Good ““ but definitely a part one”¦
It’s very hard being in love with a television show, because you absolutely want to love it all and give it the best possible score you can. Except that wouldn’t be fair.
That said, “˜Silence in the Library’ is another winner this year for Doctor Who.
It starts curiously with a seemingly 21st century home life as a young girl is interviewed by a Dr. Moon, the ever reliable Colin Salmon, about her dreams where she moves through a fantastic Library. Whenever she closes her eyes”¦ but suddenly”¦ she’s not alone anymore. The doors to her library are smashed open, and in comes Perfect Ten and Noble Donna.
What is going on?
It’s a mystery.
There is a definite sense of direction. There is some brilliant world creation here in the sense that you absolutely believe in the world of “˜The Library’ ““ an entire planet in the 51st century which has both a hardware computer core with all the collected works of the galaxy, and real hard copies of the books for anyone, or anything, to read.
Except this Library is silent. Deadly silent. When the Doctor and Donna arrive, they are literally the only people on the planet. But when the Doctor gets curious as to why and he scans the planet he soon detects massive life sign readings”¦ just not humanoid.
So you have a mystery being built on top of a mystery with another mystery thrown in when Donna asks why have they come here. Why now. They were about to go to the beach. Why did the Doctor change his mind?
There’s a very good build up of suspense going on here as you try to see how everything fits together. By piling these little mysteries one on top of the other, you start to see the whole episode being weaved.
Suffice to say the answers to these small mysteries only yield more questions. The Doctor and Donna find a warning when they discover an information point, with attached real human face (and it’s not a throwaway idea as it comes back to bite us), which informs them tonelessly that they should”¦
“˜Run. For God’s sake, run.”
But more importantly?
“Count the shadows.”
As the lights in this massive library start to go out, the Doctor and Donna run. They reach wooden doors which they can’t open. As the tension mounts, it is nicely defused as the Doctor and Donna argue about how the screwdriver can’t open wooden doors, and so she kicks it in.
I like that Donna makes the save.
And then we’re back at the start as the pair look into the room where this girl was standing. The girl panics and opens her eyes in her world, and then we see her in the Doctor’s world. It’s a floating security camera.
So now we know, oh alright, strongly suspect that on some level, the girl isn’t really a little girl that exists in a world of flesh and blood.
When some archaeologists join our intrepid duo in the Library it isn’t long before the Doctor unmasks the threat of the shadows. They are called the Vashta Nerada, they exist on every planet where there is meat, and they are like piranha’s in the air. They are tiny, and swarm in packs. But the Doctor has never seen so many clustered together”¦ I’ll say this of Steven Moffatt; he manages to take very basic ideas, very basic fears and uses them effectively.
“Almost every species in the galaxy has an irrational fear of the dark”¦ but they’re wrong. It’s not irrational.”
See, the Vashta Nerada hide in the shadows”¦ they stalk their prey by joining onto your shadow”¦ and then eat you. Quickly. Less than a few seconds and every bit of flesh is stripped away as proven when one unfortunate member of the team, who Donna bonds with when she sees her being put down by the others, is left as only a skeleton and a “˜Data Ghost’. A freak glitch of a neural transmitter than allows a consciousness to be stored temporarily and speak after death although it is not aware what has happened”¦ Again, this idea, scary on its own, as the gang here listens to the poor woman’s’ “˜last’ words of confusion, comes back to bite the viewer”¦
And what exactly happened to the 4000 plus people who were apparently “˜Saved’ as the automatic warning instructed the galaxy, when The Library was sealed off one hundred years ago?
But the biggest question of all, the biggest mystery, and surely the best thing to come out of this episode, is the character of River Song.
Played to perfection by Alex Kingston, we first meet this character as she marches straight up to the Doctor in full spacesuit gear, raises her visor and greets him with a warm, loving smile.
A little informal, don’tcha think? And here’s the kicker which you learn quickly. As soon as the Doctor ascertains there’s a very real alien threat at work here, and starts giving out the commands, River supports him. As soon as they are alone, she asks him if he truly doesn’t recognise her. She pulls out a blue book, more of a journal, and starts flicking through pages, asking him if this has happened yet, or how about this”¦ she looks up from her pages, and for the first time she properly looks at him.
And she gets it.
So do we.
Perfect Ten has never met Professor River Song before this day. But she’s met him so many times before”¦
It’s quite curious because at the very start of this episode the Doctor snatches a book away from Donna because it could contain “˜spoilers’ of the future. And yet smack bang here in the middle of this episode, we’re told the Doctor lives. He goes on. And yes Timelords can regenerate but River is completely specific here. She’s the one who brought him here with a message on his psychic paper. She knows this Doctor. She’s travelled with this Doctor.
And from the way she’s played here, I would love to see a return to this character. She knows all about the Doctor’s concept of “˜spoilers’. As he tries to solve this mystery unfolding around him, especially where the little girl exists and fits into the story when he manages to contact her via video link and then loses her, he manages to be alone with River’s journal and he reaches for it, but she snatches it back. He can’t read it. And why?
“Your rules.” She replies.
And then of course there’s the other little mystery that she throws in. You see, although she recognises Perfect Ten, she does not know Noble Donna. It’s only when Donna calls River on who she is and how she knows the Doctor, in one of her more histrionic moments, and he calls for Donna by name that River Song suddenly knows who she is. And then Donna twigs, and it hurts. In the times that River has met the Perfect Ten, Donna has never been there, only spoken about.
So what happens to her, if Perfect Ten goes on?
So, technically speaking. I can’t fault this episode. It’s very good. Very well done. The build up is perfect, the mysteries unfold with relish, and every single actor throws everything they have into their roles. After all, when the writing is this solid, sometimes you have to try really badly to throw it off.
I predict that kids in playgrounds all over the country will soon be uttering “Hey! Who turned out the light?” in place of “Are you my mummy?” And I also predict good things for next week.
We’ve been left hanging this week, and that is surely the episodes biggest problem. It suffers from being part one of two. And as clever as it is, and well done as it is, there is nothing particularly exceptional about the whole”¦
So I’m giving it three and a half given-away-as-presents sonic screwdrivers. I might have to start grading two parters as two parters because it feels terribly unfair to mark it as thus, when I think next week we really bring the whole into, pardon the pun, light.
Till next week, sweetie.