WARNING! SPOILER UPGRADE IN PROGRESS: All units are required to prepare for assimilation of spoilers and speculation for Doctor Who Series 7a and 7b, especially episode 13: “Nightmare in Silver”. Once properly converted, units may submit progress reports in the comments below.
The first game I remember playing is Candy Land. It consisted of a simple track of colored squares. Players advanced by choosing a card and moving to the space that matched the color of the card. The objective was to reach the end of the track first. Even for a child of 3 or 4 this got boring amazingly fast. Luckily, the board was printed with bright candy-based graphics and you could simply move your piece off the track and spend hours making up stories about the people who lived in the molasses swamp.
It struck me, as I watched the chess match between the Doctor and the cyber-Doctor, that the aim of most games is quite similar. There may be more strategy involved, but the objective is simply to reach the end – to “win”. That’s a fixed point. So the only way to truly defeat the game, to end its control over your actions, is to change the parameters – to walk off the track.
Writer Neil Gaiman’s “Nightmare in Silver” is a cheat in the most creative sense of the word. The game has been changed – Cybermen are now endlessly adaptable and after his conversion the Doctor is not safe within his own head. It is perhaps the closest we’ve come to exploring the idea of the dark Doctor – an all powerful being without a conscience – a sociopath unable to access his emotions. The eleventh Doctor has made some exceeding dark choices this series, including the one he makes in this episode to investigate the amusement park without first returning the children to a safer place. Was he intentionally using them as bait? If so, perhaps the Doctor and his cyber-alter ego were not so far removed from each other after all.
Rules are made up. They only exist if all players adhere to them. The second someone tests the boundaries everything shifts. Let’s explore some of the ways Neil Gaiman changed the game.
8. Converting The Pawn
In chess, pawns represent the infantry. They are the expendable ones – the insignificant foot soldier. Pawns, however, can eventually be converted into higher pieces, most commonly queens, the most powerful piece on the board. Porridge is a king who aspires to be a pawn. He has thrown off the cloak of a horrific responsibility and hidden himself away on a backwater world. Like Alec Palmer in “Hide”, he’s very aware of his role in sacrificing lives to a terrible war. This parallels the Doctor’s role in sacrificing Gallifrey in the Time War. Both are charged with protecting the universe at great personal cost to themselves.
Clara appears to be a pawn at first glance, but is raised up by the Doctor to a leadership position. She has no trouble assuming the role. In every episode Clara appears in she changes to fit the situation. Has she been engineered somehow to be the Doctor’s perfect companion? She is reminiscent of the TARDIS in the sense that she becomes whatever the Doctor needs her to be. Was this another test for Clara? Is the Doctor trying to see how far he can push her?
Remaining a pawn is contingent upon a belief in your place in the hierarchy. You are powerless because you have been told that you are. There is no inherent superiority to a king or queen; it’s simply luck and timing. The cybermen are representative of what happens when a desire to level the playing field results in a loss of individuality and creativity. The cyber-Doctor is defeated because he can’t think outside of his data network.
This article was first posted on May 12, 2013