BBC HomeExplore the BBC

25 April 2014
Accessibility help
Text only

BBC Homepage

Entertainment Cult

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

 
Silver Nemesis

Production Code: 7K

First Transmitted

1 - 23/11/1988 19:35

2 - 30/11/1988 19:35

3 - 07/12/1988 19:35

Plot

The Doctor and Ace visit England in 1988, where three rival factions - the Cybermen, a group of Nazis and a 17th Century sorceress named Lady Peinforte - are attempting to gain control of a statue made of a living metal, validium, that was created by Rassilon as the ultimate defence for Gallifrey.

The statue has three components - a bow, an arrow and the figure itself - that must be brought together in order for it to be activated. They have been separated since 1638 when, in order to foil the first attempt by Peinforte to seize it, the Doctor launched the figure into orbit in a powered asteroid.

This asteroid has been approaching the Earth at twenty-five yearly intervals ever since, leaving a succession of disasters in its wake, and has now crash-landed near Windsor Castle.

The Doctor plays the three factions off against one other and eventually appears to concede defeat to the Cyber Leader. However, this is just part of a carefully-laid trap, and the Cybermen's fleet is totally wiped out by the statue.

Episode Endings

A spaceship touches down near Windsor and the occupants emerge. Ace asks who they are, and the Doctor replies: 'Cybermen.'

The Doctor discovers on a scanner that there are thousands of previously-invisible Cyber warships waiting above the Earth.

Ace asks the Doctor: 'Who are you?' He smiles and puts a finger to his lips.

Roots

'I don't know if you're familiar with Wagner's Ring des Nibelung,' De Flores asks a probably bemused Cyber Leader. 'Now we we are the Supermen. But you are the Giants.'

The Nazis come via The Boys from Brazil and Kessler.

There is an allusion to Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale in Lady Peinforte's line 'The bear will not pursue us: such things happen only in the theatre.'

Raiders of the Lost Ark.

James Herbert's The Spear.

Jubilee.

The Changeling (De Flores).

Dialogue Triumphs

Lady Peinforte : [To Richard, speaking of an animal in the Windsor Safari Park] "The bear will not pursue us - such things happen only in the theatre."

De Flores : [To the Cyber Leader] "I don't know if you are familiar with Wagner's 'Ring des Nibelung'? Now we, we are the Supermen. But you, you are the Giants."

Double Entendre

Richard : [Praying] "And I shall look after the sick, which reminds me: I return to Briggs his money..."

Continuity

As indicated in The Happiness Patrol, Ace follows Charlton Athletic, and reads the Daily Mirror (it seems they've just picked up three points: in the real world they drew 1-1 with Wimbledon). The Doctor says that the quartet play his favourite kind of jazz ('straight blowing'); Ace gets her tape signed by Courtney Pine. Ace's destroyed Ghetto Blaster (Remembrance of the Daleks) has been replaced by one of the Doctor's invention.

The living metal validium (see The Deadly Assassin) fell to Earth in 1638 (see Untelevised Adventures). An arrow formed from it stayed in Lady Peinforte's possession; the bow disappeared in 1788 and by the 1980s had come into the possession of De Flores and a group of South American Nazis.

Nemesis circles the earth in a decaying orbit once every 25 years (coming closest to the Earth on the eve of the Great War (1913), and during the years of Hitler's annexation of Austria (1938) and Kennedy's assassination (1963). [The statue must 'broadcast' troubling psychic signals.]

[It is not revealed how the Cybermen found out about Nemesis, although their briefing was thorough: they know of Lady Peinforte. We can presume that the Doctor had a hand in this.]

From Nemesis Lady Peinforte learned of a grim secret of the Doctor's from the 'Old Time, the Time of Chaos', but this is never revealed.

QV

Cyber History

The Origins of the Time Lords

Location

Windsor and environs, 23 November 1638 and 4 Wednesday 23 November 1988.

Untelevised

The whole story is a sequel to an adventure (which Ace knows nothing about, although presumably it involved the second Doctor, as Lady Peinforte refers to the doctor still being little) involving validium, set in 1638. The evil Lady Peinforte fashioned a statue Nemesis from the metal.

The Doctor, thanks in part to the timely intervention of a number of Roundheads (?!?) [and hoping to use Nemesis as a destructive lure against the Cybermen in the future] was able to launch the majority of the deadly statue into space. The Doctor says that the last time he was at Windsor the castle was being built. In the extended video version, there is also a portrait of Ace in Victorian clothes, which hints at another untelevised adventure.

Trivia

Celebrated British jazz artist Courtney Pine and his group appear as themselves in Part One, in a scene where the Doctor admits a love for this form of music.

There is a humorous scene in which the Doctor and Ace narrowly avoid bumping into the Queen (played by lookalike Mary Reynolds) and her corgis at Windsor Castle.

