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Recap / Doctor Who S30 E9 "Forest of the Dead"

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Donna: How about you, are you alright?
The Doctor: I'm always alright.
Donna: Is "alright" special Time Lord code for... really not alright at all?
The Doctor: Why?
Donna: Because I'm alright too.
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The one with the Elephant Woman.

Written by Steven Moffat.


Donna, our favourite stroppy Londoner, has been having some funny turns recently. As we all know, she was a bit confused and spent a few years in a mental institution. There, she met a nice man called Lee, and now she's happily married with two kids. But lately, she's been having "lost time", and Dr. Moon says everything is fine, and...

What?

But what about the Library of the future, and the people-eating shadows, and River Song and everything? And then we see a familiar person in Donna's world: Miss Evangelista, one of the Red Shirts killed in the last episode. And she tells Donna that none of this is real.

When Donna rips off Miss Evangelista's veil, it reveals that her face has become glitched. The little girl, watching all this on her TV, screams. So do you, because Steven Moffat.

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Donna and everyone else aren't really in present-day London. They're in a Lotus-Eater Machine, and the computer is getting a little overloaded. Doing what? Saving all the people, of course... that's where they all went. They got saved... to disk. When the Vashta Nerada arrived, the Library's computer tried to teleport 4022 people out all at once, and the system overloaded. Even the neural echoes of people, briefly captured by their suits' comm systems, get included. Which is how Miss Evangelista now lives on.

The Vashta Nerada usually live in forests. They hatch in trees. Trees... that were made into a planet full of books.

The little girl really was a little girl: related to the founder of the Library, she was merged with the Library's computer as a gift to her when doctors couldn't save her life. Her therapist, Dr. Moon, is quite literally the planet's moon, which contains backup systems that stabilise the computer from above.

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While the Doctor, back in the real world, works all this out, a couple more people get eaten by the shadows. The Doctor teaches the Vashta Nerada how to use the suits' comm systems to communicate, but it doesn't exactly help. He does, however, convince the creatures to give him one day, and after that, they can have the planet all to themselves. And River manages to persuade him to trust her by whispering something in his ear...

The Doctor realises that he'll need to pull a Heroic Sacrifice to rescue Donna and the rest of the saved people. River punches him square in the face, handcuffs him to a wall and decides to sacrifice herself instead. Because she knows that if the Doctor sacrificed himself this way he wouldn't be able to regenerate, as the machine's continuous shock would kill him permanently in the middle of regeneration. And now she knows that this is not only his first time meeting her, it's also her last time meeting him... and that from his perspective, their entire relationship will have been based on the moment the Doctor saw her die. The Doctor is powerless to stop her, and asks her why she was able to whisper that one word into his ear — his name. His real name. Her only reply is a final "spoilers!", and with that, she dies.

All the not-dead people are transported back to the library. Donna desperately searches for her Matrix-world husband, whom she truly loves. But just when he sees her, he's teleported away to his own home, and she decides he must have been imaginary. The Doctor leaves River's diary and her version of the screwdriver behind in the library —

— she knew his name. He gave her a screwdriver. Why did he give her a screwdriver? Because the screwdriver has a neural relay with her mind's echo stored inside it. The Doctor races back to the little girl/computer and plugs in what's left of River. Her echo, and those of her companions who died today, can live on forever in the Matrix system. In a bittersweet way, Everybody Lives.


Tropes:

