“ Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy / Author: Rod Serling / Audiobook published 2010-12-15 by Falcon Picture Group „
Could you keep your gob shut and not speak for an entire year? That is the question posed by The Silence, a Twilight Zone radio adaption from 2009 featuring Stacy Keach and Chris McDonald and based on the television episode of the same name first broadcast in 1961. The Silence was a rarity for The Twilight Zone in that it contained no fantastical or supernatural elements but instead revolves around a very unusual bet between two members of an exclusive gentleman's club. The bet is suggested by the irritated Colonel Archie Taylor to young Jamie Tennyson. Taylor is an older and rather pompous member of the club who is sick to death of the chatty and loud Tennyson. He feels that Tennyson has no class and finds his habit of constantly talking and raucously holding court in the club intensely annoying. He duly offers a gobsmacked Tennyson one million dollars if he can stay completely silent for a whole year.
'I dislike you intensely, Tennyson. It goes much beyond the ordinary distaste I feel for someone without breeding, without principles, without manners. Your voice has become intolerable. I sit here each night and the sound of it makes me wince. I cannot ask you to resign from the club. I haven't got that right. So, it occurred to me that I'd be willing to offer a large sum of money just to have some quiet.' Tennyson, who has financial problems (and a now understandable desire to prove Taylor wrong) agrees to the challenge. He is to live in an enclosed room in the basement of the club and be constantly monitored by cameras. To collect one million dollars all he has to do is not utter a single word for one calendar year...
The central idea behind The Silence is a clever and intriguing one. Could you stay silent for a whole year if a million dollars was at stake? It probably though doesn't work quite as well as a radio piece as it did on television despite still being an enjoyable enough audio drama. This one is only 35 minutes so clearly wasn't suitable to be stretched out in an audio format too much. We get a bit more exposition and things explained to us here than in the television version but Tennyson's weird challenge is still absorbing enough. The background buzz and chatter of the club and verbal sparring between the two main characters arguably make for the best scenes here. There is snobbery afoot but by the end of the story we see that people are not always who they appear to be. One thing I like about the story in both versions is the way that Taylor's bluster and smugness begins to dissipate when Tennyson manages to last longer in his mute challenge than he'd ever expected. He'd never suspected that this young upstart chatterbox could be so determined and actually keep his trap shut for so long. He begins to become concerned, offering smaller sums of money to call the whole thing off. It's very good at times but I do think this is one of the more difficult episodes to adapt for radio.
In the television version the passage of time was able to be conveyed in a visual manner with Tennyson pacing his enclosed (with a cage) living area as he's constantly monitored to make sure he doesn't speak. There are a few internal monologues or narrations here instead to flesh things out a little. The guest star in this episode is Chris McDonald, who I must confess I've never heard of. He's actually very good though and Stacey Keach is a dependable (and recurring) presence throughout these adaptions, working well with McDonald. The television version featured superb performances from Franchot Tone and Liam Sullivan and a good supporting role for Jonathan Harris (best known as the evil Dr Smith from the Lost in Space television series) and while Keach and McDonald can't hope to compete with their illustrious predecessors they have some good exchanges here as Taylor and Tennyson. The music throughout is pleasantly understated and ominous and never intrudes upon the actors too much. The Silence is most famous for its macabre twist and this again is slightly negated by the audio format. I feel that some of the other episodes I've listened to in this radio series were probably better suited to this format than The Silence.
The one thing they can do here on radio to good efffect is have Taylor, just as he does in the original version, begin to visit Tennyson more and more frequently when he begins to worry that he might accomplish his unlikely feat afterall and win the bet. Taylor goads him about his finances and chances of winning, essentially trying to make him annoyed enough to accidently let slip a word or two and lose the wager. 'There's nothing sporting about you, Tennyson. I happen to know that you're delivering your nightly financial falderal because you're in desperate straits. You've run through your inheritance, your debts are insurmountable, and you'd do practically anything for money, except perhaps to remain silent for a year. You see, Tennyson, you could not possibly remain silent for a year. It's not in your nature. You're a shallow, talkative, empty-headed ne'er-do-well, and to remain silent would destroy you.'
There is a slightly anachronistic quality to The Silence now that I quite enjoyed. The idea that people who spend half the week asleep in a gentleman's club are prone to making bizarre bets with one another is quite an attractive one and the bet here is suitably strange enough to be in The Twilight Zone (despite the absence of fantasy). This is not one of the best adaptions in this radio series but still an enjoyable enough listen. At the time of writing you can buy this as part of an audio cd collection or download it individually for £1.19.