Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Jared Reviews Silence in the Library

Not that I really want to.

This was a cataclysmic disappointment for myself, as I saw it some time after Mad Larry's review, which I thought was just another symptom of him apparently smacking his self-destruct button and throwing himself into a weird blog-battle against Moffat with dual Dodgy Argument Pistols blazing. I did not consider for a moment that it was anything more than the latest in his strategy of "You thought bagging out Blink was bad? YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHING YET!!!"

I didn't imagine for a second that he could actually have made some good points.

And it came at the worst possible time. Hot on the heels of The Unicorn and the Wasp, IMHO one of the season's best triumphs which I loved so much it had me utterly convinced that this series WOULD be a classic one as a whole even though you'd need to overlook the last three episodes to admire it properly, and written by Steven "God" Moffat, whose three previous scripts (Including The Empty Child, damn it!) were brilliant pieces of Doctor Who, in some cases even being the only good thing in the season. THEN the news that Moffat is the new producer!

"Oh my giddy aunt!" I cried joyously "Now the Scottish Tarrant-head is off his leash, and we shall see what wonders he has planned!"

Actually watching the episode left me in the metaphorical gutter, chugging metaphorical brandy wrapped in a metaphorical brown paper bag and mentally gearing to cope with the oncoming 16 year 'hiatus'.

Okay, the future won't be that bleak. But Jesus Christ, when it comes to producing your hands-down lamest script EVER-

... close enough.

Now, rather than relaxing in the warm glow of the doubtless cheery future prepared by Steven Moffat, I'm afraid of endless stories where the Doctor uses and discards women who die sad and lonely, not having to put any effort into doing anything because his future self has already solved every fucking minor problem in his life and because the Big Boss doesn't want to bring back old monsters he'll spend his time mumbling about table-monsters and sunbeam-monsters while the camera gives us theoretically 'threatening' shots of these inanimate objects, the SFX-budget being funnelled into Moffat's outrageously large pornography fund and Murray Gold working himself to an early grave to keep it vaguely threatening.

Oh, God, Bottle, dear friend, where are you...

A Show about Nothing

Recently afte watching The Sontaran Stratagem with my mother I have come to a shocking conclusion - Silence in the Library (Possibly the whole story, though I have not yet been arsed to watch all of part 2..) is worse.

"But Jared, you toerag!" you scream "You gave TSS a piddling 3/10 and claimed it was irredeemable shit simply for a lot of semantics about UNIT/Sontaran characterisation and that boring science stuff that only you care about!"

My you have crystal-clear remembrance. That's true. BUT my mum loved it. This doesn't instantly mean that that episode is good, but it means that it is not as utterly irredeemable as I made out - none of the stories flaws were truly superficial, and as it was it followed the trad 'invasion of Earth' formula to a t, a formula that exists because people like it.

What I'm get at here is that TSS works if you just disengage your brain and want some trad fun, something that I probably should have noticed as I own the DVD of The Visitation, arguably the most Trad story ever televised. (Though I also owned a copy of Nightshade, which some say is the most Trad story in any medium and was unable to make it past 20 pages...)

This is a quality that Silence in the Library lacks utterly, because it's script is oddly aimless, and an element that feels like it should be the subplot (ZOMG THE DOCTOR'S GOT A WIFE!) is treated like it's the main plotline, the shadow monsters don't appear for an incredibly long time and even when they do their role in the story remains elusive (Hell, I have no idea what the idea is..) and there is faaar more dialogue than action, most of it dedicated to River Song.

So, because of the lack of action and any, directly apparent, purpose to the plot you can't switch the brain off and go with the flow. And if you switch your brain ON ... you'll probably be disappointed unless you're one of two types of fan:

a) People who think onthiological paradoxes are the single cleverest story-telling device ever and thinks they need to appear in ALL stories after watching Blink.

b) Squee-junkies beyond the point of no return.

A good test for how coherent a story is holistically, is to try and explain the general premise to somebody who knows nothing about it, and count the number of times you pause before or after saying "And".

