In which the Doctor takes Donna to The Library, prompted by a message he receives on his psychic paper. It is the 51st Century, and this is a planet-sized repository for every book ever written - all reprinted on paper. They are surprised to find the complex deserted, however. The Doctor checks a scanner which identifies himself and Donna as the only life-forms on the planet. When he changes the search parameters to include all life, the count goes off the scale. Spooked by the lights starting to go out on their own, the Doctor and Donna lock themselves into one of the Library's rooms. They find a spherical surveillance camera there. Elsewhere, a concerned father invites a psychiatrist, Dr Moon, to visit his daughter. For her, the Library is an imaginary world belonging to her alone. She is upset that there are people in it. The Doctor and Donna see her words appear on the camera's screen. The Doctor and Donna had earlier found an information node, which features a real face - donated from a previous patron of the library. It had told them that over a thousand of the people in the complex had been saved on the day that the Library was sealed off, yet there were no survivors. A short time later, the Doctor and Donna are confronted by a party of space-suit wearing humans - an archaeological party led by Professor River Song. She seems to know the Doctor very well, though he cannot recall ever meeting her. She has been employed by Strackman Lux, a descendant of the man who created the Library, to discover what caused the planet to become sealed off a century before. Lux is here on the expedition, along with his secretary Miss Evangelista, plus three crew members - Anita and two men named Dave, who differentiate themselves as Proper Dave and Other Dave.
Miss Evangelista is befriended by Donna, who has noticed that her colleagues make fun of her. The Doctor gets a computer screen to work, and they are surprised to find themselves in communication with the young girl. Miss Evangelista wanders off into another room. The others hear her scream and rush to her aid - only to find her body reduced to a skeleton. Her consciousness lives on for a few moments, due to an electronic implant in her spacesuit. The Doctor realises that the Library is infested with Vashta Nerada - so-called piranhas of the air. These microscopic creatures have a voracious appetite. They mass together in the darkness - becoming living shadows. The Doctor cautions everyone to keep away from the shadows, as any of them could really be a Vashta Nerada swarm. The Doctor sends Donna away by teleport to the safety of the TARDIS, but something goes wrong, and the process fails. Proper Dave announces that he has an extra shadow. The Doctor orders him to put on his helmet, but this does not stop him from being consumed. Only his skeletal remains are contained in the spacesuit. He begins to lumber after them, and so they flee through the complex. The Doctor approaches one of the information nodes for assistance - and is horrified to see that it has the face of Donna Noble. It tells him that she has been saved...
Proper Dave's walking corpse continues to pursue the group, so they take refuge in another room. Here the Doctor learns that it was River Song who sent him the message on the psychic paper. She has a blue diary decorated with squares - just like a police box - and she possesses a sonic screwdriver - which she claims he gave to her. She refuses to let the Doctor look into her diary - warning of "spoilers". He realises that she knows him from his own future. This is confirmed when she tells him she knows his real name, in order to get him to trust her. There is only one circumstance under which he would ever tell someone his name. Lux accuses them of acting like a old married couple...
Donna meanwhile has found herself in hospital, where she is tended by Dr Moon. She is introduced to a fellow patient named Lee, and before she knows it she is married to him, and is the mother of two children - a boy and a girl. Her life is observed by the little girl on her TV. One night Donna receives a note from a mysterious woman dressed in black, her head covered in a veil. She is to meet her at the playground the next day. The woman tells her that this reality is false, and points out the other children in the playground. They are all identical to Donna's children. Angry, Donna pulls away her veil to reveal Miss Evanglista - her face horribly distorted. She had been saved as well, but something went wrong. She is now ugly, but her IQ has been boosted.
Upset by these revelations, the young girl becomes angry. She causes her father to vanish and breaks the remote control to her TV. In the Library, the Doctor and River discover that the complex is going to destroy itself. Other Dave has also now fallen prey to the Vashta Nerada. Demanding parlay, the Doctor discovers that the creatures came to this planet as spores in the paper of the books - their forest habitat having been pulped to make them. The Doctor's group make their way to the core of the planet to stop the power overload, where Lux admits the truth about the young girl. The Library's computer is called CAL - and this stands for Charlotte Abigail Lux. She was his grandfather's daughter, who died at a young age. Before she perished, however, her consciousness was downloaded into CAL, so that she could live forever surrounded by every book ever written. She would be protected by a virus checker established on the nearby moon - a doctor moon. The Doctor realises what the information nodes had meant by everyone being saved - they were downloaded into the data core. Anita also succumbs to the Vashta Nerada, but the Doctor asks the creatures to look him up in the books, and see what sort of a person he is. They decide to withdraw for 24 hours, to allow the Doctor to rescue the people from the data core. After this, they want the planet for themselves. To stop the computer from overloading, the Doctor intends to link himself to it, but River Song overpowers him. He wakes to find that she intends to do it - even though it will kill her.
