What do we know about Doctor Who's mysterious new arch-nemesis?

Illustration for article titled What do we know about Doctor Whos mysterious new arch-nemesis?

You've gazed upon the hideous faces of Doctor Who's newest arch-villains for two whole episodes now — and amazingly, you can still remember them. So what have we learned about these dapper-but-nasty creatures?

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Spoilers for "Day of the Moon" below...

The good news is, "Day of the Moon" was the rare second half of a two-parter that didn't feel like a letdown. There were a few clunky bits and perhaps it got a bit too Memento-meets-They Live — but by and large, it was pretty solid stuff. And we now know a lot more about the Silence, the show's apparent new "big bad."

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Here's what we've found out:

1) They're called the Silence, and each individual member of their race is called a Silent. Yes, it's a bit confusing. But confusion is their main weapon.

2) They've been ruling our world in secret, since the discover of fire and primitive weapons. And somehow, nobody ever noticed — not Torchwood, not U.N.I.T., and not the Doctor himself. (I guess in 1969, when this episode takes place, U.N.I.T. is still in its infancy, but Torchwood has been around for a century.) They've dug tunnels that stretch all over the planet.

3) Their main weapon is that you can't remember them when you're not looking at them. (Even just a holographic or video image of them.) But apparently you can train your mind to remember some stuff about them, after months of practice. At least, as this episode begins, the Doctor's friends have been on the run for three months, and have marked their skin for each sighting of the Silence. And they're able to remember a fair bit of what they've learned about the Silence in that time — although not what the Silence look like.

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Illustration for article titled What do we know about Doctor Whos mysterious new arch-nemesis?

(Parenthetical Aside #1: Given that the more you see of the Silence, the more you remember seeing them, it seems weird that the Doctor doesn't remember seeing them before "The Impossible Astronaut." Or Rory or Amy. Either the time-travelers genuinely have never seen them before that story, or they managed to forget those earlier sightings completely, but now have managed to start retaining knowledge from sighting to sighting, and even in between sightings. You also have to wonder why nobody thinks of creating a holographic image of the Silence to carry around with them all the time, or special glasses that beam an image of the Silence onto your eyes at all times. Seems more practical than the blinky hand recorder, or writing a running tally on your face.)

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4) The Silence have two secondary weapons. They can tell you things while you're looking at them, and you'll remember those things afterwards, as a kind of post-hypnotic suggestion. And they can suck the life out of people by pouting, although that appears to be a time-consuming process.

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5) Because of their natural mental camouflage, the Silence have never bothered to develop other types of weaponry, and they have no defense against conventional weapons — as one Silent finds out when Canton Everett Delaware welcomes him to America. (And when the Brigadier said, "Just once, I'd like to meet an alien menace that wasn't immune to bullets," he probably already had — he just didn't remember.)

6) The Silence also don't bother to develop a technology of their own, because they can use their mental powers to get other people to do it for them. So when they need a survival suit for their magical child (more about her below), they "convince" humans to go to the Moon and thus develop a spacesuit. (This episode plays a lot into the trope of ascribing human progress to an outside influence, thus implying we are too useless to do these things on our own.)

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7) Despite their lack of technological innovation, the Silence have somehow reverse-engineered a TARDIS. It's identical to the one that was in the attic of that house in "The Lodger," which was stuck because it didn't have a proper pilot. (And yes, it seems as though maybe the Silence turned up in that story, but nobody remembers them — but see Parenthetical Aside #1 above.)

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8) So who's going to pilot this new version of the faux-TARDIS? Well, the Silence seem very intent on their project of creating a little girl who appears to have quasi-Time Lord powers — especially given that she regenerates at the end of the episode. She's apparently human, though, and scared enough to keep telephoning the President from her spacesuit. (The spacesuit allowed her to call the President, although she called the President to say the spacesuit was going to swallow her up, before it actually happened.)

9) The little girl is very, very important to the Silence's plans, so much so that they went to the trouble of creating a fancy spacesuit for her to make her impervious to harm. But for some unknown reason, the Silence have stashed her at a "Redrum"-themed defunct orphanage, under the care of a crazy old guy whose name is practically Renfield. (He doesn't actually eat bugs, but maybe that happens off screen.) And there's a spooky cyborg lady at the orphanage, and a photo of Amy with a baby — that Amy doesn't remember.

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Oh, and the Silence sleep on the ceiling, like bats.

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10) Speaking of which, the Silence's plan also involves Amy's pregnancy. Or is she actually pregnant? It seemed like in part one, the Silence was really keen that Amy should tell the Doctor she was pregnant — the Silence told Amy she should tell the Doctor "what he must know," and after that, Amy became so desperate to tell him about her bun in the oven. Now Amy thinks the pregnancy was just a false alarm, and she's not looking any pregnanter. But a scan of Amy's body reveals that she's both pregnant and not pregnant at the same time — it's Schrodinger's Zygote.

(Parenthetical Aside #2: There were plenty of Moffat motifs in this episode, including the thing of people listening to messages from themselves that they don't remember recording. But a less obvious one is the phantom pregnancy: Donna also had phantom children in "Forest of the Dead.")

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11) So the Silence really want to get a working TARDIS of their own, so they can take their utterly forgettable show on the road. And it seems as though they're building their own Time Lady to do it — although maybe that's a misdirection, plus you have to wonder why they let the girl escape. And it's at least hinted that Amy is the girl's mother, and it's sort of true that the girl will indeed have a "Time Head."

