Silver Nemesis

Region 1

Region 2
Box Set
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 154, starring Sylvester McCoy)
  • written by Kevin Clarke
  • directed by Chris Clough
  • produced by John Nathan-Turner
  • music by Keff McCulloch, with jazz source numbers by Courtney Pine
  • 3 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: A race is on to capture the power of a legendary Gallifreyan statue. Lady Peinforte wields the dark arts of the past, while a military cult employs the weapons of present day 1988, and the Cybermen arrive with the technology of the future. The Doctor is also ensnared by his previous involvement with the statue, and some of his oldest secrets may come to light....

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), director Chris Clough, and script editor Andrew Cartmel.
  • "Industrial Action" retrospective making-of featurette (33 min.) adding Gerard Murphy (Richard), writer Kevin Clarke,
    stunt arranger Nick Gillard, and musician Courtney Pine.
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (22 min.)
  • Audio Options: 5.1 Dolby mix and Isolated Music
  • Photo Gallery
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles

VHS Extras include:

  • Special extended version of the story
  • NJN's Making of Doctor Who / Silver Nemesis special, interviewing cast & crew on location during the taping of the story. (58 min.),
    with McCoy, Aldred, Clough, Murphy, Clarke, Fiona Walker (Lady Peinforte), David Banks (Cyber Leader),
    Anton Diffring (De Flores), producer John Nathan-Turner, production manager Gary Downie, lighting manager Ian Dow,
    designer John Asbridge, video effects supervisor Dave Chapman, assistant floor manager Lynne Grant, and
    composer Keff McCulloch. Hosted by Eric Luskin.

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

This story had the ambition to try to become the main event for the 25th Anniversary of Doctor Who's beginning, and indeed its first episode holds up quite well while cashing in on the precise timing of its November 23rd, 1988 broadcast slot. But though the central idea easily sells itself as something that should turn out to be exciting, this tale has great trouble figuring out how to make the interaction between its various competing forces of characters believable and compelling, and ends up reusing too many ideas we've seen elsewhere recently, feeling like a re-run at half-proficiency.

Early portions are largely fueled by the calculated anticipation of all the various characters meeting and coming into conflict with each other, which for the most part means that they will all be introduced separately and kept apart for a while. This kind of tension is made to work well, while remaining immune from most of the interaction believability problems that later crop up.

Though the TARDIS is once more treated as just a background detail of the Doctor's existence, it's a particularly busy one in this adventure, as we see far more satisfying movement of the vehicle in these three episodes than we usually would in an entire season of Doctor Who. Only after the materialization effect has been done many times do they start skimping on it here and there, and at that stage, one doesn't mind so much. Sadly, the interior does not feature at all - with its most important scenes being rewritten for outdoor gatherings around Ace's ghettoblaster. Not very nostalgic or Anniversary-like in my book.

When the characters finally do come together, we get bizarre flip-flops in the style of their interactions with each other, and trying to follow the logic behind all these changes of tactics is a struggle. Sometimes it works, sometimes it's ridiculous as written, sometimes it needs far more careful blocking of character movements and cameras than the director and crew could find time for. The bottom line may well be that these characters are all too self-centered and violently antagonistic towards each other to be able to sustain a satisfying drama when put together. Even the one-dimensional "you can't shoot me because I'm holding the Tarranium" gag, initiated in "The Dalek Masterplan" (story no. 21) and copied half a dozen times in later stories, might offer an improvement in clarity and believability over the much more complicated face-to-face tactics attempted here, even if it still isn't the greatest idea.

The Cybermen are the most famous draw amongst the story's villains, but this isn't one of their greatest showings, probably competing with "The Wheel in Space" (story no. 43) for the honour of their lightest, least effective story. Some of their most staple story ideas are thrown casually into the mix here, without any hint of the atmosphere that such ideas should be at the center of. However, watch for some VERY exciting, energetic, atmospheric Cybermen beats in the later portions - which I think show where talented director Chris Clough's efforts went before the production ran out of time.

The South American neo-nazis led by Anton Diffring's character are really never interesting at any point. They're not really a great idea as written, and none of them receive very inspired performances from the actors.

