Two of the very best Doctor Who stories since it came back – and indeed of all time – were written by Steven Moffat.
The Girl in the Fireplace and Blink are both, in their own way, superb.
So anyone watching Season 4 for the first time will be excited to arrive at his next effort, the two-part story of Silence in the Library & Forest of the Dead.
Can it live up to the last two stories?
Time to find out.
Doctor Who – Silence in the Library Review: What’s This One About
After making children scared of statues in Blink, Moffat has turned his attention to making them fearful of shadows too.
He also mounts a war against spoilers and introduces his soon-to-be regular guest character, River Song.
Thoughts – It’s Ted DiBiase At Summerslam 93
The definition of incongruous to me is “Ted DiBiase At Summerslam 93”.
What do I mean by that?
Well Ted DiBiase for almost the whole of 1992 and 1993 was exclusively a tag team wrestler along with IRS in Money Inc. In the 9 previous pay per view events stretching all the way back to late 1991, he would only be found in tag team matches or Royal Rumbles.
Then, all of a sudden, in his last ever WWF match, he wrestles against Razor Ramon, a man who seems to be of a different era entirely to the Million Dollar Man. It’s especially jarring when you consider DiBiase would retire a couple of months later and return as a manager and commentator in January 1994.
So the whole thing seems weird. It’s like he’s been plucked out of time for that match and placed in someone else’s story. Two eras colliding.
And that is exactly how I feel about David Tennant in Silence in the Library.
Everything about this story, from the way the Doctor acts, to the style of writing and all the way through to the choice of guest actors and characters, feels like a Matt Smith story.
David Tennant is Ted DiBiase at Summerslam 93. He doesn’t feel right as the Doctor in Silence in the Library in the slightest.
It gives the whole thing a mildly uncomfortable edge.
It Tries Too Hard
Apart from that though, I would say that Silence in the Library also fails to meet the benchmark set by Moffat’s last two stories.
Because I feel he’s trying too hard.
I liked the way he scared the shit out of children in Blink, but what I liked about it was that it happened in the last scene, separate to the flow of the story.
Here, the dialogue is far too unsubtle. Tennant stops short of turning to the camera and asking children if they are scared yet.
It just felt too obvious.
Apart from that, it tried far too hard to be quirky. I mean… “Proper Dave” and “Other Dave”? Come on.
But on top of all of that, what let it down was that it also tried to be too clever.
There’s too much going on and yet at the same time not enough, if that makes sense.
You’ve got the real world (The Library) and the virtual world (where CAL is living), but the suggestion seems to be – at least at first – that we’re not supposed to know which is real. But when it becomes clear which is real in the narrative, the story loses some of its oomph.
So there’s practically no drama in the second episode with Donna. We know she’s not dead, so what’s the point in having so many scenes there. Forest of the Dead really does become a bit of a waste of time as a result.
And all that confusion regarding who is where, and when is when, is made even worse by the River Song stuff.
The River Song Stuff
As an idea, I like the storyline with River Song, even though there are plot holes that are perhaps unforeseen at this point.
I suppose they weren’t to know that David Tennant was definitely leaving at this point, but seeing as this is the first and only time River and this Doctor meet – on-screen at least – it takes a lot away from their interaction.
But as I say, the idea is good, if not a little too stereotypically Moffat. For her last meeting with the Doctor to be his first is cool.
Having said that, I’m reviewing this in August 2013 when it’s still going on in the most recent episode and I feel a bit jaded towards it.
I sense it’ll come to an end soon though, because her penultimate meeting with the Doctor comes after he’s had a haircut. And Matt Smith has just cut his hair…
- By no means is this story all bad though; as I say, I like the concept behind it, even though it would have worked better as a single episode
- To give it credit, I thought the scene where Miss Evangelista dies is one of the best moments of emotional drama we’ve seen in Doctor Who. And again, it’s Catherine Tate who is responsible for making it as good as it is. Her horror mixed with a touching sense of emotional support when Miss Evangelista asks to speak to the “Nice lady” and then openly talks about the private conversation they had together is a sad, sad moment.
- Equally, the cliffhanger is a doozy, because it actually makes you ask yourself “Wow, what next”. It’s just a pity the reprise couldn’t live up to it.
- An area where this story excels is in the visual department. The use of darkness and shadows, the skeletons in the spacesuits and the library all look great and they are pitted well against the everyday suburban look of the virtual world.
- And having a monster that doesn’t actually appear in any visual form beyond shadows and taking over corpses is effective as well.
- One aspect that I felt was weak though was the conclusion; the Vashta Nerada’s threat extinguishes with little more than a whimper.
- Oh, and here’s something that makes no sense; how did the Doctor manager to get out of those handcuffs?
- Another little “What might have been” moment, which was an odd combination of good and pointless was Donna’s “husband” being real but his stammer preventing him from shouting out to her.
- I enjoyed the Doctor’s line about how Donna’s ideal of the perfect man says “Everything” about her, but quickly changes his mind. Never tell a woman what you really think…it only leads to trouble.
- When I watched this again the other night to review it, I actually completely forgot that River ends up living in the virtual world. I just thought she was dead.
- The effect of Miss Evangelista’s warped face is over the top, but it probably scared the kids.
- The Doctor got that clicking fingers control scheme working fast did he not? Or was it always there and he never knew it? But then, if it was, why didn’t the door open and shut at the end of The Long Game, hmmmm?
- DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #24
Doctor Who – Silence In The Library Review: Final Thoughts
When a writer is responsible for some of the best episodes the show has ever seen, people want and expect it to be good. They’ll almost overlook faults because of this.
And I think that explains a ranking as high as #24 for Silence in the Library.
It’s a good idea for a story, but it tries too hard, it wants to be cleverer than it actually is, and the second part is a waste.
That’s not to say the performances, the casting, the setting or the production values are a let down, because they are not; in fact they are all first class.
But this is a writing issue.
And it just shows that you can’t always get it right, eh Moffat?