Reviewing Who – Silence in the Library

Doctor: David Tennant

Companion: Catherine Tate

Script writer: Steven Moffat

Producer: Phil Collinson

Executive producers: Russel T. Davies and Julie Gardner

Director: Euros Lyn

Originally aired: 31st May 2008

A little girl sits with her worried father and her psychologist Dr Moon. She has a most unusual condition. When her eyes are open, she is in her perfectly ordinary living room. When they are shut, she is in the Library – a fantastical world of books, where she can fly, and explore, and is always, always alone. But today something is wrong. As she floats through one of the Library’s endless rooms, its doors begin to rattle violently. “The Library is in your mind,” Dr Moon says soothingly. “I know it’s in my mind,” she wails, “but something’s got inside.”

The doors fly open. The Doctor and Donna charge through.

This incarnation of the Doctor is tall and thin in a rather fetching way. He wears a long brown ‘hero coat’ that flaps impressively when he walks. His current best friend is Donna Noble, a loud-mouthed London temp who may be the only companion Doc 10 has ever had who doesn’t fancy him. Apparently on a whim, he has brought them to the 51st century and a bibliophile’s paradise: the Library, a planet that is quite literally a whole world of books. They have landed in biographies. Donna picks up a book at random, only to have it snatched from her hands by the Doctor. “Spoilers!” he scolds. “These books are from your future. You read ahead, it’ll spoil all the surprises. Like peeking at the end.” Which does rather raise the question: why did he bring her here in the first place?

The Doctor has a question of his own. Where is everybody? A library is intended to be quiet, certainly, but this place is lifeless. When the Doctor runs a scan for humanoid life on the nearest computer, the result that comes up is two. When he scans for any form of life, however, the computer can’t cope with the numbers. It crashes at a billion billion. The Doctor and Donna look at each other in the deathly silence and jump like they’ve been electrocuted when a voice rings out behind them.

It belongs to a courtesy node, that being a tall white sculpture with a startlingly authentic human face. This, as it turns out, is because that face was donated by a dead person. That’s the 51st century for you. The node welcomes the Doctor and Donna to the Library, then recites a message left behind for all patrons by the head librarian. “Count the shadows. For God’s sake, remember, if you want to live, count the shadows.”

The Doctor looks slowly around. “Donna,” he says, unconvincingly casual, “stay out of the shadows.”

He finally admits that it wasn’t a whim that brought them here; a note appeared on his psychic paper telling him to come here, and he couldn’t resist finding out why. He thinks it could be a cry for help. Donna doubts it. In her experience, cries for help are not usually signed with a kiss.

Behind them, the lights start going out. This is never a good sign.

The Doctor and Donna race down the corridor and Donna kicks open the first door, which the Doctor then jams shut with a book. They find themselves facing a security camera that drops in very un-cameralike shock at the sight of them. When the Doctor tries sonicking it, the little girl falls to the floor with her arms clamped over her ears, and type flashes across the camera’s screen begging him to stop. He backs off at once, surprised and apologetic, but there is something stranger in this room. A shadow has fallen across the floor, with nothing to cast it. A moment later, it’s gone. In her living room, the little girl sits up, blank faced. “Others are coming,” she says aloud. “The Library is breached. Others are coming.”

Another door explodes inward, and a procession of anonymous figures in white spacesuits stride through. One stops directly in front of the Doctor. “Hello sweetie!” she beams. She seems delighted see him; the Doctor, less so. He does his best to convince the new arrivals to leave and never, ever come back. Instead they take off their helmets and get settled in for an argument.

DOCTOR: Oh, you’re not, are you? Tell me you’re not archaeologists.

RIVER: Got a problem with archaeologists?

DOCTOR: I’m a time traveller. I point and laugh at archaeologists.

RIVER: Professor River Song, archaeologist.

The Doctor has another go at scaring everybody away by dragging another of the team over to the way they came and pointing out the obvious: there is no way any more, only blackness that wasn’t there a matter of minutes ago. Confusion has set in for the rest of the team, but Strackman Lux, financier of the expedition, is confident of his priorities. Inexplicable shadows? Pff. He sends over his personal assistant Miss Evangelista with confidentiality contracts for the Doctor and Donna to sign, and in beautiful unison, they rip them up. Mr Lux then stands, glaring and ignored, while all his employers put together a perimeter of lights under the Doctor’s instructions. Well, almost all of his employees. River Song has commandeered the Library shop as her office – calling in the Doctor with one-sided familiarity, she sets about trying to pin him down to meetings he’s never had from her a battered blue diary. His total bemusement shakes her. “Look at you,” she breathes, reaching out instinctively to touch his face. “You’re young…You’re younger than I’ve ever seen you. Doctor, please tell me you know who I am.”

