Doctor Who - Season 30, Episodes Eight and Nine - Silence In The Library and Forest of the Dead
Written between 5th and 12th April 2013 (With touchups on the 23rd June 2013).
Is it really that time again? Seems only yesterday that I reviewed Blink and was rather harsh about it. No such luck here, though, as we enter into a story that is both breathtakingly brilliant and rather desperately forboding of the things that'd come after RTD left. It was half-way through writing this story that one Steven Moffat discovered that he was to be the next producer, and that has had a profound effect upon the story's content. Mainly due to the first and chronologically last appearance of one River Song, Moffat's favourite pet character who, as we know, would go on to appear until the end of the most recent season.
To be fair though, River Song's portrayal in this episode is one that ends up taking a much stronger, more tragic tone. Instead of being the bolshy, Doctor-dependant psychopath she would later be revealed as, the oldest Professor Song is much more reserved and rather saddened at the fact that her lover doesn't recognise her face (and likely never will again.) Alex Kingston balances the character between the danger at hand and the greater mystery of who the hell she is very well, and the performance blends seamlessly with her next few appearances in the show. In fact, one could say that her performance is so good that it spoils you for the rest of her tenure, especially as here the whole "spoilers" routine feels fresh and weird and mystical and the fatigue that comes from its constant repetition has yet to rear its ugly head.
The story's main villain, as is standard by now for The Moff, is the spookification of a mundane fear - this time the fear of the dark, as extrapolated into clouds of carnivorous micro-organisms that can only live in the dark that strip flesh to the bone. It's a cool idea, and is instant paranoia fuel - especially as Moffat has Ten mention that the "Vashta Narada" live on Earth too. I liked that the Doc didn't find a way to magically destroy them all, either, but rather had to negotiate with them to allow him to evacuate everyone from the Library. There's far too little simply negotiating with villains these days, especially in the Moffat Era where a villain is more likely to be taken out by a magnificent end-of-episode explosion for little-to-no reason.
The main, rather Moffattian subplot of Donna being uploaded into a massive computer where she slowly realised that her life was a fake, was incredibly clever, and made use of a lot of tropes that I don't think I've seen before played straight. (Donna being unable to remember what happens between jump cuts, for example.) The way that the subplot inside the computer ran alongside the events in the Library worked well as a mystery, and although as a child I worked out what was going on rather quickly, it's still a neat mystery to go along with.
If there are any problems, they do arrive in the character of Miss Evangelista, played by St. Trinians starlet Talulah Riley, where some of the things that many claim to be omnipresent in the Moffat Era take a firm foothold. The entire point of her character seems to be to shift from a beautiful ditz outside the computer to being a hideous genius inside, implying that a woman is incapable of being beautiful and intelligent at the same time and that her non-attractiveness is somehow a handicap to her continuing function. It's probably a niggle, but Miss Evangelista's use as the tragic figure so underestimated by her fellow collegues is put into sharp contrast when she ends up going on profound rants about the nature of beauty and intelligence which highlight the bumpiness in Moffat's attitudes.
As an execution of the River Song concept, the episode manages to do it all in a nutshell, and I would have been perfectly happy if she had been left in this story and her future adventures with The Doctor been left as a Valeyard-esque mystery. Outside of that, the rest of the episode's core concepts are just really well done, even if I disagree with the way that one of the minor characters is portrayed. The joy of this story is that despite my problems with its writer and the eventual fate of its star guest character, I really struggled to find fault with this two-parter. And that's got to mean something, eh?