Doctor Who: Rewatching Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead

Doctor Who: Rewatching Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead May 9, 2013

I recently rewatched the double Doctor Who episode “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead.” Having now seen so much of the later interaction between the Doctor and River Song, and having so many questions answered and details filled in, rewatching the episode where they first introduced River reinforces just how impressively the show has dealt with these two time travelers whose lives intersect out of sequence and sometimes in reverse order.

The episode hinted that River Song was the Doctor’s wife, and that was why she knew his name.  But there were other, even clearer hints, which I missed the first time I watched it. For instance, did anyone else notice the first time they saw “Silence in the Library” that one of the characters described the quarreling between the Doctor and River in terms of them squabbling “like an old married couple”? It was all very nicely done. The viewer is like the Doctor, struggling to make sense of this person who knows the Doctor but is not yet known by him.

There are a lot of other details in the episode that seem like they will tie in with what lies in store for the Doctor, and for viewers, as the current season reaches its end. A library is the setting of these episodes, and the TARDIS library is where Clara learns the Doctor’s name in the History of the Time War. Although that detail seemed odd and somewhat unpersuasive to me – why have a major secret displayed prominently in a volume in the TARDIS in that way – presumably it will turn out to have been an important plot detail in the overarching story.

The Doctor’s name is of course itself a major theme, and the show has been trying to get viewers to ask why the Doctor goes by that designation and what his story is. Not only by making that the “oldest question in the universe” and one that the Silence are seeking to keep from being answered, but also in “The Girl in the Fireplace” when the Doctor’s name is said to be “more than just a secret.”

And of course, “silence” in the title of “Silence in the Library” ties in with the “Silence” introduced later on.

If they actually reveal the name, in some sort of public way, that would mean a rewriting of history, since the Doctor has been to the distant past and distant future and his identity has never and nowhere been common knowledge. But of course, Oswin managed to erase all record of the Doctor, and so perhaps having his identity become less or more secret is something we are being led to expect.

One other connection with “Forest of the Dead.” Some have suggested that there might be a connection between CAL and Clara. Whether that is correct, “Forest of the Dead” ends with the suggestion that River is not really dead, as she lived on in the library’s computer – or is “within CAL’s mind” a better way to put that? And if so, could she ever manage to leave there and return?

Have you rewatched earlier Doctor Who episodes from the recent seasons? Do you feel like they have done a good job of creating story arcs and reflecting intersecting storylines for characters like the Doctor and River?


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  • Tim Webb

    Dr. McGrath, I haven’t seen the episodes that have aired this year (2013), so I read the start of your post and then skipped a bit

  • Marcus

    I’m about to start doing this and also re-watched this episode this week (I started from season 1 and will finish season 4 tonight). I’ve always criticized Moffat because I didn’t feel he tied lose ends up well, but I think I should mute my criticism a little bit for now. He’s still not the writer Davies was, though. But that’s ok. I still enjoy the show.

  • Just Sayin’

    As long as he keeps saving the universe from scary aliens, I couldn’t care less what his name is.

  • skinman

    I’ve gone back a couple of time to watch those 2 eps. And I’m now in the process of watching all of River’s episodes ( I may in fact be in love with River). There are some little things that don’t quite line up over time but nothing significant, clearly the result of trying to write a story-arc over several years.

    The 11th is my first Doctor and I was blown away after seeing River in Matt Smith’s first season only to find out that she had appeared with the 10th. That made me go back and watch all episodes since 2005 in order.
    Having done that I disagree with Marcus. I’ll take Moffatt over Davies anytime Not that I don’t like Davies, but what he did with the Master was almost unbearable. I do think that the time is ripe for Moffatt and Smith to move on. Who benefited from the last change and I think it will again when those two hang it up.

  • jackthewolf

    I just got done re-watching Forest of the dead. i believe that CAL and Clara are the same person because of two main reasons. First at the end she say “aren’t i a clever girl”. This sounded something like Clara would say since she said “run you clever boy” in the latest season. Another main point was when Clara went into the time vortex and she relived her past. In one shot it seemed that she was in the library. I looked at both shots and they both have the same building style. Check out the pictures below.

  • Huntington

    My new theory is that the Silence are the Vashta Narada, evolved in a new form–literally, they were the Silence in the Library. We never found out why the Silence were at war with the Doctor, but if they hate him for the events in the Library, and evolved to get revenge, that could be a reason, couldn’t it? They also could have made note of River’s strengths and resolved to create her and use her to kill the Doctor.