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4.0 out of 5 stars 'Hey, who turned out the lights?!' - the Vashta Nerada and the planet Midnight, 6 Nov 2013
This review is from: Doctor Who - Series 4 Volume 3 [DVD] (DVD)
This is the third volume of Doctor Who stories from the fourth series starring David Tennant as `The Doctor' and Catherine Tate as `Donna Noble'. The DVD includes three episodes - a two part story and a single one parter. It's not the best selection of episodes I've come across, but certainly the first two episodes are worth the enjoyment.

`SILENCE IN THE LIBRARY'/'FOREST OF THE DEAD'

WARNING!!! SPOILERS!!!

This two part story is set in the far, far future in the 51st century, and it's a really scary story with the Doctor and Donna, written by none other than Steven Moffatt. And of course this story is particular for sowing the seeds for the Matt Smith era in place, but more on that later.

The Doctor and Donna visit the `The Library', a planet-sized repository for everyone to read books upon endless books. It's a clever idea and certainly an irony to provide a legacy of reading books since currently we're living through a technological age of iPads and Kindle books. But something is wrong. The library is empty and is deadly silent. Steven Moffatt obviously wanted to do a story about something scary when going to the library as you have to be silent when reading or studying. As the Doctor and Donna investigate further, they find the library overshadowed by a deadly force in the form of `shadows' called Vashta Nerada. Warned to stay out of the shadows, the Doctor and Donna make sure they keep standing in the light.

This story is notable for the first appearance of River Song (played by Alex Kingston) who later appears with Matt Smith's Doctor in various Doctor Who episodes. But of course here the Tenth Doctor doesn't know or hasn't met River Song before whereas she knows him already (too much for his and my liking). River Song is a mysterious woman from the Doctor's future, who has a diary in the shape of a TARDIS and has a futuristic looking sonic screwdriver from the Doctor, to which the Doctor is shocked at seeing. The Doctor is shocked by the presence of River Song, as he can't accept for who she is and wants to know what she is to him. When River finds that the Doctor hasn't met her, she's determined to not tell him anything from his future in case of `spoilers'. `Spoilers' is certainly a key word for these two episodes.

At the time, I found the idea of the Doctor meeting a person from his future very intriguing and interesting. As a casual viewer, I'm sure most of the audience would have got their heads scratched and found it rather annoying and frustrating to not know anything about who River Song is and about what happens in the Doctor's future. I certainly found it frustrating. And I suppose that's Steven Moffatt's way of trying to challenge the audience which doesn't always help.

River is an archaeologist and she leads a team of archaeologists to investigate the library. I found it rather funny when the Doctor tells River that he's annoyed and `points and laughs' at archaeologists. It reminds of a reference to `The Tomb of the Cybermen' when the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria came across a group of archaeologists.

This team of archaeologists include Steve Pemberton (who I've seen in `Under The Greenwood Tree' with Keeley Hawes and `Mr Bean's Holiday' with Rowan Atkinson) as Mr Lux, the funder for this expedition who's hiding a family secret connected to the library. There's also Talulah Riley (who I know from `Pride and Prejudice' with Kiera Knightley) playing the pretty but ignored Miss Evangelista; Jessika Williams playing Anita; O.T. Fagberile playing Other Dave and Harry Peacock playing Proper Dave. All six archaeologists in space suits share this adventure with the Doctor and Donna investigating this library. Some don't all survive. Some get eaten alive and killed. Some even get `saved'.

There's also Colin Salmon playing the mysterious Dr. Moon looking after a little girl played by Eve Newton who seems to be dreaming about the Library and has significant connection to it that the Doctor and company don't realise at first before they begin putting the pieces together. It was strange watching the little girl and wondering what her scenes meant and how they significant they were to the story. It was only until Dr Moon tells the little girl that her `real world' is a lie and that her dreams about the library exist and that she's the only who has to save the people in her library - the Doctor and friends.

The Vashta Nerada are pretty scary monsters. The idea of shadows lurking in the library waiting to latch onto the nearest food source for nourishment by touching a person's shadow when they step into it is very frightening and disturbing. And the fact they are merciless when they do this is even more terrifying. The moments when Miss Evangelista gets eaten alive and all is left is a skeleton in a space suit is horrific. I found it very moving when the Doctor and the others stood watching as Miss Evangelista went into `ghosting' and Donna talked to her at her request since she was nice to her.

The moment also when Proper Dave gets two shadows and is taken over by a swarm by Vashta Nerada that leaves him standing and his skeleton remains inside the suit was very creepy. It was very zombie-like when the skeleton in the suit walked towards the Doctor and the others ready to kill. The phrase it constantly repeats from Proper Dave's last words - `Hey, who turned out the lights?!' - certainly gave a shiver down my spine.

The cliff-hanger for this first episode of the story got me wondering and wanting to know what would happen next. Using a teleport, the Doctor tries to send Donna back to the TARDIS to be safe. However in transition, Donna gets caught in something deadly that takes her away before she materialises in the TARDIS console room. When he realises Donna's not in the TARDIS, the Doctor asks one of the info nodes where she is. When it turns its head around, it reveals the face of Donna repeating `Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved'. The Doctor is shocked, horrified and upset as he touches Donna's face coming to terms with the notion that she's dead.

He hasn't got long to grieve as the zombie skeleton in Proper Dave's suit turns up and chases the Doctor, River and the others about to kill them. With no way out, the Doctor and the others are trapped. I found it very disturbing as the Vashta Nerada approached Doctor and company repeating `Hey, who turned out the lights?!', along with Donna repeating the same announcement `Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved' looking emotionless and blinks.

As the second episodes begin, River manages to find a way out using her sonic blaster. Where or who she got that from is a mystery. The Doctor and others escapes as the Vashta Nerada chase after them.

Fortunately Donna Noble manages to survive. Where she was a mystery at first as she seemed to be in a sort of dream world where she at a hospital looked after by Dr Moon, meets a young man called Lee McAvoy (played by Jason Pitt) who's enamoured of her and can't say a word, both start dating together, eventually get married and have kids. All of this happens within the space of seconds - literally. Donna doesn't seem to know this yet until she has an encounter with the presumed dead Miss Evangelista, who wears a veil over her distorted face (that freaked me out when I saw her revealed by Donna) and is made clever by a computer system. Miss Evangelista is there to warn Donna that her `world is wrong' and all the pieces start coming together.

The Doctor still doesn't trust River Song doubting her validity of being someone special in his future and is afraid of the notion of it. It is only until River whispers something very important in his ear (whispers his name), that the Doctor at the moment trusts River immediately and is determined to save her and all the others from the Vashta Nerada.

The scene where the Doctor confronts the Vashta Nerada in `Proper Dave's' suit seems to be favourite of mine. The Doctor asks the swarm why it came to the library to hunt, and the Vashta Nerada replying saying they did not come since the library is their forests. The Doctor doesn't get it first until he realises that they came hatching as spores from the pages of all the books in the library. It was such a frightening concept where trees get cut down and people make pages out of the bark and wood for books and inside those pages are alien creatures waiting to spring out and attack killing people. It's a clever idea from the man Steven Moffatt himself and reminded me very much of all those lessons I used to be taught about trees from books at primary school.

Another clever idea running through is that 4022 people in the library has been saved by the computer system CAL when the Vashta Nerada attack. With no idea where to send them like an e-mail to another planet, the CAL system saves all the people in the library (including Donna) inside its computer core at the heart of the planet until it has the proper time to send them.

The reveal of CAL was pretty shocking and inspired. I won't give anything in case of spoilers - that word again - but it goes back to Mr Lux's family secret and that little girl who dreams about the library.

The Doctor has to persuade the Vashta Nerada to let the people of the library go and leave the planet so that they can carry on hunting in their `forests'. The swarm now inside Anita's spacesuit (who they gradually take over in the episode) unwillingly agree allowing the Doctor one day to do this. The Doctor tries to plug himself into the main computer in order to get the people out to provide more memory space for CAL. But River punches the Doctor and takes his place instead. She's determined not to let the Doctor die before he even meets her and not to let him `change not one line' of time's history. This allows for two minutes of a very emotional goodbye between the Doctor and River, revealing some interesting revelations about what is to come in the future of the series.

Managing to get everyone out of the library and sending people back, the Doctor and Donna reflect on previous events and become grieved with the people they loved and lost. They're tempted to find out what's inside River's diary to know about the future. But they resist in case of...'spoilers'. They leave the diary along with River's sonic screwdriver, and head off to have more adventures in the TARDIS. That is until the Doctor comes back and picks up the screwdriver, frustrated and wondering why he would give River that screwdriver in the first place. Finding a life sign of River's in the screwdriver, he immediately runs back down to the CAL system's main computer and plugs her in. There River's consciousness is brought back to life and she's inside the main computer living a `heavenly' sort of life, reunited with her friends Anita, Proper Dave, Other Dave and Miss Evangelista who were all dead but brought back to life by CAL to keep River company. It was a wonderful touching and kind moment and it almost brought me to tears. Steven Moffatt's determined to be kind to his characters in his stories, as `everybody lives'.

Just to say these two episodes have been wonderfully and beautifully directed by Euros Lyn. Euros has directed a number of Whos before this and would later direct the final David Tennant story 'The End of Time'. The sets for the library are spectacular and the location filming set in Roath Park brought an openly atmosphere and familiarity to such a contained story set on a planet in the far future.

This story is so cleverly written and full of inspired and clever ideas. It sets the scene for the future of the series when Steven Moffatt takes over as Head Writer and leaves wondering what lies next with the Doctor and Donna in their travels together and the notion of knowing we'll be seeing River Song again sometime in the future.

