Silence in the Library was the eighth episode of the fourth series of Doctor Who. It marked the first appearance of River Song, a mysterious person with an important role in the Doctor's personal future.
Donna's departure at the end of the series is hinted at in this episode. River reacts upon learning who Donna is, but refuses to answer why she doesn't know her in the future despite knowing the Doctor.
It slightly touched upon River and the Doctor's future interactions, as River speaks of "the future you" suggesting she and the Doctor would know of each other well into his future adventures.
The Tenth Doctor takes Donna Noble to a planet-sized library in the 51st century. They find it empty of human life, with countless other living beings. An information kiosk warns them to "count the shadows". An archaeological expedition arrives, lead by the mysterious Professor River Song, who brings the cryptic last message sent from the library: "4022 saved. No survivors".
A little girl is in a session with her psychologist, Doctor Moon, in her living room. When she closes her eyes, she can see the Library, a huge library so big it 'goes on forever'. Every time she closes her eyes, she's in a different part of the Library, as she explains to Dr. Moon. Suddenly the part she's in is disturbed by the double doors being frantically jiggled. She cries out to Dr. Moon about 'people in my Library!' before two people burst in - the Tenth Doctor, and Donna Noble...
After the intro plays, the Doctor and Donna arrive on the Library, a literal world of books. In the 51st Century, the entire planet is dedicated to books, with its core being an index computer. It contains every book in the universe that ever was or ever will be.
The Doctor is instantly suspicious of the silence, though Donna appears to brush it off as people being very, VERY quiet. Instead, the Doctor reboots the computer and shows her that his suspicions are correct: they're the only humanoid life present (the scan shows only 2) but when he extends the search to ALL life, the computer reveals over 'a million million lifeforms'. Donna reveals to the audience that the Doctor just randomly changed course from the beach to the Library and won't tell her why.
They make their way back to the room where the TARDIS is parked and encounter a Node (specifically, Courtesy Node 710/aqua) that spouts off what must be standard library courtesy protocol before playing a message from the Head Librarian:
"Run! For God's sake, run! Nowhere is safe. The Library has sealed itself. We can't - oh, they're here! -'
- followed by unintelligible monosyllables. The message ends and the Node continues spouting rules. The Doctor asks if there are any other messages, and the Node plays another message from the same date:
'Count the shadows. For God's sake, if you want to live, remember: count the shadows.'
After cryptically warning Donna to stay out of the shadows, the Doctor leads her into another section of the Library, where he admits that he got a message on his psychic paper to some as soon as he could, which he did. He doesn't know who it's from, but Donna observes that it was signed with a kiss.
Suddenly the lights start going out and the Doctor shouts, 'RUN!' While he tries to unlock large wooden double doors, Donna is dismayed when he tells her he can't sonic wood and just kicks the doors in.
Their entrance is depicted exactly like the opening scene, and when the little girl opens her eyes, a camera ball clicks and drops to the floor. The Doctor theorises that it's a security camera while in her living room the girl complains that no one should be able to enter her Library. She interrupts herself by screaming when a buzzing noise - the sonic screwdriver - echoes in her head.
She tumbles to the floor in pain and pleads for the Doctor to stop, which is delivered as red lettering in a window on the camera. The Doctor stops and apologises, realising that the camera is alive. The girl opens her eyes again and says that 'the Library has been breached. Others are coming', which is again broadcast to the Doctor and Donna.
Donna demands of another Node what it means, and then asks a side question: 'Why's it got a face?' which the Node answers: the faces are chosen based on the person who calls on the Node, from a selection of faces 'donated' by people on the occasion of their deaths. Obviously, Donna's horrified.
The Doctor notices a weird triangular shadow next to the camera... but what's casting it?
With self-deprecating comments about his age and his memory, the Doctor appears to realise exactly what they're up against, and tells Donna that the corridors aren't dark because of loss of power. She interrupts him by pointing out that the extra shadow is gone - which he corrects: It's moved.
The Node reminds them that the Library has been breached and others are coming, which panics the pair. The door opens, and a team of explorers in spacesuits enter. The leader walks up to the Doctor and lowers the opacity of her helmet, revealing her face. She greets him, "Hello, sweetie."
The Doctor, spooked, tells them all to leave, but the leader ignores him and asks her team to take off their helmets, saying that the Doctor and Donna aren't androids ('I've dated androids; they're rubbish.').
A man, later introduced as Strackman Lux, asks them why they're there - he paid for an exclusive expedition, they shouldn't be there - and asks a Miss Evangelista for the contracts. The Doctor tells them to leave a second time, but cuts himself off and demands, "Hold on, did you say "expedition"?'
Lux confirms that it's an expedition - his expedition, as he funded it. The Doctor groans and asks if they're archaeologists. The leader asks if he has a problem with that, to which he replies, "I'm a time traveller, I point and laugh at archaeologists." She introduces herself as Professor River Song and emphasises her job as an archaeologist.
The Doctor begins pushing her towards the door, instructing the team to quarantine the planet so nothing and no one will ever come back. He orders them to return to their ship and stay in the light. When they look nonplussed, the Doctor asks Dave - the 'Other Dave' - to look at the darkened corridor. They seal the door to that hall at his orders, and he tells them that what they're facing are what caused almost every species' innate wariness of the dark: the Vashta Nerada.
The Doctor quickly organises the team to make sure the area is well lit, Professor Song backing him up with orders to her team, finishing by calling the Doctor ('pretty boy', which surprises him) into her office. She shows him a diary that looks like his TARDIS' doors, and asks him if certain events have occurred to him yet: the crash of the Byzantium and a picnic in Asgard. He recognises neither and she realises he's much younger than she's ever seen him, which shocks him again.
It's her turn to be shocked - and a bit - when he admits he doesn't know who she is. A ringing sound like a phone breaks through their silence and brings them back to the main room, where Proper Dave has triggered a security system from one of the computers, which he's trying to access. Simultaneously, the girl hears her home phone ringing, though her dad doesn't, She goes to answer it, but it stops just before she picks it up.Meanwhile what the Doctor was trying must've failed, although it stopped the ringing, as access is denied. He tries again and this time he and the team appear on the girl's telly, as if on a two-way Skype call where the Doctor's camera and screen is the computer. The girl recognises him as the man who broke into her Library, which rather surprises him. The screen buzzes with static and they lose the connection. The girl fiddles with the remote while the Doctor tries to hack into the computer again.
He hops over to try another one, yelling at the team to turn on all the lights. River backs him up and follows him. He hacks into the other one, but catches sight of River's diary, which she stops him from opening, saying it's against the rules - his rules.
The girl tinkers with the remote some more, and books fly into the air from the shelves in the Library, mystifying everyone. The word "CAL" appears on the Library screens, confusing the Doctor even further.
Donna comforts Miss Evangelista, who tells her the team all think her stupid because she's pretty, adding that her father once said she had the IQ of plankton, and she was pleased, when Donna tries to assure her that no one thinks that. The Doctor asks Mr Lux about it. Mr Lux refuses to help, claiming that he is protecting his family's pride. The Doctor berates him, shouting at him that the team is in grave danger.
He backpedals and asks them to start from the beginning and tell him what happened on the day the Library sealed itself. River informs the Doctor that just before the planet was sealed off for a century, there was a message from the Library: 'The lights are going out.' Meanwhile, Miss Evangelista spies a secret door opening.
Lux says that it took his family three generations (and a hundred years) to decode the seals and get access in again. Evangelista interrupts, trying to tell them about the new door, but Lux brushes her off.River adds that something else came with the message - something the Lux family classified as 'confidential'. She ignores Lux's protests and shows the Doctor the data extract: "4022 saved. No survivors." Explaining that 4022 was the exact number of people in the Library on that day, she confuses everyone instead. Donna asks the question on everyone's minds: "How come 4022 people had been saved but no survivors?" Apparently that's the purpose of the expedition: to find out.
Lux chimes in and says they haven't found any bodies, while Evangelista ducks into the secret passageway and wanders off. The last the team hear of her is her abrupt scream, which sends them into the passageway to find her. Well... they kind of do: they find her skeleton.
River finds her comm device, where they hear her voice a minute later. River explains that she's 'ghosting'; the Doctor further explains to Donna that a neural relay in the comm device allows a small impression of the living consciousness to be stored in it for a short time after death, letting Evangelista communicate with the living one more time. She speaks to Donna about her story about plankton IQ.
As her brainwaves fade from the device, her last sentence to Donna, "Don't tell the others, they'll only laugh," is repeated again and again until the last bar glitches. Evangelista complains that she can't think, and then the words 'ice cream' are repeated until her consciousness fades out.