Say, for example, explaining The Fires of Pompeii, I'd probably say...

"The Doctor arrives in Pompeii and loses the TARDIS when Vesuvius is about to erupt.. and finds out that soothsayers are making microchips"

Fairly simple, hmm?

Then, trying this for Silence in the Library, just a moment ago...

"The Doctor gets a call on the psychic paper to go to a library to meet this archaeologist who's probably his future wife... and then they find it's filled with air-pirahnas that hide in shadows... and there's a little girl in the library... and she watches them on TV in a house as well... and Donna gets trapped in a prison that's just like a poorly-written TV show for some reason.. and I didn't didn't really get it..."

"Yes, I know who you are"

This time there's no timecaps and acerbic comments, because I was unbelievably bored watching this - like it was the TV version of Scaredy Cat, probably the most generic and forgetable BF ever - that I didn't find enough to comment on every ten minutes, let alone every ten seconds. However I did scrawl a note or two down and key among them was:

"You've seen me before then?" has to be the most idiotic line of the Doctor's even to be written. HOW can he not have worked out that River Song knows him by this point? She's made direct references to his appearance about a half a dozen times, has a diary shaped like a TARDIS and is treating him like her bitch. Makes the Doctor shouts of "I'm THICK!" seem very, very good foreshadowing.

And then shortly later:

Oh, wait, scratch that - "You're screwdriver - it looks exactly like mine" OH RLY?!?

Quite odd that this is the writer who keeps referring to the Doctor as a god-like entity on the show, now making him unable to spot the most blatantly obvious things imaginable...

I guess it's also quite odd for a writer who talks quite a lot about the importance of never talking down to children, because the treatment of the River Song character seems utterly ridiculous, and seems to verge on contempt for the audience. Well, not really, but I've got a short temper for shows that feel the need to explain anything twice and in this case it really is inexcusable. Though it's rarely at the forefront of the show time travel is at the very least one of the biggest themes of DW and is commonly used as a plot device - it's an unavoidable part of the show and all of the audience will know this. We must assume that those who watch regularly have some form of imagination to deal with this (certainly the fans do) and can imagine some of the things that happen in time travel.

From the very first appearance of River Song, the audience will know that she knows the Doctor and that the Doctor does not know her. They will assume "He hasn't met her yet" - bingo. For reasons that elude me, Moffat seems to think that the reaction will be "wtf my brain canot cope wit this who is this slut?!/?" and, furthermore, that the Doctor's response will be a Colin Baker in regenerative crisis style "Alien spy sent to kill me! Prove your identity harlot!!!!" Which is REALLY puzzling.

It's certainly odd that in none of the television stories that I can remember the Doctor met somebody who had met him beforehand (scratch that, I just remembered The Shakespeare Code HAHA!) but it seems... well, beyond bizarre, shall we settle for 'fucking off the planet?'... to assume that the notion has never crossed the Doctor's mind.

What's really painful is that the Doctor refuses to even to begin to accept River Song's story in spite of the fact that, hey, it makes perfect sense and the idea that she's LYING makes no sense unless we assume that... well, that Balthazar and the Valeyard have put a hit out on him or something and the Doctor's ultra-paranoid as a result.

And THEN, once River Song has explained all this shit to the Doctor using flipcharts and a powerpoint presentation, Donna needs it all explained to her as well. Sit down and tell a fucking story!

River Song is the Doctor's Wife no returns you Slaggathors

Some people on IMDb claim that there is nothing in the script to suggest that River Song is anything specific, let alone the Doctor's wife. At least on OGer suggested that she was, get this, the Doctor's mum. Okay, I can sort of grasp the logic of that aside from the fact that it clearly comes the 8th Doctor in one of the worst bits of writing ever and then he makes it clear that he knew his mother. And this casts a very nauseating light on the romantic picnics that the Doctor and River Song have apparently had.

So, anyway, to occupy myself I have decided to write down a list of all of the reasons to assume that River Song is the Doctor's future wife, as an incredibly high proportion of fandom think that people like me are complete morons for assuming the case and that there is nothing 'romantic' about their connexion. Here we go.