  • Adult Fear: Donna experiences a huge slice of it when she's tucking Josh and Ella into bed and then they just disappear. And earlier than that, a downplayed example with Ella falling and hurting her knee.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Dr. Moon, aka the Doctor Moon, is full of this. Regarding his specific design, which is to help regulate CAL, the computer core of the Library, he does a pretty poor job, not even bothering to regulate her attempts to access the Library while still under the delusion of it being imaginary. He can't even get the concept of THE PASSAGE OF TIME right, as he just jumps people from scene to scene without any regard for what they did between scenes, and no one questions it because they have been so heavily brainwashed by him in the first place. Furthermore, if anyone tries to do anything about the simulation, he will spend an inordinate amount of effort to stopping them instead of figuring out how to resolve it.
  • Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence: The people that were eaten continue living in Cyberspace. Word of God is that Moffat considers this to be as much being alive as most of us get. Their consciousnesses exist inside an electronic library containing the sum total knowledge of a huge slice of the Universe. They can virtually go anywhere, be anybody, and experience anything. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: "It's a screwdriver. It works in the dark."
  • Badass Boast: Indirectly, and the more badass for it: "I'm the Doctor, and you're in the biggest library in the universe. Look me up."
  • Badass Fingersnap: The Doctor does one at the end, to see if it will open the TARDIS doors as River has said earlier. Cue the biggest smile on his face when it does. He does another one moments later to close the doors.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Miss Evangelista's reason for wanting to help Donna escape her false reality is returning Donna's kindness when she was alive in the flesh.
  • Big "NO!": Donna lets out several when her virtual children disappear.
    • Lux, upon being told that in twenty minutes, the Library will crack like an egg. He then says the Doctor Moon will stop it.
    • The Doctor, at least four times, after the Girl causes Doctor Moon to disappear and stop the library's systems from working.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": The Girl gives one to her father before causing him to disappear with the TV remote. She later does the same thing to Doctor Moon.
  • Blue Boy Pink Girl: Josh and Ella's pyjamas. Also, in the playground, Ella's coat and boots are pink and red, while Josh wears a green coat and jeans. Possibly a subtle clue to show that they're not real.
  • Body Horror: Miss Evangelista's face is literally glitched. She looks badly photoshopped, or like a walking Picasso painting, which is exactly the point.
  • Bookends: River punching the Doctor out and handcuffing him to a pipe turns out to be the back bookend to Amy knocking him out with a cricket bat and cuffing him to a radiator.
  • Brain Uploading: "Zero survivors, four-thousand twenty-two saved."
  • Broken Record: "We should go. Doctor!"
  • Call-Back: The "squareness gun" Captain Jack Harkness used in his first appearance. Word of God says it is the same gun — pilfered by River from the TARDIS where Jack left it at the end of "The Parting of the Ways".
    • Donna's line to Miss Evangelista: "If my face ends up on one of those statues..." is this, as at the end of the previous episode, a Node appeared with Donna's face on it, repeatedly saying that Donna had left the Library, and had been saved.
  • Call-Forward:
    River: I'll trust that man to the end of the universe, and actually, we've been!"
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The screwdriver. He gave her his screwdriver.
    • She told the Doctor his own name.
  • Continuity Nod: The Doctor escaping from being cornered by the Vashta Nerada by dropping through a hole in the floor is quite reminiscent of that time Nine escaped from an impromptu firing squad because he'd been backed up against a lift.
  • Cuckoo Nest: Dr. Moon tells Donna she hallucinated the Doctor, but is now cured. She's actually in a Lotus-Eater Machine.
  • Cyberspace: The core of the planet is the biggest library ever; big enough to hold an entire world.
  • Dark Is Evil: The Vashta Nerada, being that they exist in shadows, strip humans to the bone and after killing Anita, they say "We are not kind." It can't get more explicit than that.
  • Dashed Plot Line: Donna's life inside CAL is a subversion. It looks like we're only being shown selected scenes that take place years apart, but then it turns out that Donna is only experiencing those scenes as well. Only those scenes exist with nothing in between them.