The Doctor looks sideways at the hand on his cheek. “Who are you?”

She has no time to think of an answer, if she even can answer right then. One of her team had tried to call up the Library database, and the only result they have achieved is a repetitive ringing. The Doctor comes over to apply his magic Time Lord touch and somehow appears on the little girl’s TV screen. They stare at each other uncertainly. “You’re in my Library!” she observes. “The Library’s never bee on television before, what have you done?” Good question, little girl, good question. The screen goes blank before he can answer. While he tries to bring her back, the Doctor’s attention is drawn to River’s mysterious blue book. Unable to resist, he reaches for it, but she gets there first. “Spoilers!”

Trying to relocate the Doctor, the little girl uncovers a secret compartment in her television remote. When she starts pressing buttons, books fly off their shelves in the Library and Miss Evangelista freaks out. The only one who has attention to spare is Donna, who goes over to check she’s okay. She’s not, not really. Miss Evangelista is not as clever as the rest of the team and she feels they don’t like her, which isn’t exactly true, but they certainly don’t listen to her. When a side door opens, everyone is too busy talking to notice it and ignore her painfully polite efforts to get their attention, so she goes off to investigate on her own.

The next thing they hear from Miss Evangelista is a scream. By the time they reach her, a matter of minutes later, all that is left is a skeleton picked clean of flesh and a fading impression of her living consciousness trapped in the neural relay of her shredded suit.

In her living room, the little girl sits alone with Doctor Moon. “There is the real world,” he tells her,”and the world of nightmares. That’s right, isn’t it, you know that…What I want you to remember is this, and I know it’s hard. The real world is a lie, and your nightmares are real. The Library is real. There are people trapped in there, people who need to be saved. The shadows are growing again. Those people are depending on you. You can save them. Only you.”

Congratulations, Doctor Moon! You win the Scariest Thing Said to a Child Award for Season 4!

The rest of the team are led back to the central room by the Doctor, who – wielding a torch in one hand and a chicken leg in the other – reveals the monsters of the Library. They are the Vaschta Nerada, swarms of organisms that can sometimes be seen as the motes of dust in sunbeams. “Piranhas of the air,” the Doctor calls them. They come from the dark of forests, but here they have grown powerful and vicious. There’s only one way to survive them: RUN.

While the Doctor sonicks shadows, River and Donna stand to one side watching. River tries to explain how her message was misdirected, arriving too early, in the days before the Doctor knew her. “And he looks at me,” she whispers, “and he looks right through me, and it shouldn’t kill me but it does.” Donna is not sympathetic, especially after she gives her name and River looks at her like she’s a dead woman walking. Time travellers are hell to live with.

Dave, one of River’s team, has worse problems; he has two shadows. The Vashta Nerada have latched onto him. The Doctor launches into action, pulling Donna over to the Library teleports, where he dematerialises her in mid-protest. She appears in the TARDIS, then flickers out of existence with a terrified scream.

The Doctor doesn’t know that. Right now, he’s trying to save Dave. Dialling up the mesh density of his suit and replacing his helmet on his head, the hope is to make him a harder meal to digest, not worth the effort. Then the second shadow disappears, and the visor of Dave’s helmet turns black. “Hey!” he cries. “Who turned out the lights?” His whole body shudders as he is devoured, leaving a skull staring out at them, but the loop of his last words is repeated over and over, an echo in the neural relay. The Doctor, who has an incurable addiction to bad ideas, edges closer, like there’s anything he can do.

The thing in the suit comes to sudden life, seizing his throat. River uses a sonic screwdriver of her own to electrocute the suit, forcing whatever animating force is controlling the hands to let the Doctor go. But the Vashta Nerada don’t die. Shadows stretch from where the suit stands, each one infected with instant death, and the only thing to do is run. When it seems they’ll be cut off by the darkness, River shoots her way through a WALL. Basically, she is being impressive all over the place, and the Doctor still looks right through her, because he’s just realised that Donna never reached the TARDIS; he should have received a message when she did. He accosts the nearest courtesy node for an explanation, and it turns around wearing Donna’s face. “Donna Noble has left the Library,” it intones. “Donna Noble has been saved.”

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