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June 07, 2008

Library of the Lost

Doctor Who: Silence in the Library

Numbers It was Thursday 21 May 2008 at 11:00 PM Eastern Standard Time that I stood from my chair and shouted "no!" at the top of my lungs. My sister had done the same. There were two reasons for this. The first was that I had just watched the picture on my television screen pan from the image of Benjamin Linus standing next to a bearded Jack Shepherd over to the big reveal of who was in the coffin next to them. The other reason was because I knew that it would be another seven months before I would see another episode of Lost. My Lost obsession had reached such a feverish height that I was immediately thrown into a funk from which I thought there was no recovery.

But I was wrong, wasn't I? As my sister pointed out, in my grief I had entirely forgotten the treat that was soon to follow: A new episode of Doctor Who by Grand Moff Steven himself, or as I affectionately refer to such an episode, a "Moffisode." There was of course the trepidation that everyone's aware of, the announcement of the new Moffat Era of Doctor Who and the fear that Moffat might drop the ball right now and the fandom would have egg on its face. But we should have known better. It's no mistake that the news was released just before this episode: It kept the fans and the media excited about Doctor Who in spite of a week-long hiatus and stiff ratings competition. And those who tuned in got a treat, because, as I gleefully exclaimed after seeing this episode, Moffat pulled a Lost. And while I could spend this review talking about how great this episode was, it would be a waste of your time and mine, so I'm going to spend the bulk of this review exactly what I mean and why that's a healthy thing.

Those who are familiar with Lost or don't care all that much can skip to the pull quote, which is a good bit and has Marvin in it. For those unfamiliar with Lost, the show deals with the survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious uncharted (but inhabited) Island, a place full of weird science experiments, unusual wildlife, and a monster made of black smoke. The show's first season was brilliant, telling the story of the survivors on the island and revealing their background through frequent flashbacks. In the second and third seasons, the show continued to explore interesting territory, but it lost its way and the flashback device became stale--Until the game was changed entirely in the finale of Season Three when the viewers were presented with a flashback that was quite puzzling, until it clicked into place: it wasn't a flashback at all, but a flash forward. Suddenly it was revealed that several characters (including the leader, Jack) had gotten off the island--and one of them ended up in a coffin. And Jack shouted to fellow survivor, "we have to go back!" From then on, the storytelling was a matter of showing how we progressed from Jack on the island, to Jack off the island, to Jack needing to get back to the island. The upcoming season promises a similar arc: We now know who's in the coffin, we just have to see how he died.

Life. Don't talk to me about Life.

Okay, so it's not exactly the same as where Doctor Who is at the moment. But there are similarities. Although it's wonderful to have Doctor Who back and all, it is already showing signs of staleness. I don't think that the program is failing, but I do think that if things continue as they have then it will begin to within the next three years. There is no more mileage to be gained from reviving classic series villains; if the rumors are true then we'll have sucked that well dry by the end of this year. The Daleks have been done to death. The "Last of the Time Lords" shtick is old hat. And how many more times can we watch the domestic issues involved when a London female travels with the Doctor before they begin to induce furious yawns? It was fresh in 2005. It was still fresh in 2007. It's getting a bit stale in 2008. Will it still be worth our time in 2010 or 2011?

It seems to me that Steven Moffat has changed the game entirely. It's true that "wibbly wobbly timey wimey" is nothing new. It's something he's been giving us since The Curse of Fatal Death. But this is on an entirely different scale. We're looking deep into the Doctor's future, if the fact that River Song calls the 903-year-old Doctor "young" is any indication. And River Song is no mere companion, judging from the way in which she seems to interact with the Doctor. She meets him at different points in his life and monitors his activities through a logbook. So the Doctor is being accounted for, and monitored by this woman?  If Moffat is truly giving us a hint of what's to come in the Moffat Era, then his new direction may just be the breath of fresh air that the franchise needs. And if anyone is going to throw of the linearity of the Doctor’s personal timeline, it’s Steven Moffat.

Diary Or perhaps I'm just imagining it. Perhaps my brain was addled by the sudden surge of Lost fandom that was inspired by the finale. Or perhaps I was fooled by the use of Lost's famous "dramatic sound effect" cue in this episode (see just before the "I'm thick! Look at me, I'm old and thick! Head's too full of stuff, I need a bigger head!" moment). But even if I'm wrong, this was a hell of a good episode, so it's not a total loss, and it's renewed my confidence that the show is in good hands for next few years. Meanwhile, I simply cannot wait for the conclusion to this story


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