Review: Doctor Who – 4×8 – Silence in the Library

Silence! Genius at work

SIlence in the Library

Where does he get these wonderful ideas? Wouldn’t you just give anything to have the creativity of Steven Moffat? Everything he writes seems to have some concept designed purely to scare the crap out of kids – and adults – that no one’s ever thought of before.

The man’s a genius.

All the same, as brilliant as the first part of this two-part Doctor Who story was, it wasn’t complete perfection. And there were several guilty culprits.

Plot

The Doctor and Donna enter a world of terror inside an abandoned library. They’re given only one warning: ‘Count the shadows’.

Was it any good?

Oh yes. In oh so many ways. The script obviously was a tour de force from our Steven, a melding of old Who, nu-Who and Moffat-Who (as it will be know as, once RTD moves on to pastures new).

Essentially, we have Tomb of the Cybermen for the nu-Who generation, in which a team of plucky space archaeologists composed of idiots, red-shirts and the slightly more clued up enter a space tomblibrary and come across something horrible that the Doctor helps them overcome. Better still, the Doctor once more returns to being the angry, wise, cold space alien of yester-year, without a rushed line in sight. You’ve got to love it.

Added to that, we get the standard nu-Who tropes, some of which are becoming a bit formulaic, admittedly – Donna feeling when all the other space people have long since stopped caring, then having a little snivel; a small child being involved in the action; relentless references to modern culture.

Then we have the Moffat touches: the Doctor meeting his own future; the Doctor on tele; scary arsed stuff; 51st century sexual freedom; a possible romantic engagement for the Doctor; decent dialogue; laughs (proper Dave and other Dave, the diary scheduling, etc). The usual high quality stuff that you expect of Moffat.

And it all comes together ever so nicely.

We also get some new additions from Moffat. Although RTD has taken us to the future in a variety of not desperately impressive stories (The End of the World, The Long Game, Gridlock), this is the first time we’ve been taken to a future that really feels like something out of our experience, rather than a variant on our own time. We have face donations, hygiene taboos, data ghosting and the customs associated with it, and more. This, dare I say it, was proper sci-fi at times and it looks like there’s more to come next week.

There were some proper scares, too. The vash… vish… piranha things in the shadows are the kinds of monster that will be scaring kids for decades to come and stopping them going out at night, assuming they understood what was going on and ever remember how to pronounce them. There was the walking skeleton. Donna’s disappearance from the TARDIS accompanied by her screams was genuinely surprising and horrifying – as was her reappearance. The psychologist’s revelation towards the end was equally disconcerting and unexpected. And Donna’s fate is looking equally bleak (especially if you believe the rumours).

Then there was Alex Kingston’s character. While the “another girlfriend for the Doctor” routine is getting a bit old – although we can always hold out hope that it’s misdirection and Kingston is merely a forgetful older version of Jenny from The Doctor’s Daughter – it does give us a mystery to puzzle until next week, a clever way to point out that Donna’s allotted span is a short one, and a way to signal that bloody Rose isn’t the be all and end all of bloody everything. Thank God. Or Steven Moffat.

But Moffat wasn’t the only one working overtime. The sets were fantastic. The lighting was fantastic. Euros Lyn, who’s never really impressed me much before, had me convinced Graeme Harper had finally been allowed to unleash his talents properly (cf Star CopsOther People’s Secrets).

Marvellous.

But, as I said, this wasn’t quite perfection. For starters, we had a severe attack of the mumblers. Now, let’s not head back to the bad old days where everyone spoke RP, but don’t they teach actors how to enunciate their lines so you can hear them any more? Either that or I’m getting old and need to fiddle with my tele’s sound settings.

There were a few duff moments where things started to drag – I’m thinking of the flying books here – and there were a few duff actors, including the child, the PA, other Dave (who was still amusing at least) and proper Dave (who wasn’t) and even the usually reliable Colin Salmon, who was clearly having a bad day. While there were a couple of decent Donna moments, she was a bit of a pastiche at times. And such was the focus on ramping up the tension, there wasn’t quite enough time spent on making you give a monkey’s about most of the red shirts.

It was also ever so slightly uninvolving: it was almost like something terribly, terribly beautiful that you can admire but never touch. Maybe a tad more vulnerability from David Tennant and a few more sympathetic lines for Donna towards the Doctor could have helped out there.

