“There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown”, begins Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power. Perhaps Steven Moffat has read this, as the fear factor in his Doctor Who episodes derives primarily from this fact. After turning the mundane to the terrifying through some angel statues and a little boy in a gas mask, Moffat pens another Doctor Who two-parter in which he does the same for the common library.
The Doctor and Donna arrive at The Library, the largest in the known universe, only it is completely devoid of life forms — of human life forms, that is. There they are warned by a pop-art like statue with a human face to “count the shadows”.
They find themselves being chased by an unseen menace, as one by one the lights go out. Forcing their way into another room and locking themselves in, The Doctor examines an airborne security camera, which is actually the subconscious of a young girl in another world.
Our heroes are suddenly happened upon by what can initially only be described as a group of the outer space cousins of Top Gear’s The Stig, only to learn that they are human archaeologists. Their leader Professor River Song (Alex Kingston), talks to The Doctor as if she knows him, although he has no idea who she is, and refers to him as “pretty boy”.
At first The Doctor has trouble communicating to the rest of her group just how much danger they are in, but River’s trust in him becomes contagious. While figuring out how to proceed, the nice but dim member of the crew, Miss Evangelista (Talulah Riley), has investigated a noise outside, and is consequently turned into a skeleton. Having seen this, The Doctor can identify their hunters as the Vashta Nerada, tiny particles of dust that hide in the shadows and can strip flesh from bone in a split second. On Earth, they can be seen floating in rays of sunshine. They latch on to another crew member, and use him as the means to catch the others. The Doctor’s attempt to get Donna out of harm’s way goes wrong, and so we are once again left with a cliffhanger ending.
"Silence in the Library" is a welcome return to form in what has been a rather lacklustre series with storylines bordering on the ridiculous. Once again, as he did with the Weeping Angels in "Blink" and Jamie in "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances", Moffat plays on the primal human fear of the touch of the unknown, the unseen menace in the shadows and the darkness, and in my case, skeletons. It works much better than the six foot wasp in the previous episode.
As Moffat has now taken over as producer from Russell T. Davies, let us hope that we are treated more frequently to Moffat’s superior storytelling and greater sense of what really brings fear to the human mind.
However, if your children were reluctant to go to a library before, "Silence in the Library" is hardly likely to change their minds.