Doctor Who: Silence in the Library

Doctor: 'Spoilers!'

What is it with Steven Moffat and stories which play on our childhood fears? In season two we had monsters under the bed ('The Girl in the Fireplace'), in season three we had statues coming to life ('Blink'), and now, and arguably most terrifying of all, apparently there are things hiding in the shadows after all. Which isn't great news for adults, let alone children.

There was a lot to like about this two-parter. I loved the concept of an empty library on an ostensibly empty planet, all seemingly existing inside the head of a little girl. When the Doctor and Donna first appeared, it was hard to tell whether the world was real or not. It was also a nice change of pace to have the Doctor on the back-foot for a change. Usually, when it comes to knowing the future, he's ahead of the game, yet tonight he was streets behind River Song. Not only did she seem to know the future, she specifically knew his future—a situation which, understandably, bugged the crap out of him.

Who is River Song? Why does she possess a souped-up sonic screwdriver and a diary with a TARDIS style cover? How is it that she seems to have a working knowledge of TARDIS protocol? What is her relationship with the Doctor? Her flirty behaviour, and her calling him 'pretty boy', all hint at something deeper than platonic friendship, but is the show really ready to go there yet? They veered close with Rose in season two, but this feels like a whole new level. Not that we should be surprised, the Doctor's been married before, but not really outside of his Big Finish adventures.

Song grabbing the Doctor's hand and telling him to 'run' mirrored the Doctor's words back in the season one episode 'Rose', only this time it was Song in control, with the Doctor stumbling along in the dark (both literally and metaphorically). Furthermore, Song deflected his questions with consummate ease. She seemed only too aware of the dangers of knowing the future, and in particular your own. ('Spoilers'), but Song's diary must surely be a temptation too far. Who could resist sneaking a quick peek?

Why Song has no recollection of Donna is a more perplexing problem. Is Donna dead in the future, and if so, how far in the future? Of course, it doesn't have to be that dramatic—companions do leave of their own free will. Martha did. But Donna's determination of late to stay with the Doctor forever, does seem to preclude that particular eventuality. Equally puzzling is how Song recognised the Doctor in the first place. Since Tennant has just nine stories left, and none of them feature River Song, she can't possibly meet up with him until his next incarnation. Or did her comment about his face looking 'younger' suggest that they do/did meet for the first time during Tennant's reign?

After this episode first aired, rumour was rife with regards Song's identity. Was she the Rani. Or maybe Romana? Perhaps she was the mysterious hand who picked up the Master's ring at the end of 'The Last of the Time Lords?' Or maybe maybe Bernice Summerfield, a 26th century archaeologist from the Doctor Who novels? There was even even speculation that she might be the Doctor's regenerated daughter, which would undoubtedly explain her possessing a sonic screwdriver and travelling with him, but not her flirtation, nor why she didn't recognise Donna.

Of course, these sort of rumours emerge every season. People seems obsessed with forging connections where none exist—myself included. A more likely explanation is that she's a future companion, or maybe the Doctor's future wife. Is it also possible that she's a Time Lord? Hopefully, all will be revealed in the next instalment.

Other Thoughts:

—What is it with the Doctor and gift shops?

—Despite the Doctor's endless warnings to stay out of the shadows, if you keep an eye on the cast, they're always stood in some shadow or other. I guess it's hard to film an episode entirely without shadows.

—The Doctor asking Song 'Who are you?' was a humorous thematic reversal. The Doctor gets asked that self same question several times a season. So it was fun to hear him asking it, for once.

—Another 'I'm sorry, I'm so sorry' from the Doctor.

—'Emergency Program One', if memory serves me correct, is the same protocol which returned Rose to earth in 'The Parting of the Ways'.

Billie says...

I loved this one.

This is the sort of story that Doctor Who does best. Big, imaginative, fantastical and creepy, with sparkling dialogue as well as tantalizing tidbits about the Doctor himself thrown in. It was good enough that in the era of e-books and Google's world domination plan to replace the printed word that I could get right past the illogic of billions of printed books segregated on a planet where people can't easily get to them. I was waiting for the stereotypical little old lady librarian in a bun shushing people. Fortunately, no. Of course, there's always part two.