Ace wears on her jacket an earring that she will not be seen to acquire until the next story, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy - a continuity error caused by a late change in the season's transmission order, made by John Nathan-Turner so that the first episode of Silver Nemesis would be seen on the actual twenty-fifth anniversary date.

Cameo appearances as extras are made by a number of Doctor Who luminaries from in front of and behind the cameras, including actor Nicholas Courtney, director Peter Moffatt and writer Kevin Clarke.

Anton Diffring, well known for his numerous roles as German officers in Second World War films, appears here as de Flores.

Lady Peinforte's mathematician is played by Leslie French, one of the actors considered for the role of the first Doctor in 1963.

A brief guest appearance as American tourist Mrs Remington is made by 'golden age' Hollywood film star Dolores Gray.

The gasworks location where some of the key scenes of this story were recorded subsequently became the site of the Government's controversial Millenium Dome.

Goofs

Although it is November, the Courtney Pine Quartet are playing outside in the sunshine, and Ace is in a T-shirt.

Ace is reading the previous Saturday's football scores on a Wednesday.

When the policemen are gassed by Nemesis, the chap who was sitting in the car ends up with his legs under the vehicle.

The cameraman stumbles or knocks into something when following Ace across the gantry in the third episode.

Lady Peinforte's arrowheads just happen to be made of gold (and, unless you're tackling Cybermen, are therefore the most useless arrows ever invented).

It's never explained why the two controlled humans shoot at the Doctor and Ace in the first episode (this incarnation, after all, is unknown to the Cybermen).

The Doctor and Ace appear to be allowed to walk away from the Queen's private residence as their escape from the security guards was edited from the transmitted story.

In episode two a helicopter was used to simulate the Cybership landing, the craft being superimposed over it. However, the blades are sometimes visible.

David Banks' eyes are visible as the Cyberleader pulls the coin out in episode three.

Why don't Ace's coins bounce off rather than pierce the Cybermen?

Doesn't Peinforte and Richard's arrival draw some sort of response from the people in the café?

It has been stated that it would be impossible for anyone from 1638 to calculate correctly a day 350 years later as in 1752 the Julian calendar was 'brought into line' with the Gregorian one (effectively meaning that 11 days from 3 to 13 September were skipped over). However, this ignores the fact that Peinforte's time travelling is caused not by her own ingenuity (or else magic in Doctor Who works!) but by Fenric (see The Curse of Fenric).

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - Sylvester McCoy

Ace - Sophie Aldred

Cyber Leader - David Banks

Cyber Lieutenant - Mark Hardy

Cyberman - Brian Orrell

De Flores - Anton Diffring

Jazz Quartet Member - Courtney Pine

Jazz Quartet Member - Adrian Reid

Jazz Quartet Member - Ernest Mothle

Jazz Quartet Member - Frank Tontoh

Karl - Metin Yenal

Lady Peinforte - Fiona Walker

Mathematician - Leslie French

Mrs Remington - Dolores Gray

Richard - Gerard Murphy

Security Guard - Martyn Read

Skinhead - Chris Chering

Skinhead - Symond Lawes

Crew

Director - Chris Clough

Assistant Floor Manager - Lynn Grant

Assistant Floor Manager - Jeremy Fry

Costumes - Richard Croft

Designer - John Asbridge

Incidental Music - Keff McCulloch

Make-Up - Dorka Nieradzik

OB Cameraman - Barry Chaston

OB Cameraman - Alan Jessop

Producer - John Nathan-Turner

Production Assistant - Jane Wellesley

Production Associate - June Collins

Script Editor - Andrew Cartmel

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Stunt Arranger - Paul Heasman

Stunt Arranger - Nick Gillard

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Keff McCulloch

Visual Effects - Perry Brahan

Writer - Kevin Clarke

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

A bit of a mess, really. Some passable scenes, but the story lacks pace and character involvement. Its plot is virtually identical to Remembrance of the Daleks only two stories previously (even Ace says 'Just like you nailed the Daleks').

Then you've got Nazis so stupid that they don't even check that their box still contains the bow, and Cybermen who couldn't hit a barn door at three paces. Add a pointless sequence with an American tourist, and all the rubbish with the Queen and her corgis, and you've barely got a celebration at all.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

'There's a difference between the postmodern approach to being hip to one's own textuality...,' observed Nick Pegg in Perigosto Stick Issue Two, dated August 1991, 'and simply fannying about with in-jokes and self-referentially sampling past reference points. From its title onwards, Silver Nemesis is so persistently, so systematically aware of itself that it's in constant danger of suffocating as it takes an ever-decreasing spiral route up its own tightly-clenched bottom.'

This is by no means the only problem with the 'official' twenty-fifth anniversary story, which is undoubtedly the weak link in an otherwise strong season. Another serious flaw was highlighted by Mark Stammers in The Frame No. 9, dated February 1989: 'It was clear from the beginning that there were far too many villains running around. Just Lady Peinforte and the Cybermen would have been enough, but with the Nazis included as well it meant that one group of baddies had either to stand around a bit, while the other two fought it out, or to get sidetracked into wandering around the countryside, attacking skinheads or taking a lift in Dolores Gray's car.'

