Silence in the Library

Posted in Website by - May 26, 2016
Silence in the Library

Aired 31 May 2008

Steven Moffat returns to two-part scripting duties for the first time since the revived Doctor Who‘s first series’s ‘The Empty Child’ and the ‘The Doctor Dances.’ After those sterling first episodes that featured memorable monsters and catchphrases as well as the introduction of Captain Jack Harkness, Moffat followed with the equally brilliant ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ and ‘Blink.’ ‘Silence in the Library’ is the opening act of the new Moffat-penned script, and though there are still plenty of brilliant concepts and a lot of potential for a classic story in the making, the end result doesn’t completely capture the imagination quite as successfully as his previous stories did, partly because of the weight of expectations his own name now carries.

Every writer has favourite plot devices at the ready, and Moffat offers spins on ingenious concepts he has already used to fuel this story. Thus, what seems to be malfunctioning machinery that was designed to help, scares elicited from an everyday object such as shadows, and even a relationship apparently happening out of time as River Song clearly knows more about the Doctor than she is letting on, all owe credit to similar devices in earlier Moffat episodes. They all work incredibly well, but it’s simply not as unique the second or third time around.

What is decidedly unique is the inclusion of the young girl in psychological counselling for her nightmares and fears. She tells Doctor Moon that she is dreaming of a massive library entirely empty of life until the Doctor suddenly bangs on a door and barges in. It’s clear that this girl has a more important role to play in the concluding act, but for now it’s great fun to watch her essentially watching an episode of Doctor Who unfold on her television screen, laughing and screaming along the way as events in the library unfold. And just like Cal will assuredly become more prominent and important in the concluding act, the same can be assumed about River Song as well. As the seemingly appointed leader of the archaeological expedition to the library to determine where everyone within it went, she recognizes the Doctor and even the name of Donna. Alex Kingston brings an air of sassy joy, determination, and strength to the role, and whatever her secret may be she is an instantly intriguing character to behold.

The Vashta Nerada is also another fascinating alien menace that Moffat has introduced into Doctor Who lore, devastatingly brutal creatures that exist as shadows and instantly devour anyone who steps within their bounds. The library node’s warning to count the shadows is eerily menacing, and the examples shown of what they are capable of is astounding even if the catchphrase isn’t the more terrifying. There is certainly a large proportion of the population that has an innate fear of the dark, but Moffat manages to take that primal fear and make it even more unsettling by suggesting that his piranhas of the air don’t exist in every shadow but most certainly can in any shadow.

Unfortunately, despite all of the strong key pieces in play, Moffat fails to capitalize on the strength of Donna as a character as well as the unbelievably strong chemistry between David Tennant and Catherine Tate. This is perhaps the first episode where Donna is positioned to be, at least in some sense, an equal to the Doctor. Donna is sidelined a bit more than usual, to be fair, but even in her scenes she is very much filling the typical companion role rather than the incredibly brave protagonist role she has enjoyed up to this point.

Still, the misstep with Donna aside, ‘Silence in the Library’ is a very capable opening to the story. Many of its core elements are variations of unique aspects Moffat has used previously, but there are certainly worse things to owe credit to that one’s own astounding ideas. As it is, there is still ample mystery regarding the ultimate fates of those were in the library, how the Vashta Nerada menace will play out, who the young girl is, who River Song is to the Doctor, and what will happen to Donna after the momentous cliffhanger for ‘Forest of the Dead’ to satisfactorily answer to create a truly memorable tale.

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