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14 June 2008 @ 08:26 pm
Doctor Who: Forest of the Dead  
I've found it difficult to adequately put my thoughts together on the Moffat two parter. It contained lots of elements I enjoyed and many I admired but, at the end of the day it never all came together into a satisfying whole. I've delayed writing this review because of an obscure feeling that I should have enjoyed it more than I did. I even went so far as viewing it a second time in the absence of children, but if anything the second viewing revealed flaws not apparent on the first. I've also, contrary to my usual custom, read several reviews in order to try and piece together what I think about it.

One of the main things I wanted to pick up, second time round, was exactly what the Doctor was intending to do with the computer at the end. I've watched the expository scene four or five times now and, frankly, Tennant gabbles. This may be that the dialogue really is just technobabble, a string of computer words, "memory space", "download", "reboot" strung together without telling a coherent story. This is a malaise common to New Who but not one I associate with Moffat's writing. I think the incoherence about the mechanics of what goes wrong with CAL and how that is fixed is central to one of the most peculiar phenomena associated with the story that I've picked up from reviews. Those of us steeped in Who lore, particularly perhaps, the New Adventures Virtual Reality of the month novels, thought it was entirely obvious from early on in Silence in the Library that the little girl was in some kind of virtual world and most of us assumed that she was CAL in some way, shape or form. However it seems clear that many casual viewers were entirely confused by what was going on. This includes my mother, who is hardly a newcomer to the world of Doctor Who and Science Fiction, who asked me to explain who the little girl was. In general in fact, despite much praise for Moffat's "technical excellence", I thought this the least cohesive of his plots. Ideas, characters and settings came and went but they were often held together by technobabble and some moments that should have had a dramatic driving force, for instance Donna's discovery of the unreality of her world, turned out to be more expository than causal. Well obviously, it appeared to trigger CAL's breakdown in some way, but dramatically you felt it needed to make Donna do something to resolve the situation rather than CAL do something to worsen it.

I was also, ultimately, disappointed by River Song. Possibly this is just because she wasn't Bernice Summerfield but in the end I couldn't really see what was supposed to be so special about her. She actually did very little except sacrifice herself. As a debut story it didn't showcase her strengths and it really needed to do more if, as many suspect, she is being set up as a recurring character. But Alex Kingston was excellent in the role and brought out the best in Tennant's acting. In fact the performances were generally excellent all round, particularly Jessika Newton as Anita, making the most of her short scene in the spotlight.

To continue with the more positive aspects, this was another story not afraid to play with the big SF concepts, even if it somehow fumbled the exposition and its refreshing to see Doctor Who becoming confident enough to try being a little more ambitious in this regard. Donna's side-plot was mostly beautifully and affectingly played although I thought Tate made rare mis-steps whenever required to "forget" or "remember". I did question, however, whether effectively half an hour's acquaintance, even shored up with a slew of invented memories, would really create any genuine effection. I also liked the idea that, for once, the monster takes the Doctor's compromise solution and doesn't throw it back in his face but it did seem a little inconsistent in tone - last week the Vashta Nerada were an inarticulate force of nature, this week they're negotiating with the Doctor.

Ultimately this was a story full of excellent ideas, great performances and beautiful moments. But somehow it nevertheless contrived to be less than the sum of its parts.
daniel_saunders: Doctor Whodaniel_saunders on June 14th, 2008 10:24 pm (UTC)
Those of us steeped in Who lore, particularly perhaps, the New Adventures Virtual Reality of the month novels, thought it was entirely obvious from early on in Silence in the Library that the little girl was in some kind of virtual world and most of us assumed that she was CAL in some way, shape or form. However it seems clear that many casual viewers were entirely confused by what was going on.

