Willo the Silent

Come here for a minute. That’s right. Just a little closer. This should probably be whispered, or at least murmured, because I fear it’s not going to make me popular. OK, I’m going to lower my voice a little. Can you still hear me? Good. Well, listen carefully because I won’t be saying it a second time.

I don’t like the Silence.

I mean it. They were billed as this creepy, horrifying Who villain and I found them inexorably dull: lanky aliens in CIA suits who speak in throaty voices, facially resembling a Munsch painting. It’s like Moffat went to the design-your-own-monster website and clicked three buttons at random, or perhaps he and the other writers were playing that game where you write something on a piece of paper and then fold it over and pass it on to the next person in the group. I know what they’re supposed to be, and I sort of like the concept of them having been here for millennia unnoticed because we can’t see them when we’re not looking at them, but the whole hidden-influence-memory-wipe thing was done to death when Men In Black came out. (One of my favourite ways to torture sci-fi buffs is to challenge them to prove that Men In Black didn’t happen. It always provokes a fun argument.)

Perhaps it was the media hype machine that did it. The Silence were, after all, billed as ‘the scariest monsters in the show’s history’ in the heavily-publicised run-up to series six, which proves that while Matt Smith is a damned fine Doctor, he’s obviously never seen ‘Pyramids of Mars’ (or ‘The Empty Child’, come to that). The press releases, the teaser clips, the organised leaks and the fact that they’re mentioned throughout the ENTIRE FIFTH SERIES meant that most of their novelty value had been lost before we even saw them, much like one of those tedious email jokes you get which has pages and pages of blank lines reading “Scroll down…you’re nearly there…wait for it…” before finally arriving at a punch line that really isn’t that funny at all. Conversely, the Weeping Angels were – in ‘Blink’ at least – the most frightening thing to appear on TV since the beginning of the revival, and their success may have been because they weren’t introduced with nearly as much fanfare. (Or perhaps they were, and I was just reading the wrong stuff. The Angels are, in any case, sadly deteriorating into parodies of themselves, largely because every time we see them they seem less effective. I shudder when I think of what Moffat may be planning this autumn.)

It also doesn’t help that the first time we see any of the Silence it’s in a scene that features Ruby Wax’s irritating younger sister. (The offending moment is at 26:17.) Just watch it again. I have nothing against them casting Americans in Doctor Who but they could at least cast Americans who don’t sound like British people doing bad American accents, which is exactly what Nancy Baldwin does here. The dialogue doesn’t do her any favours, but you’re frankly relieved when the lightning comes out and she explodes. I always felt that one of the chief failures of xXx (that third-rate Vin Diesel action flick) was that you wound up siding and empathising with the terrorists, and the same applies here. We want Joy to meet a sticky end, not in the conventional sense of being shocked and appalled (“Hurrah, here comes the villain and they’re going to do something dreadful”) but simply because she’s an annoying cow.

Another problem I have with the Silence is that they really don’t seem to be that malevolent. Aside from their tendency to kill anyone who gets in their way (and annoying women in toilets bathrooms) what proof do we have that their interference in humanity’s development and progression (a sort of subversive 2001 monolith, without the monolith) has been negative? If they’ve always been here, one would assume that they’ve helped us with the wheel, the development of tools, the invention of currency and the industrial revolution, all so they can – what – get us to design a space suit? So they have the technology to fly to Earth and blend in unnoticed for millennia, but they need us to do the suit? Of course, it later transpires that they’re all part of the tedious plot to destroy the Doctor, but by then they’ve already lost what credibility they’ve had, so the damage has been done.

One would assume that the Silence can remember each other even when they’re looking the other way. It would be awfully inconvenient if they couldn’t. Gareth pointed out that a Silence Olympics would, for example, be farcical, because whoever dashed into the lead would instantly forget that there was anyone behind him, and he’d then wonder “Why am I running?”, and then stop and let everyone else overtake him, and then the whole cycle would begin again with someone else. (I’d also have thought that the Angels were similarly hampered, simply because they can’t ever look at each other. Weeping Angel tennis matches must be short.)

It was Lawrence Miles who came up with one of the funniest deconstructions of ‘Day of the Moon’ I read – more overstating his case, but we laughed a lot. My own response was to make this video. I can’t remember the exact moment I thought that the Silence were due for a redubbing. Redubbing monsters with static mouths is, as I’ve said before, very easy, and there’s lots of footage, so perhaps it was inevitable. I was probably in the kitchen. I get lots of ideas in the kitchen. Something about being surrounded by food gets the creative juices flowing.

Why Willo the Wisp? Blame the multitalented Kenneth Williams. One show, one voice, but so many characters. It struck me that if the Silence were to have comedy voices we’d have to have a little variety, so it was this or The Goon Show. (I may eventually produce one with the Goons, if only because it would be lovely to have one of them shout “YOU ROTTEN SWINE, YOU!” as River blasts him at the end of ‘Day of the Moon’.) But Willo the Wisp recently turned thirty and is thus ripe for a revival. Listening to it again brought back a sea of childhood memories, and I laughed out loud every time the Moog showed up. A live action film must be on the way at some point.

Willo the Wisp is also almost devoid of incidental music, aside from the occasional sting whenever Evil Edna appears, which made this very easy to rip. I assembled the rough cut in an evening, although it was a late one. There was an inspired moment when I realised that Mavis Cruet spends quite a lot of time addressing the caterpillar by name with a melodramatic “Oh ARTHUR!”, which led to a couple of very obvious gags. After that it was a simple matter of papering over the rough spots, which occurred mostly in ‘Day of the Moon’ when I had to re-insert the score in the moments when I was dubbing over the Silence, not always very cleanly. It more or less hangs together, though, and I was particularly pleased with the credits.

I am currently contesting BBC Worldwide’s copyright stance – I have argued for fair use on the grounds that a redubbed, parodic video really isn’t going to hurt their ability to shift copies of season six – but there’s a fair chance this will be lifted from YouTube at some point. In the meantime, enjoy it. And then keep it on your screen and then look away so you forget what you were doing, and then turn back and watch it again. It all helps with the hit count.

Update: A few days after my post, on Friday 20 April, BBC Worldwide released its copyright claim and sanctioned my fair use argument. Which is a great result all round. The Beeb gets a lot of bad press, and most of it’s utterly unfair. God bless ’em.

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