  • Daylight Horror: Continuing on from last episode, but by this episode the sun is beginning to set, and then there will be nothing but shadow.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The scene where Josh and Ella disappear from their beds. Donna loses it completely and starts screaming and sobbing. Looks and sounds reminiscent of a kidnapping or worse, Outliving One's Offspring. Granted, they're not real, but Donna thought they were.
  • Dumbass No More: Miss Evangelista was a Brainless Beauty in real life. In the virtual world, she is more like The Smart Guy.
  • Dwindling Party: Following the deaths of Miss Evangelista and Proper Dave in the previous episode, this episode sees the deaths of Other Dave, Anita and River. Only Lux is still alive at the end. However, the consciousnesses of the dead ones can still live on inside the Library's data core.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: The Doctor's so busy thinking that he stops paying attention to Other Dave, who has suddenly started repeating himself a lot. It's not until he says the same thing four times that the Doctor catches on.
  • Eureka Moment:
    • "You don't say saved, you say safe!"
    • When the Doctor realizes why he gave River his screwdriver, to "save" a copy of her into the virtual world.
      River: [voiceover] Everybody knows that everybody dies, and nobody knows it like the Doctor. But I do think that all the skies of all the worlds might just turn dark [the Doctor begins to run back] if he ever, for one moment, accepts it.
      The Doctor: Why?! Why would I give her my screwdriver? Why would I do that?
  • Everybody Lives: River Song's closing monologue is all about these "blessed days" where everyone is saved and everybody lives. Those stuck in cyberspace come back and are re-teleported without a problem. Everyone that was eaten is transferred to the Library's core through Wi-Fi.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Anita, when she realizes she has two shadows, is pretty calm about it.
  • Famous Last Words:
    • "We should go. Doctor!" are this for Other Dave.
    • "Hush, now. Spoilers."
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: In the scene where Miss Evangelista reveals all the children are identical, if you look closely this can be seen earlier in the scene before Miss Evangelista points it out.
    • Josh and Ella, Donna's children, have this to say to her after Miss Evangelista reveals the world she's in is not real: "But, Mummy, sometimes, when you're not here, it's like we're not here." "Even when you close your eyes. We just stop." Guess what happens a few seconds later.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Dr. Moon maintains the dream-world's integrity at several points, but it doesn't dawn on what he represents until the Doctor is told that the moon that's rising in the sky isn't real, but an artificial doctor moon, which maintains the library database. He's the virus checker; a therapist for a computer.
    • Lux accuses the Doctor and River of arguing Like an Old Married Couple.
    • When River's about to make her Heroic Sacrifice, there's this exchange. Think about it carefully.
      The Doctor: I'd have a chance! You don't have any!
      River: You wouldn't have a chance and neither do I!
  • Four Is Death: Other's Dave's line of "We should go. Doctor!" is said four times before the Doctor realises he was killed by the Vashta Nerada and the words are being spoken through his neural relay.
  • Freudian Slip:
    Donna: I made up the perfect man. Gorgeous, adores me, and hardly able to speak a word. What's that say about me?
    The Doctor: Everything. [beat] Sorry. Did I say "everything"? I meant to say "nothing". I was aiming for "nothing". I accidentally said "everything".
  • Heroic BSoD: The entire third act is CAL having a mental breakdown after finding out about her reality.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: River Song wires herself up the Library's computer system to allow it to use her personal memory. This kills her stone dead.
  • Holodeck Malfunction: When the Vashta Nerada hatched, CAL initiated an emergency teleport on everyone in the Library. However, there was nowhere to send them. Thus, she "saved" them inside herself.
  • Hope Spot: Donna really loves her virtual husband, and promises to look for him in the real world as she's yanked out of the computer system. In the real world as everyone is restored, she asks after him, is told no one by that name was in the Library, and unhappily concludes that — like her children — he was never real. However, he sees her and tries to call out her name, but is halted by his stutter and is teleported home before he can reach her.
  • Iconic Item: The Doctor is shocked to find his future self has given his sonic screwdriver to River. As she's about to die, River realises why.
  • I Know Your True Name: The Doctor doesn't trust River Song, so to facilitate cooperation she whispers his true name in his ear. This makes him trust her immediately.
