Doctor Who: Silents I – “You should kill us all on sight” (Whovember #11 Sigma)

Doctor Who and the Silence 

They appeared in a – what was I saying? Oh yes, they appeared with a bang in the bolder and more ambitious sixth series of Doctor Who. It would take a few years to find out who these all too familiar aliens were. The mid-point of the Eleventh Whovember looks at the appearance of the Silents in Doctor Who

THE FIRST PART OF THIS WHOVEMBER #11 LOOKED AT THE SILENCE THAT QUIETLY HOUNDED THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR’S TENURE. BUT THAT’S ONLY HALF THE MYSTERY. To uncover the rest you need to go singular. Yes the Silents, who first appeared in the Sixth series opener and went on to stage a number of invasions, and difficult sentences, until the fall of the Eleventh. They don’t appear in every episode of the Silence arc, but their presence was felt earlier than it appeared:

These mysterious, lanky monsters in their sharp suits, all memory clouding and random electricity, could be called a classic Moffat creation. Horrific, scary and with a special monsterish twist. They may look like typical Grey aliens, but you won’t remember them when you turn away. From the lofty view-point of the Twelfth Doctor it seems that the Silents’ story has definitively ended, possibly in extinction. But you can never say never, especially if you can’t remember it. There was always the risk they could be a one-trick pony; on their short journey much fun was had with their memory-evading powers so perhaps it’s not surprising that their presence was felt before they first appeared…

The Lodger (Series Five, 2010)

Since the first full appearance, there has been countless speculation on the possibility of Silent incursions into Doctor Who throughout the Eleventh Doctor’s life and indeed beyond. And why not? He may have thwarted their countless appearances before his Earth exile in the 1970s (or yes, the 1980s, UNIT pedants), but the Doctor will quite reasonably have encountered them many times during his travels on Earth and beyond. Particularly worth thinking about, are the fog covered streets of the East End in 1963. But, sadly, this is a television show. When a billionaire buys Doctor Who from the BBC, he may take a George Lucas approach to retconning Silents into the classic series (while he seamlessly recreates lost episodes, perfectly recolours the black and whites, and up-scales to 3d). But until then, the Silents must be viewed in their specific time. Yes, Amy and River both gasp and stare while uttering non-sequiturs during Series Five, but that’s not necessarily anything to do with the Silents. It’s some kind of web-felled, self-perpetuating retconning – something Moffat’s show-running lends itself to perfectly. But considering some of the clear logic breaks in the Silence arc, it’s difficult to believe that such things could be planned enough in advance. I’d certainly swap them for clearing up some other points of the arc. No, the lanky aliens don’t enter the universe until The Impossible Astronaut, opening Series Six.

Except, that’s not true.

Hidden in Plain sight

“Big, scary big”

In Series Five, there’s a throw-away far more interesting than those unconfirmed non-sightings, and one that typically hid the question in plain sight.

It’s fitting that the first episode to impact the Silents features neither the Silents nor Silence, but dwells on deception, reality, dislocation and memory. The Lodger begins ignominiously in Colchester… But this his time, in Craig Owens flat, there is a stain on the ceiling rather than a crack. People are disappearing after they’re lured into the flat above so it’s handy that the Doctor has been abandoned nearby without the TARDIS. Could these two things be related? Well, we stumble through the hilarity of the Doctor assuming a normal life on the way to finding out… It’s a generally good natured episode, with Gareth Roberts supreme knowledge of all things Who adding in many nice, historical nods – especially bringing back the literal head-splitting nod of contact telepathy.

The two are of course related, as confirmed by an Amy struggling to land the TARDIS she’s trapped aboard. And the Doctor takes becomes Craig’s titular lodger, just below the mysterious flat, staking the place out in an astoundingly slow way that I can’t imagine many of his predecessors doing. That said, as he helpfully tells Amy and us, whatever’s stopping the TARDIS landing is “Big, scary big”.

And to paraphrase the Eleventh Doctor’s successor, that’s not the question…

As the last act kicks in, “of course” we find that Craig’s is a one storey flat, all this time the upper floor being a time engine disguised by a chameleon circuit… Or a perception filter. It’s someone’s attempt to build a TARDIS but why would anyone do that? Well, we actually see more than we think though even in hindsight it’s easy to miss. There’s a crashed ship, with a dead crew and classic out of control AI, similar to Moffat’s own The Girl in the Fireplace. But then… The lightning drawing the controller to the console would become familiar.