1) River Song's very first line to the Doctor - "Hello, sweetie".

Not a good start for their case, is it?

2) In her third line she is asked how she knows the Doctor isn't an android. Her response is "I've dated androids - they're rubbish" Probably the clearest reference yet from Moffat that the Doctor has had sex.

3) "Thanks"
"For what?"
"The usual - for coming when I call"

Observant people will note that not even with SJS is there this level of familiarity. In fact, in that case there is considerably LESS familiarity. Note that here River Song is incredibly casual - most of the companions we have seen recently, including Martha and Rose with whom there is more than an implicit relationship, continue to see the Doctor as a mix of Scooby Doo and Santa to paraphrase the bloke who tossed this episode off, and yet she is treating the Doctor like an equal. Not even Charley Pollard, in her most poorly-written, has quite done this.

4) Her very next line - she sounds AMAZINGLY pissed off about the Doctor 'pretending' not to know her.

5) Picnic. River Song remembers a particular picnic that she has had with the Doctor. Very fondly.

6) Note her seeming near-heartbroken tone when she realises that the Doctor doesn't know her.

7) Rules of the relationship... seriously, do I need to even list this out? It's all for people so stupid they should have been strangled at birth anyway...

8) "Oh god I know that man... we go way back, that man and me..."

9) "Snap" - she's adaopting catchphrases of the Doctor. Or, specifically, a catchphrase that he only ever uses when encountering different versions of himself. Stories about which he wouldn't relate to just anyone given their massively confusing premises and embarassing nature to him personally. Furthermore, the only other companion to do this is Rose Tyler, whose mutual love for the Doctor is explicitly presented on screen.

10)"I don't give my sonic screwdriver to anyone..." This is the big one. The response "I'm not anyone!" is far more important, though.

11) Oh for... "You're bickering like an old married couple!" Extreeeemely long look between them. "Doctor... one day I'm going to be someone you trust COMPLETELY." You think this is subtext you WEIRDOES??

Five Empty Space-Suits

I haven't mentioned any characters other than River Song. There's a good reason for that - there really aren't any. Few stories have characters that feel as cipher-y as this one. It's like the idea of including two characters with the same name is so novel that there's no need to give Proper Dave and Other Dave any real personality; I can't remember the American Tom Girl's name at all, just that she gets all of the 'old space-hand' lines; Lux is the typical bureaucratic arsehole who exists solely to annoy the Doctor and occassionally obstruct him; and Miss Evangelista... sigh.

Miss Evangelista is a remarkably bad bit of characterisation, and I can't help but wonder what Moffat is trying to do here. She feels like she's out of a sitcom. A very bad one. She's the pretty girl who is stupid, knows that she's both pretty and stupid, and makes jokes about the fact that she's pretty and stupid. Possibly there's meant to be a message about not making fun of stupid people, I don't know, but I couldn't take the character seriously for a moment. I mean, come on, "My father told me that I had the I.Q of planckton and I was pleased"? Surely if she was THAT stupid she wouldn't know what an I.Q or planckton WAS??

Good to see the actress putting in the effort that the role requires and playing it as a ridiculous caricature. Good on you. You know if you did it decently The Moff would get all the credit.

Air Pirhanas... I don't need to add a joke to that do I? Seriously, air pirhanas..

One funny bit in this episode for me, and it's purely in a post-modern sort of way - the Doctor's request for the crew to 'look very, very scared' and their nonplussed expression parallels the reactions of myself, Ewen, and Lawrence Miles to this entire story so very well...

It tries very hard to be scary. But it present us with a silly idea, that oddly feels far more like something designed to scare kiddies than sapient statues even though it also makes more sense - invisible air pirahans that live in shadows. YAWN.

Not much is done with the idea because they oddly seem to create their own shadows through the powers of magic and don't actually need to move through shadows to eat the crewmembers for unexplained reasons.. in fact the Vashta Nerada act a lot more like a disease than a race of anything. And the explanation that they exist all around the Universe, along with the suggestion that they have somehow also been the Doctor's single greatest fear since day one but, for some reason, he's never mentioned them until now in the 800 odd years of he travels that we've seen and heard...

