Just over seven years ago, the Steven Moffat two-part Doctor Who story Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead debuted. It’s an excellent episode that I’ve come to admit has its flaws. For those who need reminding, it’s the one where the Doctor and Donna answer a summons to a planet-wide library and discover the place empty save for an archeological expedition sent to see what the heck went wrong. River Song is in it, and so are the shadows that eat people.
While this episode didn’t have the brilliant scares of Blink, it did have a slow burn “Ooooooooh, crap!” moment where one of the shadows that’s latched onto a poor archeologist mysteriously disappears. While everybody is trying to figure out what’s happened, the archeologist, Dave (Proper Dave, I think), who happens to be wearing a space suit and a helmet, says, “Hey! Who turned out the lights?” And, of course, we find out that the hungry shadow is now inside the spacesuit.
Though flawed, as I said, I do keep on thinking about this story, which is a mark of its quality, I think. One thing I think about is the scene where the shadows appear to grab onto Anita, another archeologist in a spacesuit. As everybody is fretting about what to do, the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver and darkens Anita’s visor, just as Dave’s had been darkened by the hungry shadows. River Song is momentarily horrified that they’ve climbed into Anita’s suit, but the Doctor reassures her that he’s just darkened the visor saying, essentially, “Maybe it will confuse them; buy us some time.”
At the time I said to myself, that a stupid idea. Why would the hungry shadows be confused? The episode has established that they run away from light (sort of), so how does a darkened visor stop them? How could the Doctor entertain the idea for even a fraction of a second? For seven years, I asked myself this question. How? How? How?
This morning, it hit me.
This isn’t about trying to stop the hungry shadows — at this point, the Doctor simply isn’t able to. It’s about preventing Anita from having a “Hey! Who turned out the lights?” moment, and freaking her and everybody else out something fierce. It’s one of these horrible small mercies like that moment in the novelization of The Edge of Destruction where the Doctor tells Susan and Barbara that the TARDIS will be destroyed in ten minutes, then confesses to Ian that the TARDIS will really be destroyed in five minutes, but he said ten so they won’t know what hit them in the end.
Mr. Moffat, you are a brilliant writer, but sometimes you’re kind of an evil human being. Keep up the good work.
Another thing about Silence in the Library, you all really should watch it after seeing all of the other River Song stories that have been shown since, and then just take in Alex Kingston’s performance as she says, “Doctor, please tell me you know who I am.” Ow! Poor River. And what a performance!