Steven Moffat certainly has a knack for creating frightening creatures out of everyday things. I suspect it’s his mission to give nightmares to as many children as possible. In Silence in the Library, we learn that there is a race called the Vashta Nerada, who are microscopic flesh-eating organisms that look like shadows. Oh, and a few of them also live on Earth. Thought statues were scary? “Count the shadows” is the new “don’t blink”.
There’s plenty more scary situations and freaky imagery in this two-parter. The contorted face of Miss Evangelista inside the computer simulation even gave me a fright, and I’m a grown adult (usually). But there is more to this story than scares, and this is where it is perhaps a tad overloaded with ideas. They are excellent ideas, but you can’t easily sustain that many at once.
For instance, the little girl in the parallel world is actually a computer who used to be a girl and the world isn’t real. The doctor (not the Doctor) is a program on the moon. There are creatures that look like shadows and live in forests and eat people. Dead people can be stored in computer chips and still talk for a while, or be brought back as faces on robots. Oh, and the Doctor’s future wife has met the Doctor for the first time in his life and the last time in her life, because they’re travelling in opposite temporal directions, or something. Bloody hell, Moffat! This is what happens when they only give you one story per season to write!
I suppose this was the start of his big plans for Doctor Who. In a Time Traveller’s Wife style, Alex Kingston plays River Song, who knows more about the Doctor than anyone else, including his real name, which will become an annoyingly common tease in later seasons. She’s looking a little younger than she does in her future appearances, because unfortunately that’s how time works in the real world, but this is actually the character’s last appearance from her perspective. There is far more to this enigmatic character than can possibly be written here, and to be fair, we’re not meant to know any of it yet. I very much doubt her backstory (or should that be frontstory?) was planned out at this stage.
The story is complex and, annoyingly, uses lots of very rapid exposition to explain things as they’re happening, because otherwise they wouldn’t make sense. It’s not as bad as it gets towards the end of the seventh season, say, but it’s enough to grate. However, even through the complex plot there weaves an emotional core, little moments that can’t help but touch the heart, such as Miss Evangelista’s dying words crackling away from her storage device, or Donna’s anguish over discovering her children are just a simulation and have disappeared before her eyes.
There’s also a few of those little Moffat signature touches, the things he likes to throw in, like when the Doctor points out there are six people in the room rather than five or suddenly notices the extra shadow, very much in the style of noticing the ticking clockwork clown or the typewriter operating itself. The girl trapped in the computer, looking back at the Doctor from the other side, will be re-used for Clara Oswald’s first appearance, and it does bear some similarity to the Girl In The Fireplace, also looking through a barrier between worlds. It’s this imagination that makes Steven Moffat’s episodes some of the best in modern Doctor Who. This Library two-parter is not my favourite of his, but it’s very good and a step above everything else in what has been a generally high quality season so far. I will grow tired of River Song and her “hello sweetie”s but that time is not yet.