TARDIS File 04-08: Silence in the Library

TARDIS File 04-08: Silence in the Library

The Big Idea: The Doctor takes Donna to a planet that is a library, with the biggest hard-drive in the world as the planet’s core. But what’s happened to all the patrons?

What’s So Great…

  • The episode’s juxtaposition of two seemingly disparate elements and story strands leaving viewers, in the best Doctor Who tradition, wondering exactly how they relate to each other
  • Catherine Tate and the character of Donna shine once again. The character’s kindness towards Miss Evangelista is repaid in a touching and heart-warming scene played to perfection by Tate.
  • Writer Steven Moffat clearly knows how to write two-part stories, as without the pace ever sagging, the story ends on a dual cliffhanger. And apart from the separate dangers faced by the Doctor and Donna, the audience is left to ponder many questions for next week. What has happened to Donna? Who is the little girl? Who is River Song? What’s CAL?
  • Moffat once again provides us with a monster that the audience (the younger members of particularly) can relate to and imitate. “Hey, who turned out the lights!”
  • Unlike Fear Her, this story features a very talented child actress!
  • The creepy moment when Dr. Moon turns a clich� on its head but telling the little girl that the real world is fake and her dreams are real!

Quick Bits of Trivia: Alex Kingston, who played River Song is well-known to fans of the series ER where she played Dr. Alex Corday for a number of years. Actor Steve Pemberton (playing Strackman Lux) is the second member of comedy troupe The League of Gentlemen to appear in Doctor Who, the first being writer/actor Mark Gatiss.

Things to Geek Out About… 

  • Who is River Song, why does she have a diary with a cover painted like the TARDIS, and just how well does she know the Doctor?
  • The fact that River knows the Doctor in the future but not Donna leaves us to ponder…what happens to Donna?

Not to Complain But… In the scene when the books come flying off the shelves, one can’t help but wish that incidental composer Murray Gold remembered that the title of the story is Silence in the Library. For once, Gold’s music is actually somewhat obtrusive.

All Things Considered… we can’t really ask for a better first part of a two-part story. Many of the best Doctor Who stories begin with two completely separate settings and somehow completely logically seam them together. Silence in the Library is no exception, but the audience will have to wait until next week to find out how. In the meantime, there are plenty of questions posed which the viewer will have a lot of fun speculating the answers to before the second episode.

The character of River Song probably provides the most intriguing set of questions. The idea - having the Doctor meet someone important in his life who has already met him - is so simple for a time travel television series that it’s somewhat incredible that it has for the most part never really been done before.

The story’s monster is another typical childhood fear realized by a Steven Moffat script. His last two stories featured something under your bed and scary statues - now it’s a fear of the dark. One of the clever things about this episode how the Vashta Nerada are made scary - it’s not in the way that would be expected once the Doctor and Donna are told to count the shadows. The direction and script carefully avoid the mistake of seeing the shadows move (which would have been somewhat clich�d, predictable and probably cheesy). Instead the audience finds out what has happened through the characters finding out and being frightened. One minute they’re okay, the next they’ve discovered that they have an extra shadow. And both the audience and the surviving characters only figure out the character is dead once we realize they are repeating what they say, while even more horrifyingly, the character in question doesn’t even realize that they are dead. This is a much more frightening, horrifying and original way of scaring the audience than simply being afraid of something in the dark (which has been done a million different times in a million different films or television shows). It’s Doctor Who originality at its finest.

It’s nice to see that Doctor Who is getting more and more alien as the seasons go by - the episode starts off with an alien world, and the threat is not directly or immediately affecting Earth. The latter in particularly is a nice change from the norm for the new series thus far.

One thing that Moffat is arguably better than any other current writer is integrating humour into his scripts without it under-cutting the tension or distracting from the story. Whether it’s the references to spoilers, the Doctor and Donna simultaneously ripping up their waiver forms or the tales of Miss Evangelista not being able to tell the difference between an escape pod and the bathroom, the humour doesn’t slow down the pace of the story at all. In addition to being enjoyable moments in their own right, these type of moments either enhance the characters and/or help move the plot.

The episode ends on one of the most effective cliffhangers in the new series to date. Apart from the fact that Donna seems to have suffered a nasty fate, the tension is ramped up by including two memorable and quotable lines recited repeatedly. “Hey! Who turned out the lights?” reinforces the menace of the Vashta Nerada while “Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved” reinforces Donna’s plight, creating a sense of confusion, panic, chaos and above all, excitement. Best of all, both lines are highly fun for kids young and old alike to imitate in the playground (or school library). Moffat is certainly a writer that understands the under-rated importance of childhood imitation!

Line of the Week: “Donna Noble has left the Library. Donna Noble has been saved.”

Index of TARDIS Files

TARDIS File prepared by Gian-Luca Di Rocco

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