From the moment you see a character walk on screen in pseudo-Victorian garb, wearing a bent top hat, you’re reminded “oh yeah, this is the Neil Gaiman episode.”

Fortunately, that sort of affected character is the only Gaimanism in this episode. Which isn’t to say that, overall, this was a great story. Again, we’ve got an episode that is, at best, only okay. Not bad enough to really complain about, but not good enough to be worthy of praise. A big part of this is how badly over-hyped the episode ended up being. If you paid any attention to the press leading up to it, this was the episode that was supposed to make the Cybermen “scary” again. That’s a fairly subjective way to promote an episode, and does a big disservice to the writer of virtually every Cybermen story since the series returned. But it turned out to be mostly talk, as the only evidence of increased “scariness” on display was a dodgy super-speed effect that was only used once.

The other major problems with the story are two elements that probably seemed clever at the time, but don’t work in the finished episode. The first was having Matt Smith argue with himself for a large chunk of the story. Smith actually does quite a good job playing an evil-minded version of the Doctor, and there’s probably story potential in the concept, but scenes inside the Doctor’s head, and cross-cutting between different angles of Smith, come off as somewhat cheap and silly in the end. Not as risible as Gollum arguing with himself, no, but up there on the scale. The other aspect that never quite came together were the child actors. If the characters were meant to be written as rude, obnoxious brats you wouldn’t mind seeing horribly killed, well, then the writing was actually quite strong. But the characters annoying attitude towards being on another planet in the future was so broad and over-stated that it’s hard to tell what anyone was actually going for with this portrayals. Was this a grumpy old man portrayal of “kids today”, so jaded that not even time travel impresses them?

Plot wise, it’s a return to the old “base under siege” stand-by, with some nice nods to old series Cybermen continuity. (I myself was quite pleased to see not only an acknowledgement that gold is an effective weapon against them, but a reasonable explanation for sad nerds like me as to why it isn’t anymore.) The abandoned amusement park setting was a nice idea, but could have been used better. As it is, it felt mostly like an excuse to save money by reusing a lot of old costumes, props and sets. And it would have been nice to avoid the new series cliche of “and all the monsters are all dead forever, except they’re not.” It was silly when they did it with every Dalek episode, and it’s silly here. Monster can be defeated “for now.” Not every encounter has to be a universe-threatening catastrophe.

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