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

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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

Original air date: May 31, 2008

The One With… Monty Python's Big Red Book, the first appearance of "Spoilers", and the one where hiding behind the sofa stops being an effective deterrent.

Steven 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 52nd 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 timelines 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.invoked

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, much to the Doctor's surprise.

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.

The Doctor then gets a better look at River's screwdriver, and discovers it looks an awful lot like his own. Then he realizes that the TARDIS didn't signal him that someone teleported aboard, and when attempting to find Donna discovers that she's become one of the robots with human faces, to his horror, as the shadows close in...


  • Action Prologue: The little girl apparently experiences one 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 very dangerous place.
  • Apocalypse How: An interesting case in that the Library is a planet which is technically an entirely-artificial futuristic building, and all 4,022 of its immediate (and obviously non-native) visitors disappeared off its surface in a sort-of Class 3a absolute Depopulation Bomb, leaving only the swarms of Vashta Nerada while the planet was sealed off. The next episode explains how and why the Depopulation Bomb happened.
  • Apocalyptic Log: The messages on the computer at the beginning record the last moments before the shadows arrived.
  • Big Bad: The Vashta Narada.
  • 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?"
    • "Donna Noble has left the Library. Donna Noble has been saved."
  • 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.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Lux seems to be one of these, at least until the next episode.
  • 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 kicks 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.
  • Did I Say That Out Loud: Donna is visibly bothered when she realizes 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 defences around 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 bathroom. Twice.
  • Don't Ask, Just Run: "Daleks — aim for the eyestalk. Sontarans — back of the neck. Vashta Nerada... run. Just run."
  • The End of the World as We Know It: One hundred years before the episode begins, everyone on the library world mysteriously disappeared, and the planet was sealed off.
  • Escape Pod: On the voyage to the Library, Miss Evangelista mistook one of the ship's escape pods for the bathroom twice, requiring them to turn back for her both times.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The Doctor makes a point of mentioning that the books are all new editions printed specially for the Library.
    • River mentions the crash of the Byzantium while checking her diary.
    • She also mentions that the Doctor created some rules for their relationship — one of which is "No peeking in River's diary".
    • "4022 people saved."
    • Proper Dave flinches visibly when the Doctor describes the Vashta Nerada's feeding habits. Guess who's next on the menu.
    • River's reaction when she discovers Donna's identity, and Donna's sense of alarm that River is from the Doctor's future but hadn't met her.
    • River's controlled anger when she says she'd like to meet the thing that killed Miss Evangelista, hinting that she is a Good Is Not Soft Action Girl.
  • The Gadfly:
    • River, starting as she means to go on, tells 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.
    Donna: Doctor...
    The Doctor: 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.
  • Great Big Library of Everything: Well, it's the size of a planet and has copies of every book ever printed, so yes.
  • 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 crewmates 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 his contract?" Then she admits she hadn't signed hers either.
  • I Lied:
    • River. "I lied. I'm always lying."
    • And this gem from the Doctor:
      Donna: Doctor, we haven't got any helmets.
      The Doctor: Yeah, but we're safe anyway.
      Donna: How are we safe?
      The Doctor: We're not. That was a clever lie to shut you up.
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: David Tennant and Steve Pemberton had previously co-starred in Blackpool.
  • Interface with a Familiar Face: A common habit in the 51st century, it seems. The Doctor equates it to donating a park bench.
  • Invincible Boogeymen: The Vashta Nerada. They seem only marginally Weakened by the Light, as it slows them down rather than actually harming or stopping them. When asked how to deal with the Vashta Nerada, the Doctor lampshades this trope by listing off weaknesses of various monsters, before adding "Vashta Nerada... run. Just run."
  • 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/the 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".