'De Flores and his shock troops come off worst of all,' wrote Pegg, 'serving no independent function in the action besides bringing the bow along in the first place - and that alone is hardly reason for their presence - and raising no textually meaningful assertions at all. The scene in which de Flores indulges in a Wagnerian evocation of himself and the Cybermen as, respectively, the Superman and the Giants ("Zey are vonderfoll creatures!") is tacky, pretentious and very funny, and the oblique mention of Hitler as he implies that the Cybermen are the super-race that his one-time leader had prophesied, while presumably supposed to tie in with the Doctor's assertion that the Nemesis comet caused the annexing of Austria in 1938, is even sillier...

'Lady Peinforte and particularly Richard do somewhat better... There are moments here of genuine mysticism, [and] black magic is seen to work without any need for pseudo-scientific demystification...'

'As for the Cybermen,' added Stammers, 'they were back with yet another redesign and seemed a bit tougher than their recent predecessors, although they did go all weak at the knees at the very mention of the word "gold". And it was never explained why they felt they needed the Nemesis in the first place.'

Matters are not helped by Chris Clough's below-par direction, which looks distinctly rushed, and some rather illogical editing. Silver Nemesis is not a total disaster, however, and actually received some quite positive feedback at the time of its original transmission. Journalist Alan Coren, for example, wrote in the Mail on Sunday, dated 27 November 1988:

'How simultaneously ancient and modern (which is to say magical and relevant) it was.

'Switching between an evil necromancer's bolt-hole in 1638 and an evil Nazi's bunker in 1988, the plot embraces not only the quasi-scientific hoo-ha of intergalactic ironmongery, time theory, cybernauts and ghastly new weaponry... [but also] the traditional paraphernalia of ancient magicians and wicked Jacobean plotters and mystic totems, with the launching of the Fourth Reich thrown in.

'What's up Doc? Everything, and a rattling good everything, too.

'It also has the central strength it has enjoyed for a quarter of a century, Doctor Who himself. Here is that familar English figure, the heroic eccentric, rescued from the suspicion the English have of cleverness by an endearing, and thus humanising, barminess.'

A less complimentary press reaction was to be found in Nick Smurthwaite's review in Stage and Television Today, dated 15 December 1988:

'It still looks cheap and amateurish. Worse than that, it looks tired and I found myself less than engaged by Sylvester McCoy's half-hearted Doctor.

'Most of the action seemed to be taking place in an aircraft hangar, with echoey acoustics to match. The ... Cybermen ... still manage to miss everyone when they take aim with their deadly laser guns, while the Doctor's current sidekick Ace ... scores a bull's eye every time with her catapult.'

This mixed response was echoed in contemporary fan opinion. Daniel Blythe was one of those who liked the story, as he explained in DWB No. 62, dated February 1989: 'Silver Nemesis, for me, has been the highlight of the season so far. Like Remembrance of the Daleks there were a lot of loose ends, but here one got the impression that they were meant to be there! Together with some very good acting, scripting and some marvellous special effects, the story succeeded in entertaining, holding the attention and restoring the "mystery" of the Doctor.'

Andrew Hardwick, writing in the same magazine, felt differently: 'After the seeds of a good story were planted in [Part One], Silver Nemesis tumbled heavily downhill. Interesting ideas like the mystery of Nemesis, a possible Fourth Reich and returning to the Doctor some degree of enigma were spoiled by sloppy execution. The main fault ... lies ... with the script - a mine of inconsistencies, bad characterisation and generally stupid plotting. Lady Peinforte and friend were totally unconvincing as basically simple people thrown into a completely alien world. Walking through the streets of Windsor? Hitching a ride? Come on!'

More recent fan reaction to the story has been almost uniformly negative. Tim Munro, writing in DWB No. 113, dated May 1993, was particularly damning: 'Silver Nemesis ... is a loose conglomeration of unrelated events, haphazardly thrown together without regard for their relevance to each other. The result lacks even a semblance of cohesion and feels completely aimless... Its total lack of discernible plot or theme leaves the viewer infuriatingly dissatisfied, no wiser at the finish than at the start as to what it's all about, and it hasn't even the courtesy to provide food for thought, which might at least make its ambiguity forgiveable.'

'Perhaps Kevin Clarke was a little too ambitious in trying to fit so many elements into just three episodes,' suggested Stammers. 'Here... was a story that would have benefited greatly from being told in four or even six episodes. But I fear the days of seasons which can afford to accommodate six-parters are long past.' This can be seen, with hindsight, as an overly charitable summation; three episodes of Silver Nemesis is more than enough for most viewers, let alone six.

< The Happiness PatrolSeventh DoctorThe Greatest Show in the Galaxy >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy