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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Silence in the Library”

(tons of spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! and no comments from party poopers — this is a love fest only / previous: Episode 7: “The Unicorn and the Wasp”)

Here’s the thing about us crazy compulsive romantic Doctor Who fans: We want the Doctor to be in love. We long for him to have at least a little bit of comfort and happiness. We’d like for him to be in love with us, but, you know, we don’t begrudge him someone else. Especially not if she’s Alex Kingston, who is — pardon my French — so fucking smart and clever and cool and gorgeous that you have to concede that yes, she’d be a worthy partner for the Doctor.
Oh, the way she looks at him:

And he is not unintrigued:

Donna is jealous!:

What is with that whole “Hands!” business — is it really that unpleasant to have his hands on you, Donna? I think not. She just has to maintain this pretense that she’s not interested in him in any way at all except as her ride through space and time, which she’s dutifully been doing… and now here is incontrovertible evidence that he doesn’t always feel the need to tell women that he just wants to be friends. That has got to sting Donna something awful.

Obviously Steven Moffat has been reading The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, which is about a couple whose relationship happens all out of order (because the man jumps around in time in a way that he has no control over). And clearly that’s true for the Doctor and River not just in this one instance — in which the Doctor meets River for the first time after she’s already met him — but all the time, because they’re both keeping diaries of their meetings (well, he’s not doing so yet, but I bet he starts after the events here), and have settled into some sort of routine in which, every time they meet, they figure out where each one of them is in their personal timelines. “Should we do diaries?” she asks him. “Where are we this time?”

And doesn’t her diary look like the TARDIS:

And he can’t keep his eyes off it. He is captivated, even as all sorts of weirdness and danger is happening around them. Which raises all sorts of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey questions, not the least of which is: Does he fall in love with her later because he was so intrigued by the fact that she already knew him the first time he met her? (On top of the fact that she’s gorgeous, clever, etc.) Assuming, of course, that something doesn’t wipe out the Doctor’s future with her, which I would not put past Moffat at all, being the torturing bastard that he is. See, this is all simply too impossibly romantic — “Picnic at Asgard… have we done Asgard yet?” Man, that must have been really nice, judging from the look on her face — not to end in tragedy.

Yet, on the other hand, I’d like to think that River’s reaction to how young he looks means that David Tennant has told the Doctor Who team that he wants to keep playing the Doctor for the next 20 years. At first I assumed she was talking about other, future regenerations of his too, but now I’m not so sure: I think she’s only known this one regeneration, and that the Doctor’s going to be around in this form long enough for his appearance here to seem very young indeed. (Ooo, I hope he doesn’t go bald. Gray would be nice, but bald… eh.)

But I have no doubt that Moffat will invent all new ways with which to break our hearts once he takes over the show in 2010. Erasing River Song from the Doctor’s life will only be the least of it.

And then there’s the little girl…

Oh, it’s so hard to talk about this episode without also talking about the next. I’ll say this: You’re gonna wanna go back and watch this again very carefully after “Forest of the Dead,” the concluding episode, because there’s whole different things to talk about after you know what’s going on with the little girl (and after you know a little more about River Song and what she knows about the Doctor, and what he doesn’t know about her). And, well… okay, spoilers. I must shut up.

I do remember, first time around, while watching this fresh and while waiting for the second episode, all the many ideas that ran through my head about what the deal with the little girl was. She’s in the computer, she is the computer, she’s dreaming it all (note how her house is full of primary colors and looks like a child’s drawing)… And yet, when Doctor Moon tells the little girl, “The real world is a lie, and your nightmares are real. The Library is real,” we’re like, Yeah, we know this, because we know the Doctor is real, Donna is real. Except… do we know that? At least for the moment here, we’re exposed to the possibility that there’s a whole ’nother meta level of reality, one in which the Doctor is merely a figment of someone’s imagination. And how could that be…?

Something else Moffat has been reading: Passage, by Connie Willis, which is echoed in Ms Evangelista and her “ghosting.” I’m with Donna: this is one of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen. (And yet, it’s the kind of thing that makes me love — and hate — Moffat, for it is true science fiction, not about merely new technology — thought mail! — but about the unexpected consequences of that technology. Brilliant!) And I think it could be the kind of thing that, if something similar happened more than a few times, could be the final nail in coffin of the happy traveling life with the Doctor. Sure, Donna has said that she’s gonna stay with him forever, which you know is like painting a bull’s-eye on yourself. But how much more tragic would it be if, instead of Donna simply being killed outright by monsters or bad guys, she comes to the conclusion that she can no longer bear to travel with the Doctor because it’s too sad, in the long run? If we hadn’t already had other clues, we could guess, from Donna’s question to River — “Where am I in the future?” — and River’s look in response, which is like a punch in the gut, that Donna does not, in fact, travel with the Doctor forever.

Knowing what a bastard Moffat it, I vote for the most heartbreaking end for Donna, which is that she has to live with herself for a long time, doing nothing but going to a menial job and eating chips, after she decides she can’t stand to be with the Doctor anymore. That would be horrific, not for the least reason being that I could almost see myself in the same situation: I think I like Donna now because she is more like me than any of the other companions have been. She’s my age, she’s had a life before the Doctor — she’s not a child who grows up alongside him, she’s a grownup already, and joins him from the perspective of someone who has experienced life on Earth and has known it to be mostly shit, compared to what he has to offer. And then she learns that his life is shit, too…? Man.

Random thoughts on “Silence in the Library”:

• One more book (series of books, really) that seems to have inspired Moffat: the Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde. The whole “every book ever written” thing plus the giant Library sounds a lot like Fforde’s Well of Plots.

• Oh, man, Moffat should totally get Connie Willis or Jasper Fforde to write an episode!

• What a second! Didn’t the old Doctor Who have a rule about the Doctor not being able to cross his own timeline? So that the Doctor couldn’t meet someone before he met them? Or are we just pretending that was never a thing?

• If I were Donna, I’d be pissed if the Doctor took me to the biggest library ever and then smacked my hand when I went to pick up a book. Um, what? You bring me here and then forbid me to read? I dunno what kind of reader Donna is — I suspect she tends toward trashy beach novels, but I bet she does at least read those, as opposed to not being one of them readers at all — but I’d have to smack the Doctor back. Spoilers, indeed…

• Likewise, the getting-sent-back-to-the-TARDIS bit. No. You do not allow the Doctor to get rid of you like that — I don’t care if he’s only doing it to protect you. If you wanted protecting, you’d have stayed at home. You’re there to be with him, danger be damned.

• The Doctor apologizing to the security camera after, apparently, causing it pain: He really is sorry. That’s such a lovely little moment for David Tennant as an actor. He’s so wonderfully, genuinely effusive, and I think that’s really rare for male actors, who seem to feel that, well, feeling is somehow inappropriate and unmasculine unless it’s sublimated and repressed. Which, you know, it isn’t.

• “I’m gonna need a packed lunch.” Now that is right outta Zork.

• Another great moment in Time Lord disdain:

Of course, this being Steven Moffat’s work, this is no throwaway moment but something that will come back around to bite the Doctor on the ass: “I don’t want to see everyone in this room dead because some idiot thinks his pride is more important,” the Doctor tells the guy from the Library family later, and there’s River in the background, seeing the corner the Doctor is painting himself into, and then she says: “Then why don’t you sign his contract?” Oh, she really does know him, doesn’t she?

• Squareness gun!

I’m guessing it will transpire, once Moffat takes over from Russell Davies in 2010, that it will be no coincidence that the Doctor’s wife — come on, you know that’s where the River Song story is going — is from the same time as Captain Jack Harkness.

• Great quotes:

“A cry for help, with a kiss?” –Donna

“Of course we’re safe, there’s a little shop.” –the Doctor

“I’m a time traveler — I point and laugh at archaeologists.” –the Doctor. Oh, that is just mean. And yet, ya kinda sense that already, he’s flirting a little with River…

“This is the Doctor in the days before he knew me…. And he looks at me, he looks right through me, and it shouldn’t kill me, but it does.” –River Song

“You need a good death. Without death there’d only be comedies. Dying gives us size.” –the Doctor, on biographies and how there are always deaths at the end. (Don’t think about this as a spoiler. Really: don’t.)

(next: Episode 9: “Forest of the Dead”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
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  • Steve

    Moffat said that in his head it is infact the same squareness gun Jack used. The last time it was seen Jack took it into the TARDIS (at the end of The Doctor Dances) when he joined the crew. In the future River will travel in the TARDIS and Moffat said he imagined she took it from there at some point.

  • Poly in London

    “That’s such a lovely little moment for David Tennant as an actor. He’s so wonderfully, genuinely effusive, and I think that’s really rare for male actors, who seem to feel that, well, feeling is somehow inappropriate and unmasculine unless it’s sublimated and repressed.” This openness says as much about David Tennant as an actor as it says about the Doctor as a character: the Doctor doesn’t always feel emotions the way humans do, but in no way he represses anything he feels. He doesn’t sublimate because he doesn’t even know what the conventions are.

    Tiny little spoiler for episode 11 (just aired in the UK), nothing to do with plot and it’s only at the beginning: the episode starts and the Doctor and Donna are happy. Not only that, but Donna acknowledges it, she says it aloud: “I am happy NOW”. I almost punched the air. She is old enough to know that life on earth is mostly shit, and she is finding out that the Doctor’s life is shit as well, but she is also old enough to know that when you are happy, you stop and think about it and celebrate. Because it doesn’t last.

    Three (wonderful) episodes later, I almost forgot how good Silence in the Library was.

  • boz

    “What a second! Didn’t the old Doctor Who have a rule about the Doctor not being able to cross his own timeline? So that the Doctor couldn’t meet someone before he met them? Or are we just pretending that was never a thing?”

    five doctors, two doctors, time crash :) they all ignores that rule.

  • Paulw

    Rules? What rules? Gallifrey is gone. The Time Lords are down to ONE, and he doesn’t have the equipment or power to enforce the whole of time to flow in a consistent manner. So we are bound to see more contradictions and rewrites of history running into the wall of paradoxes the Doctor had found/is finding/will have found. (there’s also the fact that in this go-around there are actual sci-fi writers who have a better grasp of time paradoxes than the original series’ writers did, the early writers were all about scary monsters most of the time) I’m surprised we don’t see more Reapers as a continuity touch to underscore the instability of time travel in the new series…

    By the by, the concept of infinite libraries, or whole planets devoted to a library complex, is rather common in sci-fi. Jorge Luis Borges’ “Library of Babel” is considered THE sci-fi story about libraries ever written. The blind monk from Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” was named Jorge of Borgos in his honor… ;)

  • MaryAnn

    Rules? What rules? Gallifrey is gone.

    Well, there are rules like “No shirt, no service,” and rules like “186,000 miles per second.” Some rules simply cannot be broken. I was under the impression that the “no crossing one’s own timeline” was one of those.

    Not that I haven’t broken that rule myself in my fanfic. :->

  • MaryAnn

    as it says about the Doctor as a character: the Doctor doesn’t always feel emotions the way humans do, but in no way he represses anything he feels. He doesn’t sublimate because he doesn’t even know what the conventions are.

    Oh, he knows what the conventions are: he’s just not interested in adhering to them. I always imagined that Gallifreyan culture was even more “proper” and stifled than what we humans are used to, and that’s part of why he ran away and stays away. Because yes, you’re right: the Doctor doesn’t hold anything back, and he doesn’t want to.

  • Paul Hayes

    V. It’s v. V V V V V! :-)

    Not ph.

  • MaryAnn

    Geez, it’s fixed.

    The next time someone here calls me “Mary,” I’m siccing Paul Hayes on him…

  • Stu

    “What a second! Didn’t the old Doctor Who have a rule about the Doctor not being able to cross his own timeline? So that the Doctor couldn’t meet someone before he met them? Or are we just pretending that was never a thing?”

    One of the wonderful things about the expanded Whoniverse is its treatment of how The Brigadier deals with meeting the various incarnations of the Doctor — he simply accepts the version of the ‘chap’ which happens to arrive even if its not necessarily in the right order any more.

  • Oh, man, Moffat should totally get Connie Willis or Jasper Fforde to write an episode!
    –MaryAnn Johanson

    Perhaps in an alternative universe, he already did.

    “I’m a time traveler — I point and laugh at archaeologists.” –the Doctor.
    –MaryAnn Johanson

    Well, as a Doctor Who fan, I did tend to point and laugh at Trekkies.

    Even though I used to be one.

    When I was a teenager.

    I’m so ashamed…

  • angel

    “That’s such a lovely little moment for David Tennant as an actor. He’s so wonderfully, genuinely effusive, and I think that’s really rare for male actors, who seem to feel that, well, feeling is somehow inappropriate and unmasculine unless it’s sublimated and repressed.”

    Now contrast that with “Oh, I’M pretty boy!” and tell me David Tennant isn’t giving the performance of a lifetime.

    And you get to see him live on stage! *seethes with jealousy*

  • Karen Tips

    So very, very pleasant to read a literate blog about Dr. Who. I have encountered only one other person who knows Jasper FForde’s wonderful, zany, complex novels. Now I don’t feel so alone in the Whoniverse.

  • (There’s also the fact that in this go-around there are actual sci-fi writers who have a better grasp of time paradoxes than the original series’ writers did, the early writers were all about scary monsters most of the time) I’m surprised we don’t see more Reapers as a continuity touch to underscore the instability of time travel in the new series…
    –PaulW

    Actually the Reapers were a rather stupid idea that RTD never should have used in the first place. (And not just because they seemed like refugees from Dead Like Me.)

    As for the original series, I can’t help but point out that the original series was no more all about “scary monsters all the time” than the current series is about “silly pop culture references all the time.” You can see that way if you choose, but there’s obviously a lot to either series than that. Otherwise, neither series would have the following it does.

    And I’m sorry, but as much as I like individual episodes by RTD and Moffat, it’s still a bit rich to refer to the current scribes as “actual sci-fi writers” when most of the current writing staff’s literary output consists of Dr. Who novelizations.

    Besides, it’s worth noting that the old-school Dr. Who was the science fiction show of choice of real science fiction writers:

    http://www.multiverse.org/fora/showthread.php?t=8384

  • MaryAnn

    So the writers of *Doctor Who* are not *real* writers because the only SF they’ve written is *Doctor Who* scripts? That’s ridiculous. Is Harlan Ellison’s script for “City on the Edge of Forever” not “real” SF because it’s “only” a TV script?

  • That’s not what I said. I was not arguing that there was no real SF in the new series. I was arguing that it wasn’t fair to argue that Moffat and company are necessarily superior to Terry Nation and company because the former are “real” SF writers. I’m sorry but I could not help but find that ironic in view of the fact that both sets of writers had their main experience with SF writing material related to Dr. Who.

    In some ways, today’s scripts are more sophisticated than those of Robert Holmes, Terry Nation, and company. In some ways, they’re not.

    Both shows have their strengths and both have their weaknesses. I don’t mind an occasional diss of one of the older show’s weaker episodes but the perpetual “the old show sucks; the new show rules” meme is starting to get pretty old.

    And for what it’s worth, the present show’s obsession with supernatural subjects does at times make the “real” sci-fi element in the new series seem kinda iffy.

    But once again…different strokes for different folks…

    Though there are times that I get the feeling that RTD is not so much intent on recreating Dr. Who as he is rewriting Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And let’s face it. There are quite a few similarities between the two shows.

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t mind an occasional diss of one of the older show’s weaker episodes but the perpetual “the old show sucks; the new show rules” meme is starting to get pretty old.

    Is that what you think I’m doing? Cuz I’m not. The new show is more sophisticated in some ways — specifically, emotionally — but the old one dealt with some pretty amazing SF concepts.

  • OMG. I loved this episode so much I found the Forest of the Dead online and watched it. And today, I found Turn Left.

    I can’t believe there are only two episodes left! (Well, after the ones I saw online, that is.) I can’t wait!

  • Paul Wimsett

    I didn’t think this story was so much inspired by Jasper Fforde as the Agatha Christie one for instance. (Does Noddy exist? And there seems to something here that can actually feed off books.)

  • Well I also thought of Jasper Forde at the very beginning of the episode (and it would be completely brilliant to have Forde write a future Dr. Who episode). Except that’s not the way those episodes turned out, was it?

    What I particularly love about Moffat episodes is how they turn time travel tropes on their side, especially Blink and now the Library episodes. In both cases, you have a friend of the time traveler knowing more than the time traveler “before.”

    While I thought the Sally Sparrow character would be a terrific companion, River Song seems even better.

  • melinda

    “Didn’t the old Doctor Who have a rule about the Doctor not being able to cross his own timeline? So that the Doctor couldn’t meet someone before he met them? Or are we just pretending that was never a thing?”

    It happened in Blink too…

    what was weird to me though – was that the Doctor seemed so thrown by the idea that she knew him, but he didn’t know her yet. In Blink he seemed blase about meeting Sally Sparrow…

  • “what was weird to me though – was that the Doctor seemed so thrown by the idea that she knew him, but he didn’t know her yet. In Blink he seemed blase about meeting Sally Sparrow…”

    i think it was the emotional content of River’s knowing him that threw the Doctor … she was so obviously confident of her intimacy with him. sally sparrow was like meeting someone who has seen you and knows you but who you don’t know.

  • jackie

    The encounter with Queen Elizabeth I showed that he’s used to meeting people out of order (and finds it funny), but meeting somebody who keeps a diary of their encounters and treats him with a level of intimacy that he is definitely unused to is something else.

    Somebody who then reveals that she knows his name is bound to shock him to his core.

  • MaryAnn

    Actually, Sally had not met the Doctor before — she’d just seen the DVD easter eggs before he created them. Not *quite* the same thing.

  • melinda

    i guess what i meant to say was that The Doctor takes Sally’s comments (about their overlapping timeline) in stride. She may not have MET him yet – but he has already saved her life, even though he hasn’t met HER yet. wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey. With River Song, he seems very suspicious and dis-believing that she may know him from a future timeline.

    i got myself tickets for the Tennant Hamlet as well – Sep. 1st! WoohOo!

  • Joanne

    I suppose the difference between River and other people who have already met the Doctor is how she knows him – she knows him. She shows she knows all about him, in every intimate detail, and I think that’s what gets him. She’s not a passing acquaintance and she makes that clear from the diary scene. Sally’s more “ooh, you’re the Doctor, we haven’t met, but you’ll need this, this is brilliant!”

  • Doctor80

    I noticed for the first time today that Tennant does a Joe Pesci impression. When River says ‘I’m getting worse than you’ he says ‘ ok, ok, ok’ and even does the hand gesture like Pesci did in Lethal Weapons.

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