Doctor Who Story 154 – Silver Nemesis
Silver Nemesis is certainly a mixed bag. It was preceded by two excellent stories, one which was compelling, exciting, and challenging, another which was thought-provoking, visually striking, and socially aware. In contrast, Silver Nemesis seems the most backward-looking story of the season, one which plays around with old ideas of Cybermen and gold (to an absurd degree) and costume drama. And Nazis. Wedded to these elements, however, are further explorations of the changing paradigm in Doctor Who with the Doctor’s mysterious nature and references to ancient Gallifrey. In a way, the new style is interacting with the old style, and they don’t quite gel.
In fact, this story almost seems like a bit of kitchen-sink storytelling. Tossing Cybermen, a medieval witch and warrior, Nazis, a dumb American, an ancient Time Lord weapon, and jazz. And given that this story has the most “Doctor Who-esque” trappings of any other McCoy era story thus far, and that it doesn’t work, one is aware of how much the show has changed since the 1970s. That mold has long since shattered and we can’t put Doctor Who back in it without it being a conglomerated mess, which Silver Nemesis is.
Perhaps it is because I’m currently studying Daoism in my Religions in China and Japan class, but I’m tempted to give this story a pseudo-Daoist reading. In part because Silver Nemesis attempts to superimpose old ideas onto a show that has grown and changed in striking ways since those ideas were last used successfully. Nemesis, then, illustrated resistance to change, which is a crime in Doctor Who as well as an indication of someone who is not living in harmony with the Dao. Since the Dao is the abstract, all-encompassing force that permeates existence, and the Dao is always changing, embracing change is the greatest act a person can do. Active inaction. Not imposing your reality onto reality. And so, imposing Doctor Who on Doctor Who creates bad Doctor Who.
I have heard it said before that bad Doctor Who is better than no Doctor Who. I disagree with this statement, but in the case of Silver Nemesis I grant an exception. The story fails and is bad but not through lack of ambition. I would rather see Doctor Who be an ambitious failure than see it play by-the-numbers. Oddly, Silver Nemesis can’t seem to make up its mind which it wants to do as it vacillates between ambition and by-the-numbers. However, it errs on the side of the former, which redeems it significantly in my eyes.