Steven Moffat has gone for a big, explosive opening for Series 6 in this creepy, exciting, showy romp of a two-parter. They’ve pulled out all the stops and gone to film in
the colonies the United States, and, just to prove they’ve been there, there’s a delightful masquerade of American imagery and symbolism, a celebration of Americana. The story opens with Amy and Rory and River Song summoned to the beautiful wild landscapes of Utah. If that wasn’t enough to pique your interest, within the first fifteen minutes we witness the Doctor being killed by a mysterious astronaut that emerges from a lake, an incredibly surreal and mesmerising scene. Moffat couldn’t have begun Series 6 on a more audaciously thrilling note. It couldn’t have set up more compellingly the series arc that would play out over Series 6 (an arc that I personally love).
This story is about the Doctor and Co. chasing the clue that the Doctor’s future self left them before he died. The little girl and the Silence. This story is bursting at the seams with mystery and intrigue and unanswered questions, which effectively makes for captivating viewing. It oozes conspiracy and suspense: this isn’t a “Doctor fights the monsters” story, it’s a “Doctor investigates something very mysterious” story, and it’s done sublimely here. It manages to combine the thick, compelling mystery of the little girl and the Silence with a succession of wonderfully entertaining comedy moments. It also contains a number of gratifying character moments: Amy’s grieving over the seemingly dead Doctor, River Song’s sad contemplation to Rory of her bittersweet relationship with the Doctor–that poignant “foreshadowing” of Silence in the Library, the renewed tension between Rory and the Doctor after Amy disappears. River’s pained reflection upon what was coming for her and the Doctor I thought was particularly poignant, if only because we all already know how it all ends for her, and how too true were her words: “And the day is coming when I’ll look into that man’s eyes, my Doctor, and he won’t have the faintest idea who I am. And I think it’s going to kill me.”
The Silence though. Steven Moffat is at it again. God, that man has a knack for scaring viewers. This two-parter is positively seized with creepiness, featuring what I consider Moffat’s scariest creation, the Silence. They’re ghoulish, husk-like apparitions with withered, hollowed-out faces who speak in unsettling, raspy voices. Their appearance is terrifying enough, but they also come with the ingenious gimmick of being completely forgotten as soon as those who see them look away from them. Oh, and, if that wasn’t enough to make you start glancing around nervously everywhere you go, they can persuade you to do things subconsciously after you’ve looked away from them. Their first appearance, when Amy sees the Silent watching her in the distance at Utah, was really creepy. And surely when the Silent in the White House bathroom kills the woman, contorting and inflating and filling the room like some kind of foul ghoul, was one of the scariest things Doctor Who has ever screened? The scene with Amy in the room in the orphanage was also tremendously scary, the lighting and cinematography manipulated expertly to induce an unnerving sense of panic and suspense. Imagine you’re a child seeing the Silence for the first time. I think it’s only when you imagine watching this story as a child that you realise the genius of this monster, how terrifying they really are. It’s almost as though the Silence were designed to frighten children away from Doctor Who. I was 16 when this story was first broadcast and even at 16 they freaked me out.
Although it’s controversial among many fans, I love the resolution, the way the Doctor uses the Silence’s power against them and raises a “revolution” against the Silence. It’s a clever, ingenious ploy to bring down the Silence’s infestation of the planet that’s a testament to the Doctor’s wits and ingenuity. That said, there is an element of truth to the controversy around the Doctor’s actions. The Doctor’s actions seem ostensibly out-of-character: the Doctor is, truth be told, effectively manipulating the human race into committing genocide against the Silence. The Doctor is apparently wronging two groups here: the Silence, whose wanton genocide he is orchestrating, and humanity, whom he is turning into unknowing instruments of his mass murder, deprived of the free will to resist the impulse to murder. More than that, the Doctor is condemning the Silence to death without really knowing what they are. He’s figuratively (or perhaps not) shooting before asking questions. I remember being somewhat uncomfortable with this when I first saw the episode, and, to some extent, it’s still hard to justify the Doctor’s actions. Perhaps we just need to keep in mind that the Doctor is hardly as indisposed to violence and death as he usually pretends to be, and that he probably did think he was doing the right thing, or at least that he had no other choice. I will, in any case, at least say that the scene where the Doctor confronts the Silence in their base and triumphantly reveals his victory was awesome, as was River’s badass taking down the Silence single-handedly.
The story leaves a number of burning questions unanswered, such as what the Silence are, who the little girl is, what her relationship to Amy was, how she can regenerate, and what’s going to happen about the Doctor’s death. That’s good. I want unanswered questions. I want series-long, even multi-series, narratives and arcs. I want to be kept interested. I want constant mystery hanging over this show. I love it when Doctor Who becomes a serialised show with an ongoing plotline. Others are less taken with Moffat’s penchant for series arcs, Series 6 being the series arc par excellence, but I like having the sense that there’s an ongoing mystery that’s leading up to something big and profound. This story has left my appetite wholesomely whetted, excited to see more. A fantastic start to Series 6.