Okay, a bit of "If *I* Had Written..." action right now. The Doctor magically knows about the Vashta Nerada so he can give it all to the audience in one massive info dump and tell us why we're meant to be scared, thankfully adding even more dialogue to a script that is already rotten with it. But let's imagine he didn't. And that Vashta Nerada is a disease rather than a race. Evangelista gets infected, the Doctor can't diagnose it and he's lost track of the TARDIS so he needs to use the library to diagnose the problem - the entry that they're looking for has vanished off the electronic record so they need to trek to the pathology wing, carrying Evangelista as they go - the Doctor notes how dark it's getting and Lux can't offer a good explanation. They find the area with the book, the Doctor's looking for it, hears a strange noise, gets curious, keeps looking - then Donna finds Cal and calls the Doctor over. While he's gone Proper Dave finds the book on Vashta Nerada and grabs it - BAM! Screams everywhere and he falls to the ground as a heap of bones.

"What the hell was that?!?"

"Vashta Nerada"

"What IS that?"

"I've got no idea.. but we know what it does..."

Hey, it works for me.

Hang THIS!

For the record, bloke at the last convention who said that the New Series was better specifically because of better cliffhangers, THIS is why we laughed at you.

A skeleton in a spacesuit moves incredibly slowly, shouting "HEY! WHO TURNED OUT THE LIGHTS?!?" over and over again while Donna's face superimposed on what looks like a foam oyster says "Donna Noble has left the library, Donna Noble has been saved"

It's like he came up with two phrases that he knew weren't half as good as "Are you my mummy?" and thought, hang on, if I add these two together and repeat ad infinatum it will HAVE to work! No.

It doesn't help that the cry of "Hey, who turned out the lights?" which was probably meant to sound terrified and terrifying actually sounds like the six words in question read out in a recording studio in a monotone and badly clipped, and becomes very, very annoying if looped endlessly. And the fact that cliffhanger just goes on and on and on. Yes, somebody is walking towards them. I get it.

As before, not going to rate on the first part. But here's a hint - it's not going to be 10/10.


IMDBer Response: [Riversong] didn't imply she knew him when slightly older, she said alot older.....when did the doctor look alot older??? When the Master aged him into the worlds smallest oap.... could River song be the masters wife...cant remember her name... or the master herself....female hand picking up the ring anyone?

Lunchbox Admirer Response: I thought that was an awfully low tech looking lunch box for the 51st C. You think that they'd at least look as high tech as the space suits.

Sparacus' Baffling Response: I thought the Doctor's comment that time travellers like himself laugh at archaeologists was very out of character. The Doctor would never dismiss an important and complex discipline such as archaeology with such a dig (pardon the pun).

The comment would have made more sense if the series actually contained some episodes where the Doctor actually travelled back in time to solve archaeological questions , such as the purpose and cultural context of Stonehenge for example.
Also Ben Chatham, an archaeologist, has travelled with the Doctor and is respected by him. Benny Summerfield also works in this field (pardon another pun).

(The fact that he's since started saying that the comment indicates that the Doctor HAS met Ben is quite amusing..)

Stater of Bleedin' Obvious Response: River's book looked like the TARDIS

Alan Stevens Response: Bagsy I submit it to Fucktard's say the Darndest Things.

(Oh, the irony. And yes, that's been taken out of context..)

Behind the Sofa Response: Aside from the thoroughly effective wee beasties, a lot of what makes The Silence In the Library work is the setting. I'm not talking so much about concept of a planet-sized library (which I also think is brilliant) or The Mill's flashy spectacle of design (which is spectacular), but about the rooms in the library. There's just something about the musty old rooms, the vast shadow-filled spaces, the sunbeams, the tall narrow stacks of books...maybe there's just something naturally creepy about libraries, but the location shooting on the episode is one of the best things about a mostly-excellent whole. If I hadn't already been hooked by that line from the trailer and the words "Stephen" and "Moffat" being attached to The Silence In The Library, I would have been by the pre-credits sequence.

