HEY, WHO TURNED OUT THE LIGHTS?… Spoilers….
Let’s begin with one of the creepiest double-header episodes of all time. Oh, not of Doctor Who. Of freaking anything.
The man behind Silence In The Library/Forest of the Dead, Steven Moffat, (now producer of the show), has form. He created the Weeping Angels, the gas-masked child, the clockwork robots. In short, he knows how to unsettle an audience.
Silence in the Library starts with a sweet little girl in a child psychologist’s office. (Already the fear factor is up. We’ve all seen The Sixth Sense). She describes her dreams to the doctor- Doctor Moon. She has a library in her mind, her very own safe place, and there are people in it.
Who else but the Doctor and Donna?
Back in the library, the Doctor explains that this is the universe’s biggest ever library, where every book ever written is stored. It’s so big it takes up a whole planet. But something is wrong. The library is empty. Completely empty.
Then arrives a crack team of archaelogists, including a descendant of the Lux family, who founded the library, and River Song. The Doctor doesn’t know River, but she sure knows him. (During filming, David Tennant purposely wasn’t told what River’s connection to the Doctor was, so his confused look throughout is genuine). She calls him ‘Sweetie’ and carries a blue notebook which she won’t let him touch, because of the ‘spoilers’.
Turns out the library has been closed for 100 years as it’s infested with Vashta Nerada, carnivorous creatures which live in the shadows of forests and got in through the books. The Doctor casually assures Donna that there are Vashta Nerada on earth in small quantities. After all, sometimes people just… disappear.
And the only way to stay away from them? Stay out of the shadows, and if you see a person with two shadows… run!
It’s not long before the crew start dropping like flies. First to go is the ditzy Miss Evangelista, who is thoroughly ignored and disrespected by everyone except Donna. She’s stripped to her skeleton, but due to a communications device which continues to work in the minutes following death, we can hear what her consciousness is experiencing. Just because flesh-eating shadows and dark empty buildings and psychologically disturbed children wasn’t horrifying enough.
And then it happens. They get Donna. Or do they? Because as the information point repeats ‘Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved.’ That and the post-mortem mantra ‘Hey, who turned out the lights?’ of Proper Dave, now just a skeleton in a spacesuit, finish the episode. And the viewers slowly rock back and forth in horror.
But then we see Donna in a new life. She’s been through years of therapy to help her forget the man called the Doctor- none of that was real, surely- is married to a lovely man called Lee and has two adorable children. Except… sometimes she finds herself somewhere without having any recollection of getting there. Her life is a series of flashes, of scenes, and she fears for her sanity.
To me, this was probably the eeriest aspect of the whole episode. Donna slowly comes to the conclusion that her reality is not real, aided by the remnants of Miss Evangelista, who turns up at a playground dressed in Victorian black mourning dress, gloves and veil and all. Because we really don’t need to see her face…
And it turns out Donna’s children are not real, just figments of her and Lee’s imagination to get them through their storage. That scene where she frantically scrambles for the kids in their empty bed, well, I’m still not the better of it.
It turns out Donna has been saved to the computer’s hard drive, along with the thousands of others who were in the library at the time the Vashta Nerada struck. None of what they see is real. None of what the little girl sees is real. Because she is the computer, a Lux child named Cal who had a terminal illness. She loved the library so much her family converted her mind into the library’s hard drive, gave her her own Doctor Moon, a satellite to check for viruses and such. But Cal is overloaded with all the souls she has to keep safe, and she’s going to blow. The Doctor makes a bargain with the Vashta Nerada. If they allow the prisoners go free, the library will be theirs. They agree, and the Doctor prepares to hook himself into the computer terminal, aware that this will probably kill him. At the last moment River whips out the handcuffs, knocks the Doctor out, ties him up and plugs herself into the computer instead. (Damn you River. Seriously, my already corrupt mind did not need a handcuffed David Tennant in it).
