The Silence Arc: A Satisfying Payoff?
Guest contributor Mark McCullough examines.
For The Time of the Doctor, we had been promised answers to the long running arcs of Matt’s Doctor’s era. Moffat certainly delivered with some wonderful curveballs. The Silents are genetically engineered priests for confession (well it explains the turtle-neck shirts) and the fact their organisation ended up as a peacemaker in the universe. All that remains is to see how the revelations fit into the wider story arc, did it all make sense?
“Silence Will Fall”
The religious order now known as the Silence was originally the Church of the Papal Mainframe. The Silence itself was formed during the Siege of Trenzalore when the mystery behind the crack in time was revealed. A new time war was imminent, all the Doctor had to do was to speak his name and the Time Lords would have returned. Their triumph would have been short lived however, because lying in wait was a cohort of their greatest enemies, fuelled with fear and ready to start a new Time War.
The goal of the Silence was a simple one, to stop this war from happening. They concluded the best way to do this was by preventing the Doctor from revealing his name, which would have allowed the Time Lords their return. Their name was based on their objective, to uphold the Doctor’s Silence, preventing the return of his species.
The ensuing stalemate suited the Silence perfectly; with the Doctor not wanting to a confrontation either and his enemies to scared to begin an outright attack. Throughout the course of the siege of Trenzalore, the Silence and the Doctor formed an alliance and together defended the town of Christmas from minor incursions. Eventually siege became battle and the Silence fought with the Doctor until their only remaining enemy was the Daleks. This was the end for the organisation as the Daleks reigned supreme, conquering Christmas.
To conclude, the Silence are a force for good in the universe, trying to prevent war and loss of life. Quite a simple story, but this is Doctor Who, and we first witness the effect of their actions in 2010, three years before their formation. This is due to a faction of the religious order now led by Madame Kovarian.
“Primum non nocere”
From what little was revealed to us, sometime during the siege of Trenzalore (presumably what was referred to in A Good Man Goes to War as: “The endless, bitter war”) a special branch of the Silence was formed. It was led by Madame Kovarian, whose past was left a mystery but was most likely previously a nun of the church. Her division, whether rebellious or structured, approached the same task (the Doctor’s silence) but utilised a different approach. By preventing the Doctor from ever reaching Trenzalore.
Their first attempt is to blow up the Doctor’s TARDIS. What they intended to gain from doing so remains unclear. The most likely explanation would be that in doing so, the Doctor could not physically travel to Trenzalore. We know Tasha Lem was capable of flying the TARDIS, so it is feasible that the Silence has a strong knowledge of how a time machine works, and would have the necessary knowledge to blow it up. I don’t believe (given the extent of my knowledge now) that it was intentional that the resulting explosion would have culminated in the formation of the Alliance, and their Pandorica trap. The knock on effect of this was total event collapse. Luckily for the Silence, the Doctor was able to fix things, meaning that they didn’t inflict more harm than good. However, true to the time travel nature of the show, their very actions were counter intuitive cementing the occurrence of the cracks in time, the reason the Doctor went to Trenzalore in the first place.
With the primary attempt unsuccessful, the branch of the Silence led by Madame Kovarian tried a different approach, using their ability to time travel in the consoles first seen in The Lodger. This plan was longer and much more convoluted as they tried to kill the Doctor, but not only that: to make it a fixed point in time.
The plot begins with the kidnapping of the Doctor’s companion, Amy Pond. Whether this occurs between series or when Amy is ambushed in Day of the Moon, is left for the viewer to decide. Knowing that Amy is pregnant, she switches the Amy in the TARDIS for a flesh avatar, with the intention of using Amy’s child to kill the Doctor. The Silence allies themselves with the Church in A Good Man Goes to War, presumably their own past along with the headless monks (who are presumably also part of the church as both are under the rule of the Papal Mainframe). Kovarian escapes with River Song and heads to Earth, United States of America, 1969. Here River grows up in an orphanage and an astronaut suit, presumably guarded by the legions of Silents in the tunnels beneath. Following the Doctor’s intervention, the Silence are defeated and the young River Song escapes to New York where she lives on the streets for six months before regenerating.
The story continues in Let’s Kill Hitler, except the Silence doesn’t feature. River Song now revealed to be Melody Pond, the daughter of Amy and Rory, manages to make her way from 1969 America to her parents childhood years. She lives a relatively normal life until the Doctor turns up and they end up in war torn Berlin, where Mels regenerates into River. Upon recognising the Doctor, her conditioning kicks in and she tries to kill him. The Silence never predicted that she would fall in love with him though, and the whole attempted murder is resolved rather easily.
The next appearance of the Silence is in the final scene of Closing Time, where they find River Song again and deliver her to her final fate in the Astronaut suit, on a beach in Utah, where she kills the Doctor. The Silence had set things up so as the event had become a fixed point in time. The Doctor and his wife both had to be present and that she had to shoot him, otherwise time itself would stop progressing. The Doctor utilises his intelligence and in his own words, dresses for the occasion, avoiding death whilst still fulfilling the requirements to maintain stable time. The Doctor’s escape is known only by River and his companions, so the Silence assume their plan was successful and River is taken to the storm cell by the church. It is here that she has adventures with the Doctor from, in The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone, The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang and A Good Man Goes to War. The Kovarian Division of the Silence’s story is over at this point.
Very few writers can introduce and conclude a three series story arc in one episode, but Moffat manages to do it to a satisfactory level. The resolutions to me did not feel forced and when slotted into the bigger picture makes complete sense. The doors for a return of the Silence also remain open; we know that there are factions, so there could be more. They are also now connected to the story of the return of the Time Lords so should hopefully feature again there. It is a rather strange but good feeling, knowing the answers to the questions and loose ends that have plagued Matt’s era.