Given his talent, style, and the sort of things he likes to write about, fans spent years imagining what it would be like to Neil Gaiman write for Doctor Who. In 2011 we got to see just that with “The Doctor’s Wife,” a sweet, funny, and heartbreaking story which saw The Doctor sharing an adventure with his TARDIS — literally with her, after the vessel’s consciousness was shifted into a humanoid body. One of modern Who‘s finest hours, “The Doctor’s Wife” received near universal acclaim and netted Gaiman both a Ray Bradbury Award and a Hugo. Naturally, fans wanted to see more Who from Gaiman, and in 2013 he returned with an episode entitled “Nightmare in Silver.”
It wasn’t only fans and critics who felt that “Nightmare in Silver” was a misstep. In a recent interview, Gaiman admitted his regrets about “Nightmare,” and explained what he was originally going for with the episode. He told Radio Times:
‘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.
To be fair, “Nightmare in Silver” was destined to fall short in comparison to the pure brilliance of “The Doctor’s Wife.” That episode puts a spin on The Doctor’s relationship that we’d never really seen before, somehow managing to spin a love story between a man and a blue box in a way that will absolutely break your heart, especially during the finale, which features some of Matt Smith’s finest acting in the entire series. As Gaiman puts it:
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.
Even judged purely on its own merits, however, “Nightmare in Silver” is a largely forgettable episode, noteworthy primarily for bringing Warwick Davis into the Who-niverse. But hey, sometimes even the greats get a swing and a miss. The big question is whether the negative reception for “Nightmare” will keep Gaiman from penning another episode of Doctor Who. Well, it doesn’t look like he’ll be back for the upcoming ninth season, but there is one Who-related item still on Gaiman’s bucket list. “I am determined to write for Peter Capaldi,” said Gaiman. “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.”
Doctor Who will return with new episodes sometime in 2015, likely in the fall.