Silence in the Library

195a "Silence in the Library"
Doctor Who episode

The Vashta Nerada spread their deadly shadows.
Directed by Euros Lyn
Written by Steven Moffat
Script editor Helen Raynor
Produced by Phil Collinson
Executive producer(s) Russell T Davies
Julie Gardner
Incidental music composer Murray Gold
Production code 4.9
Series Series 4
Length 1st of 2-part story, 45 minutes
Originally broadcast 31 May 2008[1]
← Preceded by Followed by →
"The Unicorn and the Wasp" "Forest of the Dead"

"Silence in the Library" is the eighth episode of the fourth series of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. It was first broadcast on 31 May 2008 on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). It is the first of a two-part story, followed by "Forest of the Dead", and is the second two-parter Steven Moffat contributed to the series after "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" from the first series.

In the episode, the Doctor—a Time Lord played by David Tennant—and his companion Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) land in the 51st century to visit the greatest library in the universe, encompassing an entire planet, but are baffled when they find it deserted. To the best he can determine, the library has been closed for 100 years so the arrival of a team of archaeologists led by River Song (Alex Kingston), comes as something of a surprise. They discover the Vashta Nerada, carnivorous creatures living in the shadows, are responsible. All they have is one warning—count the shadows.

The Hugo Award-nominated episode is also significant for introducing the character of River Song, who would go on to play an important role in future stories. A few days before the episode aired, the BBC announced that Moffat was to become head writer of the programme for the show's fifth series in 2010, replacing then-current head writer Russell T Davies, who held the role since Doctor Who returned to television in 2005.


The episode opens with a young girl being visited at her home by Dr. Moon. She tells him about the library she can see in her imagination. She becomes upset when she discovers someone is in her library, and watches as the Doctor and Donna burst into her room.

The story cuts to things from the Doctor's perspective. He and Donna arrive in the 51st century at a planet-sized book repository simply called The Library. The Doctor is responding to a summons from his psychic paper, but upon arrival they find the library curiously empty. The Doctor searches a nearby computer for information and is told that there are no humans in the library but millions upon millions of non-human life signs.

They come upon an information node that warns them to count their shadows, and then see the overhead lights in front of them turning off one by one. They run into an office where they encounter a floating security camera that reacts in pain when the Doctor probes it with his sonic screwdriver. They consult another information node and are told that the library sealed itself, but that it has been breached and others are coming.

Just then, a team of explorers led by archaeologist River Song and financed by Strackman Lux, whose grandfather originally built the Library, arrives. The team has come to determine why the library sealed itself 100 years previously. River acts like she knows the Doctor and has a diary with a cover decorated like the TARDIS with her. She reveals to him that it was she that sent the message to his psychic paper, and discovers that this Doctor is the youngest version of him she has met. Realising that he has yet to meet her, River refuses to divulge more information.

The Library's operation system appears to be connected to the mind of a young girl living in a 21st-century British household on Earth. When the Doctor attempts to access the library computers, the girl causes books to fly from the shelves. The events happening in the library appear to her as television shows. Dr. Moon visits the girl again, telling her that the library in her imagination is actually real and that her real world is a lie. He implores her to save the people who have arrived at the library.

Back in the library, the Doctor explains that they are surrounded by Vashta Nerada, creatures that appear as shadows to hunt. He notes that every planet has them but that they are usually in much smaller numbers and not as aggressive. He describes them as "piranhas of the air" - able to devour the flesh from any organism in a matter of seconds. To demonstrate, the Doctor tosses a chicken drumstick into a shadow, where it instantly becomes a bare bone. Miss Evangelista, Lux's somewhat ditzy secretary, is distracted by a door that opens and investigates it. She is attacked by Vashta Nerada, who strip her flesh clean to the bone at once. The Doctor and Donna learn that the team are wearing communication devices which can store their thought patterns even after death, and are disturbed to hear Miss Evangelista still talking but acting confused. As her pattern degrades she keeps repeating herself, until River finally switches off her suit.

The team is interrupted when they notice that their pilot, Proper Dave, suddenly has two shadows. The Doctor suggests using his sonic screwdriver to make the spacesuits more dense, and is surprised to see River using a sonic screwdriver that seems more advanced than his. They seal Dave in his suit but the Vashta Nerada still get in, stripping him to his bare skeleton. The creatures animate Dave's suit and use it to begin chasing after the others. The Doctor attempts to teleport Donna back to the TARDIS for her safety, but something goes wrong and Donna fails to materialise properly. As the team races away from Dave's suit, the Doctor is horrified to find an information node with Donna's face on it. The node tells them that Donna has left the library and been saved. The show ends on a cliffhanger as the Doctor is trapped by the approaching suit on one side and the advancing shadows on the other.