I particularly liked the little girl who wasn't a little girl, the pathos of the data ghosts, the skeletons in the space suits. And River Song is especially intriguing. She sounded like an important, long-term companion. She knew who the Doctor was – but then again, she was expecting him. I think they left the idea open that she didn't know his current face ("you're younger than I've ever seen you"). This would cover the writers if we never do get to see River Song in any future adventure, right?

Quotes:

Doctor: "We're near the equator, so-- this must be biographies! I love biographies."
Donna: "Yeah, very you. Always a death at the end."
Doctor: "You need a good death. Without death, there'd only be comedies. Dying gives us size."

Doctor: "These books are from your future. If you read ahead, it will spoil all the surprises. Like peeping at the end."
Donna: "Isn't travelling with you one big spoiler?"
Doctor: "I try to keep you away from major plot developments. Which, to be honest, I seem to be very bad at."

Doctor: "Nice door skills, Donna."
Donna: "Yeah, well, you know, boyfriends. Sometimes you need the element of surprise."

Doctor: "Oh, you're not. Are you? Tell me you're not archaeologists."
River: "Got a problem with archaeologists?"
Doctor: "I'm a time traveler. I point and laugh at archaeologists."

Doctor: "Almost every species in the universe has an irrational fear of the dark, but they're wrong, because it's not irrational. It's Vashta Nerada."
Donna: "What's Vashta Nerada?"
Doctor: "It's what's in the dark. It's what's always in the dark."

Evangelista: "They don't want me. They think I'm stupid 'cause I'm pretty."
Donna: "Of course they don't. Nobody thinks that."
Evangelista: "No, they're right, though. I'm a moron, really. My dad said I had the IQ of plankton, and I was pleased."
Donna: "See? That's funny."
Evangelista: "No, I really was pleased."
---
Four moor peaces eye rote, sea hear.

5 comments:

shawnlunn2002 said...

Hey spoilers. Loved this story. I'm mixed about River myself but the story's awesome.

I think this was one of a few stories that made me worry for Donna's future. Companions do just leave but I can't help thinking that Donna is going to have a choice in the matter when it's her time.

The Vashta Nerada are a wonderful idea in thought and execution along with the Nodes. Blooming creepy.

It was also around the week of this two parter that Steven Moffat was announced as showrunner. Perfectly timed too.

Mark Greig said...

Steven Moffat’s episodes have always been the highlight of every series since the show returned and this was no different. I just hope that he can maintain the same standard of quality now that he’s got quadruple the workload.

The Vashta Nerada, those piranhas of the air, are a brilliant creation. Something so simple and chilling that the skeleton spacesuit boggy man feels inappropriately tacked on as a result, a physical menace for our heroes to run away from (and provide another action figure for the kiddie).

That said, an entire continent of Jeffery Archer? Now that is truly the stuff of nightmares.

Patryk said...

Moffat not only has a thing for childhood fears (which are of course the most primal of all so no wonder the episodes turn out really scary) but he's also inserting meta concepts into the story. Last season there were DVD easter eggs and now Spoilers. I like it when writers have fun with that sort of stuff.

Michael Colvin said...

Spoilers!

I loved when re-watching this that I noticed a few things:
1) The journal has a Tardis cover
2) The square gun! The commentary track indicates that it's Captain Jack's square gun from Season 1!
3) The doctor says "Spoilers" to Donna first

I also had a different take than you Paul. I think that River did know who Donna was (she recognized the name) but knew not to answer her question. Because, well, spoilers.

Loved loved loved this two parter. Will have more to say on FotD.

Arie said...

I loved the idea of a library as a planet, and the Vashta Nerada were certainly creepy. I also like the idea of River Song (despite the hippy name) but while Alex Kingston is a lovely actress, I didn't think she and David Tennant had any chemistry whatsoever. Like most actors it seems Tennant is fairly good at playing off his leading ladies and he had great chemistry with both Billie Piper, Catherine Tate (not so much Freema), but I just didn't feel it with Alex Kingston at all which made it hard to believe the Doctor would have that sort of long term relationship with River Song. Just a strange bit of casting really! Still, if this two-parter is her only appearance with Tennant then maybe she has better chemistry with Matt Smith?