Interesting. I also thought the girl was somehow CAL, and I have indeed read about two-thirds of The New Adventures, although I did avoid the more cyberpunky ones. I think I pointed out the similarities to various Philip K. Dick novels in my own review, so general SF-literacy could be the issue.
louisedennislouisedennis on June 15th, 2008 07:30 am (UTC)
I think it required literacy in a specific branch of SF. My mother may not be a huge SF fan herself, but my father read a lot of hard SF, at least in the 50s and 60s, not so much by the time I was growing up but I've read my parents' book shelves. She also raised two SF fans. So I'd expect her to be pretty good at picking up SF tropes. But Dick aside (and there wasn't any Philip K. Dick on the family bookshelves for whatever reason) the whole VR strand really took off after my sister and I left home and my Dad had stopped reading fiction in any real quantities and, judging by comments elsewhere, the whole VR thing was completely opaque to anyone not familiar with that particular genre.
louisedennislouisedennis on June 15th, 2008 07:32 am (UTC)
Incidentally, sorry for not leaving any comments on your stories and recent reviews. I'm feeling a little overwhealmed by stuff at the moment and any blog stuff that requires significant thought is getting pushed down the pile (hence the lateness of this review).
daniel_saunders: Doctor Whodaniel_saunders on June 15th, 2008 12:04 pm (UTC)
No need to apologise. I have found myself commenting on blogs less and less recently too. I'm just flattered you think my writing requires "significant thought".
(Deleted comment)
louisedennis: doctor wholouisedennis on June 15th, 2008 08:11 am (UTC)
I decided in the end that it had to be something like that but I couldn't actually find a bit that explicitly stated that, essentially, the addition of Donna had overloaded the system. It might have been in the gabble somewhere but I think its a detail you have to make up to get the whole thing to hold together.

I also I interpreted the whole "saved to the hard drive" bit as implying they'd been saved to non-volatile memory, but you're right the whole thing makes a lot more sense if you assume the Doctor just says "saved to the hard drive" to imply the general concept to those around him and they are actually all stored in some form of volatile memory.
sophievdennis on June 16th, 2008 01:03 pm (UTC)
I hadn't picked up that the addition of Donna was what overloaded it. I assumed it was just an "over time" thing. Hence why the Doctor was summoned to the library at that point to help.

The RAM/Hard-Drive thing I interpretted as being that while they were stored on the hard-drive, but in order to be restored to physical life, would had to be processed in RAM of which CAL didn't have enough.

Alternatively, the gods of flange may have been involved somewhere.

Going back a thread or so, I think you're right that this requires an awareness of parallel universe SF, whether the cyberpunk virtual realities of the late 80s/90s, or its precursors in Philip K. Dick or Alfred Bester. Dad, I sure, had neither on his shelves. Modern 'casual' viewers would be likely to be literate in this kind of set up through films like 'The Matrix' (which of course Mum will not have seen) or the various Gibson/Dick adaptations.
louisedennislouisedennis on June 17th, 2008 09:12 am (UTC)
I think the Doctor was summoned by River Song because she was leading the expedition and thought she'd need his help. Of course, the timing of the expedition might have been because the Lux chap knew the computer needed a service, it was entirely unclear.

On the screen, the problem was apparently caused by Miss Evangelista explaining the set up, but it was implied that CAL had had this explained to her before without over-loading so *phzzt*.

I'm probably being too computery here. But IIUC (which I possibly didn't because of the gabbling) the solution was to reboot CAL, the problem was you couldn't reboot CAL without losing the people in memory. If they were on the hard drive then they'd still be there after CAL was rebooted.

I agree about the gods of flange.

The matrix thing is interesting. Lots of Dr Who geeks are reporting confused girlfriends but these are confused long-term girlfriends (astonishing as that may sound) so presumably these poor women have had the Matrix inflicted upon them as well. Of course familiarity with this sort of fiction might be why I didn't think the Matrix was particularly profound, deep or ground-breaking. I guess if you found the matrix mind-bending then Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead's much more matter of fact assumption of VR may have appeared opaque. It's quite a feat, in a way, to do something which is criticised as being both mind-numbingly obvious and unnecessarily complex and opaque - it suggests there was something equivalent to a genre jargon being used.

Edited at 2008-06-17 09:13 am (UTC)