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June 21, 2008

The Pool is Abstract!

Vlcsnap10682261 Doctor Who: Midnight

Come back, Russel! All is forgiven!

Okay, I'm exaggerating. I was never a huge Davies detractor. Nor am I any less excited for the Moffat Era of Doctor Who. But I do admit that seeing Davies' name in the credits of an upcoming episode has never given me the same thrill as seeing a name like Paul Cornell or Steven Moffat. And quite rightly, too: their scripts have always been stellar while Russell's scripts have usually been merely very very good at best and sort of shit at worst. I was certainly worried about this week's episode. Nothing in the trailer appeared that interesting to me, but that rarely means anything at all. If this episode's trailer had been at all accurate to what we were getting, then I'd have been right.

But this episode was brilliant.

Of course, the entire premise of the episode is terribly ironic, when considered in contrast with series three. "No weapons, just words," Martha patiently explained to the Master like a kindergarten teacher talking to a student in last year's finale. It was foreshadowed by Shakespeare's powerful use of words in The Shakespeare Code and made literal when Martha laughed off the incurably lame video-game-plot of a weapon (A gun powered by four chemicals sounds suspiciously like some kind of lame sci-fi perversion of a Legend of Zelda plot) and used a single word to bring down the Master, "Doctor." Okay, that was kind of lame too. But you get the point.

Words are Worthless (Take that, Wordsworth!)

Here we get the opposite. Words are worthless (Take that, Wordsworth! Which reminds me, that's another famous person the Doctor needs to meet). As General Staal told us in The Sontaran Stratagem, "words are the weapons of womenfolk." But they're often the only weapon the Dcotor has, as we see this week especially once he has no companion to help with crowd control and there's nothing around the the Sonic Screwdriver can help him with. His weapon is his ability to communicate, but ultimately that's useless to him.

A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Frank compared Silence in the Library to The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges, which he explained then as "a vast library contains all of the secrets of the universe." True, and an apt comparison. I'm sure it was a conscious reference on Moffat's part as well. But I can't help but feel that an even stronger comparison can be used in reference to this episode. The Library of Babel didn't just contain all of the secrets of the universe. Rather, it contained every possible permutation of alphabetical characters that could fit in one of its books. So, obviously, it contained the secrets, and in every language, but it also contained volumes upon volumes of meaningless streams of characters, such as "axaxaxas mlo" (which, technically, isn't meaningless but is actually a rather funny inside joke if you've closely read Borges' other stories, but that's beside the point).

The point is this: sure, the Library of Babel holds the secrets of the universe, and your horoscope for the next three decades, and the complete text of the Harry Potter Encyclopedia that J.K. Rowling hasn't even started yet. It has all of those things, but despite the fact that the words are all there, they lose their power because they're entirely divorced from any sort of intent. Borges plays further with this idea in Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote and I swear to God that I am done talking about Borges. As you have possibly guessed, what I'm driving at is something that's actually fairly simple: why this particular sort of mockery hurts the Doctor so much. His ability to reason through the problem and then speak about his conclusion is his usual tactic and is here his only tool. But what good is his reasoning if the end product (ie, his voice) can just as easily be pronounced by an entity that didn't arrive at it by reasoning? By repeating his words she robs them of their meaning, and that's truly scary: words without meaning are nothing more than the frantic calls of "Hey, who turned out the lights" coming out of Proper Dave's spacesuit in Moffat's two-parter. It was extremely creepy there and it's even creepier now that the Doctor's the victim. Perhaps the most terrifying thing at all is the thin, thin line between the copier and the copied.

This is the first episode where Catherine Tate failed to wow me. And that's only because she was hardly in it.

Vlcsnap10681694_2 Yes, it was terrifying, in an intelligent sort of way. David Tennat's performance was simply brilliant and after the range of varied and nuanced performances he's given this season I'm afraid there's nowhere to go but down for him. I sincerely hope that I am wrong. This is the first episode where Catherine Tate failed to wow me. And that's only because she was hardly in it. And the guest cast was absolutely perfect, everyone from the faux-Doctor played by David Troughton to the tragically inadequate Jethro. His turning against the Doctor hurt most of all. Murray Gold's score was brilliant. Probably not his most memorable tunes, but that's not what it's about. It's about how the music services the episode and Murray does so wonderfully. As Doctor Who Confidential won't let us forget, the sound mixing in this episode is fantastic and the episode owes a lot of its excellence to the sound. And it's a good thing that the sound people are so competent, because the visuals in this episode aren't as important a component as they usually are. It's the script, the acting, and the sound that make this episode, and they're all wonderful.

In fact there was only one thing that upset me about this episode. And that thing goes by the name of Rose Tyler. Did anyone really need that little reminder that Rose was coming back? It was annoying in The Poison Sky and it was even worse here. Surely we didn't need a cameo to remind us of her imminent return. Isn't that what the trailer is for? Can't we wait another half hour for that, and enjoy this episode without Rose intruding on it? As a relatively new face to this blog I've never really had a chance to make clear how I feel about Rose. And I suppose I'll get to that next week, but I have to say this: I don't hate Rose, but I do hate the shadow she's cast across the program since her departure. The occasional mention would be all right, but she's been mentioned by name, alluded to, or shown in more than half of the stories since her departure and all I want is for it to end. Bringing her back is a good way to do this, so I can grit my teeth through this week knowing that her return is imminent and perhaps the Doctor can put his Rose issues to rest at last.


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