River’s Little Band

I have to admit something of a bias in reviewing this two-parter, naturally, because I am a Librarian. To say I held the title of the first part of this story and its setting with a sense of trepidation and misgiving would be an understatement. But I was of course fearing too much. The knowledge profession (no, IT industry, that is not you) has nothing to be wary of here. Not even shadows.

But let’s move away from this strange career-obsessive and let us instead consider the story.

By virtue or fluke of timing we fans have come to expect much of a Steven Moffat script, and certainly from where we are now, Silence/Forest carries the extra burden of expectation because of course Moffat is now the man upon whom the future of the series now rests. The shape of the future takes form in the present – so does this story bode well for the series ahead? I say yes.

Silence/Forest (and apologies for the clumsy titling) is a lot of what I suspect a good number of older fans would want in a story – it is multi-layered, multi-locational, high concept and witty. For the kids it has scary shadows and Skeletor in a space suit. As they are, the Vashta Nerada aren’t the most vital ingredient of the story, being as they are an elemental force of nature (the initial revelation that The Library held billions of individual life forms carries no surprise to someone who has a professional awareness of spores and dust mites). Take the element of death away and you have another thought-provoking exploration of a central theme in Moffat’s Who work – loss. So far in the new series we’ve had the devastating impact of the loss of parents and family (Empty Child), of loved ones across time (Girl in the Fireplace), the loss of one’s own place in time (Blink) and now, crucially, the loss of knowledge itself. The invasion of The Library triggers the colapse of meaning where bodies disappear to be ‘saved’ but are also overwritten so personal histories are recreated, condensed and made meaningless; the digitised conscious of a dying person loops into itself and ultimately degrades in a disturbing collapse akin to the mental deterioration of a dementia sufferer, and of course at the story’s core is another episode of the Doctor’s life – and potentially another love story, involving a person also separated through time about whom he cannot allow himself to learn, even after it is too late. It’s a lot to juggle, and for the most part Moffat does it well – Donna’s Doctor-less story is the more effective for being hers alone, and it is only the Girl/Doctor Moon installments that continue to jar, perhaps not helped by their starkly lit locations against the visually dimming Library planet.

As he has shown us in earlier stories, Moffat is defter at the fannish touches too – references to ‘spoilers’ being one of a few digs whihc, rather than break the fourth wall between viewer and story, add to the Doctor’s life using a common vernacular. Finally, there is the sense that, intended or no, here is Moffat laying down some conventions and threads for the future – the likely ‘return’ of River Song, the Doctor’s awareness that within this incarnation he will change dramatically (a very big thing given the slightest coverage), the fate of Donna and, with a literal click of the fingers, the Doctor begins his journey toward those things. it’s a magical scene, strangely reminiscent of the ‘blades of death’ scene from Euros Lyn’s directoral debut The End of the World. This of course is far from the end, it’s a restart, intended or not. And the future looks all the more intriguing for it.


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