There’s been a few writers that have taken on an episode or two of Doctor Who ever since the show came back on the air that have been universally praised by fans for their fresh takes on some iconic characters. The king of the new batch of writers is Neil Gaiman, a man who’s established himself over the years through his own work in comics, film and television. A couple of years ago he wrote “The Doctor’s Wife,” an episode that brought a voice and a face to the big blue box fans for generations have been staring at for decades. It’s been argued to be the best episode that involves the latest incarnation of the Doctor, and thankfully fans will be treated by another story written by Gaiman.
This weekend Doctor Who fans around the world will be able to watch “Nightmare in Silver” where the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) will have to face a redesigned version of the terrifying Cybermen. Gaiman spoke out about his involvement with the brand new episode, his love of the Doctor and looking back on the story for “The Doctor’s Wife.”
Neil Gaiman on how he first was approached to write the episode “Nightmare in Silver”:
Neil Gaiman: Well the entire episode began with an email from Steven Moffat, which is a sequence of emails, the first one saying would I like to write another Doctor Who episode following on from “The Doctor’s Wife.” I really didn’t have time and life was just completely mental and I was sorry. Then him writing back and saying that if I could find time somehow, he’d really like it if I could make the Cybermen scary again. And that one got to me, because when I was a kid I was a huge Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor) fan. Patrick Troughton was my Doctor. I remember “The Moonbase,” the second one on the Cybermen. I was terrified of them. I was much more scared in a way than I was the Daleks, because they were sort of quiet and they slipped in and out of rooms and it was sort of really off-putting. So I started thinking well actually, I love the design of the clanky steampunk Cybermen but I know that their time is coming up and wouldn’t it be fun to see if I can actually can make them more scary.
The Cybermen have been due for an upgrade for a little while now. Gaiman explains how he used the upgrade to his advantage:
Neil Gaiman: I was thinking that my phone doesn’t look anything like what it looked like 5 years ago, and it didn’t look like anything that it was 10 years ago. My computer looks nothing like it looked like 15 years ago. And I thought well Cybermen talked about upgrading, let’s watch them upgrade. What would an upgrade of Cybermen be like? One of the things it would do is move pretty fast. I love the idea of a Cyberman that was essentially so dangerous that if you find one on your planet, you’d blow up the planet. Planets are expendable but a Cyberman, if you can’t destroy it immediately, is not. It’s going to be very, very hard to destroy. It’s incredibly dangerous. If I ever get back and do another Cyberman story I would probably do something much more of what it’s like to deal with a Cyberman, what these new Cybermen are like, why you would blow them up. In this we only had 42 minutes and huge chunks of what I wrote didn’t actually get shot, or if they got shot didn’t make it on the screen just because there was so much we had to do and so little time.
He continues on explaining his writing process and how he wanted to approach the Cybermen this time around:
Neil Gaiman: If you’re a writer and somebody says “You can write anything you like, as long as you like about anything at all” I’m not very likely ever to write those stories. If somebody were to say to me “We’d like a really good story about Shakespeare and cats” I’m much more likely to go “Oh hang on, that would be great! What if Shakespeare’s cat wrote his plays?” and suddenly you’re off on this sort of weird mad place and you’re making stuff. In the case of the Cybermen, it set up a list of things that I had to make sure were in my episode of Cybermen — I started doing lists of all the things that I wanted, and some of them made it in and some of them didn’t. I wanted the Cybermen to be much more silent than they actually are, and the only noise that we would ever hear from them is the part where they beat their chest, but I got so many of the things that I wanted. I’m starting to feel like somebody else can now come along and take these Cybermen, we’ve got a new costume, a new look, we have something much more dangerous to the point where one of these things shows up again, I think people will get a lot more worried than they are about the old sort of style of Cybermen.
Gaiman further explains why he doesn’t think it was too odd that he gave a voice to the Tardis:
Neil Gaiman: I grew up definitely considering that the Tardis is a character in Doctor Who and the only really constant, not just companion, but a character in some ways more consistently there even than the Doctor. The Tardis didn’t really change the way that it looked. It was still this wonderful little blue box that was bigger on the inside, even if the inside changed a little. And ever since an early episode (“The Edge of Destruction”) it was obvious the Tardis was sentient. I used to love the way that the Doctor would talk to the Tardis and call her “Old Girl” and things like that. So when I wrote “The Doctor’s Wife” I didn’t think I was doing anything particularly either odd or out of cannon or anything like that in making the Tardis a personality. I think in truth the Tardis, people playing on that and going okay, I think mostly what I did was to remind people that the Tardis is also a living entity if they forgot. I love the idea of a Tardis who doesn’t particularly like a companion, just in the same way that there was a companion like Leela who springs to mind. The old Tom Baker companion after whom the character on Futurama was named, who the Tardis really liked. It was part of the script that the Tardis liked Leela a lot. So if she doesn’t like Clara, that’s to me may or may not ever be explained. I like that. I like that the Tardis is a character.
Neil Gaiman shares his love for Stormageddon the Dark Lord and how much Doctor Who has affected his life since he was a child:
Neil Gaiman: I think in which any story of Stormageddon rises up or any story in which Stormageddon’s dad comes back, has to be written by Garreth [Roberts] because he did it so wonderfully. In terms of how Doctor Who and the mythos of Doctor Who has influenced my writing, I think it’s impossible for me to say because I have no idea. There’s no control out there. I can’t actually get to meet a Neil Gaiman who at the age of 3 wasn’t watching Doctor Who, at the age of 4 wasn’t imagining how things can be bigger on the inside, how in the age of 5 wasn’t buying a copy, or wasn’t persuading his father to buy him a copy of “The Dalek World,” taking it home, studying it and learning all about Daleks, and discovering that Daleks couldn’t see the color red and worrying about the red Daleks and wondering if they were invisible to their friends. And discovering that measles was a Dalek disease, that not a lot of people know but I learned it because I read it in “The Dalek World.”
Doctor Who was the first mythology that I learned. Before I ran into Greek or Roman mythology, I knew that the Tardis was Time And Relative Dimension In Space. And I knew that the Tardis had a food machine that made things that looked like Mars Bars but tasted like bacon and eggs. What I knew as a kid, I still have the battered copy of David Whitaker’s “Doctor Who and the Daleks.” I had as a kid some terrible illustrations. I do know it’s been hugely influential on the shape of my head and how I see things, and I know that I feel ridiculously comfortable in that universe and that I will keep going back as long as they’ll have me, and as long as I can find the time.
“Nightmare in Silver” airs this Saturday, May 11th at 8 PM EST/5 PM PST.