Later, Donna and the thousand or so other people are all freed and teleported off the planet. She just misses a chance to meet with the real Lee. As they are about to leave, the Doctor puzzles over why he gave River his sonic screwdriver. He suddenly realises that River's consciousness has been saved into it, using the implant in her spacesuit. He takes it to the core and downloads her into it. In the grounds of Dr Moon's hospital, River is reunited with Anita, Miss Evangelista and the two Daves, where she will help look after Charlotte and live forever...
Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead was written by Steven Moffat, and was first broadcast on 31st May and 7th June, 2008. It is significant for introducing the character of River Song, who would feature prominently once Moffat took over the running of the show.
Moffat had originally intended this story to be part of the third series, and to introduce the Weeping Angels. He had then been offered the Dalek two-parter for that season, which he had to decline due to work commitments on his own series Jekyll. By way of penance for messing Russell T Davies around, he volunteered to write the Doctor-lite story instead, and used the Angels in that.
By way of a joke, he called the first episode "A River Song Ending", just for the acronym - giving the character the name just to fit this. The second episode had a draft title of "River's Run".
An early idea was that the Doctor would already know one of the archaeological party - to explain why the group would so readily trust and follow someone they had found on a sealed-off planet. To make things a little more interesting, Moffat swapped this around so that it was one of the party that knew him. Although Alex Kingston did not know it at the time, Moffat had already decided that River would be coming back. His taking over the running of the show was announced just before the first episode aired.
Once again, Moffat chose to employ childhood fears as the basis for the threat - in this instance a fear of shadows and darkness. It was noted at the time of broadcast that the skull in a space-suit Vashta Nerada looked similar to one of the foes encountered by Scooby Doo and his gang - in 1969's episode The Spooky Space Kook.
There are a number of references to other stories scattered throughout both episodes, and due to the nature of River Song, some of these relate to stories still to be written. She mentions a picnic at Asgard (never actually seen on screen but mentioned during Matt Smith's tenure), as well as the Crash of the Byzantium - which would feature in her next appearance. Her two catchphrases are heard for the first time - "Hello Sweetie!" and "Spoilers!".
Donna's departure at the end of this series is hinted at as River is upset to learn who she is, not wanting to say what her future will be - implying that she knows of the mind-wipe to come.
The dialogue hints that River will one day become the Doctor's wife - which will happen in Series 6.
She is armed with a "squareness gun" - just like the one owned by Captain Jack Harkness in The Doctor Dances, and Moffat claimed later that he intended it to be the same weapon, picked up later by River during one of her TARDIS travels. As with his first story for the series, Moffat has everyone live at the end of this - in a sense.
At the time, some fans hoped that River would turn out to be a new version of Bernice Summerfield, from the book and audio ranges, owing to them both being archaeologists from the future. Alternatively, River was thought to be a Time Lord - an incarnation of Romana.
Joining Alex Kingston in the cast we have Colin Salmon, as Dr Moon. He had recently featured as a recurring character in the Pierce Brosnan era of the James Bond franchise. It is rumoured that he turned down the role of the Doctor when David Tennant stood down. As Strackman Lux we have the second member of The League of Gentlemen to join the show - Steve Pemberton. (Mark Gatiss had already appeared in the show as Professor Lazarus, as well as having written a couple of stories).
Proper Dave is Harry Peacock, brother of Daniel Peacock who had played Nord the Road vandal in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. Other Dave is OT Fagbenle, who had featured in the BBC sitcom Grownups. Miss Evangelista is played by Talulah Riley, and Anita is Jessika Williams. Riley was Mrs Elon Musk for a number of years (they divorced in 2016), and she is currently playing a recurring role in the successful TV adaptation of Westworld. Eve Newton played Charlotte.
Overall, an excellent pair of episodes. The monsters and setting are spooky, and the initial set-up is intriguing, as we try to work out what the action with the young girl has to do with events in the Library. It's another great story for Catherine Tate - especially the second half - as Donna is put through the emotional wringer. And we also get the introduction of River Song. Even if you hate what Moffat did with the character later, she is great here. Non-fans can be happy because this is the one where she dies.
Things you might like to know:
- The actor Davies really wanted for River Song was Kate Winslet. One of her very first screen appearances had been in his Dark Seasons.
- Silence in the Library was the first episode since 2005 not to win its timeslot against ITV. They were running the final of Britain's Got Talent that week. The series had been on hold for a week - making way for the Eurovision Song Contest, as happened with the mid point to Series Three.
- The production team got a real library to film in - the Old Swansea Library - but it did not have any books in it. Hundreds of empty plastic folders had to be made to fill the bookshelves.
- The DW Confidential installment revealed that there were a number of in-jokes hidden amongst the other books - including previous story editor Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Origins of the Universe (Destiny of the Daleks), Everest In Easy Stages (Creature from the Pit) The Journal of Impossible Things (Human Nature / Family of Blood), and a book about the French Revolution (An Unearthly Child).
- Donna's children are called Josh and Ella - named after one of Moffat's sons and his friend.
- As well as having a Robbie the Robot model in her home, the girl has drawings on the wall - one of which features a blonde haired woman. Next to it is a drawing of a wolf. These were hints towards Rose's imminent return, which was being seeded through the series.