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Silver Nemesis

The Cybermen returned for Doctor Who’s silver anniversary in 1988 – but they certainly weren’t the only ones in pursuit of a very special prize...

Doctor Who’s 10th series had opened with three Doctors joining forces to defeat Omega. The show’s 20th anniversary saw five Doctors teaming up to raid Rassilon’s tomb. And, in 2013, its 50th anniversary would see thirteen Doctors band together to save Gallifrey and the lives of every Time Lord. Doctor Who is famous for its spectacular, high-stakes birthday parties.

But, in 1988, with the series having lost some of its popularity and shine, the 25th anniversary failed to make anything like the kind of splash The Five Doctors had made just five years before. Silver Nemesis almost feels apologetic, stuck in a position in the middle of its season (when it was meant to be the grand finale), turning up a few weeks after a Dalek story that felt like a much more fitting birthday bash.

Yes, Silver Nemesis namechecks those towering figures from Time Lord mythology, and yes, the fate of the whole universe hangs in the balance – but the production was given no extra time or money; the guest stars, while talented, were hardly household names; and the whole thing was compromised by problems plaguing the recording of another story. Everyone involved shows up and does their job well – and the result is great fun, with some intriguing hints of themes that would be developed in the following season, but… well, for a supposedly special episode, it’s just not very special.

But never mind. Look beneath its shiny silver surface and there are some very interesting things hiding in this story’s depths. Admittedly, a lot of them ended up on the cutting room floor, and others wouldn’t pay off until the next season, but there’s definitely more to Silver Nemesis than meets the eye…

Part One

FIRST BROADCAST: 23 NOVEMBER 1988

In South America on 22 November 1988, a gramophone is playing stirring music…

The Nemesis comet in orbit.

■ We’ve got used to such on-screen captions in recent years, but the words ‘South America 22nd November 1988’ establishing the place and time are the first since the First Doctor era, when ‘Paris’ gave away our location in The Reign of Terror: Guests of Madame Guillotine (1964) and ‘Roma’ did the same job in The Romans: All Roads Lead to Rome (1965).

■ The music is The Ride of the Valkyries (Act III), and the recording used was of a performance by the London Symphony Orchestra released on the 1983 album Classics for Pleasure. The piece of music is part of Die Walküre(The Valkyrie) by Richard Wagner, which itself is the second part of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen – which we’ll return to later.

■ Minor point, but… let’s assume that this scene is set in Argentina (a popular holiday spot for Nazi war criminals – see below). We don’t know precisely what time of day it is: November is almost slap-bang in the middle of summer in the southern hemisphere, so the days would be long down there (and very short up here), but let’s assume – to be kind – that it’s early in the morning. Argentinian time runs three hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, and a flight from there to here takes 15 hours. (Transcontinental jet travel times haven’t changed appreciably since the 1980s. If anything, they’ve got longer, but let’s not get into that.) It is therefore just about conceivable that De Flores, on 22 November, could confirm the location and time of the Nemesis comet’s arrival during Argentinian daylight hours and somehow gather all his men, organise a flight (when it wasn’t exactly easy for Nazi fugitives to just wander from country to country, even if – as suggested here – they have their own aircraft), and arrive in daylight hours in Windsor the very next day. This wasn’t even an issue in the first draft of the script, where the comet crashlands before De Flores has even left South America.

“Doctor who? Have you never wondered where he came from, who he is?”

In the offices of ‘paramilitary’ De Flores (Anton Diffring), a message flashes on a computer screen: Landing Location, Windsor, Grid Ref: 74W 32N, November 23 1988. His right-hand man Karl (Metin Yenal) gives him the wonderful news.

■ It’s quite obvious from the Wagner, the accents and the setting that we are meant to assume that De Flores is a Nazi war criminal, one of the many who escaped to South America when it became clear World War Two wasn’t going their way. Some of the more infamous criminals who, with varying degrees of success, tried to evade justice this way included architect of the Holocaust Adolf Eichmann, ‘Butcher of Lyon’ Klaus Barbie, and Auschwitz-based ‘Angel of Death’ Josef Mengele.

In Industrial Action, the making-of documentary included on the DVD of this story, script editor Andrew Cartmel explains that De Flores’ name is a pseudonym. “He would have been a war criminal on the run,” Cartmel explains, “and he would have changed his name when he got to South America.” This idea is supported by the novelisation of the story, which introduces this character rather ambiguously as ‘the man known as Herr De Flores’.

■ Writer Kevin Clarke peppered the scripts with a few theatrical in-jokes, and De Flores’ name was one of them – he was named after a character in the Jacobean tragedy The Changeling, written by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley and first performed in 1622.

■ At the behest of producer John Nathan-Turner, De Flores and his men were referred to as ‘paramilitaries’ in the script and never explicitly called ‘Nazis’ on screen. Nathan-Turner was keen not to cause offence to any viewers – especially, perhaps, those in Germany. German TV channel RTL-Plus would go on to broadcast Doctor Who in 1989, and at the time of Silver Nemesis’ broadcast BBC Enterprises was trying to sell Doctor Who to as many television stations across Europe as possible.

Silver Nemesis would not be aired in Germany until 1990, but that doesn’t mean the UK was the first country to enjoy the story in its entirety. Television New Zealand broadcast a stitched- together version of all three episodes on Friday 25 November 1988.

■ Anton Diffring had enjoyed a long career of playing German bad guys in movies such as The Colditz Story (1955) and Where Eagles Dare (1966). At this late stage in his life (he died the following year, and he required oxygen on the set of this story to aid his breathing), he had grown tired of playing evil Nazis and, as he explains in the US TV documentary The Making of Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis, he had “never seen Doctor Who… I was never interested in that sort of thing”. He finally agreed to appear, he explains, because “really, I wanted to see a bit of Wimbledon”, as the tennis tournament was taking place at the same time the story was recorded.

■ ‘74W 32N’ would seem to be somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean, far off the coast of South Carolina. Perhaps De Flores’ computer system is using some sort of cunning paramilitary code.

In 1638, Lady Peinforte (Fiona Walker) and her assistant Richard (Gerard Murphy) practice archery in the garden of her home. She treats a prized silver arrow with care. Inside the house, a nameless mathematician (Leslie French) beavers away at his work.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

This issue, DWM celebrates 50 years of the one of the Doctor's greatest enemies: the Cybermen! Contents include: an interview with the woman who designed the original Cybermen, Alexandra Tynan; a look at every single Cyber-plan through the ages, as told by the Cybermen themselves; a new Cyberman comic strip by Alan Barnes with art by Adrian Salmon; a detailed look at how the Cybermen have evolved from their first appearance; Steven Moffat answers readers' questions; The Fact of Fiction puts the 1988 25th anniversary story Silver Nemesis under the spotlight; the Time Team watch 2010's Vincent and the Doctor; actor Jami Reid-Quarrell is interviewed about his monstrous roles (including Colony Sarff) in Doctor Who's 2015 series; a new comic strip adventure for the Twelfth Doctor – 'Moving In' by Mark Wright with art by John Ross; the Watcher praises Galaxy 4; plus reviews, previews, official news, competitions and much more!
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