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. She says she has a library, a whole world, which she sees whenever she closes her eyes. It is a peaceful place, entirely empty of human life. Suddenly, the world she sees is interrupted by loud pounding on a locked door. As the door bursts open, two mysterious strangers rush in – the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble...
In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Donna arrive in the 51st century on a planet-sized book repository called simply "the Library". It is an entire world, holding every book ever written, and powered by the most powerful computer ever. Shortly after arriving, they realise however that the Library is completely empty. The Library's computers confirm that they are the only humanoid life at present, but it then claims there are over "a million million lifeforms" in the Library. Donna asks why they really came here, and the Doctor admits that he earlier received a message for help on his psychic paper. He doesn't know who it's from, but Donna observes that it was signed with a kiss. Nearby, a statue with a strangely realistic human face, called a Node, warns them to count the shadows... Donna is shocked to find that the faces are selected by the Nodes from those which have been "donated" by the deceased. Just then, the lights begin to go out around them. Wary of the warning regarding shadows, they race through the Library aisles until they reach a well-lit room. The doors are locked, but Donna kicks them open.
There they see a spherical security camera hovering in the air. In her living room, the little girl opens her eyes at the same moment the camera shuts itself down. The Doctor scans the camera with his sonic screwdriver. The girl screams, terrified by the sound of the sonic screwdriver inside her head. The camera sends the Doctor a message that begs him to stop the noise, which he does. The camera and the girl both warn that "others" are coming; the Library has "been breached". The door opens, and a team of explorers in spacesuits enter. The leader walks up to the Doctor and greets him, "Hello, sweetie." She tells the others they can take off their helmets, and the Doctor begs them all to leave immediately. Another member of the group complains that there shouldn't be anyone else there, he had paid for exclusive rights to the expedition. On hearing the word "expedition", the Doctor questions whether they're archaeologists and says that, as a time traveller, he points and laughs at archaeologists. The leader then introduces herself as Professor River Song, archaeologist. She clearly knows the Doctor, but he does not know her. Professor Song explains that her team are there with Mr Strackman Lux, whose family built the Library, to learn why it has been sealed for the last hundred years.
The Doctor quickly organises the team to make sure the area is well lit. He says the shadows are occupied by the Vashta Nerada, microscopic, carnivorous creatures which use shadows to hunt and latch onto their prey. The team work to find a way out of the Library. River Song calls the Doctor over in private, where she merrily opens a diary with a cover that looks like the Doctor's TARDIS. It seems to be about his life. She tries to find out in which part of the Doctor's life she's in but realises he is so young he does not know her. From his perspective, this is the first time they have met. She, on the other hand, seems to know him well.
One of the team activates one of the computer systems, and causes a steadily repeated sound exactly like a ringing phone. At the same moment, the girl hears the phone in her house ringing, although her father doesn't. She hesitates to answer and the phone stops ringing. The Doctor hacks into the computer. The young girl then sees the Doctor and the team on her television, replacing the cartoon she was watching. A disturbance occurs and the Doctor loses the image of the girl. As he hacks into the computer, he sees River Song's diary and moves to pick it up. River Song stops him, saying it's against the rules - his rules.
The girl fiddles with the television's remote. Books fly into the air from the shelves in the Library. Donna calms Mr Lux's assistant, Miss Evangelista. The word "CAL" appears at times on the Library screens. 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 and tells him that the team is in grave danger.
Miss Evangelista sees a secret door when the girl pushed a random button from the remote. She tries to tell the others, but they don't listen. She wanders off and is quickly killed by the Vashta Nerada. The team find Miss Evangelista's skeleton. The communication device worn by the exploration team allows for a glitch called "Data Ghosting"; a copy of a person's consciousness can be temporarily held in it for a short time after death, allowing them to communicate briefly with the living. Miss Evangelista speaks briefly to the "nice woman", Donna, just before her consciousness is lost. As the team listens on sadly, her last words, "ice cream", are repeated.
Dr Moon, the child's psychologist, asks to speak to her alone before he leaves. He asks if she knows the difference between dreams and reality. She says that of course, she does. He tells her that her reality is an illusion; her nightmares are the true reality, and only she can save all the people trapped in the Library.
The Doctor proves the Vashta Nerada's existence by throwing a chicken leg from River Song's lunchbox into the "shadow". The chicken leg is eaten to the bone instantly. The Doctor explains that the Vashta Nerada exist on many planets, including Earth. Donna objects, pointing out that if they existed on Earth people would know, only for the Doctor to reveal that while they usually live on roadkill some people will go missing without a trace... not everyone comes back out of the dark. When he mentions Donna's name, River Song recognises it. Her reaction seems to be a mixture of shock and sadness. Donna asks where she is in this future when River knows the Doctor. River goes silent. The team's investigation is interrupted when the pilot, "Proper Dave" — in contrast with the other "Dave" — acquires an extra shadow. The Vashta Nerada have attached themselves to him. The Doctor orders everyone's helmet on, 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, which she claims was a gift from him.
As Donna does not have a spacesuit for protection, the Doctor teleports her back to the TARDIS. He cannot send the others, because the TARDIS wouldn't recognise them. Over Donna's objection, he stays behind to lead the rest of the team to safety. However something goes wrong during the transport, likely due to the library's run down systems, and Donna's signal is lost. Meanwhile, the Doctor attempts to save proper Dave, but Dave is quickly eaten away. As proper Dave's data ghost echoes his last thoughts ("Hey, who turned out the lights?"), the organisms take control of his suit and approach the rest of the group. 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 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 realises that Donna never made it as the console hasn't signalled him about the security breach. As a nearby Node turns around, he is horrified to find it with Donna's face on it. 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 Frankensheep. 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 wherein 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)
- River mentions how she and the Doctor had their final adventure together on Darillium. (TV: The Husbands of River Song)
- In spite of River claiming that the Doctor is 'younger than [she's] ever seen [him], she had previously met him in four previous incarnations, through his fifth to his eighth (AUDIO: The Rulers of the Universe, The Unknown, World Enough and Time, A Requiem for the Doctor) and at some point had met or at the very least seen his earliest incarnations. (TV: The Time of Angels, The Husbands of River Song)
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