When he finally does walk into the time engine the Doctor sees the dead pilot of the craft lying near the console, before being distracted and instantly losing interest. Later he would say that the craft’s abandoned… It’s not totally compelling, although the opening of Series Six would confirm that such a craft was a time machine of the Silence and that the pilot or pilots were likely Silents. Somehow they were able to fly such time machines with less crew than a fully-Time Lorded TARDIS and rather than a functional cabinet, the default machine design is revealed to be a rather insectoid, hideous creation with silly grasping legs.

So what of other Silent Shots? In the TARDIS Amy seems to randomly shout “hey” twice while talking to the Doctor fuelling talk of Silents aboard the TARDIS. It’s not unbelievable, as the Silence would gain control of the ship in just a few episodes time. However this episode, slight filler as it may appear, is all about building anticipation. Whether the events of The Lodger are connected to the three main plots of the Silence or some unspecified fourth attempt are unclear, but something’s for sure: The Silence was well on its way to interfering with the Doctor’s life.

Read how their first attempt panned out with a chrono-jumping attempt to the Silence Whovember here.

The next time the Silents appeared heralded the very involved the Silence’s intertwined second and third attempts on the Doctor.

The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon (Series Six, 2011)

Ambition

It would start arguably the most consistently great half-series of the show since Who returned.

These could be the most important episodes of the Smith era, anniversary specials excluded. Russell T Davies established an American model when he brought the Doctor back, with 45 minute episodes, a steady ‘half season’s’ worth of episodes that built to a finale and even event episodes at the equivalent of sweeps times (the crucial review time for American network commissioners). What he didn’t do was lavish premieres, seeing the strength in a series that slowly built momentum as it ran to its finale. Moffatt instantly broke this with the superb The Eleventh Hour, albeit under the cover of regeneration.

What was less expected was the huge start to Series Six. For the first time, the New Who kicked off with a high-budget, international two-partner that didn’t just lay down the hints of series-long story arc as much as hit you round the head with an astronaut suit. And still, little appeared to link these events with Series Five’s finale and the Silence.

Mind you, it was stunning opening and it needed to be. Series Five had fallen a little flat, with the massive changes for changes sake taking a while to sink in and the muted colour scheme contrasting sharply with the colourful excess of the Tenant years. A Christmas Carol however, had set a high bar as one of the greatest specials, and a wonderfully complete and self-contained impressive festive edition. So, thank goodness Series Six had the nouse to attack its audience so determinedly. And it would start arguably the most consistently great half-series of the show since Who returned.

The Impossible Astronaut’s stormingly embarrassing opening sees the Doctor dislocated from his newly-wed companions but unable to let them go, sending messages to them from the past before an invitation arrives in TARDIS blue (current era blue, that). It’s encouraging that Royal Mail can still deliver to River Song in the far future as she’s the second recipient of the invitation. It’s frivolous, but also far more enjoyably intricate than the montage we saw at the start of The Pandorica Opens. And it’s become better in hindsight. While it’s nice to know that the Doctor’s already escaped the Tower of London we soon find that all these antics befit a man with very good reason to have a mid-incarnation crisis. We soon find out that it’s been 200 years since he last saw the Ponds and he’s been running fast up to the age of 1103. A lull, filled with River and the Doctor’s diary-syncing and a jolly nice diner catch up, doesn’t prepare us for the fact that things are about to get a lot more complicated.

The Final Plan

It’s an iconic image… and obviously had much of the plot worked around it

The palette, the scope, the locations – it all looks beautiful. And then with the first appearance of a Silent in the western haze, Murray Gold meets the occasion and then there’s a spaceman in the lake. It’s an iconic image, and one that obviously had much of the plot worked around it – a plot that would stretch for a while. We’re in the midst of the Silence’s final plan, and it would take all of Series Six for that to unravel.

The rather brilliant arrival of Canton Everett Delaware III promises that things will be getting very timey-wimey. And precedes the main problem. The shocking regeneration of Smith, with the harsh cutting down mid-cycle was a genuinely jaw-dropping moment. But in hindsight his regeneration just wasn’t be possible. It’s a riddle built on a mis-reading when you watch it back, and one that becomes jarring when we reach Time of the Doctor. But the end result remains the same; there must be a reason why the Doctor can regenerate – the same reason River can’t shoot the assassin (“course not”). The Doctor is dead, there’s no doubt about that. Got it?

And then the 909 year old Doctor turns up so at least we have a show left… Matt Smith was truly impeccable by this point, fantastically watchable and innately funny. Despite the misleading regeneration, the riddle of the ‘definitely’ dead Doctor instantly adds mystery while the appearance of his younger self adds tension; of course, he can never know that he’s going to die. Before the rather flawed blockbuster every week experiment of Series Seven, this is brain-storming quality in terms of ambition, pacing and design.

