Silver Nemesis **

It's Nazis v Cybermen in the explosive 150th story – marking Doctor Who's 25th anniversary

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Doctor Who story guide
Mark Braxton
Mark Braxton
Silver Nemesis **

Season 25 – Story 150

“The Earth will be transformed into our base planet. The new Mondas. Before I kill you all, you may watch the arrival of our fleet” – Cyber Leader

Storyline
When the Doctor and Ace land in 1988 England, they find three rival groups – the Cybermen, neo-Nazis and a 17th-century sorceress called Lady Peinforte and her attendant, Richard – battling for possession of a statue created by Rassilon to defend Gallifrey. To prevent Peinforte’s first bid for the statue in 1638, the Doctor concealed it in a powered comet, which approaches Earth at 25-year intervals and has caused calamities on each occasion. Now it has crashed near Windsor Castle, and if the statue is activated with the help of a bow and arrow, it will give the owner power over the entire universe...

First UK transmissions
Part 1 - Wednesday 23 November 1988
Part 2 - Wednesday 30 November 1988
Part 3 - Wednesday 7 December 1988

Production
Location recording: June 1988 at wasteland and gasworks in North Greenwich, London; and Arundel Castle and streets, West Sussex. July 1988 at Black Jack’s Mill, Harefield, Middlesex; St Mary’s House, Bramber and Casa Del Mar, Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex.

Cast
The Doctor - Sylvester McCoy
Ace - Sophie Aldred
De Flores - Anton Diffring
Lady Peinforte - Fiona Walker
Richard Maynarde - Gerard Murphy
Mrs Remington - Dolores Gray
Mathematician - Leslie French
Karl - Metin Yenal
Security guard - Martyn Read
Jazz Quartet - Courtney Pine, Adrian Reid, Ernest Mothle, Frank Tontoh
Skinheads - Chris Chering, Symond Lawes
Cyber Leader - David Banks
Cyber Lieutenant - Mark Hardy
Cyberman - Brian Orrell

Crew
Writer - Kevin Clarke
Designer - John Asbridge
Incidental music - Keff McCulloch
Script editor - Andrew Cartmel
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
Director - Chris Clough

RT Review by Mark Braxton
With excitement mounting for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who in 2013, it’s hard now to imagine the pre-Facebook Whoniverse getting quite as exercised for the 25th. The show was desperately fighting the threat of cancellation, after all. But John Nathan-Turner was keen to give fans plenty to smile about. And with season 25 having already unearthed the Daleks, this Jubilee-centric adventure handed us the Mondas meanies on a silver platter, not to mention the Queen with her corgis, and the delicious promise of secrets about the Doctor…

And not content with one set of baddies, Kevin Clarke’s story lobs in three, including the Fourth Reich led by a fugitive from Where Eagles Dare. The New Avengers would have killed for pulp fare such as this.

We are in the middle of the seventh Time Lordship, teaming Roedean urchin Ace with the Doctor and his distinctive Scottish burr (all planets have a Scotland). And there is a noticeable ease and friendliness to their partnership, even if the Doctor’s concern for his charge doesn’t extend to the peril she places herself in mowing down Cybermen left, right and centre.

It’s pell-mell sci-fi, with director Chris Clough launching himself at the action scenes with immense appetite, and the comedy missiles hitting their mark with greater frequency than normal. Much of this is down to sniffy sorceress Lady Peinforte and her permanently mystified accessory Richard. Fiona Walker and Gerard Murphy are a priceless pairing and it’s a shame they didn’t earn themselves a repeat booking.

In earlier times the securing of Anton Diffring would have been deemed a coup, especially among audiences reared on war films. Here, sadly, he is visibly and audibly unwell (he died just six months later), and not helped by his one-dimensional Boy from Brazil, De Flores. His Nazi minions are an unnecessary addition to the overcrowded plot. 

Still, there’s the curiosity value of jazz giant Courtney Pine and his quartet, as well as Leslie French – beaten to the role of the first Doctor by William Hartnell in 1963 – playing the mathematician. 

Anyone who knows Windsor will chortle at the attempt to pass off Arundel as the Queen’s Berkshire residence. They have the word “castle” in common but not much else...

And there’s a lot of hard-to-swallow business with a tour party failing to spot the Tardis materialising right in front of them, Ace destroying an entire Cybership with her bag of fireworks, and the mountebank monarch. (Jeannette Charles must have been busy at the time, so “lookalike” Mary Reynolds steps into the sensible shoes.) 

The finale is a maddening tease, too, with Peinforte suggesting that we’re about to learn more of the Doctor’s back story. Nothing of the sort passes her lips, or anyone else’s for that matter. Instead, with a cocky swagger, our hero casually wipes out the Cybermen with Nemesis, adding, “How clever of me.” But as Nemesis looks like she’s stumbled off an Ultravox video, perhaps we shouldn’t take the threat too seriously.

Rather like a discarded dish from Heston Blumenthal, none of the ingredients really mesh, but Silver Nemesis still has a certain comic-strip effervescence. And for one of the era’s greatest lines, from Lady Peinforte – “The bear will not pursue us; such things happen only in the theatre” – Silver Nemesis deserves a medal of some kind.

Clearly, the show’s underlying problems identified by BBC controller Michael Grade were not being resolved. It was cancelled in 1989, just a year after Silver Nemesis. When I spoke to McCoy in 2003, Doctor Who’s dissolution was still a sore point. “The fan club was getting bigger, the magazine was selling more copies, there was a feeling of growth, revival, and they just finished it before it got going. That was very disappointing.”

“I think what happened was the people who were around the BBC then had lived with it for all those years and they were just bored with it and they wanted something else.”

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Radio Times archive

RT made quite a splash for Who's 25th anniversary with a three-page feature:

(page one) (page two) (page three)

Sylvester McCoy featured in the back-page My Kind of Day

RT billings  part one  part two  part three

[Available on BBC DVD]

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