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October 6, 2015

Doctor Who: Silence in the Library

by Brad Trechak, posted Jun 20th 2008 10:00PM

Doctor Who(S04E08) Thank you very much, Steven Moffat. You can't satisfy yourself with making me terrified of statues, now you have to make me afraid of the dark as well. Besides scaring the pants off me, this episode is the highlight of this season so far (having seen the second episode already, I can assure you that one is just as good). Since all the remaining episodes after this two-parter are written by Russell T. Davies, I may be able to stand by that statement before watching the rest of the season. As I've mentioned before, Mr. Davies is an excellent writer (and recent O.B.E. recipient) and I will always be greatful for his actions in returning Doctor Who to television, but the man just can't write science fiction.

The 2010 incumbent Doctor Who showrunner continues his streak of incredible episodes. His writing seems to get better with each successive season. He masters characterization, plot and twists in better ways than M. Night Shyamalan and his "happening" could ever hope to. Having Moffat in charge of Doctor Who reminds me of the 1974 to 1977 Tom Baker seasons in which their best writer Robert Holmes was also the script editor. Those seasons produced the most memorable episodes of the show (including The Talons of Weng-Chiang which is among the favorites of current showrunner Russell T. Davies). Needless to say, my hopes are sky-high.

This episode finds the Doctor and Donna landing on a planet-sized information repository in the 51st century called "The Library." I cannot help but notice that other than 20th century Earth, the 51st century seems to be the Doctor's most common point of disembarkation in the past four seasons. However, all human life on the planet seems to have disappeared. According to the planet's computers, the lives have been "saved."

It turns out our intrepid travelers were summoned to the planet by a message appearing on the Doctor's psychic paper. As they search the planet for answers, they encounter a team of archaeologists led by Professor River Song. Professor Song apparently has met the Doctor in his future and their relationship was, shall we say, more than friends (their exact relationship was left as a mystery to the viewer and to the Doctor as well). Song is careful not to reveal any future information to the Doctor or Donna, giving the simple warning of "spoilers" (a topic which we at TV Squad are intimately familiar with). It is this relationship that is the center of the story.

What does Professor Song know about the Doctor? Is she a future companion, a future lover, or what? When Donna inquires about her future, why does Professor Song remain silent? Is it a concern about "spoilers" or something more sinister? I do wonder if River Song was intended as a surrogate to archaeologist Professor Bernice Summerfield, a companion created by writer Paul Cornell in the novelizations of Doctor Who.

It turns out that the human population of the planet were consumed by a race called the Vashta Nerada. They are microscopic, feed on human flesh and hide themselves as shadows. Moffat even adds a particularly ominous plot point: the spacesuits that the archeologists are wearing possess communications devices that link their thoughts, a side-effect of which is a "data ghost" that exists in the suit after they've been killed. It's eerie to hear a disembodied voice of a skull wondering who turned the lights out.

To add even more depth to the plot, there seems to be a young girl in therapy with a Doctor Moon who can see everything going on in the Library. Doctor Moon is trying to convince the girl that the Library is a fantasy. It's a marvelous plot device because in effect the little girl becomes the audience. She is reacting to the Doctor's adventures in the same ways Moffat believes the audience would react. The philosophies of truth and reality come into question. It's the mark of a good writer to be able to work on many levels like this.

In the end of the episode, Donna gets "saved" as well when the Doctor tries to get her to the safety of the TARDIS. This is made evident by the appearance of her face on an abstract sculpture in the Library.

So among the River Song questions, there is now also the question of the identity of the girl and her relationship to the Library. All this to be answered next week.

Other interesting bits/observations...

  • The atmospheric design of the Library was superb. The CGI seemed especially well done.
  • Several books in the library were by past Doctor Who writers or were books featured in previous episodes. Among those were the operating manual for the TARDIS, Origins of the Universe ("Destiny of the Daleks"), The French Revolution ("An Unearthly Child"), the Journal of Impossible Things ("Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood"), The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (written by Douglas Adams, former Doctor Who writer and script editor), Everest in Easy Stages ("The Creature from the Pit") and Black Orchid (a book first seen in the Fifth Doctor serial of the same name).
  • I liked how the book jacket of the Doctor's life was reminiscent of the design of the TARDIS.
  • The "emergency program" used by the Doctor to try and get Donna to safety was the same one used in the Season 1 finale on Rose Tyler. That didn't work out so well either when Rose momentarily became a god as a result and eventually cost the Ninth Doctor his life.