  • Nightmare Face: Although extremely pretty in person, Miss Evangelista hides her face behind a veil after she is uploaded upon her death. In a moment of anger Donna tears off the veil, and Evangelista has a hideously warped face looks like a visual glitch, causing Donna to scream.
  • No Bisexuals: Averted. River openly admits to fancying everyone on the archaeological team save Mr. Lux. Since it's the 52nd century, when humans have developed new attitudes towards such things, no one comments on it. That and it'll later be implied to be a genetic trait.
  • No Name Given: "The girl" and "Dad".
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Played With in this case. The Doctor says that Vashta Nerada are normally benign and live off roadkill. The aggressiveness of this batch is highly unusual. Until you realize that the Vashta Nerada on this particular planet are essentially starving after a century of isolation from regular food sources.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Donna's explanation for her skills in kicking in doors make you wonder what kind of ex-boyfriends she's had to require the "element of surprise".
    • While checking her diary, River asks the Doctor if he's done the "picnic at Asgard" or the "crash of the Byzantium". The latter is now a Resolved Noodle Incident.
  • "No Talking or Phones" Warning: The terminal that tells the Doctor and Donna the messages from before the Library was sealed ends with an emotionless request to switch off their mobile comm units for the comfort of other readers.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The Vashta Nerada are almost, almost invisible. You can't see them — and if you do, you're already dead or something's gone wrong. 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."
    • River gets one when she finally realizes the Doctor has no idea who she is.
    • The Doctor gets one when River pulls out her own sonic screwdriver.
  • 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.
  • Rock Beats Laser: The sonic screwdriver "doesn't do wood", to Donna's incredulousness.
  • 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.
  • Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: The computer terminal that recites the Apocalyptic Log in the Library's computers dispassionately reads the onomatopoeia as well.
  • 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 run by a powerful computer... can't count past one million million (ie a US and increasingly UK-adopted trillion or traditional UK billion (bi-million), which is probably why the episode phrases it unambiguously). A 64-bit integer in a modern computer can exceed that by a factor of about 18.5 million. Possibly it's the life-scanner's sensitivity, not the Library's counting ability, which hit its limit at that point.
  • Self-Plagiarism: The idea of the Doctor in the biggest library in the universe first appeared in Moffat's short story "Continuity Errors".
  • 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".
  • Spell My Name with a "The":
    The Doctor: The Library. So big it doesn't need a name, just a great big the.
  • Spoiler:
    • River Song discusses how time travel to and from the future can create spoilers for reality, which is why it would be a very bad idea for the Doctor to read her journal containing "spoilers" about his future self.
    • Also played with in a Leaning on the Fourth Wall kind of way in the "Next Time" trailer at the end of the episode: the clips combine the Doctor asking about CAL, River and the Doctor both saying "Spoilers", and the little girl screaming "No! Don't tell! You mustn't tell!"
  • Spooky Silent Library: Murders by living shadows makes for "Silence in the Library". There was some catastrophe earlier and now the place is eerie.
  • Stable Time Loop: The Doctor only knows about the rule against diary-peeking because River told him about it.
  • Stripped to the Bone: The Vashta Nerada don't eat bones, so the skeletons of their victims are all that's left behind.
  • Sunday Is Boring: The Doctor says, "I never land [the TARDIS] on Sundays. Sundays are boring."
  • Super-Speed: The Vashta Nerada feed fast. Blink of an eye fast.
  • Time-Travel Tense Trouble: River has a bit of this talking about her history with the Doctor because she refers to past events that are his future. It gets confusing.
  • Title Drop: "A million million lifeforms... and silence in the Library..."
  • Visible Boom Mic: In the house, when CAL is telling her Dad that the phone is ringing while he's talking to Doctor Moon, a boom mic can be seen at the top centre of the shot where both Doctor Moon and Cal's Dad are talking.
  • Wham Line: Keep in mind this is a child psychologist talking to his patient:
    Dr. Moon: The real world is a lie, and your nightmares are real.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: River delivers an understated but stinging one to the Doctor when he's quibbling about signing Mr. Lux's "personal experience contract":
    Mr. Lux: I'm protecting my family's pride.
    The Doctor: Well, funny thing, Mr. Lux. I don't wanna see everyone in this room dead because some idiot thinks his pride is more important.
    River: Then why don't you sign his contract?
    • Of course, she then says she also didn't sign it. ("I'm getting worse than you.")
  • 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