According to Steven Moffat, the squareness gun used by Song to help the party escape from the impending Vashta Nerada is intended to be the same sonic blaster that was used by Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) in the episode "The Doctor Dances". Moffat suggests that it was left in the TARDIS after "The Parting of the Ways", and taken by Song in the Doctor's future. The name "squareness gun" was coined by Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) in the former episode.[2]



Originally, the two-parter was scheduled to take place during the show's third series. Initially, Moffat had wanted to introduce the villainous Weeping Angels in the entry after seeing an angel statue in a graveyard whilst on a family holiday. However, after withdrawing from the writing of series three's first two-part story—Helen Raynor took over these episodes, writing "Daleks in Manhattan" and "Evolution of the Daleks"—Moffat volunteered to write the series' Doctor-lite episode and opted to use the Weeping Angels in what would become "Blink".[3] Later, during the fourth series, Moffat revisited his previous ideas. He felt that the library would be a "great setting" for Doctor Who that was not too exotic.[4] The character of River Song was originally created for the plot to make more sense. Moffat knew that the team of archaeologists would have to trust the Doctor, but that the Doctor's psychic paper could not explain and convince the team why he had appeared in a sealed-off library. Therefore, Moffat intended for the Doctor to know one of the archaeologists. Later, he decided that this idea was too "dull", and instead opted to have one of them know him.[5]


For the role of River Song, whom executive producer Russell T Davies described as "sort of the Doctor's wife", the production sought to cast Kate Winslet.[6] One of Winslet's first acting roles was in the BBC1 teen drama Dark Season, written by Davies. The role of River Song eventually went to Alex Kingston, known for starring in the popular US drama ER. On Kingston's casting, Davies said "I bloody love her!"[7] Kingston had been a fan of Doctor Who as a child.[8] Kingston did not initially expect her role to be recurring, only later learning that Moffat had always intended for Song to come back for return appearances.[9] Kingston enjoyed getting to play an unusual action hero female role, and praised the show for its variety of settings and opportunities "to relive one's childhood fantasies" playing with laser guns and wearing varied costumes from one appearance to the next.[8] In regards to having to speak complicated dialogue, she said that she had "work[ed] with a medical consultant on ER, who'd explain what we were saying, so I'd say it with a purpose and a truth. On Doctor Who, I've no idea what some of my lines mean!"[10]

Discussing her role alongside Tennant and Tate in her 2008 introductory episode, Kingston said, "We just clicked. I've done guest roles on other shows, but rarely have I felt such a warm bond."[11] About working with Kingston, Tate later said that, "I'm a huge ER fan. When you hold people in awe, it's almost a disappointment when they come in and they're utterly normal. But Alex isn't disappointing at all. She's such a lovely person."[10] Tennant was quoted as saying that, "Alex is terrific. When she's telling you stories about hanging out with George Clooney, you know she's pretty cool."[10]

Colin Salmon later played Salway in the audio play Wirrn Dawn.[12]

Daniel Peacock, the brother of Harry Peacock, who here plays Proper Dave, had previously appeared in the 1988 serial The Greatest Show in the Galaxy as Nord the Vandal.[13]

Filming and effects

Certain scenes were filmed at the Old Swansea Central Library in late January and early February 2008[14][15] and the Brangwyn Hall in Swansea, Wales.[16]

The presence of the Vashta Nerada were created with lighting managed by director of photography Rory Taylor. To draw the eye toward the shadows, they were deepened in post-production by visual effects company The Mill.[17]

Broadcast and reception

Release and ratings

Before the episode was aired, The Sun obtained a copy of the script and threatened to release it, to which Moffat responded: "'let them' – I’d like to see The Sun publish that many words in a day!"[18] As in 2007, the BBC pushed Doctor Who a week further due to their coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest 2008 which took place on 24 May. "Silence in the Library" was scheduled against the final of ITV's talent contest Britain's Got Talent and suffered in the ratings as a result. BARB's final figures recorded an audience 6.27 million when adjusted for time shifting. Britain's Got Talent was viewed by 11.52 million in comparison.[19] This was the first time since the series' revival in 2005 that Doctor Who did not have the largest audience share in its timeslot. However, the episode did receive an Appreciation Index score of 89 (considered "Excellent"),[19][20] the joint highest figure the new series had received to date, alongside "The Parting of the Ways", "Doomsday" and the following episode "Forest of the Dead". BBC Three's repeat of the episode was watched by 1.35 million viewers, almost double the figures for the equivalent repeat of the previous episode, "The Unicorn and the Wasp".[19]

Critical reception and accolades

The episode has received positive reviews from critics. William Gallagher of Radio Times labelled it the "best story so far" and was positive toward the character of River Song.[21] IGN's Travis Fickett gave it a rating of 9.2 out of 10, praising the setting of a library with books and "terrifically entertaining dialogue, one mind boggling concept after another, terrific character moments" between all the characters. However, he thought the concept of the Vashta Nerada were "a bit goofy", especially when they took the form of the skeletons.[22] Ben Rawson-Jones on Digital Spy gave "Silence in the Library" four out of five stars, praising the "wonderfully inventive concepts" of the Data Ghosts and Nodes as well as guest stars Kingston, Salmon, and Newton. However, his "slight criticism" was that some aspects were similar to other episodes Moffat had written for Doctor Who.[23] Richard Edwards, reviewing for SFX, gave the episode five out of five stars and called it the "best of the series so far". He particularly praised the fear instilled by the Vashta Nerada and the "intriguing parallel plotline" of the little girl.[24]

