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Forest of the Dead was the ninth episode of series 4 of Doctor Who.

Its major impact on the mythos of Doctor Who was its depiction of the death of River Song. This narrative end point would be respected in future series that told River Song's out-of-sequence story.


Donna is gone, the Vashta Nerada are out for fresh meat and the Tenth Doctor is running out of options. Can he trust the mysterious Professor River Song, a woman who claims to be from his future? Why would his future self have given her his sonic screwdriver, or tell her his real name? Even if they do work together, can anyone stop the shadows from claiming them all as their next meal?


River Song uses her sonic blaster to create a hole in the wall. The Tenth Doctor and the others escape the Vashta Nerada-possessed Proper Dave down a corridor.

These events are watched on television by the girl. She switches channels to one showing Donna being taken out of the ambulance on a stretcher. Donna wakes up in a facility being treated by Doctor Moon. When she tries to remember reality, Doctor Moon quietly tells her that she has been in this facility being treated by him for years. She accepts the reality he presents to her. The way time progresses in her virtual world seems to be led by her thoughts; Doctor Moon suggests she walks by the river and she suddenly appears at the river. She occasionally finds this odd but is reassured by Doctor Moon. He introduces her to another resident named Lee, who has a stammer. Before she knows it, she is married to her ideal man, and they have two children, twins Joshua and Ella.

Meanwhile, the others in the Library have been on the run from the Vashta Nerada. The Doctor and River Song argue as he demands to know who she is and where she got her sonic screwdriver from. He isn't sure he can trust her, but she assures him that someday she'll be someone he trusts completely. However as she can't wait for him to learn that, she says she can prove it now and apologises before whispering something in his ear. He is stunned, and when she asks him if they're OK now, he nods in response, seeming to now trust that she's telling the truth. Unfortunately, Anita now has two shadows. She remains brave in the face of her impending death, as the Doctor darkens her visor in the hopes that it might trick the Vashta Nerada into thinking they have already infiltrated it. They then realise that "Proper Dave" has caught up with them again, and they flee. The Doctor stops to try to reason with the Vashta Nerada. River tells Other Dave to stay behind to help the Doctor, who teaches the Vashta Nerada to use the suit's communicator to speak to him. In doing so, he learns that the Vashta Nerada didn't travel to the Library but were brought there; they lived in the forests that were pulped to create all the books, and then hatched after arriving. Other Dave, in the meantime, has also been killed by the Vashta Nerada, leaving the Doctor trapped between the two Daves. He escapes through a trap door hatch and sets off after the other three.

Elsewhere, River Song tells Anita about the Doctor she knows. She has seen whole armies turn and run away from him in the future, and he can open the TARDIS by snapping his fingers. The Doctor arrives and says that is impossible. As he returns his attention to the present, Anita asks him what River whispered in his ear earlier. She reminds him that she's about to die, and so his secret is "safe" with her. This prompts him to finally realise the significance of the oddly-worded "4022 saved" message. He figures out that the Library's computer hard drive – CAL – had detected the people in the Library were in danger from the Vashta Nerada and teleported them out, however it had nowhere to teleport them to. Instead, the computer stored the patterns on its hard drive... it literally "saved" all of the four thousand twenty-two people in the Library to its memory, and has done the same with Donna.

In her virtual home, Donna is contacted by a hooded figure, who tells her the world is not real. They arrange to meet in a playground. The figure reveals herself to be Miss Evangelista, whose consciousness was copied when she was killed. In this reality, however, her appearance is deformed but as a side effect she has become much more intelligent. She again warns Donna that the world is not real. Donna is stubborn and sceptical, but to her horror, she sees that all the children in the playground – including hers – are identical.

This revelation drives the little girl into hysterics, making her father and Doctor Moon disappear with her TV remote. The Library starts to enter a meltdown, and is set to explode.

Later, when Donna takes her children home, the virtual world is bathed in red light, signifying the Library's incoming destruction. Donna cradles her two children together in fear, and orders them not to get out of her sight. Later, at bedtime, Ella asks if she and Joshua are real, and Donna tells her that they both are, even if they stop as soon as she closes her eyes. Donna promises to never closes her eyes again, but as soon as she goes to kiss Ella goodnight, both children are gone!

Donna, shocked after witnessing her children vanishing, goes into hysterics and breaks down emotionally, sobbing at her children's empty beds.

