When Doctor Who calls, Neil Gaiman listens. At least, when producer Steven Moffat calls with irresistible bait.
Gaiman, bestselling author of such fantasy novels as Coraline, American Gods and Stardust, is the screenwriter for the episode Nightmare in Silver, showing at 8 p.m. Saturday on BBC America.
The busy Gaiman turned Moffat down the first time he asked. Then the producer dangled the opportunity to write about the Cybermen — to “make them scary again,” said Gaiman in a conference call Wednesday.
In Nightmare, the upgraded 21st century Cybermen provide suitable villains in a tale that includes a unique chess match, a ruined amusement park, outnumbered sub-standard soldiers and finally, a big bang.
Lace it with a mouthy teen, her younger brother, a bittersweet hero and many flight scenes, and Nightmare is likely to be well received by Doctor Who fans.
The classic British television series, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in November, centers on an alien (the title character) who travels through time and space in a TARDIS (spaceship) having adventures. There have been 11 Doctors over the course of the series who have faced countless lethal foes including Daleks, Weeping Angels and warrior Sontarans.
Gaiman says he started watching Doctor Who at the age of 3. At 5, he persuaded his father to buy the Dalek World Annual, and learned, among other fun (fictional) facts, that measles were a Dalek disease.
“It was the first mythology that I learned before I ran into Greek or Roman or Egyptian mythologies,” Gaiman says. “I knew that TARDIS stood for Time and Relative Dimension in Space. I knew that the TARDIS had a food machine that made things that looked like Mars Bars but tasted like bacon and eggs.”
The author would like to leave his mark on the mythos by creating a Doctor Who monster that could be written by others going forward.
His favorite Doctor: Patrick Troughton, the second actor to play the character.
“He was quirky, small, funny slightly on the edge. Everybody always underestimated him because he seemed to be a little bit goofy,” Gaiman says, “while the things he went up against were huge and terrifying, and he’d win somehow.
“He was the Doctor that I would have wanted to go off in the TARDIS with … I loved the feeling back then, that events had consequences and that some of those consequences were going to be lethal.”