Hints are laid out throughout, and the mystery soon complicates further. At the same time, the Doctor is trying to work out who River is and what his companions are keeping from him. But it’s tracking Canton that leads them to the White House and our first proper look at the Silents. They would rarely be this chilling again. Again we see one through Amy, a nice touch in hindsight. Like the Pandorica Alliance (now surely eradicated from this universe), could the Silence have isolated the Doctor’s companions as his weakness? The Silent certainly knows her name and asks her to pass on a message. “What he must know and what he must never know”. As it surely knows that Amy will take some time to remember, everything points to this being a very drawn out plot… But when Amy sees them for the third time in the salubrious locale of the White House toilets we get know all we will ever need to know about them. Once out of sight, the Silents simply can’t be remembered. The visit gives us two Star Trek references (which aren’t complimentary – that rival show had been taken off air the month before this episode is set with just one episode left to air) then the rather bizarre lightening powers that blow humans to smithereens.

Family Time

They run under the entire planet, completely forgotten

It’s here that the Silents become explicitly bonded to River, although we wouldn’t know that for some time. After the comedic and well directed turn in the Oval Office has given up the secrets of the daily phone call to President Nixon, we’re whisked to Florida, five miles from the Kennedy Space Centre, for the third act.

This really is a show of three parts, and it’s in Florida that everything gets serious. It’s a trap, there’s a little girl in trouble, a stalking space suit, the logic of which doesn’t quite add up, and something eminently forgettable in the basement.

When she emerges from the tunnels, River appears in a panic that quickly falls away. It’s what will become a calling sign of the Silents, and which crucially doesn’t match some of those supposed sightings during Series Five. Rory and River then head into the underground where they realise the extent of the tunnels that nobody notices, a network that suggests the Silents have been around for quite some time. In fact they run under the entire planet, completely forgotten. A viewer needs to overlook the irritating repartee that River and Rory bring to this trip, it’s quite irritating even if it’s not as contradictory as her interactions with her father the series before (“Doctor, that Centurion..?”). And for all she talks about her coiling and miserable destiny it’s hard to recall her being as upset as she suggests by the time she met the Tenth Doctor in that library.

From there, things accelerate yet further. River’s speech makes way for a step into the time capsule we saw in The Lodger, but this time with two characters who never saw it before, and with Silents closing in… While above Amy discloses her pregnancy to the Doctor… And the spacesuit appears in chilling slo-mo… With a girl inside… And the rather hormonally-stretched Amy Pond shoots… Yes, shouts the entire planet, they can’t jump these cliff-hangers!

Jumping Cliff-hangers

If you think that might turn out to be a classic Moffat trope, you’re proved right immediately.

Oh yes they bloody can.

But, when it comes to handing out credit, this is the Moffat cliff-hanger jump to beat all others. It’s infuriating, but at least it’s high concept. Amy running from Canton in the Valley of the Gods, Utah; the Doctor being slowly encased in a new Pandorica of dwarf star alloy in Area 51; River diving from New York skyscrapers hoping for a TARDIS rescue and; Rory who’s clearly seen more Silents than anyone.

It’s all high-octane, but is a loose follow-up to the first episode. Much like the Series Five finale, it forms a story of two parts. But this isn’t really the kind of cliff-hanger we’re used to, especially when companions start dying all over the place. At least a flash-back reveals the TARDIS crew regrouped in the warehouse before the Silents got them, leaving Canton’s as a primary agent, but fortunately one with a trick up his sleeve. Post-tiles, post-twist, we’re on plan again.

Felt-tips at the ready

Memory-locked as opposed to quantum-locked

It’s three months later and the Silents have emerged from the Shadows to infiltrate the world. Now they’re recorded to not only cause specific memory loss and nausea, but also hypnotic suggestion for good measure. They are classic monsters as the Doctor’s ‘corner of your eye’ chat suggests. True, the Silents are blatantly an attempt to top the Weeping Angels, memory-locked as opposed to quantum-locked, but at least they’re able to push the Doctor’s back into the ‘revolutionary’ game. The startling, felt-tip number gates on skin (how does it help on the forehead?) are just a precursor to the palm injected, nano-recorder. If you think that might turn out to be a classic Moffat trope, you’re proved right immediately.

