Doctor Who Series 4 Episode 8: Silence in the Library (Part 1 of 2)

Dan Owen reviews
Series 4 Episode 8: “Silence in the Library” (Part 1 of 2)Broadcast on BBC1, Saturday May 31st, 2008 As premiered on
CoverSeries 4 Boxset:
Series 4 Part 1:
Series 3 Boxset:


      Euros Lyn

    (TV: The End of The World, The Unquiet Dead, Tooth and Claw, The Girl in the Fireplace, The Idiot’s Lantern, Fear Her, The Runaway Bride, Silence in the Library, Forest of the Dead)


    Steven Moffat

(TV: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink)


    The Doctor: David Tennant
    Donna Noble: Catherine Tate
    Dr. Moon: Colin Salmon
    Professor River Song: Alex Kingston
    The Girl: Eve Newton
    Strackman Lux: Steve Pemberton
    The Dad: Mark Dexter
    Anita: Jessika Williams
    Miss Evangelista: Talulah Riley
    Proper Dave: Harry Peacock
    Other Dave: O-T Fagbenle
    Node 1: Sarah Niles
    Node 2: Joshua Dallas

CoverSynopsis: The Doctor and Donna visit The Library, a planet-sized depository of every book ever written. But why has it been abandoned for 100 years?

Writer Steven Moffat has been the subject of critical acclaim and fanadoration ever since his two-part episode The Empty Child/The Doctor Dancesbecame highlights of season 1. Since then, his imaginative Doctor Who storieshave become eagerly awaited, while miraculously managing to avoid disappointing anyone.

So far. And I’m relieved to report that Silence In The Library (the firstof a two-part serial) is every bit as intelligent, compelling, rich andcreative as you could hope for. The only downside is a 7 day wait till itsconclusion….

Silence In The Library finds The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (CatherineTate) arriving in The Library; planet-sized storage for every book ever written.It’s a world of futuristic, gleaming skyscrapers and dusty, echoing interiors –now totally devoid of any readers. Mind you, after The Doctor uses a computerterminal to scan for life, he’s puzzled to discover a million million life-formsare apparently swarming the planet…

As they try to solve the mystery of this long-abandoned Library, a high-tech”Node” (an automated sculpture with a human face) delivers an ominous warningsto “count the shadows”, and an expedition of archaeologists in space suitslater arrive – led by Professor River Song (Alex Kingston). Her teamhave come to investigate why The Library shut itself off from outside contact100 years ago, and The Doctor is intrigued when it becomes clear River knows him –but he hasn’t met her… yet. Oh, the joys of being a time-traveller!

CoverAdding to the intrigue is The Girl (Eve Newton), a youngster who canapparently visit The Library just by closing her eyes, not realising she hasphysicality in The Library as a floating orb-like surveillance camera. Her mentalstate is being assessed by Dr. Moon (Colin Salmon), who is clearly intriguedby her strange connection to this “other world” she visits. The plot thickens whenThe Doctor manages to communicate with The Girl through her television (shadesof his guiding role in Blink), and later discovers that swarm-like critters knownas Vashta Nerada, who live in shadows, are closing in on everyone in TheLibrary…

As you can tell from that brief summary, Steven Moffat once again proves he’sthe most gifted Doctor Who writer when it comes to creating stories and situationsthat draw an audience in. There’s material for adults to chew on here, butwhile the deeper mysteries will likely go over the heads of younger kids, hecaters for them with the spine-tingling “stay out of the shadows” threat andthe emergence of a skeletal astronaut — when the Vashta Nerada manage to stripone of River Song’s team of his flesh and animate his corpse. Skeleton spacemenin a spooky library? It’s pure Scooby Doo, so the under-10s will lap it up.

With more depth and subtleties to the story, it’s clear that everyone involvedrises to the challenge and gives it their all. David Tennant looks extremelyhappy to be guiding us through a sci-fi story with more texture and imaginationthan usual, while Catherine Tate has totally settled into the role of Donnanow.

It’s a shame this season has continually hinted she’ll be gone by episode 13, asRiver Song – who appears to be one of The Doctor’s future companions — dodges thequestion of what Donna’s up to in the future. Still, a part of me always thoughtcomedian Catherine Tate wouldn’t want to spend years filming in Cardiff mostof the year. She quite possibly has the same one-season agreement with RussellT. Davies that Christopher Eccleston secured.

CoverNow that Moffat’s been confirmed as Doctor Who’s new showrunner for season 5in 2010, it’ll be interesting to see if Alex Kingston does indeed become acompanion under his tenure. Is this more evidence (like rumours of Neil Gaiman’sinvolvement in 2010) that Moffat’s feathering his nest already? Judging from herperformance here, Kingston would make a fine addition to the TARDIS as anintelligent grown woman for The Doctor to travel with.

The fact this story is a two-parter did result in moments where the story waskept in a holding pattern to pad out time, but it wasn’t too unnecessary and neverboring. You could argue that the addition of “ghosting” into the script (a processwhere the recently-deceased can continue to speak to the living via their comms,briefly), was little more than an intriguing diversion. But it did result ina few spooky sequences, and might have greater bearing on part 2 – who knows?

For now, this is clearly a season 4 highlight and marvellous on every levelthat matters. It also seems extremely likely that next week’s conclusion willtrump it, as Silence In The Library was a scene-setting episode. Thepay-off should be excellent to see play out – if only to learn the specifics ofRiver Song’s relationship with The Doctor. Does she know this Tenth incarnation,or another? Is she a future companion, or a relation? And how does The Girlfits into all this? She seems to be living on contemporary Earth, so why canshe psychically connect to a distant-future alien library? Or, as Dr. Moonhints, is The Library the real world and her home the Matrix-like illusion?

Overall, while not as perfect as last year’s BAFTA-winning Blink(mainly because it’s not self-contained or as well-paced), this was fabulousentertainment that held me rapt for 45-minutes. Any problems were minor one –like the continuing overuse of the sonic screwdriver (although it was ironicallyable to do everything but open a wooden door this week!) and Moffat’s a bittoo dependent on creepy catchphrases…

He’s already given us “are you my mummy?” and “don’t blink”, butnow you can add “stay out of the shadows” and “hey, who turned outthe lights?” to the list. Indeed, the cliffhanger becomes a cacophony ofcatchphrases, which slightly irritated me. But, for sheer ambition, scope andcreativity, Silence In The Library is without equal this season. The hopethis quality will become the norm once Steven Moffat takes over as head writeris just too exciting for words.

Join in the discussion about this episode atDan’s Media Digest

Review copyright © Dan Owen, 2008.E-mail Dan Owen

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Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.


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