`MIDNIGHT'

There are certain `Who' stories that everybody else is bound to love and it's not just up to your tastes. I'm afraid to say on this occasion `Midnight' didn't do it for me. It's not my favourite episode of `Doctor Who'. For one reason or another, it didn't make me happy or satisfied.

I know it's a highly regarded episode, and fairdos it does what it sets out to do. Scare the living daylights out of you. It's well directed and brilliantly written by the man himself Russell T. Davies. But honestly, I found this one to be a downer. It's such a claustrophic episode and it's all happening in one setting and is rather depressing by the end. It starts off pretty well with the Doctor enjoying himself with a group of passengers aboard a shuttle ride, but by the end it's a story where there's arguing and bitter resentment against many of the characters. And it's also an episode where the Doctor loses, something which I don't particularly like. I mean okay it's brave idea and an interesting experiment to prove that the Doctor isn't always right and isn't invincible, but it's something I wasn't particularly happy with at the end.

Brilliant cast though. David Tennant's Doctor excels with such a range of emotions when he's trying to persuade the passengers to listen to him and they just don't trust him and he gets frustrated and scared. The moments when David's possessed by the Midnight entity are really frightening and unsettling. David definitely has worked his acting socks off in this episode.

There's also Lesley Sharp playing Sky Silvestry, who's absolutely terrifying to watch when she's taken over by the alien entity. The scenes where she's repeating what everyone says is very spooky and creepy. The moments where she's repeating the Doctor are unnverving. I did find it funny when they went `Cibil Dibble Bibble Dobble' or something like that. I'm not sure whether it's actually Sky being selfish and glad to be free from the entity now inside the Doctor or whether it's the entity actually using her body and the Doctor's voice to gets the passengers to listen to her. Whichever of the two it is, it's very unsettling and I found it rather hard to watch.

David Troughton is in this as well playing Professor Hobbes (who's also the son of Second Doctor Patrick Troughton and has appeared in `The War Games' and `The Curse of Peladon'). I've had the pleasure of meeting David recently at a convention in `Newcastle' who was really nice to chat to. The rest of the passengers are Ayesha Antonie playing Dee Dee Blasco; Lindsey Coulson playing Val Cane; Daniel Ryan playing Biff Cane and Colin Morgan playing Jethro (who to many is known as Merlin from the actual BBC series `Merlin'). There's also Rakie Ayola playing the Hostess who makes a big sacrifice in this story.

Catherine Tate doesn't appear much in this story, as she's only at the beginning and the end. Probably that's why I didn't like this episode since she wasn't in it, and her scenes are the ones I actually like in this story when she's talking to the Doctor, bantering with him at the start and comforting him towards the end.

With this story `Midnight', I was hoping for this to be an enjoyable romp of the Doctor and Donna exploring the holiday planet enjoying its luxuries. Sadly that wasn't to be and I felt it to be a let down with it all set in this shuttle interior.

So `Midnight' certainly has its good points in terms of its being well-cast; well directed and well-written. It's a psycho-drama that different terrifies and unsettles you. David Tennant certainly is brilliant in this. Many people regard this story highly, certainly Janet Fielding (who plays Tegan with Peter Davison's Doctor) does. And the music by Murry Gold is very terrifying in the background. But I'm afraid this is not a story I would want to watch again and again, and it certainly isn't my cup of tea. Certain fans will love this story, but it just isn't my thing sorry.

So this DVD contains the cleverest story written by Steven Moffat and the most frightening by Russell T. Davies. Not the best collection of episodes from the series, but certainly an enjoyable selection if you want to take a look.

The next story is 'Turn Left'.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Nov 2013 09:12:28 GMT
Timelord007 says:
This was a good adventure which makes me confused how Steven Moffat era a disappointment yet when writing for the RTD years wrote classics like this adventure, Empty Child,Blink.

Great in-depth review this one Tim, Again it's a very very detailed account of the story.

Shame that Moffat kept bringing back River Song as every apperance diminished her character somewhat.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Nov 2013 10:22:17 GMT
Last edited by the author on 8 Nov 2013 12:00:48 GMT
Tim Bradley says:
Yes I know. Under Russell T Davies, Steven Moffatt does wonders with his stories. Currently his shows are either very silly, too confusing or just not proper Who. Don't understand how this has happened.

'Blink' is the scariest Who episode I've ever seen.

I was very disappointed with the resolution of River later on as it just doesn't add up. And certain things in this story are not answered like the 'futuristic sonic screwdriver' which looks nothing compared to Matt Smith's green-lit one. River should come back less frequently now. Don't know where else this character's going to go now. Moffatt's obviously obessed with the character to keep bringing her back.

Glad you're enjoying this review. More to come.
Tim

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Nov 2013 09:18:34 GMT
Timelord007 says:
There a new 50th Anniversary trailer before Atlantis tonight mate.
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