Doctor Who writer Neil Gaiman: “There are things that could’ve been better” with Nightmare in Silver

The author on his "beloved" episode The Doctor's Wife and how he wishes he'd "had another week" on follow-up Nightmare in Silver...

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Neil Gaiman has been working in fantasy for over 25 years. He has written huge hits like comic book series Sandman, fantasy novel Stardust and his most recent novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which was voted Book of the Year in the British National Book Awards. Yet, he tells RadioTimes.com, he is mostly known for two episodes he wrote for some show called Doctor Who – especially his 2011 debut The Doctor’s Wife, which saw the Tardis become human.

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“My waiter in a restaurant recently came up to me and said, ‘Are you Neil Gaiman?’ I said yes. ‘I loved The Doctor’s Wife! Nightmare in Silver, not so much, but the Doctor’s Wife is so wonderful!’ and then I found myself being interrogated by a Japanese waiter in a sushi restaurant if I was writing for series nine!”

“I think in a lifetime of writing things that people have liked, I’ve never done something quite so beloved as The Doctor’s Wife. It’s funny now talking to Steven [Moffat] about it, because none of us knew it was going to be this beloved thing. I think Steven was dead-worried it was going to be too odd for Doctor Who in a way… There were all these mis-steps we could’ve done just because there hadn’t been anything like it. But the only thing we were certain of was that, for it to work, it had to be the only time [the Tardis coming to life] ever happened. You couldn’t repeat it. And I think there is something in that that kind of powers it.”

As you may have gathered from Gaiman’s waiter, however, the author’s 2013 follow-up, Nightmare in Silver, was not as well received as The Doctor’s Wife. The series seven story saw the Doctor and Clara take two children to an extra-terrestrial theme park, only for them to run into upgraded Cybermen whose Cyber-Planner invaded the Doctor’s brain, splitting his personality.

It was panned by critics, with Radio Times’ own Doctor Who reviewer writing, “Among 21st-century episodes, Nightmare in Silver now joins Fear Her, The Doctor’s Daughter, The Beast Below and The Curse of the Black Spot in the mercifully small gallery of duds that I would never willingly sit through again.”

So, of course, the questions is: how does Gaiman feel about it now?

“Nightmare in Silver is some people’s favourite but everybody, including me, thinks, ‘oh if we had another week, we could’ve changed this,’ and then you’re kind of stuck with it. I think there are things that could’ve been better, but I also think that the thing I wanted to do in Nightmare in Silver I did: to show people that Matt Smith could act.

“It was one of those things that fascinated me watching Matt, getting to know Matt a little bit: it was sensible people who should’ve known better assuming that the Eleventh Doctor was just Matt Smith, and I’m going, ‘No, that’s a part that he’s playing,’ and he’s an incredible, fantastic actor, who is, as the Doctor, capable of this enormous range, and yet there’ s a lot of stuff he’s not doing. So I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be amazing to have him go up against himself?’ Which is something that even though is a staple of sci-fi drama, is not something that’s ever happened in Doctor Who. Even people who don’t like bits of Nightmare in Silver love the ‘Matt Smith as [Cyber-Planner alter-ego] Mr Clever’ stuff.”

As revealed by RadioTimes.com last month, Gaiman won’t be writing a third Doctor Who episode for next year’s series because of, “ridiculous work commitments.” He is, though, very keen to write for the 12th Doctor at some point.

“I am determined to write for Peter Capaldi,” he said. “As long as Peter is Doctor Who, I will write for him. And every time I’m in the UK, I go and see the Doctor Who people. I go see [producer] Brian Minchin and Steven Moffat, and none of us are going to let me go off the boil.”

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Doctor Who will return with series nine later this year