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12) But lest we forget, last year the Silence were able to seize control over the Doctor's TARDIS — and having access to a working TARDIS, all they wanted to do was make it explode and destroy the universe. Why would the Silence want to destroy the universe, since they live here? Was that just an accident that resulted from a botched attempt at piloting the temperamental old girl? Or is the destruction of the universe actually still the Silence's goal? (I'm inclined to lean towards the first possibility — they wanted to steal/control the TARDIS, and the explosion was an accident. But I really hope we get an explanation one way or the other.)

13) Someone wearing that survival suit shoots the future!Doctor in 2011. It's almost certainly the same suit, since River's gun has no effect on it, and we've established the 1969 survival suit is meant to be invulnerable. It seems highly likely that the faux Time Lady is wearing the suit and shoots the Doctor, since the suit is built for her. And it's probably not a member of the Silence in the suit, or Amy and the others wouldn't remember seeing the Doctor get shot at all. (Unless the suit somehow nullifies that effect.)

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Illustration for article titled What do we know about Doctor Whos mysterious new arch-nemesis?

14) The Silence have gotten around and are powerful enough to have chased the fish people (in last year's Venice episode) out of their homeworld. And somehow, the fish people still remembered enough about it to namecheck the Silence, instead of just saying "Hey, we had to leave our homeworld because of... we don't remember why. But we had to, okay?"

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15) And the Silence aren't unstoppable. The Doctor manages to outwit them by adding a video clip of a captive Silent saying "You should kill us on sight" to the live video feed of Neil Armstrong stepping on the Moon for the first time. Now, whenever humans watch that historic Moon landing footage, they'll receive a subconscious instruction to kill any Silent they see — and humans will watch that video over and over, wherever they go in the universe. The Doctor also appears to destroy the DIY TARDIS (although I rewatched the scene a few times, and I can't tell if he actually destroys it or just damages it.) Either way, the Silence can build another one — apparently they come in kits.

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All in all, this was a great second part of a terrific two-parter. I do have a few quibbles, like River Song jumping off a building and falling into the TARDIS swimming pool just felt a bit cheap, and too much of a repeat of last year's "jumping out of a spaceship" thing. And the "Rory's wacky misunderstanding" scene where he thinks Amy is talking about the Doctor's stupid face instead of his was very Three's Company and cheapened Rory a bit. And I was unclear on why Amy and Rory had to be in bodybags and why Canton had to build the perfect prison, just for a bit of subterfuge — because the baddies were watching, I guess?

But yay for Richard Nixon traveling around with the Doctor and being his personal psychic-paper substitute. And yay for Rory in a natty suit and clever specs — I could get used to him looking like that. Yay also for River shooting all the Silence while looking incredibly hawt and quipping about being an archeologist. (Yay, equally, for Canton's aforementioned "welcome to America" scene.)

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And really the final mention should go to River, whose final scene was utterly moving — she kisses the Doctor goodbye, and realizes that from his perspective, they've never kissed before. Which means that it's the last time she'll kiss him. (Although not really, since as various people have pointed out, the far-future Doctor has to turn up and give her the fancy sonic screwdriver, and hopefully there's some snogging on that occasion.) And now I think we can call it official that River and the Doctor are lovers, even if there's more to it than that. Cannot wait to see how that plays out.

Meanwhile next week, there are pirates and mermaids! Here's the special prequel to next week's "Curse of the Black Spot":

And here's the trailer:

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DISCUSSION

I absolutely hated this episode. It wasn't necessarily the "villains" that bothered me (why are they evil again? I didn't think that was ever made clear). If anything, I kind of liked the Silence, not as a villain, but just as an alien species that's been lurking around. I think they're interesting and would love to know more about them.

However, I hated what Stephen Moffat was doing with characters. It was almost as if he had no idea who any of them were. Amy might not love Rory? Did that last season with a satisfying conclusion. Why are you bringing that up again when it's so painfully obvious it doesn't matter?

Amy's pregnant! She's not pregnant! She is pregnant! My god, what an obnoxious thing to do that was. Yeah, it would be interesting to see what the Tardis does to fetal development (I guess, haven't really thought about it), but to build it up that much at the end of part 1 and then just drop it (somewhat) in the second part just felt cheap and stupid. For that matter, the state of Amy Pond's uterus should not be the focus of a season of Doctor Who (because we're going to hear about it again, you know we are). Unless she's been cheating with Schroedinger, make up your mind about whether she's pregnant, then get on with the story.

But I think one of the things that bothered me the most was the Doctor's gung-ho attitude towards genocide. Time and time again, we see him saying he doesn't like guns, doesn't want guns, doesn't want violence at all, really. Even in this episode we see him commenting on how River likes guns and he doesn't. Yet immediately after he says it, he commands humanity to wipe out this species without giving the Silence a chance to leave - as other incarnations of the Doctor would have done - or giving them any option at all. He just mocks them, then orders their species destroyed. It was wrong for his character, completely wrong. I remember I saw one Tom Baker episode (Genesis of the Daleks, I think it was) where the Doctor had the ability to wipe out the Daleks. The Daleks are, as anyone can tell you, an unabashedly evil species that wants nothing more than the destruction of all things non-Dalek. And you know what? Tom Baker actually agonised over the decision. He thought about it. He actually considered the implications and the guilt of wiping a whole species, evil or otherwise. If the Doctor is going to be committing genocide, that's how it should be done, not with a smirk and a quip. He should say why it's right, and yet still be paralysed by indecision. No one ever told me why the Silence needed to die ("they're creepy" isn't a reason). Equally, nobody thought about this. The Silence has clearly guided humanity's technology and I would argue done some good things for them. I felt the response was completely unreasonable and out of character.

In any case, I'm holding out hope that the rest of the season doesn't follow this pattern of stupid, out-of-character nonsense. I love Doctor Who, but for me, this two-parter was terrible.