When Neil Gaiman was enlisted to pen an episode of Doctor Who back in 2011, it was one of those things that, in retrospect, made perfect sense. Gaiman’s style and subject matter are often quite close to that of Doctor Who, and sure enough, his episode — entitled “The Doctor’s Wife” — became an instant classic. Now he’s stepping into the TARDIS again for “The Last Cyberman,” the penultimate episode of the seventh season. What can we expect as the longtime Who baddies are filtered through the lens of Gaiman’s imagination.
“The Doctor’s Wife” put an entirely new spin on the relationship between the Doctor and his time-space vehicle of choice, literally personifying the TARDIS for a brief time before she returned to her unmistakable police box form. According to Who executive producer Caroline Skinner, “The Last Cyberman” takes a similar approach, taking an iconic element from the show and twisting it just so, allowing viewers a new way of looking at the old and familiar. Here’s what Skinner had to say to SFX:
One of the things that Neil was initially really excited about was being given one of the classic Doctor Who monsters and being able to bring a new twist and a new way of looking at them. Certainly when we watched them on set they felt very creepy and the redesign of the masks recalls to a certain extent some of the earlier ‘Moonbase’/‘Tomb Of The Cybermen’ designs. What Neil’s also done in that episode is actually used the notion of being able to write a story about the Doctor in conflict with the Cybermen in a new way, to really make it a huge episode for Matt. It’s a brilliant performance, that one. It’s interesting what Neil does – he always delivers such wonderful visual sequences, as he did with ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, but one of his real strengths is that he gets right to the heart of the characters as well. In many ways that episode is as much about Matt’s Doctor in conflict with one of the most classic and famous Doctor Who monsters as it is about what the Cybermen look like.
As much as I love Gaiman, and his first contribution to Doctor Who, I appreciate that he’s just making this an occasional thing. While Gaiman is a master at crafting his own stories and worlds, he is also a fascinating catalyst when thrown into somebody else’s narrative sandbox. He did it on Babylon 5 with “Day of the Dead,” he did it on Doctor Who with “The Doctor’s Wife,” and hopefully he’ll do it again with “The Last Cyberman.”
Doctor Who returns with new episodes on March 30th, and Gaiman’s episode will air later this year, just prior to the season finale.