Oh, the pressure. Not only is this Stephen Moffat’s first episode written since he was announced as the new boss creator person for the show, it also happens to have been given two weeks of build-up by the BBC press, and has one of the starriest casts that the show has ever featured. Amongst others, the names of Alex Kingston and Colin Salmon both appear in the cast list, and the script is one of the most ambitious that Moffat has attempted. The thing is… we won’t know how successful he’s been until part two.
It’s an ambitious episode, one that throws in so many different concepts at the same time that it gives you no time to breathe in-between them. First we get the idea of a giant deserted library which may or may not be part of a young girl’s subconscious, into which the Doctor and Donna march. We then see disembodied human faces used as computers, spacesuits that record your spirit after you die so you have an extra few minutes of life (and which enable your dead body to move even though you aren’t controlling it) and not forgetting the idea that stepping into the shadows means you’ll be eaten by tiny piranha fish of some kind. Stephen Moffat seems to be on a one-man mission to scare the living shit out of the nation. This is one of a few episodes that have got the highest warning ratings available by the television standards people (the other ones being his other episodes, actually), and it shows in the use of every terrifying image kids ever have rolled into one package. All he needs is for part two to have a portrait that comes to life, and this will officially be the scariest thing ever.
The episode does suffer in comparison to Blink, though, and it seems a little like Moffat’s scripts don’t suit the two-parter structure. There is a lot of setup here, which will no doubt pay off next week but for now feels like a lot of shuffling of pieces into place without any real movement made. The cast help, although Alex Kingston’s role is immensely annoying throughout. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a great actress, but so much of her role at the moment relies on her not telling us anything that you just lose patience with her. Over in the ‘real world’ sections of the story, where a psychiatrist (Colin Salmon, who never survives anything, so expect him to be offed next week) is evaluating a little girl who dreams about the haunted library where the others are all camped, was the more compelling aspect of the story, actually. I have to confess I’m getting a little tired of the Doctor (as, I think, Donna may be, judging from a few of her reactions) with his constant shouting and rushed explanations. I imagine that inbetween episodes Donna sits him into chair and gets him to slowly explain everything that just happened, because if I were in her position I’d be so lost right now. Incidentally, Donna gets bludgeoned with the anvil of foreshadowing this week, as Alex Kingston’s character specifically says that she won’t be with the Doctor much longer. Sigh.
I want to mention Steve Pemberton, the second of the three League of Gentlemen actors to appear on the show, because he can play obnoxious like nobody else but doesn’t get much chance to do so here. I’m hoping next week he gets to be a total asshole, or else his inclusion on the show will be a wasted opportunity. Much more entertaining was Talulah Riley, who played a dim-witted assistant and got some unexpected poignancy out of her redshirt death. The idea of the suit recording her last thoughts is a clever one, and made for two outstanding sequences. The library itself helps, being a great setting for a story and being so expansive that it makes a nice change from the cramped factories that the Doctor usually visits. The set design and CGI in the episode was used very well together, and added to the episode more than they took away. When the Doctor and Donna walked round the library at the start, the use of CGI to bring the world to life was staggering, because it was done simply, and not filled with details like flying cars or whatever. It was matter-of-factly, and thus worked better.
This was a good episode, really, but everything hinges upon how good next week is. The measure of a good first-part is if it makes you want to see part two, and this episode certainly succeeded in that. Hopefully Moffat can pay off on the (slightly weak, if I’m honest) cliffhangers he’s introduced here, and it’ll be a good indicator of how well he’s going to do when he’s writing half the episodes, like he will next series.
Episode Rating: B.
- Have you noticed that nobody says bad things about Tate anymore? She’s become part of the scenery now, nobody questions her presence, and I like that. Her scene where she flickers in the Tardis was the highlight of the episode for me.
- Did anyone see the picture the girl had drawn? It was of a blonde girl and a wolf…
- Alex Kingston is hot. Who do you think her character could be? Future companion?
- Line of the week: Riley’s disembodied last thoughts: “Ice cream, ice cream, ice cream”.
Next week: A flying Doctor! Those sonic screwdrivers can do anything.