Free, the patrons return home. Donna, who has just the worst luck, wonders if Lee was real. Lee, who has a stutter, calls out, but is teleported before he can properly articulate her name. Meanwhile, the Doctor uploads the remnants of River and her fallen comrades into the computer, giving them a sort of half-life in the Library. But we definitely haven’t seen the last of River Song. It just happens the first time she meets this Doctor is also the last…
You might be forgiven for thinking we get a nice light-hearted romp through space and time after so much creepiness. And you’d also be forgiven for thinking, at first, that this is what ‘Midnight’ is. The Doctor and Donna land in a resort planet called Midnight, which is totally hostile to life, apart from all the man-made hotels and such. The Doctor goes on a tour to see some sapphire waterfalls, while Donna decides to chill by the pool.
The Doctor sabotages the spaceship’s nightmarish entertainment system (momentarily showing us a screaming Rose Tyler) and forces the passengers to actually talk to each other. All is fine and dandy until we hear a bang. Something is crashing into the ship. Something is knocking. Something has got in.
What unfolds is an episode of unrelenting claustrophobia and tension. At first the passengers think a creature has overtaken a lone passenger, Sky Sylvestry (according to Russell T Davies, Sky, distraught at the end of her marriage, intended to kill herself at the falls). She is crouched with her back to us, shivering, and naturally we expect something horrible when she turns around. But Sky is the same. Her expression however…
The Doctor intends to talk her around. Hey, he can finish off Daleks, negotiate with Vashta Nerada, how hard can this be? But soon Sky (or whatever is controlling her) is playing a sinister version of the Shadow Game, and is learning to imitate the Doctor exactly. Whispers begin to fly around, and the talk turns to throwing Sky off the bus. The Doctor tries to intervene, but soon the other passengers begin to turn on him. Ever so subtly, Sky starts to speak before the Doctor, and her possession moves to him. Now it’s the Doctor they want to dispose of, egged on by the seemingly recovered Sky. Things look desperate for him, he is frozen and unable to do anything apart from repeating Sky’s words, until the hostess of the tour notices that Sky is using some of the Doctor’s catchphrases. She wrestles her, and they both fatally leap from the bus.
The Doctor, now recovered but totally shattered, and with the other passengers wait for a rescue bus to arrive. No-one bothered to learn the name of the hostess, something which upsets the Doctor even further. He returns to the hotel, and tells Donna he will advise the company to leave the planet and never return. Even when Donna tries to crack a joke, he remains rattled. Perhaps he remains rattled for the rest of the season.
It’s even more admirable to think that Russell T Davies, a man with a love for flash, bang, wallop (he flew the Titanic within an inch of Buckingham Palace for feck’s sake) wrote one of the most straight up psychological episodes of the series. You can imagine this premise on stage, and indeed, it allows Tennant, who’s Shakespearean trained, to really stretch those acting chops.
Even more impressive, we never see the villain. Is there even a villain? Is it all an effect of paranoia and mob mentality? It’s here, as well, that the Doctor, usually so idealistic about the human race, gets an insight into what many of us Earthlings already know. Humans, when they are at their worst, are the most horrible creatures in existence. As he knows the Time Lords are capable of some pretty disgusting acts, what’s left for him now to believe in?
Donna, that’s who. But what if he never met her?
The episode ‘Turn Left’ doesn’t start too promisingly. The Doctor and Donna visit Chinatown, I mean, the planet Shenshen. Donna goes into a fortune teller, who is extremely aggressive and asks her what was the turning point in her life. No. Really. Donna. When would you have not met the Doctor?! Because we really want to do an alternative history episode! Not only that, she sticks a cockroach on our heroine’s back. All of which would have me demanding back my two hundred yuan.
It turns out it all hinges on whether Donna, in her car one morning, had turned left and started a new job in HC Clements, meeting Lance and the Racnoss, or listened to the ever-nagging Sylvia, and gone right to start a new job with some mate of hers.
It’s a wonderfully shot (oh, that simple, yet effective motif of the flickering LED arrow representing Donna’s life choices) slice of dystopia. Because if Donna hadn’t met the Doctor, he would have drowned in his murderous rampage against the Racnoss. Without the Doctor, things go very bad indeed.
