Recap: Doctor Who S30 E8 "Silence in the Library"

Wouldn't be the first time the Doctor broke that wall...

"Daleks — aim for the eyestalk. Sontarans — back of the neck. Vashta Nerada... run. Just run."
The Doctor

This very scary two-part episode, written by Steven Moffat, introduces a tremendously important character to the series: Professor River Song. Moffat wrote the story after being promoted to head writer of Doctor Who from series 5 onwards. An early version of the library itself was introduced by Moffat in his 1996 short story "Continuity Errors", the first Doctor Who story he ever wrote.

True to Moffat form, the episodes were nominated for a Hugo award, but they lost out to a certain sing-along blog.

"Silence in the Library" was broadcast with a special warning to parents: don't let your kids watch it late at night.
Somewhere in a very ordinary house, a little girl has schizophrenic visions of a library: huge and beautiful and — best of all — just for her. That is, until the Doctor and Donna show up. The little girl's father and her therapist (Dr Moon) try to make sense of it all.

The Doctor's psychic paper has brought him to the biggest library in the universe, the size of a planet, and it's unsettlingly empty. Also, there's a little -x- kiss in the psychic message. But bio-scans claim that the library is not actually empty at all, so where is everyone? And where's the little girl? And why is a robot with a human face telling them to count the shadows?

The Doctor spots a security camera and uses his sonic screwdriver to scan it. The little girl screams in agony at the sound. The Doctor realises that the camera is sentient, and he and the girl have a rudimentary conversation through its display. Both are quite confused at this.

A team of 51st century archaeologists show up, one of whom, Professor River Song, knows the Doctor very well. Though what kind of connection they have is not revealed... yet. She greets him with a loving "Hello, sweetie!", then appears a bit miffed when he doesn't return the sentiment. River is mysterious, but definitely not a Mysterious Waif: she's mature, snarky and able to take care of herself.

The little girl has watched much of that on her TV, even briefly talking with River and the Doctor through her screen.

River pulls the Doctor aside to catch up and compare diaries, to see how their personal time-lines are at the moment. The Doctor just stares at her blankly. Actually, David Tennant just stares at her blankly, because Steven Moffat refused to tell him what was going on. River is appropriately horrified when she realises that the Doctor has never met her. To him, this is their very first meeting. To her, he looks too young, too inexperienced, too happy. He's not her Doctor yet. She also realises that, due to their timelines, the first time the Doctor meets her will be the last time she meets him.

No time to dwell on that, though, as the library is infested with flesh-eating shadows; Vashta Nerada. They're not every shadow... but they could be any shadow. They live on any planet that provides meat. Yes, including Earth.

River Song turns out to have a sonic screwdriver — but not just a sonic screwdriver, the sonic screwdriver! This upsets the Doctor quite a bit, and he asks her to give him some proof that she's not an evil lunatic. She whispers one word into his ear. He just stares at her, completely stunned, and trusts her completely from that point on.

River finds out who Donna is, and gives her a look of utmost pity. Donna's future doesn't look too happy. But River knows that she shouldn't spoil the ending.

The shadows kill one of the party, Miss Evangelista, stripping her flesh and leaving only a skeleton. The sound system in her protective suit is linked to her neural pathways and echoes her voice long after she's died, which is appropriately terrifying. Another is killed, with the Vashta Nerada animating his suit and chasing everyone else through the blacked-out hallways.

Dr Moon asks the little girl's dad if he can talk to her alone for a moment. Because he needs to tell her something very important:
Dr Moon: The real world is a lie, and your nightmares are real.

The Doctor tries to send Donna back to the TARDIS, using the teleporter in the library's little shop. But she is yanked out of existence — screaming and mid-teleport — to take her place among the library's robot servants with real people's faces.


Tropes:

  • Acting in the Dark: David Tennant had absolutely no idea who River Song was supposed to be.
  • Action Prologue: The little girl apparently experiences an Action Prologue through her dreams, as the Doctor and Donna board themselves up in some kind of library room. Also In Medias Res, as we see the same scene again from the Doctor and Donna's point of view later in the episode.
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Professor River Song and her crew are exploring a dangerous place
  • Apocalyptic Log: The messages on the computer at the beginning record the last moments before the shadows arrived.
  • Brainless Beauty: Miss Evangelista is well aware that she's stupid and also pretty.
  • Broken Record:
    • "Reminder: The library has been breached. Others are coming. Reminder: The library has been breached. Others are coming. Reminder: The library has breached. Others are coming."
    • "Hey, who turned out the lights?"
  • Comm Links: They happen to be capable of catching the last thoughts of their users, though they quickly turn into a Broken Record.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Conversational Troping: The Doctor and Donna discuss how Time Travel can lead to Spoilers about life.
  • Creepy Monotone: "Run. For god's sake, run. The library has sealed itself. We can't. Oh. They're here. Agh. Slaugh. Snik. Message ends. Please switch off your mobile comm units for the comfort of other readers."
  • Cutting the Knot: The Doctor is trying to figure out how to get a door open with his sonic screwdriver ("It doesn't do wood?!"). Donna just slams into it, knocking it open.
    The Doctor: Nice door skills, Donna.
    Donna: Yeah, well, you know. Boyfriends. Sometimes you need the element of surprise.
  • Darkness Equals Death: Quite literally; stand in the darkness, in the shadows, and you will be eaten.
  • Daylight Horror: It's a lovely day in the completely and utterly abandoned library.
  • Did I Say That Out Loud: Donna is visibly bothered when she realises it sounds like she thinks the Doctor is attractive.
    The Doctor: Oh, I'm Pretty Boy!
    Donna: YES! Oh... that came out a bit quick...
    The Doctor: Pretty?
    Donna: Eh. (shrugs)
  • Distress Call: Sent out a hundred years ago, but the defenses about the planet were so good they only just were able to get through.
  • The Ditz: Miss Evangelista. On the ship to the library, she mistook an escape pod for the lavatory. Twice.
  • Don't Ask, Just Run: "Daleks — aim for the eyestalk. Sontarans — back of the neck. Vashta Nerada... run. Just run."''
  • Famous Last Words: "Hey, who turned out the lights?" turn out to be Proper Dave's.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • "4022 people saved."
    • The Doctor makes a point of mentioning that the books are all new editions printed specially for the Library.
    • When comparing diaries, River mentions the crash of the Byzantium.
  • The Gadfly:
    • River, starting as she means to go on and telling her boss to put his helmet on because she doesn't fancy him.
    • The Doctor points and laughs at archaeologists.
  • Get Out:
    River: Hello, sweetie.
    The Doctor: Get out. All of you, turn around, get back in your rocket and fly away. Tell your grandchildren you came to the Library and lived. They won't believe you.
  • Ghost Planet: Ghost planet-sized library.
  • Have We Met Yet?: River appears to know the Doctor very well, but the Doctor himself doesn't know who she is (yet).
  • Heel Realization: When the remnants of Miss Evangelista's consciousness request to talk to Donna because she was the only one who showed her any kindness, her fellow crew-mates are clearly reflecting on their bullying treatment of her when she was alive and guiltily coming to this uncomfortable realization.
  • Hypocritical Humour: The Doctor berates Lux that he doesn't want one man's pride to kill everyone in the room. River says "Then why don't you sign the contract?" Then she admits she hadn't signed hers either.
  • I Lied: River. "I lied. I'm always lying."
  • Interface with a Familiar Face: A common habit it seems. The Doctor equates it to donating a park bench.
  • Jerkass: Mr. Lux is rude, unhelpful and self-centred.
  • Late to the Tragedy: Played both straight and Inverted. The Doctor arrives 100 years too late to the Library, but also arrives too early, since River had expected a later incarnation of the Doctor to show up.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Spoilers!
  • Living Shadow: The Vashta Nerada are the things in the dark and any shadow.
  • Madness Mantra:
    • "Hey, who turned out the lights?"
    • "Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved."
  • Mind Screw: The whole girl in therapy / Doctor in the library flip-flopping.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: "Vashta Nerada" sounds threatening even before it's translated as "The Shadows That Melt the Flesh".
  • No Bisexuals: Averted. River openly admits to fancying everyone on the archaeological team save Mr. Lux. Since it's the 51st century, when humans have developed new attitudes towards such things, no-one comments upon it.
  • No Name Given: "The girl" and "Dad".
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Playing with a trope in this case. The Doctor says that Vashta Nerada are normally benign and live off roadkill. The aggressiveness of this batch is highly unusual.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Vashta Nerada are invisible. You can't see them. You can only see the results.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Miss Evangelista getting blown off when the panel opens up.
  • Oh Crap!:
    • "I'm sorry. I am so, so sorry. But you've got two shadows."
    • "Hey! Who turned out the lights?"
    • "The real world is a lie, and your nightmares are real."
  • One Steve Limit: Averted with Proper Dave and Other Dave.
  • Pretty Boy: Yes, you, Doctor.
  • Primal Fear: Discussed by the Doctor.
    The Doctor: Almost every species in the universe has an irrational fear of the dark. But they're wrong: it's not irrational. It's Vashta Nerada.
    Donna: What's Vashta Nerada?
    The Doctor: It's what's in the dark. It's what's always in the dark.
  • Remember the New Guy: Inverted with River Song, who walks up to the Doctor and begins chatting with him as if they're old friends. The Doctor, however, has never met her before — turns out that, thanks to the Timey-Wimey Ball, he's meeting her out of sequence.
  • San Dimas Time: You could usually count on everyone the Doctor meets remembering events in the same order; this is one of the first episodes to play with that.
  • Schmuck Bait: The conveniently-opened wall panel in the room where the Doctor's and River's parties first meet. And Miss Evangelista, of course, falls for it.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: The Universe's largest library, home to every written work ever and over 4,000 sentient consciousnesses...can't count past one million million (or, more simply, one trillion). A 64-bit integer in a modern computer can exceed that by a factor of about 18.5 million.
  • Serial Escalation: Scaring viewers into hiding behind the sofa was no longer enough. This is the episode that decides to scare them out.
  • Single-Biome Planet: Justified — it's a purpose-built artificial planet, so the biome is "library."
  • Spooky Silent Library: Yet another trope that was inspired by this episode.
  • Super Speed: The Vashta Narada feed fast. Blink of an eye fast.
  • Time Travel Tense Trouble: River has a bit of this talking about her history with the Doctor.
  • Title Drop: "A million million lifeforms... and silence in the library..."
  • Wham Line:
    Dr Moon: The real world is a lie and your nightmares are real.
  • Whole Plot Reference: Moffat is a big fan of The Time Traveler's Wife. River meeting the Doctor in the library very much echoes Clare meeting Henry in a library in said novel.
  • The Worm That Walks: The Vashta Nerada, with the aid of a spacesuit and a skeleton, are able to walk around like a person, albeit awkwardly.
  • Zombie Gait: Suits possessed by a swarm have a clumsy walk.


"Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved."
"Hey, who turned out the lights?"

Alternative Title(s):

Doctor Who NSS 4 E 8 Silence In The Library