Then there was Murray Gold. Please, why won’t somebody stop him? If Steven Moffat doesn’t fire him in 2010 for what he did to tonight’s episode, clearly society has become a lawless wasteland where crimes are no longer punished – pure anarchy will set in. A P45 with “Gold, M” stamped on must be on its way soon, surely, if civilisation is to thrive.

When Gold’s good, he’s very, very good, but when he’s bad, he drowns out everything and totally ruins it. While there were a couple of good points in the incidental music, did we really need him to derive the rest of it from the Harry Potter movies? Was that appropriate in any way? No.

Bloody Gold.

And finally, am I alone in thinking the Doctor (and Donna) were both bloody slow for time travellers in working out that Alex Kingston was from the Doctor’s future. Seriously, could that have been laboured any more?

All the same, these were minor blemishes in an otherwise wonderful piece of work. Roll on part two!

Next week: Steven answers our bloody questions. Please, Steven!

Who continuity references: Blessed be. There were none. Well done Steven.

Other reviews: Lurking in the shadows are reviews from the following fine folk: Anna, Marie, Rullsenberg, and Stuart. Rosby missed it. If your review is busy data ghosting somewhere, leave a link below to let us know.

  • “It was also ever so slightly uninvolving: it was almost like something terribly, terribly beautiful that you can admire but never touch.”
    Yup yup yup 🙂 I’m surprised by all the reviews that have said they were “gripped”. I wasn’t gripped, I was interested, and there’s a difference.
    I agree with all your positives, of course – maybe my expectations were just a bit too high…?!

  • Vin

    The Grand Moff — wonderful, wonderful, even though I’m starting to see some of the same tricks repeat themselves. Even so, he’s a man with real imagination. This was so much better than everything else we’ve seen this season, even the good enjoyable episodes.
    As for continuity references, there were plenty of them, but they all referred forwards to things that haven’t happened yet. :-p
    cheers
    Vin
    PS I had the good fortune to attend a live DVD-esque commentary by Moffat, mugging it up something hilarious on the microphone over the top of “Blink” (at a convention in LA recently). He clearly fancies Carey Mulligan… So, Grand Moff: please please please please please bring back Sally Sparrow. And Jenny. In the same episode. Perhaps we could finally do a proper grown-up version of “The Twin Dilemma”.

  • I thought this was wonderful. Really scary, really intriguing, and I was moved by the ghosting thing/and Donna’s disappearance. Loved the fact he hasn’t met River Song yet. I liked the spooky child with the library in her head, and I loved all the jokes about spoilers.
    Oh yes, please bring back Sally Sparrow. I thought she was great.
    I’ve blogged it too, a genuinely scary episode, which had at least one child hiding their face in my lap, which hasn’t happened for a while.

  • Poly

    The little girl looks just like DT. This is the sort of girl you would hire if you wanted someone to play his daughter or something. Just saying.
    As for the Doctor and Donna being slow in figuring out that River Song was from the Doctor’s future, the Doctor knew the first time the two of them had a private conversation (maybe he didn’t let it show or didn’t want to believe it but he knew), as for Donna, these are new and quite bizarre concepts still, plus River Song only made cryptic comments in Donna’s present.
    And I love The End of the World and Gridlock so there!

  • MurrayP

    Why do so many people continue to moan on about Murray Gold supposedly drowning everything out? Unless I’m mistaken I’ve never seen him credited as a director, producer, editor, sound editor, sound mixer, etc. He supplies the material, other control how it is mixed into the episode.
    Also, while I agree there are times that the dialogue is overwhelmed by the music and I’d prefer to hear the dialogue, I doubt that even Rusty would happily sit back and allow MG to just carelessly trample all over his carefully crafted words. Clearly it’s a creative choice and one that involves more than just MG. It often annoys me, but the resulting anti-Gold whining is no less annoying.
    Apart from that I pretty much agree with your review – another excellent Moffat story but somehow not quite as engaging as the others. Did we over-inflate our expectations because it’s Moffat? Did he fall into the two-parter trap of making part 1 all about the set-up? I guess we’ll see next week.
    As for Alex Kingston’s character, I know nothing but for me the clues are pointing toward her being his biographer. She’s clearly met him at different times (his rule about the spoilers in her book, her statement about this being the youngest she’s seen him, etc), so she’s not just a companion who travelled for a few years then got dropped off. Then there’s the Doctor’s love of biographies and that being the section of the library where she landed. Or am I making something out of nothing?
    Murray

  • Good theory! I like it.

