This very scary two-part episode, written by Steven Moffat, introduces a tremendously important character to the series: Professor Dr. River Song. Moffat wrote the story after being promoted to head writer of Doctor Who from series 5 onwards. An early version of the library itself was introduced by Moffat in his 1996 short story "Continuity Errors", the first Doctor Who story he ever wrote.
True to Moffat form, the episodes were nominated for a Hugo award, but they lost out to a certain sing-along blog.
Silence In The Library was broadcast with a special warning to parents: don't let your kids watch it late at night.
Somewhere in a very ordinary house, a little girl has schizophrenic visions of a library: huge and beautiful and—best of all—just for her. That is, until the Doctor and Donna show up. The little girl's father and her therapist (Dr. Moon) try to make sense of it all.
The Doctor's psychic paper has brought him to the biggest library in the universe, the size of a planet, and it's unsettlingly empty. Also, there's a little -x- kiss in the psychic message. But bio-scans claim that the library is not actually empty at all, so where is everyone? And where's the little girl? And why is a robot with a human face telling them to count the shadows?
The Doctor spots a security camera, and uses his sonic screwdriver to scan it. The little girl screams in agony at the sound. The Doctor realizes that the camera is sentient, and he and the girl have a rudimentary conversation through its display. Both are quite confused at this.
A team of 51st century archaeologists show up, one of whom, Professor River Song, knows the Doctor very well. Though what kind of connection they have is not revealed... yet. She greets him with a loving "Hello, sweetie!", then appears a bit miffed when he doesn't return the sentiment. River is mysterious, but definitely not a Mysterious Waif: she's mature, snarky and able to take care of herself.
The little girl has watched much of that on her TV, even briefly talking with River and the Doctor through her screen.
River pulls the Doctor aside to catch up and compare diaries, to see how their personal timelines are at the moment. The Doctor just stares at her blankly. Actually, David Tennant just stares at her blankly, because Steven Moffat refused to tell him what was going on. River is appropriately horrified when she realizes that the Doctor has never met her. To him, this is their very first meeting. To her, he looks too young, too inexperienced, too happy. He's not her Doctor yet.
No time to dwell on that, though, as the library is infested with flesh-eating shadows. Vashta Nerada. They're not every shadow... but they're any shadow. They live on any planet that provides meat. Yes, including Earth.
River Song turns out to have a sonic screwdriver—but not just a sonic screwdriver, the sonic screwdriver!
The shadows kill one archaeologist, Evangelista, stripping her flesh and leaving only a skeleton. The sound system in her protective suit is linked to her neural pathways and echoes her voice long after she's died, which is appropriately terrifying. Another is killed, with the Vashta Nerada animating his suit and chasing everyone else through the blacked-out hallways.
Dr. Moon asks the little girl's dad if he can talk to her alone for a moment. Because he needs to tell her something very important:
"The real world is a lie, and your nightmares are real."
The Doctor tries to teleport Donna back to the TARDIS, using the teleporter in the library's little shop. But she is yanked out of existence—screaming and mid-teleport—to take her place among the library's robot servants with real people faces.
- Adventurer Archaeologist: River Song and her crew.
- Apocalyptic Log: The messages on the computer at the beginning.
- Book Ends: When we first meet River Song, she's in a futuristic space suit. When we first meet (series six spoilers) River, she's in an Apollo Space Suit.
- Brainless Beauty: Evangelista.
- Comm Links
- Continuity Nod: "Squareness gun!"
- Steven Moffat has confirmed that it's Jack's gun, left in the TARDIS at the end of Series 2.
- Conversational Troping: The Doctor and Donna discuss how Time Travel can lead to Spoilers about life.
- Creepy Monotone: "Run. For god's sake, run. The library has sealed itself. We can't. Oh. They're here. Agh. Slaugh. Snik. Message ends. Please switch off your mobile comm units for the comfort of other readers."
- Cutting the Knot: The Doctor is trying to figure out how to get a door open with his sonic screwdriver ("It doesn't do wood!"). Donna just slams into it, knocking it open.
The Doctor: Nice door skills, Donna.
- Darkness Equals Death: Quite literally.
- Did I Say That Out Loud: Donna is visibly bothered when she realises she thinks the Doctor is attractive.
Doctor: Oh, I'm pretty boy!
- Distress Call
- The Ditz: Miss Evangelista.
- Don't Ask, Just Run: Several times.
- Foreshadowing: The crash of the Byzantium is mentioned.
- Also, the Doctor warns Donna not to read the books in the Library, because they might contain spoilers for her life. Thanks to Donna's actions in the finale, she is most definitely in those books.
- Enforced Method Acting: None of the actors (and only very few of the crew) knew who River Song is supposed to be. David Tennant's confusion is genuine.
- Ghost Ship: Well, ghost planet-sized library.
- Have We Met Yet?: River appears to know the Doctor very well, but the Doctor himself doesn't know who she is (yet).
- Hypocritical Humour: The Doctor berates Lux that he doesn't want one man's pride to kill everyone in the room. River points out "Then why don't you sign the contract?". Then she admits she hadn't signed hers either.
- Late to the Party: Both played straight and subverted. The Doctor arrives 100 years too late to the Library, but also arrives too early, since River had expected a later incarnation of the Doctor to show up.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Spoilers!
- Living Shadow: Trope Namer!
- Locked Out of the Loop: Steven Moffat didn't tell any of the actors (and only very few of the crew) just who River Song is. David Tennant had no idea how to act opposite her, to great effect. On the DVD commentary, he says that he had the Doctor assume she's a future regeneration of him, because even though that made no sense, it made more sense than anything else he could come up with.
- Madness Mantra: "Hey, who turned out the lights?" "Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved."
- Magical Database
- Mind Screw: The whole girl in therapy / Doctor in the library flip-flopping.
- No Name Given: "The girl" and "Dad".
- Nothing Is Scarier: Dammit, Moffat...
- Not Now, Kiddo: Miss Evangelista getting blown off when the panel opens up.
- Oh Crap: "I'm sorry. I am so, so sorry. But you've got two shadows."
- "The real world is a lie, and your nightmares are real."
- One Steve Limit: Subverted with Proper Dave and Other Dave.
- Primal Fear:
- San Dimas Time: Notably subverted, unusually enough for Doctor Who. You could usually count on everyone the Doctor meets remembering events in the same order; this is one of the first episodes to play with that.
- Serial Escalation: Scaring viewers into hiding behind the sofa was no longer enough. This is the episode that decides to scare them out.
- Single Biome Planet: Justified—it's a purpose-built artificial planet, so the biome is "library."
- Spooky Silent Library: Yet another trope that was inspired by this episode.
- Time Travel Tense Trouble: River has a bit of this talking about her history with the Doctor.
- Title Drop
- Too Dumb to Live: Miss Evangelista.
- Waif Prophet: The girl.
- Wham! Line:
Doctor Moon: "The real world is a lie and your nightmares are real."
- Whole-Plot Reference: Moffat is a big fan of The Time Traveler's Wife. River meeting the Doctor in the library very much echoes Clare meeting Henry in a library in said novel.
- Zombie Gait: A variation thereof.