Lady Peinforte and her sidekick Richard drip with the atmosphere of a British medieval theatre production, which I suppose is the "romantically correct" modern interpretation of life in the 1600's. There's quite a bit of rich "fish out of water" drama sprinkled throughout the story for these two, alternating between comedic and dark creepy moments, but sadly this is often at odds with the plot, not finding a place where it complements action and motivation. Fiona Walker and Gerard Murphy milk the roles for as much of a sense of classical drama as they can, until these two easily become the most compelling guest stars that the story has.

Again, the arbitrary decision to continue to shoot a story all on location while the same team does a completely different story all in the studio seems to have been disadvantageous with the pairing of "Silver Nemesis" and "The Happiness Patrol" (the previous story), and I'm not at all sure why they continued to do it. If it's about saving money by not having to book the same members of the cast for both location and studio sessions, maybe they should have just written stories with smaller casts in the first place, as these three-parters seem to be filled with more characters than one can properly appreciate, and many of them inevitably get short-changed in development and/or have their scenes cut for time.

"Silver Nemesis" probably would have worked better with some studio work - the scenes in Lady Peinforte's crypt in 1988 probably would have been more spacious and received better camera blocking (in fact, ditto for Peinforte's 1638 study), the Cybermen would have been more clearly audible whenever they're inside buildings, and scenes inside the Cyber spaceships and the Doctor's TARDIS would have helped keep the science fiction background of these characters more pronounced and powerful.

Special effects are a bit disappointing, and my disappointment has quite a specific arc this time around - though I'd already seen Ace's debut story "Dragonfire" (story no. 151), the New Jersey Network's "Making of Doctor Who Silver Nemesis" 50-minute special aired here in North America before I saw anything of season 25, and it helped shape my expectations of this story. Specifically, long time video effects man Dave Chapman gives an interview where he justifies his presence on location, saying how he is ensuring that the footage will be ideal for easily superimposing laser effects on top, and indicating that the new cyber weapons will show the energy rings actually moving from weapon to target. I was over the moon upon hearing that, believing we would finally be getting what we'd always deserved in laser effects. If only Chapman had been on the floor of "Warriors of the Deep" (story no. 131) and "Resurrection of the Daleks" (story no. 134), maybe they would've turned out better as well.

Then I saw the amazing work Chapman did for "Remembrance of the Daleks" (story no. 152), and I felt sure that the cyber weapons would finally be truly awesome and cool. Finally, "Silver Nemesis" came along.... and revealed that Chapman had added nothing to the picture at all. What the hell?!?! I don't know why so many British people working in science-fiction settle so easily for spark-charges going off all by themselves. It's definitely sillier that way.

The effects Chapman does work on are not always so great either.... but I'll save those details for the in-depth analysis version of this review.

Thankfully, the Doctor and Ace are a highly enjoyable and entertaining pair as usual, providing a great deal of the story's draw. Sophie Aldred seems as fluid in the role as she was in "The Happiness Patrol", although the writing is largely much better for her here. Still, one scene in particular sticks out sorely, where Ace stops everything to tell the Doctor that she's really scared, and then promptly shrugs it all off to go tackle the danger of the day. This doesn't seem to actually do anything for plot, or character arcs, nor does it fit Ace's character, particularly as she has no idea what actually awaits her in the next parts of the story....

Although many of the ideas for this story feel unique at first, the ending can easily leave you feeling like you've seen the whole thing done better before. But there is a lot to enjoy here, and even the repeated bits work well to cement into place McCoy's take on the long-running character. This is a fun story.

A good part of the fun is undoubtedly NJN's documentary on the story's production. (See the commercially available VHS videos, if you haven't yet had occasion to tape it off of TV.) Unlike a lot of other contemporary TV interviews and appearances from the time, there is a great deal of energy, enthusiasm, and candor among this cast and crew behind the scenes, as they tackle adversity to accomplish their project. Undoubtedly this spills over in front of the camera as well.

In many ways, this tale manages to encapsulate most of the pros and cons of McCoy's era, and to become one of the most nostalgic of his installments. Even though it doesn't quite manage to be one of his best, it remains enjoyable and is a lot of fun.

This story has become available on DVD and VHS video. Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
Box Set
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC A in the U.S.
NTSC B in the U.S.
NTSC A in Canada
NTSC B in Canada
PAL for the U.K.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy"

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