Neil Gaiman Discusses Rebooting Cybermen on Doctor Who
After exploring the character of the TARDIS in the Hugo Award-winning 2011 Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife,” Neil Gaiman makes his triumphant return to the beloved BBC series in this week’s “Nightmare in Silver.” This time he tackles the Cybermen, who will be rebooted into new, more terrifying creatures in Saturday’s episode.
Gaiman participated in a conference call ahead of the episode’s premiere and he shared that Steven Moffat originally tasked him to “make the Cybermen scary again.” It was that pitch that got him hooked on the idea of returning to the world of Doctor Who.
“That one really got to me,” said the acclaimed author comics writer, who’s been a fan of Doctor Who since age 3. “I was terrified of them [when they were introduced]. I was much more scared of them than I was of the Daleks. … I started thinking, ‘Well, actually I love the design of the clanky-clanky steampunk Cybermen, but I know that their time is coming up and wouldn’t it be fun if I can make them more scary.’”
And make them scary he did. As fans will realize when the episode airs, these aren’t the Cybermen of years past. They’ve “upgraded” and will be much faster than their predecessors, which is something Gaiman feels is a natural progression for the characters. He said it makes sense for Cybermen to advance the speed of their movements, and thus their new upgraded forms shouldn’t spark a debate similar to the one about fast vs. slow zombies.
Gaiman opened up about the ideas for “Nightmare in Silver” that fell by the wayside. He originally wanted the episode to be set on an English beach and have the Cybermen rise out of the water, but he was unable to write that due to budgetary constraints. He also wanted the Cybermen to be more silent, which won’t necessarily come across in the episode. Despite some of his ideas not making the final cut and a lot of his content needing to be dropped, Gaiman said he still worked better on Doctor Who after being given constraints.
“It’s a wonderful thing as a writer to be given parameters and walls and barriers,” he said. “If somebody says to me, ‘We’d like a really good story about Shakespeare and cats,’ I’m much more likely to [write it].”
One aspect of the episode that was in there from the beginning is the chess game that is a focal point of “Nightmare in Silver.” Although the plan was originally to have Matt Smith’s Doctor appearing opposite a “very talkative Cyberman,” that evolved into having Smith play against a version of himself.
“It wasn’t until I was actually writing it, I was probably 15 or 20 pages into the script, I thought, actually, Matt is a good enough actor that he could do both sides of the chess game,” Gaiman said, conceding Smith wasn’t especially pleased about having to learn twice as many lines.
Don’t expect “Nightmare in Silver” to be Gaiman’s last Doctor Who episode. He said he has ideas for future Cybermen stories and for bringing back the Yeti. He’d also like to create a creature of his own.
“I think they’ll have me back. They seem to like me at Doctor Who, and I know that I definitely like them,” he said. “I’d love to create a monster. I’d really like to create a monster and have it be one that’s interesting enough or fun enough to come back rewritten by somebody else.”
Ultimately Gaiman’s return hinges on whether he has time to write another episode. Considering that the two he’s handled have been so well received, it’s assumed he’ll find the time to come back again in the future. Gaiman opened up about “The Doctor’s Wife” during the call and explained why he didn’t think giving the TARDIS a personality was especially controversial.
“I grew up definitely considering the TARDIS a character of Doctor Who and the only really consistent — not companion — but character. In some ways even more consistently there than the doctor,” he said. “When I wrote ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ I didn’t think that I was doing anything particularly odd or out of character in giving the TARDIS a personality. … I think mostly what I did is remind people that the TARDIS is also a living entity if they’d forgotten.”
As a final fun fact, Gaiman said Patrick Troughton is his favorite Doctor. “Nightmare in Silver” airs Saturday on BBC and BBC America.