TV EYE: Doctor Who, S4 E08: Silence in the Library

After the Eurovision break, it’s on with some loose thoughts on this week’s New Who.

The new Moffat story – and not only is it from the writer who crafted two of the best episodes of the whole show so far (to the extent that they put most others to shame), but it’s also from the man appointed as Russell T. Davies’ successor.

So. No pressure at all…

What ‘Silence in the Library’ proved beyond a doubt is that Doctor Who often lives or dies on the quality of its direction (particularly in reference to last year’s ‘Blink’), and while Euros Lynn is one of the show’s better helmers, he’s not always capable of being outstanding, and certainly didn’t seem up to preventing Murray Gold from slathering the episode in hysterically OTT orchestrations (“Look! The girl is CHANGING THE CHANNELS ON THE TELEVISION!!!) and far too many comedy stings. It’s also the first episode this season where even the dramatic material got the better of Catherine Tate, although some of it seemed to be in the writing – unlike most of the other scripters, Moffat seemed to be making an effort to actually pretend that Donna was still essentially the same character from ‘The Runaway Bride’, which might explain why I wanted to hit her so much (especially in the “That is a dead person’s face!” scene). Given Moffat’s previous high standard, it’s almost easier to initially focus on the flaws – the overdone one-liners, Tennant once again slipping into manic mode, the cute dumb secretary being obvious cannon fodder (as with ’42’, it’s always the cute and sexy minor characters who get offed first) and once again the assumption that repeating a line over and over is scary (when sometimes, it’s actually rather annoying). There’s also the sense that many aspects of ‘Silence in the Library’ are hardly revolutionary, and echo aspects of ‘The Empty Child’ and ‘Blink’ – but while it’s so far not quite up to Moffat’s best, it’s still an impressive and stylish piece with bagloads of atmosphere, some of the new series’ best worldbuilding yet, and which is prepared to make its audience work. The CG work in the series gets better and better – although it might have been nice if they’d been a little less obvious with their real library locations (particularly in the opening scenes) – and this certainly did the job in dredging up some effective and disturbing material, particularly with the sequence featuring the ‘Data Ghost’ and the skull-faced astronaut. Above everything else, there’s the sense that we’re finally having some curveballs thrown at us in terms of storytelling, and the plot isn’t following a strict, pre-defined pattern, from the surreal sequences with the little girl, to the presence of Alex Kingston as River Song, a future companion/love interest/mystery figure for the Doctor. If anything, Silence in the Library does go towards proving that Moffat is seriously unlikely to reinvent the wheel when he gets the keys to the show – but he does have a knack for conceptual sci-fi and offbeat storytelling that lifts this episode, flaws and all, way above any of the four previous instalments. Yes, there’s still next week to go… but after that, we’ve got four solid weeks of Russell T. Davies, so whatever the problems, I’m going to try and enjoy this while I can…

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