  • “But the resulting anti-Gold whining is no less annoying”
    Shall we try to keep the mild abuse to ourselves? In the scheme of things, unless any of us happens to be a Very Important Person, just about any opinion we care to express is whining, so let’s not privilege one load of whining over another, whether it’s pro-Murray or anti-Murray, hey?
    As for why so many people moan about drowning things out, maybe it’s because his music drowns things out? Okay, so Rusty and co are complicit, but if MG chooses to over-orchestrate something at a particularly vital point of the drama, Rusty and co have the choice of
    a) not using any music
    b) getting Murray to write different music at the last minute
    c) going with it anyway.
    I’m suspecting c), the path of least resistance and some mild grumbling afterwards. Or maybe they like it that way. I suspect they do otherwise they wouldn’t have employed him. Maybe they even request it. But he’s still the one who says “Okay” and writes it, rather than saying “You know what. My valuable musical experience suggests that that’s a bad idea”.
    The biographer theory’s a good one and they might well have gone with it. Not sure how feasible it is in terms of practicality, but we’ll have to wait and see until next week!

  • MurrayP

    The music issue is a very common complaint and no insult to any individual was intended, your good self especially, but it just seems clear that half way into Rusty’s 4th and final year we’re stuck with this choice at least until the new boss takes over.

  • Vin

    Somehow I feel that Murray Gold doesn’t respond to drama quite the way I’d like him to.
    Two people having a conversation on a blank stage with no other sounds but their voices — everything is possible. Whole worlds of imagination, joy, suspense, terror. All it takes is the right words.
    Of course, like salt and like ketchup, there’s a place for good music, good visual effects, good set design. But, for all that, my somewhat snobbish contention is that real dramatists know that none of those things are required. It takes faith in the Muses of Drama to truly believe it, to trust that magical things can happen quietly.
    Murray Gold, a perfectly good musician, doesn’t come with any such faith in the power of the word. It surprises me that Russell T Davies, who clearly knows that power very well, is his enabler. Some of the finest dramatic moments in New Who have been amplified magnificently by Gold’s music; but at the same time there have been missed opportunities to play certain scenes in the perfect orchestral silence that they deserve.
    Tacet.

  • The problem with the intrusive music really seems to have only shown up this season. At first, I thought it was a sign of a poorly written episode, that is, I wasn’t as engaged, so I noticed the music. But this is a fabulous episode, and I found myself wanting to strangle Murray Gold (sorry, Murray P.!). I’ve found his music quite effective in past seasons. (And I’ve found most of Euros Lynn’s episodes quite wonderful, especially “The Girl in the Fireplace”.)
    However, I want to go on record as having noticed this: See the picture that accompanies this review? In the scene just after this, you see Donna standing right behind the Doctor. Look at the picture. No sign of her. Continuity problem? Or is there a reason the little girl wouldn’t be able to see her? Remember I said this. (Forget I said it if it turns out to be nothing.) Also, what’s with the land-line dial-phone? The other appliances look current. Where is she?

  • Dr Vin! You’re so eloquent!

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Maybe the faithful can help me with this bit of trivia from the episode….
    In a review I read of this first part, the reviewer listed the titles of books that were in that library and their in-joke connections to past episodes.
    This sounded like a great idea for one of my Inner Toob posts, but I want to verify they were actually seen? It sounds like something out of ‘Lost’ – trivial details in the background you need high-def and a good freeze-frame to find.
    Did anybody else notice these book titles?

  • No. Didn’t see them. I did see a similar review but it was of Confidential and Steven Moffat’s own library…

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Phil B

    i know murray gold can excel to levels of genius with his music., but lately (not sure if these RTD wishes or Murray’s own idea, but his music is getting more and more OTT!
    Planet of the Dead – was basically a medley of – BOND – RAIDERS – HARRY POTTER etc> !!!
    Murray is Dr WHO – we know you capable of pure genius., but the score of POTD was too over powering and didnt help the episode at all.
    Phil 🙁

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()