Following the success of "The Doctor's Wife" two years ago, Gaiman returns with "Nightmare in Silver," which airs Saturday at 8/7c on BBC America. Showrunner Steven Moffat was able to lure back the award-winning writer with one succinct request: Make the Cybermen scary again. The Cybermen, the Doctor's second-oldest nemeses after the Daleks, are humanoid beings that have become almost entirely cybernetic (except for their organic brains), lack emotions, share a collective consciousness with their fellow Cybermen and believe that everyone should be "upgraded" this way.
"I was terrified of them [when I was a child]," Gaiman told reporters on a call. "I was much more scared of them in a way than I was the Daleks because they were sort of quiet and they slipped in and out of rooms and it was very off-putting. So I started thinking, I loved the design of the clanky-clanky steampunk Cybermen, but I know that their time is coming up and wouldn't it be fun to actually see if I can make them more scary."
In "Nightmare in Silver," Gaiman's newly evolved Cybermen plague the Doctor (Matt Smith), his companion Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) and her charges at Hedgewick's World of Wonders, a creepy and dilapidated space theme park. Joining in the oddball fun-turned-dangerous adventure are a has-been showman Webley (Jason Watkins), his chess-playing friend Porridge (Warwick Davis) and a ramshackle army platoon led by a disgruntled captain (Tamzin Outhwaite).
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Check out Gaiman's scarier Cybermen and six more ways he honors the mythos of Doctor Who:
1. Faster, creepier Cybermen "We have a new costume. We have a new look. What would an upgraded Cyberman do? ... It would move pretty fast," Gaiman said. "I loved the idea of a Cyberman that was essentially so dangerous that if you find one on your planet, you blow up the planet. ... I wanted the Cybermen to be much more silent than they actually are and the only noise we would ever hear from them was the point where they pump their chests and stuff like that. ... I would love to reclaim the cybernetic [menace] crown [from Star Trek aliens The Borg]."
2. Creation of the Cybermites During the Patrick Troughton era of Doctor Who, "The Tomb of the Cybermen" introduced the Cybermen's Cybermats, which resembled kitten-sized, robotic silverfish that were used as weapons. This inspired the creation of the much smaller, but no less insidious Cybermites. "I remembered, as a child, hearing that the Cybermats were actually based on silverfish," Gaiman said. "I thought, 'These things are weird. What are they? Maybe the're metal. Maybe they're tiny robots.' So the idea of creating a whole bunch of Cybermites and then having them colonize your face and colonize your brand and stuff was kind of fun. In my original conception of the Cyber Doctor, the sort of weird statuary that covers his face was very obviously made up of frozen Cybermites. But that wasn't actually the way that the designers went, so I think they wanted something more Borg-like as it was."
3. Dual personalities for the Doctor The aforementioned Cyber Doctor is actually the Doctor himself, but taken over by a presence known as the Cyberplanner. "I knew that I wanted a conversation between the Cyberplanner and the Doctor," Gaimain said. "The key thing while everything else was going on and while Clara was keeping everybody alive and stuff, there was going to be a chess game. But it wasn't until I was actually writing it ... that I suddenly thought actually Matt is a good enough actor that I could have him do both sides of the chess game. So instead of sitting there playing a rather talkative Cyberman, which was my original plan, he's going to be playing himself.
"And I got to do all this ridiculously fun stuff and ... watch Matt get very, very swear-y because, of course, it hadn't occurred to me that I was asking him to remember twice as many lines as in a normal episode of Doctor Who. So I'd see the dailies when they'd come through and watch poor Matt negotiate his way through playing at least two characters, one of them who does sort of impersonations of two other characters, was a delight."