(Remarkable that somebody who respects Moffat's work so much should still be unable to spell his name..)

Paraphrased Lawrence Miles Response: Oh? What's that? You didn't like The Book of the World you fecal-stained cretinous wastrels? WELL I DON'T LIKE YOU! The stage directions are too long??? I'M CREATING A UNIVERSE! It fucking took Your Almighty seven days to build one to house your lard-arsed dyspeptic personage, so EXCUSE ME if I should take more than the fifty words used by RTD to say "It's in a warehouse. Oh, aren't I imaginative???" And by "Your Almighty" I mean God, rather than Steven Fucking Moffat. Oh, yes, that name had to come up, didn't it..

Now I don't want to sound like I'm reaching for somebody to blame all my troubles on, but I think it's important you know that Steven Moffat is the prick who introduced me to alcohol, which destroyed my entire life and is coincidentally the direct influence over my Unquiet Dead post, the 'piss Blink in my sleep' post, and... shall we say The Book of the World? Yes, it's directly responsible for The Book of the World's terrible characterisation. BASTARD!

And now HE'S going to be producer! He should give the fucking job to ME all the hardship he's put me through. And then he goes and writes this fucking library story... ooh, yes, shadow creatures that eat you in a library, girl talking to the Doctor through a television, that makes sense! THIS COULD BE SET IN A CAVE FOR FUCK'S SAKE!!!

Bob Marbury Response: Don't know if I missed something but what was scary about it?

David A. McIntee Response: 'twas mysterious and spooky, and has some nice guest-shots (albeit pretty one-dimensional in Alex Kingston's case: it's pretty obvious who she's going to turn out to be, or at least who were meant to think she'll be. Folks who remember certain bits of disinformation from the JNT era will get it at once, and the casual viewer about ten seconds later.

Sensible Response: Somehow a skeleton in a space suit zombie-walking and saying 'Oh, it's a lovely day, isn't it?' sounds even scarier than one saying 'who turned out the lights?'
...Or maybe I'm just weird.

Next Week: River Song does her Benny Summerfield impression, but can't grasp the charisma factor...The Doctor demands to know why he's being `shipped with a forty year old version of Melanie Bush... Avon's cousin taunts little girls... a flashback to the Doctor laying it on the line to Sparacus after reading his "Series 2 finale"... the Doctor decides it's serious enough to begin using culinary similes... the target audience screams out for this crap to be switched off... River Song is STILL not dead... Tom Baker brings the wind-fan from Keeper of Traken into Eve Newton's home, only to be disappointed to see she hasn't got a skirt on... the Doctor shoots down the idea of re-enacting Monsters & Mazes in spite of the library's perfectly dark atmos... Moffat seriously expects us to care about what three letters we briefly saw on a computer monitor will be revealed to mean...

1 comment:

Youth of Australia said...


Yeah. What can I add to that? Seriously. It honest to god feels like the Moff said to RTD "Right, here's the plot for Forest of the Damned" and was forced to make it a two parter with about five minutes' notice, so he hastily shoves random shit like "Doctor's wife" and "big library" and "parallel afterlifes" into it.

In Confidential, the writing side and Moffat discuss only a few things -

* everyone in the production team are freaks who are scared of libraries
* they only agreed to this story because they found an abandoned library to film in
* Moffat created the whole character of River Song as a postmodern metatextual gag - she's from the future and she says Doctor Who gets much, much better now the Moff is in charge
* He put more thought into chopping off Donna's face and welding it to a passing statue than the 'evil shadows' stuff. And that's what MOFF says, not me.

Frankly, it was more interesting and entertaining for the bit where we see, in between takes, DT and CT challenging the entire cast to games of poker and DT doing a happy dance when he wins five games in a row thanks to his "Time Lord Poker Face". In the background, CT silently points out she won SEVEN games in a row.


Nah, SIL don't work for me. But I guess you knew that.