A First-Timer Watches Doctor Who: “Silence In The Library”

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At Fan Expo Canada this past August, Matt Smith was asked to name his favourite Doctor Who guest star. It was an easy choice: Alex Kingston, who is apparently a huge and shameless flirt. “She’s an absolute dream,” he said, “There’s just no one better.” Since learning of Smith’s vehement and unwavering love of Kingston, I’ve been looking forward to meeting River Song. So I was pumped this episode when she smiled at the Doctor through her helmet and said, “Hello, sweetie.”

The episode starts tame—even dull: the Doctor takes Donna to the biggest library in the universe. Why, she wants to know, aren’t they at the beach? Of course, they didn’t come to the library to check out back issues of obscure periodicals. They were summoned to this esteemed locale by a note on the Doctor’s psychic paper, which told him something was amiss. When they get there, however, it seems nothing is amiss: the library is completely empty. At least, it appears to be. A quick scan shows there are no humanoid life forms but millions and millions of non-humanoid life forms. The only other sign of life: robots. Which warn them to stay out of the shadows. Oh, and this is all possibly happening in the mind of a little girl.

The Doctor and Donna soon encounter an expedition led by the smooth-voiced River Song. She seems to know the Doctor: she calls him “pretty boy,” touches his face in a very intimate way, and has a diary filled with notes from their adventures. He’s totally confused—he’s never seen this woman before in his life! But when members of the expedition start to get picked off by shadow creatures, he has no choice but to trust her.

River Song is an inspired way to introduce romance into the Doctor’s life. There’s no time for will-they-or-won’t-they sitcom-esque flirtations when travelling in the TARDIS. His relationship with River skips all that, but maintains the romantic tension necessary to hook TV viewers. Who is she? What is the nature of their relationship? We know she must be pretty special if the Doctor managed to open up to her—but it’s fun not to know why. It also makes sense to pair up the Doctor with a ballsy and experienced warrior, rather than a young, starry-eyed fangirl. (Sorry, Rose.) River seems like she can match his pace without taking his crap.

This episode almost feels like a series eight episode. Since Peter Capaldi took over the role of the Doctor, there’s been talk of how the show has slowed down, become more mysterious—and more unsettling. But “Silence in the Library” already accomplished methodical creeps. The slow-but-sentient shadows offer subtle scares, while the library-bots—which consist of real people’s faces stripped off and turned into droids—were seriously yuck. For me, Doctor Who has more impact when it plays off recognizable locales, like a library. It’s familiar—but wrong.

Also teased this episode: Donna’s (presumably unfortunate) fate. I’m starting to get worried for her. Does a companion ever extricate her relationship with the Doctor unscathed?

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