‘The Silver Turk’
In the streets of Vienna, a strange oddity called the Silver Turk amuses the populace. A cloth-wrapped mechanization, it is an expert gamesman and pianist. Possessing a garbled voice box, it cannot be understood and appears to be wounded and in some distress. But if it is expecting rescue from the Doctor, it will be sorely disappointed. When the Doctor encounters the stranded Cyberman he is overcome with disgust, placing a solid schism between him and his compassionate traveling companion, Mary… who no doubt sides with the monster over the monster hunter.
Traveling with the famed novelist Mary Shelley, the Doctor lands in Vienna during the 19th Century. Exuberant with the possibilities of showing the marvels of time and space to one of the progenitors of science fiction, this is a very different version of the character who was far more angst-ridden and moody after the events of the Divergent Universe. I had intended to listen to all of the Eighth Doctor stories in order, but after being frustrated by the second series, I have jumped to the most recent trilogy, skipping Company of Friends which means I am missing the initial meeting of Mary and the Doctor.
When I had first learned of Mary Shelly being the new companion, I immediately ruled out that Mary Shelley, so imagine my surprise when I learn that this is indeed the person who penned Frankenstein. Historical characters in the new BBC Wales series have been frankly tiresome, but in this case Julie Cox injects so much vitality and passion that she stands out as an ideal match for the ‘breathless Romantic’ Eighth Doctor.
But the Silver Turk, used as a relatively innocent sideshow attraction, is not the real danger here. The dastardly Dr Johan Drossel (played by Gareth Armstrong, Juliano from The Masque of Mandragora). A propped up Cyberman playing piano and chess may be strange, but Drossel’s Marionette World is simply terrifying. Using technology from the grounded craft, Drossel uses a Cyberman driven mad with anguish to derive material from the streets, leaving a stream of corpses in its wake, their eye sockets empty.
Mangled bodies, wooden mechanations with human eyes set in their faces, gurgling clicking creatures that strike in the night… The level of grotesque and tactile horror is upsetting but made all the more poignant by the Doctor’s dispassionate reaction to it all. While he takes it all in stride, Mary is almost driven to anxiety by the situation , especially because the Doctor is comfortable with labeling the Cybermen as simple monsters that need to be stopped at all costs. After losing so much, sacrificing friends and freedom to save all of creation, perhaps this Doctor has become far more alien than the human-like gentleman we first met.
Depicting the Cybermen as wretched weak victims of circumstance is an inspired choice and it works so well. They are still striking and terrifying boogeymen who clank and growl in the darkened streets of nineteenth century Vienna, but they are near death and desperate. As Mary finds out, their lives are also cold empty things ruled by logic and purpose. They live only to propagate their race and survive into the future. With two worlds lost, an empire crumbled and tombs raided, they are still one of the creepiest monsters of classic Doctor Who.
There are some lovely touches to this story, such as the aforementioned friction between the Doctor and Mary. It is also very moving when Mary realizes that all of her friends and family would be dead in the future. It’s not overdone, so it carries much weight and moves the story along with equal measure. Marc Platt’s script is brilliant but again not overly so. His previous Cyberman story Spare Parts got a trifle too smart at times, but this adventure is so emotive and intense that the drama, horror and fantasy blend so well that it is classic Doctor Who.
A stirring Gothic horror with an iconic monster and even more dangerous central villain, The Silver Turk is a dark opera of murder and alien invasion combined with the tragedy of human cruelty.
The Silver Turk can be ordered from The Book Depository with free shipping worldwide by clicking on the link below: