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June 05, 2008

Library Fine

Doctor Who: Silence in the Library

Lib2 Let's get one thing out the way - Silence in the Library suffers from a fatal - and wholly avoidable - flaw: its time slot.

I'm not talking about it having the temerity to take on Britain's Got Talent (Gin was robbed), I'm talking about the BBC's determination to transmit this show in the spring and summer months. It's gone beyond stupid now.

The entire episode was an exercise in making the kids (and maybe even some of the adults) terrified of the dark. Great. Except as soon as the programme ends the kids will be out playing Frisbee in the garden or torturing sticklebacks down the park. When I was a wee lad and I'd been subjected to some Hinchcliffe I begged my parents to let me sleep with the light on. These days the kids can just leave their curtains open a bit. It's rubbish. You may as well try to make kids feel uneasy about the thought of snow in the middle of July.

The five million viewers who watched this go out on Saturday at 7pm must be clinically insane. Either that or they've blacked out their windows as if they're preparing for a Blitz. I've tried watching this stuff go out live and I spend most of my time squinting at my TV set, even with my extra thick curtains that I bought especially to combat the increasingly insane scheduling of Doctor Who. And nothing - nothing - makes tension evaporate quicker than the sound of someone mowing their lawn outside your window. Sorry, but it's a fact.

If Moffat doesn't fix this when he takes over the reins he should at least make an effort to incorporate scary, yet summery objects into the scripts. Maybe he could make a monster made of pollen, evil ice cream, man eating deckchairs, or perhaps he can make kids wet themselves at the mere suggestion of people mowing their lawns outside. That might just work.

nothing makes tension evaporate quicker than the sound of someone mowing their lawn outside...

Lib1Aside from that - and when watched in the middle of the night - Silence in the Library is the best episode of this season by a very wide margin. Quelle surprise. It's crammed full of interesting and unsettling ideas, it posits several bizarre and completely unfathomable mysteries, it features an unstoppable alien force that can not be merchandised, a base under siege, witticisms by the bucket load, and some good, old-fashioned scares. A skeleton is a spacesuit, fer christsake! If you thought that was scary in 1983 then 25 years later it's practically orgasmic.

Most interesting of all was Moffat's subversion of a subversion. When I first saw the airhead PA (sorry, can't even remember her name) I was certain that she would survive to the very end. I have been trained to expect that she'll win through and save the day because she starts off being so thick and harmless and put-upon. The original subversion of the cliche has become a cliche itself. The fact that she's so unbelievably thick and pouty that she wanders off into a dark passage as if she's in a dainty version of a stalk-n-slash film was not only very retro but also remarkably surprising. Next thing you know Steve Pemberton will turn out to be the baddie.

The PA's sudden death also allows Moffat to introduce one of his most chilling inventions yet: the data-ghost. I thought this scene was superb - not because I was moved by it (what was her name again?), but because I was morbidly fascinated by it. It's just a brilliant idea: the last embers of consciousness trapped in the technology (probably sold as a feature rather than a bug) and instead of making any profound final statements the poor bastards are so confused they just babble on in a faintly embarrassing and banal way about sod all. How horrific is that? Even Proper Dave - who seems quite bright - can't work out that he's been eaten by the Vashta Nerada even know he's seen it happen ten minutes earlier to somebody else.

It helps that Moffat's been given a two-parter as the plot is given some much needed room to breathe, and while some goldfish in the audience might feel that people standing around in a room talking is inherently boring (even when they're talking about escaping from certain death), I prefer to think of it as character building and a masterclass in escalating tension. And the mysteries are pretty damn fascinating too; if the so-called surprise that the Doctor is knocking around with a future companion is so screamingly obvious that you can't believe the Doctor hasn't caught on yet, at least you entertain yourself by attempting to get your head around the role of the Girl and Dr. Moon. I have absolutely no idea how this will pan out and I can't wait to find out.

an unstoppable alien force that can not be merchandised...

Lib3 But I can't let Moffat off the hook completely. Not when he's become obsessed with pointless bloody catchphrases. What's better: "Who turned out the lights?" or "Donna Noble has left the library, Donna Noble has been saved"? There's only one way to find out - FIGHT!!!!!

And that's exactly what we get. A fight between two equally annoying catchphrases - which is about as much fun as it sounds. And sadly, once again, the show proves that it has lost its ability to do a proper cliffhanger (Utopia being the exception that proves the rule). There's a obvious place to give us the money shot if you ask me - as soon as Donna is revealed as a data node and she says her eerie line we cut to the Doctor looking well stressed and then - BOOM! - into the credits. But no, we get another 2 minutes of the same repetitious catchphrases layering over each other as we are reminded, from a variety of different angles, that OUR HEROES ARE IN TROUBLE. OK, we get it!

Doesn't mean I won't be tuning in next week though. At about 1am, thanks.

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