River asks to be 'introduced' to whatever killed Evangelista; the Doctor asks for a packed lunch. While she's getting hers, the Doctor asks River what's in the book and who she is - to him. To both questions, she replies, "Spoilers." She hands him her lunch - chicken and salad, and he stands up, yelling, "Right, you lot! Let's all meet the Vashta Nerada."
The girl throws the remote, frustrated. Her dad tells her that Dr. Moon would like a word with her before he leaves. She agrees. He asks if she knows the difference between dreams and reality. She says that of course she does. In a macabre reversal of the things a psychologist usually tells a child about Libraries in their heads, he tells her that her 'real world' is a lie; her nightmares are the true reality. There are actual, real people trapped in the Library, and only she can save them.
The Doctor kneels on the floor, pointing the sonic at shadows and asks Proper Dave to move away. River talks, half to Donna and half to herself, about how she and the Doctor go way back - 'just not this far back'. River explains that the Doctor doesn't know her yet, and adds, "When he looks at me... he looks right through me, and it shouldn't kill me but it does." Donna's confused and annoyed, but the Doctor snaps at her to be quiet.
River recognises her name and is a mixture of shocked and sad. Donna asks why, and asks one question River can't answer: who is she, Donna Noble, in the Doctor's personal future? Where is she? They're interrupted by the Doctor, who says that the 'shadow' he's been buzzing at with the sonic isn't a proper shadow - it's a swarm, a 'man-eating swarm'.
He tosses a chicken leg from River's lunch into it, and the team watch as it passes through the 'shadow', eaten to the bone instantly. The Doctor adds that the Vashta Nerada inhabit most planets in the universe, including Earth. Donna objects, saying they'd know if it was on Earth, but he counters her by telling her that while they usually feed on roadkill, sometimes people go missing; not everyone comes back out of the dark. He adds that they don't inhabit every shadow, but they can inhabit any shadow - and they have no weaknesses.
The team's investigation is interrupted when the Doctor points out that Proper Dave's acquired an extra shadow: the Vashta Nerada have attached themselves to him. The Doctor orders Proper Dave to stay very very still, and everyone to put their helmets on and their suits dialled up to 800% density, as it might slow down the Vashta Nerada a bit. He also finds that River Song possesses a more advanced version of his sonic screwdriver when he almost tosses his to her to adjust suit densities with.Since Donna does not have a spacesuit for protection, the Doctor sends her back to the TARDIS using the teleport in the 'little shop'. He cannot send the others, because the TARDIS wouldn't recognise them and would block them. Over Donna's objection, he stays behind to lead the rest of the team to safety. However something goes wrong during the transport and Donna's signal is lost. Meanwhile, the Doctor attempts to save Proper Dave, but Dave is quickly eaten away (though with his visor at full opacity, it's hard to say when during the conversation he was consumed). As Proper Dave's data ghost echoes his last thoughts ("Hey, who turned out the lights?"), the Vashta Nerada take control of his skeleton and suit to grab the Doctor and hold him down. River shocks him off the Doctor and he warns them to get back while the Vashta Nerada clumsily approach the group using Dave's suit. Vashta Nerada 'shadows' branch out from Dave's legs, reaching for the team and the Doctor.
River uses a sonic blaster to make a hole in the wall, and they race away from the possessed suit. They run down a dead-end hallway as the suit approaches.
The girl's dad cheerfully tells her that dinner's ready, and is confused when his daughter solemnly turns and informs him that 'Donna Noble has been saved'.
The Doctor and the team are still working against the Vashta Nerada. The Doctor is trying to boost the power to slow down the shadow-creatures with light. River assists him, which is when he realises that her sonic screwdriver is exactly like his - only upgraded. She smiles and tells him he gave it to her, which confuses him, because, as he tells her, he doesn't 'just give my [his] screwdriver to anyone'.
The Doctor tells River that he has five hours to get back to the TARDIS before Emergency Program One activates to take Donna home, but then examines his sonic and realises that Donna never made it and the console hasn't signalled him about the security breach. He demands of a nearby Node if it can locate her and is horrified to find it with Donna's face. It states that Donna has left the Library and has been "saved"...
- The Doctor - David Tennant
- Donna Noble - Catherine Tate
- Professor River Song - Alex Kingston
- Dr Moon - Colin Salmon
- The Girl - Eve Newton
- Dad - Mark Dexter
- Node 1 - Sarah Niles
- Node 2 - Joshua Dallas
- Anita - Jessika Williams
- Strackman Lux - Steve Pemberton
- Miss Evangelista - Talulah Riley
- Other Dave - O-T Fagbenle
- Proper Dave - Harry Peacock
|Executive Producers Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner|
|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 episode won a prestigious Video Effects Society award for its digital matte paintings by Simon Wicker, Charlie Bennett, 2D artist Arianna Lago and the uncredited Tim Barter. It was the only visual effects award during the RTD era of Doctor Who, despite several nominations.
Cultural references from the real world
- When he and Donna arrive at the Library, the Doctor makes reference to author Jeffrey Archer, the Bridget Jones franchise, and Monty Python's Big Red Book.
- A model of Robby the Robot is visible in the young girl's home.
- On the little girl's wall are two drawings: a blond and a wolf.
- River and the Doctor will share/have shared a picnic at Asgard.
- Vashta Nerada are said to exist on a billion worlds, including Earth, but in small numbers and mainly feeding on road-kill.
- The Doctor notices (and says so) that River Song has a squareness gun.
- The Doctor receives a message from River Song on his psychic paper.
- The Doctor uses a teleport to attempt to send Donna to the TARDIS, but mentions that he could only do this for Donna as the TARDIS wouldn't recognise the others.
- The sonic screwdriver doesn't work on wood. Some very strong signals and certain types of hairdryers can interfere with it.
- The Doctor recommends that a quarantine beacon be placed around the Library.
- The Doctor suggests using a Code-Wall.
- An early title for the episode was A River Song Ending which Moffat conceived as a joke with Davies for having a crude acronym and then decided to create a character named "River Song" to fit the title.
- Transmission of this episode was delayed by one week due to the Eurovision Song Contest, as was the case with the Series 3 gap between The Lazarus Experiment and 42.
- Russell T Davies feels this episode is more frightening than Steven Moffat's series 3 episode Blink, which rated a 5.5 out of 5 on the official Doctor Who website 'Fear Factor' feature.
- While the Doctor is hacking into the girl's TV, she is watching the CBBC show Pedro and Frankesheep. Previous real-life kids shows whose clips have been shown on Doctor Who include the Doctor watching Tommy Zoom in The Poison Sky, the Master watching The Teletubbies in The Sound of Drums, and the Master (again) watching The Clangers in The Sea Devils.
- Excluding the Children in Need specials, this is the 50th episode of Doctor Who since the series returned in 2005.
- When the girl collapses due to the Doctor's tampering with the security camera, the pattern of the rug she collapses on is the same as the red pattern on the computer screens reading "Access Denied". It also can be briefly seen on the lens cap of the security camera, and repeated in the metalwork in the background of the circular room much of the library scenes take place in.
- Additionally, when Doctor Moon and her father rush to her side when she collapses, a plastic tag reading "CAL" can be briefly seen on Doctor Moon's briefcase.
- The security camera appears to have angel wings carved on its sides.
- Steven Moffat continues his theme of highlighting childhood fears: in Blink, it was statues coming to life; in The Girl in the Fireplace, it was monsters under the bed; and in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, it was the fear of war and bombardment.
- There is, perhaps, unintentional irony to the Doctor's line, "No, I never land on Sundays. Sundays are boring." Given that Saturdays are "good", according to The Stolen Earth, it could also be a reference to the fact that the day after a new episode of Doctor Who is broadcast is comparatively boring. Former companion Ace also once mentioned that she found Sundays boring in Survival. In PROSE: Wetworld, the planet that he and Martha visited was called Sunday.
- In the Doctor Who Confidential episode associated with the second part of this story, River Runs Deep, Steven Moffat says that he imagined River found the gun (as left behind by Jack) in the TARDIS during her future travels.
- Steven Moffat stated that British newspaper The Sun got a hold of the script for the episode and threatened to publish it. Moffat jokingly told them to do it; he later remarked, "I'd like to see The Sun publish that many words in a day."
- The previous episode ended with the Doctor showing a traditional paper-bound book dating from the far future, a thematic lead-in to this visit to the Library (although dialogue indicates that he and Donna were originally travelling elsewhere).
- As shown on the BBC Doctor Who website, there are a number of books in the library that reference previous episodes. Those seen are the operating manual for the TARDIS, Origins of the Universe, (TV: Destiny of the Daleks) The French Revolution, (TV: An Unearthly Child) A Journal of Impossible Things, (TV: Human Nature/The Family of Blood) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (written by Douglas Adams, former Doctor Who writer and script editor), Everest in Easy Stages, (TV: The Creature from the Pit) and Black Orchid (TV: Black Orchid).
- The story also has considerable commonality with a Fifth Doctor illustrated text story, Catalogue of Events, from the 1983 Doctor Who Magazine Special.
- This episode and Forest of the Dead are the only TV stories featuring River Song not to have been shot in high-definition.
- Official BARB - 6.27 million viewers
Myths and rumours
- The mystery of River Song led to much online fan speculation over her identity. Possibilities cited ranged from River being an iteration of Bernice Summerfield (as the two share similar personalities and are both space archaeologists) to a disguised Time Lord like Romana. Additional ideas abound. In TV: A Good Man Goes to War, it was revealed she wasn't an older character, but the human (with Time Lord DNA) daughter of Amy Pond and Rory Williams.
- Evangelista's last words have occasionally been misinterpreted as "I scream." On the official BBC subtitling, her final words are, "I... Ice cream. Ice cream," which is in keeping with her (initially) childlike demeanour.
- 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
- After River Song greets the Doctor with "Hello, sweetie", in the next shot of the Doctor, Donna and River, a boom mic is just barely visible in the top left corner above River's head.
- After the shot in which Proper Dave is seen to have two shadows, there is a short shot from a different camera angle where in the Doctor passes Dave his helmet. In this short shot, Dave is seen to have but one shadow. When the shot returns to the previous camera, Dave has two shadows, as before.
- When the Doctor and group are talking to the little girl on her TV you can see them all standing around the console but when the shot pulls back and they all back away from the console you can see that half of them have changed positions. Mr Lux, Proper Dave, Anita and Miss Evangelista have all changed from their positions seen on the TV to when you cut to the group. Also Donna who is clearly close to the Doctor's right is not shown leaning to look into the console but jumps back like everyone else as if she had been looking into it.
- When Miss Evangelista dies then you can see that she had lost one green bar but in a later shot she lost the same bar again.
- The Doctor previously encountered the Vashta Nerada during his fourth (AUDIO: Night of the Vashta Nerada) and eighth incarnations. (AUDIO: Day of the Vashta Nerada) He would later face them again during his eleventh incarnation. (GAME: Shadows of the Vashta Nerada, COMIC: Space Oddity)
- A similar species which could take over the light but weren't hostile were the Cimmerians in the AUDIO: Embrace the Darkness.
- The Doctor makes mention of "Emergency Programme One" which would return Donna home. (TV: The Parting of the Ways)
- The Doctor has received a message on his psychic paper before. (TV: New Earth)
- On this occasion the Doctor has arrived "too early" (or rather the TARDIS has brought him too early). This previously occurred in TV: The Doctor's Daughter.
- The Doctor once again expresses his affinity for little gift shops of the type found in museums and hospitals. (TV: Smith and Jones, New Earth)
- River Song, although she never confirms it, appears to know about Donna's future memory wipe. (TV: Journey's End)
- When River Song goes through her diary to check where the Doctor is in his timeline, she mentions "The Crash of the Byzantium". (TV: The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone)
- When River displays her sonic screwdriver, she says, "Snap," a reference to the card game Snap, in which players must say "Snap" when two identical cards are played. The Second and Sixth Doctors said "Snap!" to each other upon meeting in TV: The Two Doctors. The Tenth Doctor also used this expression to the Fifth Doctor when he put on glasses in TV: Time Crash .
- Mr Lux says that River and the Doctor are bickering away like an old married couple. (TV: The Wedding of River Song)
- One of the incarnations of Clara Oswald was present during these events but went unnoticed by the Doctor. (TV: The Name of the Doctor)
- The Doctor and River's final adventure and their date together on Darillium are shown in The Husbands of River Song. This story happens shortly after the date on Darillium.
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 Forest of the Dead and Midnight.
- Official BBC Website - Episode Guide for Silence in the Library
- Silence in the Library at Shannon Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- Silence in the Library at The Locations Guide
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