Donna is back to her abrasive old self- it’s most jaw-dropping when she argues about office supplies as the news shows thousands of people dying- she receives a winning raffle ticket from a mysterious blonde girl with a habit of disappearing, meaning she is out of London when the nuclear-engined Titanic slams into Buckingham Palace.
It gets darker. The family are evacuated to the north of England, where they are forced to live in cramped conditions with dozens of others. They make the best of the situation, but when the government begins rounding up foreigners and the stars begin to go out, Donna realises she can stand no more. She goes with the blonde girl, who tells her she will have to die.
As Donna lies dying (long story), Rose- who else could the mysterious blonde be?- whispers two words for her to remember in the other timeline.
Two words which are everywhere as soon as Donna utters them to the Doctor. Bad Wolf.
And come on, who else could it be only the Daleks? And this time, they’ve essentially kidnapped the Earth and another 26 planets to build some kind of ultimate doomsday device. Oh, they are scamps, those Daleks. And what’s this? Davros, their creator, who has probably died more times than the Doctor himself at this stage, is back. And he’s even more disgusting, having used bits of himself to create all the new Daleks. Like I said. Parents, make sure counselling is covered in your health insurance before letting your adorable tyke watch this.
Because all this is a bit unnatural, the wall separating the universes collapses, meaning Rose is back and so is Mickey and Jackie. Billie Piper gives an oddly subdued performance, only flashing that big smile when the Doctor reappears. It sounds like she has been doing a bit of Bella-like pining and unsurprisingly the new kick-ass Mickey is no longer her patsy. The scenes where Harriet Jones reunites Torchwood, UNIT, Sarah-Jane (but not Rose, who is at Wilf’s. He’s not allowed a webcam because they’re naughty) and sends a signal out to the Doctor is very special. And so is witnessing a TARDIS as it should be flown, by six, not one.
Remember that hand that the Doctor lost way back when? The hand that has already saved the day? It’s not done yet. After receiving a glancing blow from a Dalek, he channels his powers into it, to avoid regeneration. And then of course, when Davros tosses the Donna-containing TARDIS into the incinerator, it just so happens it breaks and creates a sort of Donna-Doctor hybrid. Who looks exactly like Ten. And conveniently is a human with one heart only. And conveniently fancies Rose.
So the Daleks are vanquished, the earth and the other planets return home, Mickey decides to stay on our earth, the Doctor and Donna deposit the Clone Doctor in Bad Wolf Bay with Rose and Jackie. And of course the new Doctor and Rose get together.
Perhaps it’s my cynical nature, but can no-one else see Rose getting bored with this version when he can’t whisk her off to distant planets? When they have to get jobs, pay bills, fight temptations from pretty secretaries and handsome personal trainers? And just how much of Donna is in this double? And can’t you just see Rose throwing the ‘you aren’t even real line’ around in an argument?
Anyway, it’s all too convenient for my liking. Rose and the Doctor being separated by worlds- now that I could believe. This is too… romantic.
And finally, to the fate worse than death suffered by Donna Noble. She is now Doctor-Donna as the Ood predicted and boy is she enjoying herself. She knows where she wants to go, because she has Time Lord knowledge in her head. It just so happens she gets a little stuck at times. Exactly like an old record player.
Humans and Time Lords are not meant to mix (possibly why the Doctor extricates himself out of all those romantic situations) and Donna’s mind is becoming overloaded. The only way to save her life is to wipe all her memories of her time with the Doctor. All of it.
Which is just as heartbreaking as it sounds. He returns her back to Sylvia and Wilf (the expression as he lifts her, unconscious, from the TARDIS is painful to watch). Donna can never remember him again. If she does, she’ll die. He leaves, not before telling Sylvia to treat her daughter better, and says goodbye to Donna, now back to her pre-companion shallow self. Worse again, she hardly acknowledges him as he leaves. She’s rude, abrasive, shouty and superficial again. Rose was right; the Donna who was the Doctor’s companion is dead. As I said earlier, Donna gets a raw deal.
And with that depressing thought, let’s follow the Doctor as he embarks on his solo travels. They won’t be uplifting either.