In the eighth episode of the fourth series of Doctor Who, Steven Moffat ruins yet another every day occurrence forever by giving us all nightmares about shadows. Oh, and this episode is FUCKING BRILLIANT. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
I had a few reservations about the concept of “Silence in the Library” during the first ten minutes or so. Because it is apparently impossible for me to talk about Doctor Who without referencing The X-Files, there is an episode in season two of that show, called “Soft Light,” that is essentially the same thing as this one. Shadows that can kill people. Well, one man’s shadow, specifically, and that man is Tony Shalhoub. Oh, and the episode is kind of awful and terrible.
So I would like to start off this review by apologizing. I am sorry, Steven Moffat, for doubting you. I am sorry for thinking that this particular episode could in any way compare with that subpar episode of The X-Files. I shouldn’t have even allowed the thought to enter my brain.
I will now state that I am not even remotely worthy of you, Moffat. What you have managed to create here, in “Silence in the Library” is alternately one of the most complex, emotionally rich scripts I’ve ever seen on television, and a story that is gut-wrenching in its horror. AND IT’S ONLY PART ONE oh my god never prepared
I loved the humor that opens up this episode, mainly because THERE IS NONE OF IT TO FOLLOW. Instead of taking Donna to a beach, we’re treated to a giant (and very empty) library. My first thought was THE BOOKS ARE ALIVE when the Doctor showed Donna how the Library’s computers said there were a million million lifeforms living there. LOL I WAS SO WRONG.
What really makes this all stand out, though, is how many obvious and pervasive tropes there are here in “Silence in the Library,” ones that any science fiction or horror fan could easily point out, but Moffat completely fucks with all of them. Right from the beginning, we’re given the idea that all of this is taking place in someone’s head. In this case, the little girl seems to have created the library as a way to escape the world she’s in. The evidence of her therapist, Dr. Moon, seems to confirm that. Except then the Doctor and Donna show up. In an imaginary world. And…what? That’s not possible, right? They’re not figments of this girl’s imagination. Can things that exist in the real world simultaneously visit something like this? What???
That’s the thing, though. This episode completely messes with this idea. How can this all be in someone’s head if characters we know to be real are inside it?
Further complicating matters is the way in which outside forces act inside the Library. At one point, the young girl, through the security bot, warns the Doctor that “the others are coming,” which made me think of LOST. Those “others” do arrive, in the form of an expedition sent to decipher the meaning of the Library’s final message: 4022 saved, no survivors.
Along with that group comes yet another wrinkle to the story: River Song. I assumed she was a companion because I’d seen so many gifs and macros of her and…ok, she will be a companion. I should correct that. I can’t even pretend to understand River’s story or how she came to know the Doctor. But she’s met him. No. Will meet him. What I don’t understand is how a companion remembers the Doctor, but not vice versa. Why is their relationship happening in opposite narrative lines?
There aren’t many questions answered in “Silence in the Library,” but we start to get a feel for things as the episode moves along. The expedition that arrives only seems to complicate matters for the Doctor as the shadows seem to move independent of light. Naturally, everyone aside from River and Donna seems to disbelieve the Doctor’s every word. How can shadows hurt people? (For the record, as River revealed more and more of what she knew about the Doctor, my face had the exact same expression as Donna’s each and every time.)
When the Doctor does decide to elaborate on the “shadows,” though, is when Moffat decides he will ruin shadows for us forever. They are the Vashta Nerada, a violent and carnivorous creature that is microscopic and sticks to shadows to hunt its prey. I would like to personally thank Moffat for including the line about the specks of dust that float in the light, as I will now never be able to think of them as anything else ever again.
It’s not enough for Moffat to merely make shadows terrifying. Instead, he does so much more than go for pure horror. Miss Evangelista seemed like a caricature of a person at first, I admit it. As soon as they introduced her as the not-so-bright character, I figured she would die first. It’s common in horror movies to pick off the vapid ones first, right? So leave it up to Moffat to not only do this, but introduce the concept of a Data Ghost to hold the other crew members accountable for how they treated Miss Evangelista.
When there’s a foolish or dim character around, it seems very common that it’s just acceptable to make fun of them and pick on them. And the crew that was with River did just that, predictably. I loved that Donna was the only one to pick up on this and she compensated by treating Miss Evangelista with respect. So, when the crew came barreling into the hidden room to find the fleshless remains of her sitting in a chair, I figured it was over. They’d move on, it was a SHIT GOT REAL MOMENT, and the character would be just as disposable as we expected.
Except Moffat isn’t interested in that. We learn the exploration team has communication devices in their collars that are synced with their nervous systems, and despite that Miss Evangelista was devoured in seconds, there’s still an imprint of her consciousness left in the device. There’s a slight air of fear in her voice; she’s unsure what’s going on, but she seeks out the one who was “nice” to her. Donna, with horror, realizes she’s referring to her. What I loved so much about this scene is that by having Miss Evangelista tell Donna that she’s not stupid, it forces the crew to deal with the fact that, quite literally, their last interactions with Miss Evangelista were awful, self-centered, and mean. On top of that, it’s simply horrifying. The green lights slowly go out and then she’s gone. But they all had to hear her die.
Simply chilling. One of the scariest moments in the whole show and even made better by how quiet it is. Even better is the fact that another wholly terrifying moment is just ten minutes later, when the shadows go after Dave. What makes the ongoing scene so unbearably frightening is the hopelessness of it all. The shadows attach to Dave and then, surprisingly, get inside of his suit and EAT HIM RIGHT THEN AND THERE. His Data Ghost is somehow worse because it repeats his voice over and over again. There’s no hope. He’s gone. The Doctor can’t save him and there’s now a very real risk that others will meet the same fate.
As the possessed suit of Dave goes after the exploration team, everything comes to a fever-pitch of awful: the Doctor tries to send Donna to the TARDIS, but something fails. In the worst (and by “worst,” I mean “Steven Moffat is a genius who deserves all the awards) cliffhanger yet, Donna Noble’s face appears on one of the Library’s Nodes, which, given what we were told earlier, means that she is dead. Which…she can’t die, right????? Donna Noble has been saved…let’s hope so.
One last thing before my brain melts and I’m no longer able to type. There’s a huge trope in this episode that I worried about: how was Moffat going to rectify the idea that the little girl was imagining the Library, yet real people were inside of it? In the most shocking twist in the episode (and a complete inversion of the trope in the first place), Dr. Moon tells the girl that the library in her head is REAL. The world she is living in? IT’S MADE UP.
WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON
- I bet it was irresistible for some of you to not tell me about the constant use of “SPOILERS!!!” in this episode by Donna and River. This episode was clearly written for me, right. Right. Right.
- “I’m a time traveler. I point and laugh at archaeologists.” Kind of mean, but I laughed. I couldn’t help it.
- “No, I never land on Sundays. Sundays are boring.” RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT?!?!?!
- The entire “pretty boy” exchange was LOVELY.
- “You need a good death. Without death there’d only be comedies. Death gives us size.” Ok, I’m hoping this is just foreshadowing for this episode and not something else in the future. ::sad::
- Except…the way River looked at Donna when she found out who she was. UGH. WHY. WHY DID YOU DO THAT. Ugh. 🙁