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4. Resurrection of the TARDIS' personality With the 2011 episode "The Doctor's Wife," Gaiman gave the Doctor's sentient space and time-travel device a human body for the first time, which naturally led to a depiction of the TARDIS as more of a person, a very sassy person at that. "From a very early episode, I think it was called 'Edge of Destruction,' it was obvious the TARDIS was sentient," Gaiman said. "I used to love the way that the Doctor would talk to the TARDIS and call her 'old girl,' and things like that. So, when I wrote 'The Doctor's Wife,' I didn't think that I was doing anything particularly, either odd or out of canon in giving the TARDIS a personality. ... I think mostly what I did was remind people that the TARDIS is also a living entity if they'd forgotten."
As for the TARDIS' apparent dislike of current companion Clara, he added, "I love the idea of a TARDIS who doesn't particularly like a companion, just in the same way that there were companions — Leela (Louise Jameson) springs to mind, the old Tom Baker companion after whom the character on Futurama was named — who the TARDIS really liked. It was always sort of part of the script, for reasons never adequately explained, the TARDIS liked Leela a lot. So if she doesn't like Clara that's something that may or may not ever be explained, it may get deeper, it may not." Mystery, deepened!
5. Gaiman dreamed of being a companion "When I was a kid, I was a huge Patrick Troughton fan," Gaiman said, referring to the actor who played the second incarnation of the Time Lord. "He was my Doctor ... for me between the ages of 6 and 9. He was quirky, small, funny, slightly on the edge. Everybody always underestimated him because he seemed to be a little bit goofy while the things he went up against were huge and terrifying and he would win somehow. And there was always a cost, and he didn't always win cleanly. There was a weird feeling here that things were big and complicated and the Doctor didn't really know it all but he was the Doctor who I would've wanted to go off in the TARDIS with. I loved the feeling back then that events have consequences and that some of those consequences are going to be lethal.
"I wouldn't have wanted to go off with [first Doctor] William Hartnell. He scared me," Gaiman continued. "And I wouldn't really have wanted to go off with Jon Pertwee [third Doctor] because I didn't have a miniskirt and I wasn't old enough and I think you needed to be somebody who could be pretty and ride around in an old car next to him in order to be a proper companion for him. And by the time [fourth Doctor] Tom Baker came along, I was just too old to fantasize about going off in the TARDIS with Tom Baker, although I think, you know, going off in the TARDIS with Tom Baker would be a wonderful, wonderful thing."
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6. Gaiman has Doctor Who ingrained in his writing DNA "In terms of how Doctor Who and the mythos of Doctor Who has influenced my writing, I think it's impossible for me to say," Gaiman said. "I can't actually ever get to meet Neil Gaiman who, at the age of 3, wasn't watching Doctor Who, at the age of 4 wasn't imagining how things can be bigger on the inside, at the age of 5, wasn't buying a copy or persuading his father to buy a copy of the Dalek World annual on Victoria Station and taking it home and studying it and learning all about Daleks and discovery that Daleks couldn't see the color red and then writing about the red Daleks and whether they were invisible to their friends and discovery that measles was a Dalek disease.
"Doctor Who was the first mythology that I learned before ever I ran into Greek or Roman or Egyptian mythologies," he continued. "I knew that TARDIS stood for Time and Relative Dimension in Space. And I knew that the TARDIS had a food machine that made things that looked like Mars bars but tasted like bacon and eggs. You know, this was all sort of part of what I knew as a kid. I still have the battered copy of David Whitaker's Doctor Who and the Daleks that I had as a kid with terrible illustrations. I do know [Doctor Who has] been hugely influential on the shape of my head and how I see things. And I know that I feel ridiculously comfortable in that universe and that I will keep going back as long as they'll have me and as long as I can find the time."
7. Gaiman is open to cybernetic upgrades "I can absolutely imagine myself with a huge number of artificial bits. As long as I felt like me, I don't think I'd mind," he added about getting the Cyberman treatment. "I kind of like the idea of downloading my entire conscientiousness into a computer and then invading every network in the world and then slowly taking — oh, I should've had said that, should I? Scrap that. Pretend I never said anything — definitely nothing about taking over the world by downloading my consciousness into every computer in the world."
Check a preview of Gaiman's cybernetic menace on Doctor Who, which airs Saturday at 8/7c on BBC America: