Flashback recap – Doctor Who 4×08-4×09: ‘Silence In The Library’ and ‘Forest Of The Dead’

Courtesy of the BBC

The Doctor Who Project: At the behest of TVAngie (and many, many of my students), I’ve been catching up on the 2005 revision of Doctor Who. I’ll be posting my thoughts on some of the big episodes as I make my way up through the series. Thus far I’ve tackled ‘Blink’ – a series high point – and 4×03 ‘Planet Of The Ood’ – a weaker episode that seems reflective of the quality of the first half of the fourth season. With the arrival of River Song (Alex Kingston), however, things seem back on the path to recovery.

Let’s bitch it out…Although ‘Silence In The Library’ and ‘Forest Of The Dead’ comprise a two part block, ‘Forest Of The Dead’ is a significantly stronger effort. The majority of the first episode is made up of the Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) running around or incredulously asking River Song who she is. As a result the majority of the episode feels like a set-up for the meatier explorations to come in ‘Forest Of The Dead’ which not only displaces Donna into a “fake life” marked by remarkable time gaps, but also dedicates more fruitful analysis to the nature of the Doctor and River Song’s relationship. Because ‘Forest Of The Dead’ is also responsible for tying up loose ends, it also benefits from being able to resolve the conflicts from part one, thereby packing a greater emotional wallop.

For me there is a great interest in exploring the library as an archive of stored information – information in this case meaning the lives of the more than four thousand individuals “saved” like so much data on a hard drive. The realization that CAL stands for Charlotte Abigail Lux (Eve Newton) is hardly surprising, though her slow recognition that she is the computer controlling the library is nevertheless well done. Overall the Vashta Narada make little impact as the monster of the week because they are simply shadows and the sight of the possessed space suits with an illuminated skull is less creepy and more Ray Harryhusen-esque. Far more effective are the quiet scenes such as when Anita (Jessika Williams) tries to engage the Doctor in conversation in an effort to calm herself after she is infected by the shadows. The idea of slowly fading away (nicely visualized as a slowly decreasing green bar code) is far more affective than a killer shadow that gobbles chicken bones.

Courtesy of the BBC

If we collapse the two parts into a single narrative, there are two main reasons why ‘Silence In The Library’ and ‘Forest Of The Dead’ work for me more than many of the other season four episode: 1) the emotional connection and 2) River Song.

1) The emotional connection is at play in multiple storylines, including the return of dim-witted Miss Evangelista (Talulah Riley) as a MENSA level spirit guide in Donna’s “fake life”, as well as Donna’s concern for her children – real or not – and even the obvious-in-hindsight reveal that Donna’s “fake life” husband is real when they miss each other by moments at the conclusion. The most emotional bit, however, ties in with 2) the story of River Song. It’s fascinating watching Kingston grapple with the disappointment that this is not her Doctor, and then the realization that his first time meeting her is her last adventure before she effectively “dies.” The final shot of River Song embracing the other fallen members of her misguided astronaut team in the purgatory world of the computer is both sad and appropriate – a touching finale for a character we can anticipate meeting again in the future.

Other Observations:

  • Just as we’re anticipating the end of Tennant’s tenure as the Doctor thanks to the ominous statements in ‘Planet Of The Ood’, we now have a similar concerns for Donna. River Song confirms that she knows of Donna, but that the Doctor’s current companion is not in his life in the future. Whether this means she dies, or she finds her “fake life” husband on forthcoming adventure is uncertain, but I’m beginning to wonder how many companions the Doctor can journey with before one meets an untimely (and fatal) end? Could Donna be that one?
  • Speaking of Donna, in the last post I felt that Tate wasn’t fitting in as well as Agyeman’s Martha or Piper’s Rose. I still feel that way, but the last few episodes (including 4×07 ‘The Unicorn & The Wasp’) have used her in such a way that I’m reminded of what drew me to her character in 3×01 ‘The Runaway Bride.’  I like how sassy and glib she is – her witty banter with the Doctor and Agatha Christie were a hoot and her dramatic scenes in ‘Forest Of The Dead’ are outstanding. I do think, however, that the show is still struggling to find a way to fully incorporate her into the story. Donna seems to be frequently relegated to the margins or even a ‘B’ storyline. Add to this the number of times she’s required saving by the Doctor instead of saving him and her role as a companion is significantly different to the roles occupied by Martha and Rose. I like Donna, but I wonder if the show knows quite what to do with her?
  • The obvious suggestion is we will see River Song again in future episodes (I know this to be true because –  damn you spoilery interwebs! – she plays a large role in season six). Knowing that River returns, however, only makes me speculate more about the nature of her relationship with the Doctor. There is far too much emphasis on the line about the two of them fighting like husband and wife, so unless that’s a blatant red herring, I wonder if we might see the Doctor getting married in a future season?!

What did you think of this two part arc, readers? Do you remember feeling that Donna wasn’t being incorporated in as well as previous companions? Do you fondly remember this first meeting with River Song (no spoilers in the comments please!). Sound off below!

About cinephilactic

cinephilactic is a university contract instructor in Film Studies. He is an avid TV watcher, particularly science-fiction, fantasy and drama series. His favourite shows currently airing on TV include The Good Wife, Breaking Bad, Justified, Hannibal, Game Of Thrones and a smattering of shows on The CW. He has a tendency to "hate-watch" particular shows and likes to think that his sarcastic voice comes through in his reviews, though sometimes he's just being bitchy

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