Looking forward to part 2 next week.

Who is River Song?
A future companion.123 (35.2%)
The Doctor's wife.160 (45.8%)
The Doctor's other daughter.48 (13.8%)
The Doctor's call girl.18 (5.2%)

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Russell T. Davies is definitely improving. He's been consistently on and less hit or miss than some of his work in the previous couple of seasons.

June 23 2008 at 10:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I just saw "Turn Left" *and* the preview for the episode said.

You WILL be eating your words. Oh you will.

June 22 2008 at 12:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Ryan's comment

Sadly, I thought "Turn Left" embodies exactly what RTD's weakness as a writer is: He's not exactly what we'd call, well, subtle. Or even (imho) original. But I was the only person who didn't think "Turn Left" was the most brilliant episode of television ever, so I'm more than willing to believe that my taste is off.

June 23 2008 at 8:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

but the man just can't write science fiction.

could you please, please stop saying that? by saying something like that of the author of doomsday strongly implies you wouldn't be able to recognize an author of science fiction were him or her to bite you on your butt.

just watch "midnight" and "turn left" and if you still think that RTD cannot write sci-fi then I'm sorry, I'm so sorry but please: return your badge at the exit and good luck.

June 21 2008 at 2:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

While I adored the acting and the writing in this episode, I think the directing needed a lot of work. The entire premise of the episode was to avoid the shadows, but it doesn't seem that the production crew did much work to work that into the blocking or instill that requirement in the cast, since they were running around on shadows all over the place. I think the episode would've been a lot better if the actors had displayed caution and fear with specific regard to the shadows that surrounded them, as opposed to just generic fear for their surroundings.

June 21 2008 at 9:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

From what I inderstand, Dr. Moon tried to convince the little girl that the library was real - not imagined. He tells her that several times.

I also found the next episode to be very well done - it was quite moving.

You did a great job with the recap - I too thought it was a nice touch to make Song's journal resemble the Tardis. I am quite curious on how Rose enters into the picture - seems to foreshadow a bit of doom and gloom, doesn't it?

June 21 2008 at 8:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I found it interesting that the actor portraying River Song starred for many seasons on "ER" on NBC. Interesting to see Dr. Elizabeth Corday in a spacesuit!

June 21 2008 at 8:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

another interesting tidbit I discovered...River Song's 'gun' -- it's the same one Captain Jack had in his early episodes with Rose and the Doctor.

Which suggests that Jack left it aboard the TARDIS and then River Song eventually got ahold of it during HER travels with the Doctor.

Her stroking the Doctor's face while almost pleading with him "don't you remember me?" -- that was heartbreaking.

June 21 2008 at 1:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Tom's comment
Nicol Leoraine

Or maybe she got the gun from the 51st century like Jack. Maybe she was a Time agent at some point. After all, she seems well versed in all the wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff:-)

Otherwise, a pretty good episode. The second chapter is okay too, and I really like how Tennant plays his role. Also I can only agree with all who commented on the following ep Midnight. It has the equally chilling potential as Moffat's writing.

June 21 2008 at 8:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Doctor Moon is trying to convince the girl that the Library is a fantasy."

But Dr Moon, when he gets the girl away from her father, whispers to her that the library is real and her life is the fantasy. No?

June 20 2008 at 11:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I enjoyed the episode.

"Maybe it's Sunday..."

"No, I don't travel to Sundays, they are boring".

Too funny. I also like the "we know each other" thing, they have done it before in Blink, but I really enjoy it.

June 20 2008 at 11:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Nice recap! Really summed it up well. I'm in the UK so I've also had the advantage of seeing next weeks, and as you say, it's just as good. I've also got sky-high hopes for Steven Moffat as show-runner.

June 20 2008 at 10:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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