Doctor Who: "Silence In The Library"
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Doctor Who: "Silence In The Library"

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Doctor Who

"Silence In The Library"

Season 4, Episode 8


Steven Moffatt has trained fans of the show to expect the best from the episodes he pens. In the first post-revival season, his two-parter "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances" raised a bar that showrunner Russell T. Davies had already set quite high, bringing in a previously unsuggested thematic depth and emotional resonance. Moffatt proved that Doctor Who could do more than just tell stories that worked in contemporary television, it could tell stories that mattered. Subsequent contributions continued that trend, including last year's "Blink," which got a lot of scares out a bunch of seemingly immobile statues. (Director Hettie Macdonald, of course, deserves some of the credit too.) Moffatt's episodes bring with them the burden of expectation, a burden that will surely grow more acute when he takes over the whole series.

So does he deliver with "Silence In The Library"? I'm happy to say, "yes," with a few qualifications. But first, a confession: I couldn't wait a week to watch next week's second part, "Forest Of The Dead." In fact, I couldn't even wait to write this post between episodes. "Silence In The Library" ends at such a high point that… well, I'm guessing you've watched it already. You know what I'm talking about. And the irony of not waiting when the episodes are so filled with finger-wagging against spoilers–in life and in fiction–isn't lost on me. So I'll just get it out of the way: I think this entry is stellar while the next is merely excellent, for reasons I'll get to next week. No need to brace for a letdown; I suspect I'm just being nitpicky.

But let's focus on this week. Moffatt throws out one big idea after another here, starting with a scene of seemingly 21st century girl who fantasizes about being in a library. Rudely intruding on that fantasy: The Doctor and Donna. But we know they're real so something's clearly amiss.

Then we backtrack to the TARDIS' arrival at the library, a whole planet filled with every book ever published, all of it beautifully arranged. (It's what I used to imagine the Library Of Congress to be like when I was a kid.) Trouble is, it's mysteriously empty. After a fake-out in which it looks like the books themselves might be alive–probably a good-enough premise for another writer–the Doctor and Donna find the episode's first freaky image: A helpful disembodied head mounted on what appears to be a robotic Henry Moore statue. It fails to explain where everyone has gone but succeeds in delivering a dire warning. Then, after running from some switched-off lights–a far more scary scene than it ought to be–and the revelation that the little girl from the opening scene is also somehow a security camera, we're back more or less where we started.

And we haven't even hit the 10-minute mark yet.

Nor have we met a bunch of traveling archeologists, one of whom, Professor River Song (Alex Kingston), has a history with the Doctor. Only it's one he doesn't remember. Nor have we properly met the Vashta Nerada, tiny "piranhas of the air" that feed on flesh. And we haven't even been introduced to "ghosting," the spooky tendency of spirits to linger on in electronic communication. But all that gets introduced before the big reveal that everything we've seen from the perspective of the little 21st century girl's normal life seems to be a lie. And it all leads up to a cliffhanger in which Donna seems to be dead, the Doctor trapped, and the little girl has been driven to the brink of insanity.

In short, there's a lot going on here, and a lot of it feeds into developments we can't talk about until next week. So should we just call it a thrilling hour and then wait until next week to really unpack what we've just seen?

Grade: A

Stray observation:

- Did everyone catch the New York Times article on Davies?

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