week’s instalment “Nightmare In Silver”. With Neil Gaiman back in the fray, many Who fans were expecting this episode to reach the dizzy heights of the last season wonder “The Doctor’s Wife”.
A direct comparison is unfair, as for all its bombast Gaiman’s last episode was a tighter, more character-focused affair. This week his remit was to re-introduce the Cybermen (Moffatt dictated that he “make them scary again”), which is the kind of thing that isn’t normally accompanied by much introspection.
Which is a shame, really, because the core psychological questions of the Cybermen could be at their best in a smaller piece: it just seems that nobody realised that.
Instead we got an episode that hewed closely to the over-arching theme of this series of Doctor Who: lots of interesting elements that do not make a lick of sense.
The Doctor and Clara arrive on an alien planet along with Angie and Artie, Clara’s two charges who discovered — because Internets — that Clara’s been time-travelling, and have hitched a ride on the TARDIS. The reason they’ve come to this planet is because it’s the site of Hedgewick’s World, the greatest theme park in the universe. Of course, this being Who, the park is shut down and is now occupied by a “punishment unit” of soldiers too incompetent to be left anywhere else.
There’s also a curiosity collector named Webley (Jason Watkins, aka Being Human’s Henrik) living in secrecy on the planet, and he’s got a shell of a Cybermen that faces off with the Doctor in a game of chess. Turns out the Cyberman is rightly inactive, but controlled by the diminutive presence of Warwick Davis as the friendly, feisty Porridge. It doesn’t take long for the Cyberman to come back to life, take over Webley, Angie and Artie, and kick-start a plan to release thousands of Cybermen into a future that presumed them long obliterated.
The episode’s ace in the hole, the element that truly departs from previous Cybermen lore, is to have the Doctor infected and in the process of being converted. What is it like to be infected by the Cybermen? How does it prey on the very human (or Gallifreyan) desire to not feel emotions? How much of it is infection and how much is choice? And what happens when a Time Lord is battling himself, inside his own head? Continue reading