Now that's how you write a Doctor Who episode. So often I lament the new series' forty-five minutes per story format but somehow Neil Gaiman gets it done without it feeling rushed. Everyone knows how much I hate kids, but I was completely onboard with their POV for sleepover at the creepy amusement park in space. After forty-five minutes I feel like I've had a fulfilling experience--every minor character worked like a charm, even just one frightened soldier who yells at a Cyberman, "Stop! I'm in the army!"
Warwick Davis as the man behind the futuristic version of the Turk is great. I guess I've seen him in the Harry Potter movies but I don't really remember him. I know him from Willow and between the two roles he shows quite a range, I bought him here as a mysterious, charming, world weary veteran.
The chemistry between the Doctor and Clara is perfectly, wonderfully mysterious and sexy. Innocent in a way that is both adolescent and like people of all ages who out-think themselves.
Of course I love stories that involve chess and the Doctor's game with the Cyber Planet in his head was well put together. It would have been nice if we had shots of the board layout we could analyse but I guess that's asking a lot. It's too bad K-9 wasn't handy since we know he's better than the Doctor at chess. I do love the idea that the Time Lords invented chess.
I guess this episode's supposed to take place close to Tomb of the Cybermen, within the same culture? It fits with the Cybermen being a long ago vanquished menace.
Mostly I feel this episode works because of pacing and no sense of arbitrary stakes. It takes its time, and relishes in, setting a scene, credibly builds characters' reactions to it and their responses to what happens make sense. Except when Clara says she sees "nothing" in the sky and we see a big disk of glowing cloud. But that's likely the fault of the effects people.
I'm far too jaded to say whether or not Neil Gaiman succeeded in his mission to "make the Cybermen scary again" but he certainly made them interesting. There's no sappy moments of someone's love conquering the cyber upgrades, instead the Cybermen are adaptive and clever. They've returned effectively to their thematic roots as a demonstration of the cold and death inherent in perfectionism, and it's appropriate that leads to their defeat.
I've read Gaiman has stated he'd be up for writing for the show again. I find myself fantasising about a Doctor Who with Neil Gaiman as show runner.