« A Floppy Drive Plays The Star Wars Imperial March | Home | Charles Stross Interview In The Guardian »

June 9, 2008

Doctor Who - Silence In The Library & Forest Of The Dead

I've been trying to figure out what makes Steven Moffat's Doctor Who episodes better than the average, because yet again these were much better than the usual Nu Who episodes. Maybe not as brilliant as Blink, but still highly enjoyable with some great moments. It's tempting to say that Moffat is just a "better writer", but what does that actually mean? Why did I like these episodes more than others this series?

I think it's because he uses lots of ideas, not just the usual (high) core concept and a monster, but lots of others thrown in. To list them:

  • The library world. This is the core concept.
  • The shadow monsters (no, I'm not going to try and spell their name. This is the monster concept, and a good one, scary flesh eating shadows!

- for a standard episode, this is where it would stop, but these episodes also have -

  • The "ghosting idea" of souls getting trapped in the technology. This would be an episode on its own for other episodes. It's not exactly believable but provides the tongue-in-cheek repeated phrase scariness, and a touching moment when someone realises they are dead.
  • The virtual world idea, complete with Matrix hat-tip.
  • The Time Travellers Wife person from the future. Moffat, appears to be the only writer happy to play with time travel, which is weird considering it's what the show is about!
  • The faces of the dead as help files idea.

The extra ideas add an extra believable dense-ness to the episode which is very satisfying.

The Time Traveller's Wife, River Song, has already spawned a million forum threads and blog posts guessing her identity. Personally I hope she is just what she appears to be, a companion from the future. In Doctor Who Confidential, Steven Moffat said the idea was to be nostalgiac about the future, and that usually people say "it's not as good as it used to be", whereas he wanted to say "the best is yet to come" (paraphrase), he even said "as a person with an investment in the future of Doctor Who" or words to that effect.

Also seemingly unusual is that Moffat did something different with the second episode in the story. In most two parters so far the second episode is often no more than an extended ending / chase scene. In Forest Of The Dead a whole new story spins off, of Donna as Neo, living life in a virtual world. Obviously not a new idea, but nicely executed.

Plus (as if we needed any thing else!) there were a few moments of David Tennant doing full-on serious acting, and letting the quirky Doctor's mask slip. I particularly like the "I'm The Doctor, look me up" line and scene, and his decision about whether to read about his future.

I can even forgive my questions as to how all the people saved by the computer were turned instantly back into real human matter. Instant, quick grow clones? I don't care. I can forgive the fan-taunting repetition of the word "spoilers". I can even forgive the virtually happy ever after ending. Because I liked the whole thing. A lot.

One of the few episodes this season that is not just a thrill ride at the time, but is also a thrill ride thinking about after the event.

You can, as I type, still watch the second episode on the iPlayer.