Back in the Library, the team travel to the core of the planet to the computer. The little girl is, in fact, the hard drive. She was Strackman Lux's grandfather's youngest daughter, Charlotte Abigail Lux aka "CAL". She was dying of an incurable disease, so he made an imaginary world for her to live in and every book ever written for her to enjoy. He also gave her a "Doctor Moon" to watch over her, but the stress of having so many minds integrated into her own is causing her to overload. She has initiated the self-destruct and is about to destroy the planet.


River meets her fate.

The Doctor realises that to restore the "saved" people, the Library needs extra memory. This can be achieved by linking himself to the core. River Song says that this will burn through both his hearts and kill him without a chance of even being able to regenerate. He sends River and Lux upstairs to prepare for the restoration. As she exits, River tells Anita to watch him.

Anita asks the Doctor what he intends to do about the Vashta Nerada. He states he intends to materialise the people, get them off the planet, and then leave the world to the Vashta Nerada. When asked if he thinks the Vashta Nerada will take his offer, he reveals Anita has already been consumed by them. When they, using Anita's suit, threaten to consume him and everyone else, he reminds them he is the Doctor... They are in the biggest library in the universe, and he tells them to look him up. They pause after a moment of consideration, and then agree: they will give him one day to evacuate everyone. They then abandon the suit and withdraw.

River returns to find Anita dead, then knocks the Doctor unconscious. He wakes up, finding himself handcuffed to the wall. River has hooked her own mind up to the computer, planning to carry out the plan in his place. He tries desperately to persuade River to let him do this. He reminds her that she whispered his real name into his ear, which he could only tell someone for one reason... She refuses and sadly notes that during all the time they shared and will share together, he always knew this is where and when she dies. While he insists that the future can be changed, she tells him not to change one moment of what happens between them even though it leads to this and he will see her again. She links in when the countdown reaches zero and dies, as the Doctor looks on.

Donna's virtual world is overtaken by a bright light, as Lee arrives and asks if he is real or was just created for her. Donna promises to find him in reality, as the light consumes them both. In the Library, the 4,022 people and Donna are all restored much to Lux's joy. However, at the core, the Doctor looks sadly at River's dead body only too aware of how much she will mean to him one day.

The evacuation of the Library begins. Donna cannot find Lee, and she and the Doctor conclude that perhaps he never really existed at all. The real Lee sees Donna as he steps onto a teleport, but his stammer prevents him from calling out to her before he is teleported away. The Doctor and Donna briefly muse over River Song's diary, and Donna recalls how shocked River was when she mentioned her name and asks why she wasn't travelling with him when he sees her again. The Doctor holds up River's diary asking her if they should take a look, as it contains details of her life and their future. Ultimately, they decide not to look in it and leave it behind on a shelf along with the sonic screwdriver his future self gave her.

Suddenly, the Doctor comes running back. He realises that since he knew River's fate all along, his future self would never have just let her die and has had years to think of a way to save her. He knows that he wouldn't just give her a sonic screwdriver without a good reason. Opening it, he finds that it contains a hidden neural relay. As with the data ghosts, her consciousness has been saved there. However, it is fading. The Doctor takes River for "one last run", as he sprints back to the core. He uploads River's data ghost into the Library's computer, as the face of Charlotte looks on and smiles. River appears in a virtual reality created by Charlotte and is reunited with all of her team members for all eternity. The Doctor also fixes the data core so that Charlotte is no longer unstable and it's a good place for them to live. Laughing in surprise, River only says, "He just can't do it, can he? That man. That impossible man. He just can't give in."

In the real world, the Doctor returns to the TARDIS. Standing before it and concentrating, he tries opening the TARDIS doors with a snap of his fingers and is able to do so. He goes inside to join Donna and turns to look back outside with her. As he snaps his fingers to close the door of the TARDIS, River closes the blue TARDIS-shaped diary. River is sitting in the kids' bedroom of Donna's house in the virtual realm, and has been telling the story of the Doctor to Donna's two children, and Charlotte, who has moved to live with them, concluding that on very special days when "the Doctor comes to call, everybody lives." Charlotte has a real family now, human consciousnesses to keep her company in her "Dream". Smiling, River turns out the lights, saying "Sweet dreams everyone."



General production staff

Script department

Camera and lighting department

Art department

Costume department

Make-up and prosthetics



General post-production staff

Special and visual effects


Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.

This is one of the very few episodes after the beginning of series 2 that did not credit BBC Wales Graphics.


The Doctor[]

  • The Doctor says, "Who are you?", to River, a line which is often asked of him.
  • The Doctor learns the fate of River Song and retains this memory through to their "first" meeting in the future. The future Doctor will adjust his sonic screwdriver in order to preserve Song's consciousness so his younger self will be able to preserve her within CAL.
  • Song appears to have knowledge of Time Lord anatomy, including knowledge of regeneration. She also indicates that destruction of both of the Doctor's hearts in this instance is a circumstance after which he will likely not be able to regenerate.

Story notes[]

  • If one pays attention to Lux's explanation, the little girl is actually his aunt; if she was his grandfather's daughter, that would mean her sibling would have been Lux's parent.
  • The working title for this story was River's Run. When BBC Video announced the North American release of the Series 4 DVD box set, this title was used in the episode list and not Forest of the Dead. The Radio Times also used this working title. According to REF: Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale - The Final Chapter, the title was changed not long before broadcast. Other potential titles included The Doctor Runs, Forest of the Night and Return of the Dead.
  • CAL was also the name of the computer graphics company that created the title sequence used between 1987 and 1989 for the Seventh Doctor's TV adventures. A result of this work was the creation of the first photo-realistic CGI TARDIS, featured in 1987's Time and the Rani.[1]
  • Steven Moffat's recurring theme "everybody lives" returns again in this episode. (TV: The Doctor Dances) In the BBC podcast associated with this episode, Moffat and Russell T Davies point out that so far in the four major storylines that he has contributed to the series, the only "final" deaths that have occurred have been due to old age, such as Billy Shipton and Kathy Nightingale or illness, Madame de Pompadour. Moffat consequently promises (in the podcast) that he will kill people off in more dramatic fashion in future stories, proven to be true in The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone.
  • The concept of downloading human consciousness as data — even after physical death — and the philosophical issues surrounding this is an issue being addressed by futurists in real-life, with scientists such as Ray Kurzweil speculating that technology will allow the uploading of consciousness to computers within a generation in his book, The Age of Spiritual Machines.
  • A recurring theme in this and the preceding episode is "spoilers". This is a term that was coined in the 1990s by science fiction fandom to address the circulation of information revealing the plots and endings of TV shows and movies. Interestingly, the fourth series of Doctor Who contains several examples of plot twists and cameos that were successfully protected from "spoilers". Other examples of successful spoiler protection include the appearance of Catherine Tate at the end of Doomsday. Examples of plot twists that were not successfully protected from "spoilers" included the return of Rose in Series 4 — spoiled in part by people witnessing the filming — and the regeneration of Christopher Eccleston at the end of Series 1 — spoiled by the BBC publicity office itself.
  • This is the last episode not written or co-written by Russell T Davies until The Eleventh Hour, and the last to not be written or co-written by the show's head writer until Victory of the Daleks.
  • The frantic music from Midnight is heard during a scene where Donna Noble freaks out, having seen her "children", whom she had tucked in bed, disappear without a trace, while she was in the data core.
  • Excerpts of the Turn Left theme (a remixed version of the Doctor's theme with echoing vocals) are heard when dialogue about the Doctor's future is brought up by River, foreshadowing events to come.
  • The phrase, "Time can be rewritten", is first uttered by the Doctor in this story and is a recurring phrase throughout Series 5 and 6.
  • The Doctor states to River, "Nobody can open a TARDIS by snapping their fingers." However, River tells him (and he finds out) that he can, and also closes the door by snapping his fingers. Clara Oswald is also later shown displaying this ability in episodes like The Day of the Doctor and The Caretaker.
  • Donna's children, Joshua and Ella, were named after Steven Moffat's son Joshua and his best friend Ella. The accompanying Doctor Who Confidential episode shows Moffat visiting the set with Joshua and Ella to watch part of the episode being filmed.
  • During the audio commentary, David Tennant mentions that Donna's wedding dress is the same one she wore in TV: The Runaway Bride.
  • The question of the Doctor's real name dates back to the earliest days of the series, though more recent episodes have implied that his name is a terrible secret. (TV: An Unearthly Child, Silver Nemesis, The Girl in the Fireplace, The Shakespeare Code, The Fires of Pompeii, The Wedding of River Song)
  • This episode and Silence in the Library are the only TV stories featuring River Song not to have been shot in high-definition.
  • Julie Gardner suggested to Steven Moffat that at the end only Charlotte be present with River, not the other two children. He has since stated he regrets the decision otherwise.[2]
  • According to Steven Moffat, the squareness gun is the sonic blaster used by Jack Harkness in season one. After Jack leaves it in the TARDIS, River Song will take the gun in the Doctor's future.
  • A twist revelation in which Donna's artificial-reality husband, Lee, turned out to be an overweight woman in the real world was excised for fear of being too confusing.
  • Heavy rains forced the postponement of much of the recording of the outdoor scenes in Victoria Park, Cardiff.
  • Donna's illusory children were initially called Alan and Tracy.
  • The girl discovering the concealed buttons in the television remote control was based on Steven Moffat's son Joshua doing the same thing.
  • This two-parter formed Block Eight of season four.
  • This two-parter was originally scheduled as the ninth and tenth episodes of season four. During the autumn, however, it was realised that both this episode and the one intended to follow it, Turn Left, featured Donna living in an imaginary world. Consequently, the two-parter was brought forward one spot, with Midnight now separating the two narratives.
  • Euros Lyn's aunt and cousin, as well as his cousin's girlfriend, were amongst the missing Library patrons.
  • It was during production of this episode that it was announced that Phil Collinson would be departing as producer, as he had been appointed Head of Drama for BBC Manchester after completing season four.
  • The question of which incarnation of the Doctor gave River the sonic screwdriver that preserved her data ghost was left unresolved until The Husbands of River Song [+]Steven Moffat, Doctor Who Christmas Special 2015 (BBC One, 2015). revealed it was the Twelfth Doctor who gave River her sonic screwdriver.


  • 7.84 million (UK final)[3]


  • Following the broadcast of Silence in the Library there was much discussion in the Doctor Who fan community of the identity of River Song, with rampant speculation on various characters who she might "really" be. The episode ultimately leaves her origin ambiguous, although it does establish several times that this was the first time the Doctor met River, meaning she could not be a past character. A Good Man Goes to War conclusively proves that she is a new character, a human with Time Lord DNA, and the daughter of Amy Pond and Rory Williams.
  • In Planet of the Ood, the Doctor was told his "song may end soon", leading to speculation the "death" of River Song is what was being referred to. The End of Time shows that this prediction centred on the end of this incarnation of the Doctor.
  • It had been rumoured that River Song was the Doctor's future wife. This was shown to be true in The Wedding of River Song.
  • Before the official title was revealed to be Forest of the Dead, it was rumoured that the episode's title was Saved from the Books.

Filming locations[]


  • Upper Boat Studios, Trefforest


  • Hensol Castle, Hensol
  • Victoria Park, Cardiff
  • Palace Road, Cardiff
  • Crwys Medical Centre, Cardiff
  • St Mary's Of Angels, Canton
  • Dyffryn Gardens, Vale Of Glamorgan
  • Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
  • Alcoa Emp Swansea, Swansea
  • Swansea Library, Swansea

Production errors[]

  • The two times we see the Doctor's sonic screwdriver project the image of Donna, the Doctor's tone of voice is different.
  • When the Doctor tells River and Donna "Spoilers" and walks down the staircase, as the camera pans downwards with him, the camera boom's reflection can be seen on one of the books.
  • Several times when the Doctor handles River's sonic screwdriver, the camera changes do not match up to his hand positions on the screwdriver.
  • When Anita gets two shadows after she says, "Didn't do Proper Dave any good", she only has one shadow. When they get away from the swarm she has two shadows again.
  • Shortly after Donna's children are taken to the playground, Ella runs by with a scraped left knee, long before she actually injures herself there.
  • When Charlotte throws the TV remote away in rage, it can be seen that the shot in which the remote hits the floor is archive footage from Silence in the Library; as before Charlotte throws the remote, the bottom of it is badly scratched, but when the remote hits the floor, the bottom is intact.


Home video releases[]

  • This story was released in the Series 4 DVD box set in November 2008 along with the rest of the series.
  • It was released as Series 4 Volume 3 in a vanilla edition with Silence in the Library and Midnight.


External links[]