Day of the Moon, for the many faults of its opening, and its disparate resolution, is good fun. There are memorable scenes, particularly when the TARDIS crew is split up and Canton and Amy end up on the rather unsavoury hunt of the little girl they encountered in the first part. Of course, that would be in a deserted orphanage called Graystark with more than a passing resemblance to Arkham Asylum, ‘run’ by a rather Renfield-from-Dracula like Dr Renfrew. It’s wonderfully gothic, but like many aspects of the story it just seems that the vision came before the script. Canton and Amy make a good pairing, which is just as well in such a haunting venue. Renfrew’s so mind-wiped, so dominated by Silents, that he’s lost two years. And while Amy’s solo search yields the nano-trick and the horrid nest of Silents on the ceiling, there’s Renfrew’s ambiguous trip to the door for a conversation with someone very tall, unseen and instantly forgettable. But if Renfrew was talking to a Silent as is strongly suggested and certainly not contradicted, why does one slope into the room soon afterwards…

Candid Camera

A captive Silent is the best chance of learning more about them, and this one doesn’t disappoint. This one’s shot (That Silents don’t use weapons is a nice play on the Doctor’s refusal to use them).

“This world is ours” it hisses, since the wheel and the fire… This dying Silent is the first to directly relate these events to the Series Five arc: “Silence Doctor, we are the Silence”. There’s even a flashback to prove it. Prisoner, Rory, Vampires… “Silence will fall”…

With the link drawn the real question is why and how millennia on Earth could form any part of their plan? Crucially, as Amy nears the truth, there’s the first random appearance of Frances Barber’s Madam Kovarian, scrutinising and sneering, “No, I think she’s just dreaming”. Peering from an impossible hatch on the door of the room that housed the girl they’re looking for yields the revelation: The photograph of Amy and her baby, then the appearance of the astronaut, the girl inside, Amy’s relief and a bodyguard made of well suited Silents. If you haven’t even thought that the little girl is Amy’s daughter by now, you’ll have plenty of time to work it out…

That extra-special-Moff trope

Because when the Doctor arrives Amy is gone. The nano removal adds the extra-special-Moff trope of hearing Amy’s current live feed. Yes, a live feed that doesn’t quite make sense when the nano’s removed and nowhere near. And it seems that the chief purpose is the unnecessary resurrection of the Rory, Amy, Doctor, er, threesome.

The stirring orphanage scenes all push the Doctor’s separate storyline, the one that should be primary, into a cocked eye-patch. Especially with the comedy Nixon element, allowed aboard the TARDIS and humiliated, no, wheeled out twice for the same joke in NASA and Area 51.
It’s time to dwell on the spacesuit, revealed as a life support machine, replete with communications and weaponry. It’s sophisticated kit. But while we’re told that “Every single thing we learn about (the Silence) brings us a step closer” it doesn’t feel that way. The little girl, may be proved to be human and incredibly strong but for now it’s all about the Silents. Deduced to be super-parasites, influencing humans for millennia to have what they need built for them. As the Doctor later says, they’re “way out of time”. In that context, the Moon mission and space race just came down to the Silents needing a spacesuit. A spacesuit that repairs itself. Back to building the plot around the image – this darn suit raises even more questions. Why would the suit need to eat the little girl if she’s already using the comms to phone Nixon? By that age you may well expect the girl to be conditioned enough not to constantly break out of it, if indeed she did, and most importantly you can’t help but think that it wouldn’t have to be inhabited to assassinate the Doctor anyway.

Genocide across the cosmos

“Silent in the dwarf star prison – Your will is ours” – the end-game kicks in when Canton captures the video with future technology; neatly, that’s technology that wouldn’t exist in the near-future without the Silents’ influence. Meanwhile Amy is in a Silent time engine. “We do you honour – you will bring the Silence, your memory is weak” say the Silents. When the Doctor arrives, there’s a gratuitous reference to the Lodger: “Abandoned. Wonder how that happened…” and extraordinarily, a savage fire-fight obliteration of the species, with some blinding River action as the Doctor might not say. Meanwhile, thanks to the footage that Canton captured, the Doctor making them visible in a famous piece of footage surely triggers of genocide across the cosmos.

While the monster is vanquished this time, and their grip of the Earth released, the unsolved mystery of the little girl has replaced the still unsolved question left at the end of Series Five.

Especially when, after River’s worst fears are quickly realised and the TARDIS reveals the mystery of Amy’s positive/negative pregnancy result there’s the jump to New York… And the little girl regenerates. It’s a brilliant ending, making great use of the cohesive regeneration effect the new series has brought. Regeneration. A great way to top and tail. Unbelievably we would have to wait some time to find out why the Silents were involved.

Read how the Silence’s second attempt failed here a chrono-jumping leap to the Silence Whovember.

The space suit had a purpose and as much as the Silents were seemingly abandoned by the Silence in the hope that years of brainwashing River Song would help, by their final attempt it’s clear that the Silents were back in favour and may just prove the masterstroke…

Next time – The Whovember concludes: The Silents, the Silence and the Fall of the Eleventh 

Previously: Whovember #11 (Alpha) – When the Silence was Plural…

 

4 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Silents I – “You should kill us all on sight” (Whovember #11 Sigma)”

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