WASHINGTON — When “Doctor Who” calls, Neil Gaiman listens.
At least, when producer Steven Moffat calls with an irresistible bait.
Gaiman, noted author of such fantasy books as “Coraline,” “American Gods” and “Stardust,” is the screenwriter for the episode “Nightmare in Silver,” showing Saturday on BBC America. It should be available on iTunes shortly after that.
It wasn’t a sure thing. The very busy Gaiman turned Moffat down the first time he asked.
Then Moffat 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 is celebrating its 50th anniversary in November. It centers on an alien, “Doctor Who,” who travels through time and space in a TARDIS (spaceship) having adventures. There have been 11 “Doctors,” one for each of the actors who have taken over the part, who have faced a huge number of lethal foes (including Daleks, Weeping Angels and the warrior Sontarans).
Gaiman started watching “Doctor Who” at the age of 3. At 5, he persuaded his father to buy the “Dalek World Annual” at Victoria Station, 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,” said Gaiman. “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.”
Gaiman would like to leave his mark on the mythos by creating his own iconic “Doctor Who” monster that could be written by others going forward. He’d like to feel that he “left something behind.”
His choice for favorite Doctor was set between the ages of 6 to 9: 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,” said Gaiman, “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.”