  • Informed Attribute: CAL "loved books more than anything" but we never see her do any reading. It's a Justified Trope because she's not in her right mind and has forgotten everything about her life before the shadows came.
  • Insane Troll Logic: "If he dies, I'll kill him!"
  • Jerkass Façade: Strackman Lux, set up as a paranoid, uncooperative type obsessed with patents and IP, but it's all a front to keep CAL safe, who is his child-like aunt. He's actually quite nice.
  • Kinky Cuffs: Implied.
    The Doctor: Why am I handcuffed...? Why do you even have handcuffs?!
    River: [smirks] Spoilers.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • The scenes appearing on CAL's TV, complete with music. She, like many of the viewers, spends a good part of the episode clutching a pillow and trying not to scream.
    • Time in the computer progresses "like a dream" — people just mention where they're going to be, and then they're there. In other words, it's like television. Cutting between scenes in a conventional way, and then revealing that that's how the characters are experiencing it, adds a meta level to the are-you-sure-you-know-what-is-and-isn't-real theme.
  • Light Is Good: Everyone wearing a white suit who isn't killed by the Vashta Nerada. River is probably the biggest example.
    • Also the clothes of River, both Daves, Anita and Miss Evangelista after River is uploaded to the Library's data core.
  • Light Is Not Good: The white suits and helmets of anyone chasing the group after being killed by the Vashta Nerada, with Proper Dave being the most prominent.
  • Like an Old Married Couple: Strackman Lux interrupts an early argument between the Doctor and River thusly:
    "Oh, for heaven's sake! We're all going to die, right here, right now, and you're squabbling like an old married couple!"
  • Living Shadow: Invisible air piranhas, who are very light-sensitive (or maybe just appear as shadows, and are very slow-moving) but can strip the flesh from a chicken leg in the time it takes to fall to the ground.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The world created by CAL is virtual reality contained within a gigantic hard drive.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": The Doctor, River and Lux when informed the Library is going to self-destruct in twenty minutes' time.
    • Everyone when the Doctor points out that although River said there were five people still alive in the room they are in, there are actually six, as Proper Dave has caught up to them.
  • Meaningful Echo:
  • Meaningful Name:
    • CAL is an acronym of the girl's full name: Charlotte Abigail Lux.
    • Dr. Moon is the doctor moon.
  • Medium Awareness: Donna starts noticing the episode's editing when she's in the computer. This is because the cuts represent the computer basically teleporting her and giving her fake memories. It saves an awful lot of space.
  • Mood Whiplash: A four-layered version of it when River tells the Doctor his own name. After a pause he suddenly starts talking about his sonic screwdriver again. Then Anita realises she has two shadows. Then the Doctor points out that Proper Dave has caught up with them.
  • More Expendable Than You: River takes out the Doctor to do a Heroic Sacrifice in his place because he has more heroic saving to do and her diary is full.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The Girl has one after she snaps at her father and causes him to vanish. In response she hurls the remote to the floor and it activates the Library's self-destruct mechanism.
  • Ninja Prop: The episode uses Jump Cuts to transition from a scene to the other (for example, the characters in a house talk about taking a stroll in the park, and we jump to the park). Quite an ordinary way of depicting the passing of time in a TV medium, right? Except Donna realizes that she isn't experiencing at all the time between the cuts, only fake memories. This is her first hint she's inside a Lotus-Eater Machine.
  • No Sympathy: The Vashta Nerada don't really care that Anita was scared, Doctor.
  • Oh, Crap!: Anita when she realises she has two shadows.
    • The Doctor, when he finally realises Other Dave's been eaten, gets more nervous.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Donna's virtual-reality husband wasn't really named Lee McAvoy in real life.
  • Orphean Rescue: Getting Donna back out of the computer requires some help from someone who knows the truth of the matter.
  • Papa Wolf: Technically the little girl for whom Strackman Lux is willing to go to such lengths to protect is his aunt, but she died as a child and maintained that mental state. It plays out the same.
  • Le Parkour: In one scene the Doctor essentially follows the Parkour principle of "Getting from point A to point B ASAP" as he runs, jumps over carts and shelves and even just jumps into a hole instead of using the mobile transport to save River.