Den of Geek listed the cliffhanger for "Silence in the Library" among the tenth greatest of the show in 2011.[25] IGN named the two-parter the fourth best episode of Tennant's tenure,[26] as did Sam McPherson of Zap2it.[27] This episode, along with "Forest of the Dead", was nominated for a Hugo Award in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category, but lost out to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.[28] The episode won the 2009 Constellation Award for Best Script in Film or Television.[29]

British band Chameleon Circuit, composed of YouTube bloggers Alex Day and Charlie McDonnell among others, wrote a song about the episode entitled "Count the Shadows", and released it on their eponymous debut album.[30][31]


  1. "Programme Information, Network TV Week 23, Saturday 31 May 2008". BBC Press Office. 15 May 2008. Retrieved 15 May 2008.
  2. "River Runs Deep". Doctor Who Confidential. Series 4. Episode 9. Cardiff. 7 June 2008. BBC. BBC Three.
  3. "Ask the Execs: Angels and Arrivals". BBC. 21 August 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  4. "Steven Moffat interview 2008". Radio Times. BBC Magazines. June 2008. Archived from the original on 13 September 2008. Retrieved 25 March 2012.
  5. Wilkes, Neil (22 March 2010). "Video: Steven Moffat bonus cut". Digital Spy. Hearst Magazines UK. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  6. Davies, Russell T; Benjamin Cook (2010). Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale — The Final Chapter. London: BBC Books. p. 263. ISBN 978-1-84607-861-3.
  7. Davies, Russell T; Benjamin Cook (2008-09-17). "The Next Doctor". The Times (News Corporation). Retrieved 17 September 2008.
  8. 1 2 Zaino, Nick (23 April 2011). "Alex Kingston on River Song, Being the Doctor's Equal, and Steven Moffat's Plans". TVSquad. Weblogs, Inc. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  9. Collis, Clark (21 April 2011). "'Doctor Who': Alex Kingston Talks Playing the Mysterious River Song and Whether She'd Ever Pose Naked with a Dalek". Entertainment Weekly. Time, Inc. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  10. 1 2 3 "Alex Kingston Guest-Stars — Radio Times, 31 May 2008". Radio Times. BBC Magazines. 31 May 2008. Archived from the original on 13 September 2011. Retrieved 7 December 2009.
  11. "Alex Kingston on Doctor Who — Radio Times, 31 May 2008". Radio Times. BBC Magazines. 31 May 2008. Archived from the original on 13 September 2011. Retrieved 7 December 2009.
  12. "3.4 Doctor Who - Wirrn Dawn". Big Finish Productions. Retrieved 12 November 2011.
  13. "Doctor Who - The Classic Series: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy". Doctor Who - The Classic Series. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  14. "Shadow Play". Doctor Who Confidential. Series 4. Episode 8. 31 May 2008.
  15. "Walesarts, Old Swansea Central Library". BBC. Retrieved 2010-05-30.
  16. "Doctor Who – Fact File – "Silence in the Library"". BBC. Retrieved 9 June 2007.
  17. "Creating the Vashta Nerada". Radio Times. June 2008. Archived from the original on 13 September 2011. Retrieved 25 March 2012.
  18. Wilkes, Neil (1 November 2009). "Steven Moffat Talks 'Doctor Who' Future". Digital Spy. Hearst Magazines UK. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  19. 1 2 3 "Weekly Viewing Summary w/e 01/06/2008". BARB. 2008-06-11. Retrieved 2008-06-11.
  20. "Silence in the Library - AI and Digital Ratings". Outpost Gallifrey. 2008-06-02. Archived from the original on 31 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-02. |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  21. Gallgher, William (31 May 2008). "Doctor Who: Silence in the Library". Radio Times. Archived from the original on 25 August 2011. Retrieved 25 March 2012.
  22. Fickett, Travis (23 Jun 2008). "Doctor Who: "Silence in the Library" Review". IGN. Retrieved 25 March 2012.
  23. Rawson-Jones, Ben (31 May 2008). "S04E08: 'Silence in the Library'". Digital Spy. Retrieved 25 March 2012.
  24. Edwards, Richard (31 May 2008). "TV Review: Doctor Who 4.8 "Silence in the Library"". SFX. Retrieved 25 March 2012.
  25. Szpirglas, Jeff (2 June 2011). "10 classic Doctor Who cliffhangers". Den of Geek. Retrieved 25 March 2012.
  26. Wales, Matt (5 January 2010). "Top 10 Tennant Doctor Who stories". IGN. Retrieved 25 March 2012.
  27. McPherson, Sam (2 January 2010). "The Tenth Doctor's Top 5 Doctor Who Episodes". Zap2it. Retrieved 25 March 2012.
  28. Kelly, Mark. "2009 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form". The Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards. Locus. Retrieved 2009-03-20.
  30. Newitz, Annalee (14 November 2008). "It's Not Filk – It's Trock!". i09. Gawker Media. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  31. Chameleon Circuit (Media notes). Chameleon Circuit. DFTBA Records. 2009.
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