  • Percussive Prevention: River punches the Doctor out so she can undertake the Heroic Sacrifice instead.
  • Platonic Cave: Charlotte is trapped in one, unable to realize that her world is a computer simulation because of the 4,022 uploaded people taking up too much memory space.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The Library exists for the sole purpose of keeping CAL occupied, which makes this an inversion. The Library itself is the inversion — there is a child with a terminal, incurable illness, but her family is rich, so her brain is uploaded and she is given a library the size of a planet to keep her entertained. However, when something threatened the people in the Library, they all tried to teleport away at once and ended up getting stored in the computer. That was causing problems for the child, so in a way the lifeboats were Powered by a Forsaken Child.
  • Quotes Fit for a Trailer: The "Next Time" trailer at the end of "Silence in the Library" combines 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!" to create a truly Fourth Wall-leaning clip.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: The Library has one of these. It starts at twenty minutes. Then it will "crack like an egg".
  • Smash Cut: Lots of them while Donna is in the virtual world. They show that the smashes are missing.
  • Ship Tease:
    • The Doctor and River.
      The Doctor: Oh, I like you.
      River: Yeah, you do.
    • Even the fact that River is going to die in a few moments doesn't stop her from dropping one last Double Entendre.
      The Doctor: Why am I handcuffed... why do you even have handcuffs?!
      River: [smirking] Spoilers...
    • Watching Donna's husband try to call out to her at the end, but caught in a stutter.
  • Shout-Out: Miss Evangelista's glitched face looks rather like a Picasso painting.
  • Sound-Only Death: If River screams as the energy runs through her, it's drowned out by the energy's noise. Doubles as a Gory Discretion Shot as blinding light obscures her, and later the camera never pulls away from the Doctor as he stares devastated at her body.
  • Speech-Impeded Love Interest: Donna's husband stutters. Outside the computer, she takes this to mean she subconsciously wants a husband who can't say anything.
  • Spooky Silent Library: Slightly louder since the last episode because so many zombies are talking in broken records.
  • Spot the Imposter: The Doctor does this after Anita finds out she has two shadows. Near the end of the episode, he reveals in a Wham Line that he knows Anita is dead because her suit only has one shadow instead of two, so it's actually the Vashta Nerada talking with her voice.
  • Stable Time Loop: The sonic screwdriver, many of River Song's mannerisms and rules, including "spoilers!" and the blue diary, she initially got from the Doctor, who in turn got them from her. Another example is opening the TARDIS with a click of the fingers; the Doctor hadn't even thought of doing that until River mentioned it, but she was remembering about how he used to do it.
  • Staring Down Cthulhu: The "look me up" scene is the Doctor confronting a swarm of living shadows and making them blink.
  • Stunned Silence: The Doctor's reaction when River whispers his real name into his ear.
  • Subverted Catchphrase: One only noticeable in hindsight. In many other River episodes she and the Doctor have a recurring dialogue of: "I hate you!" and an affectionate "No, you don't." In this episode the Doctor replies to River's "I hate you!" with a dismissive "I know!"
  • Swiss Army Weapon: The Doctor's got his screwdriver, and River's got hers, which has a red setting and dampeners.
  • Tempting Fate: Lux says the Doctor Moon will protect CAL and stop the self-destruct. In the next scene, the Girl uses the TV remote to make Doctor Moon vanish.
  • Trust Password: River convinces the Doctor to trust her by telling him his real name.
  • The Unreveal: River Song knows the Doctor's real name, but only whispers it to the Doctor. We never hear it in "Forest of the Dead", and still have yet to.
  • Virtual Ghost: The final fate of River and her crew is to live forever as data inside the Library's hard drive.
  • Wham Line:
    • "BECAUSE SHE'S FAMILY!"
    • "You know what? I really liked Anita."
    • "River, you know my name."
  • The X of Y: "Forest of the Dead".
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: The Doctor sets down River's diary and sonic screwdriver, leaving them behind to turn and walk away with Donna, as River begins a voice-over. It's all set up to make people think the story would end on that note, until the Doctor thinks of a very urgent question.

River: Sweet dreams, everyone.

Alternative Title(s): Doctor Who NSS 4 E 9 Forest Of The Dead

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