Responding to a request to stop off there, our heroes materialize in the 51st century on the planet-sized book repository known as the Library and discover that the planet's populace is nowhere to be found, but there's little time to stop and ponder that mystery as the Doctor and Donna flee from an unseen and dangerous presence. Taking shelter in one of the Library's wings, the pair are soon joined by a crew of space-suited explorers, led by archaeologist River Song, who seek to discover exactly why the planet has been sealed off for the past hundred years. The Doctor warns the team to stay out of the shadows because they are infested by the Vashta Nerada, a microscopic species of carnivores that can reduce a man to mere bones in an instant, but once that warning is given the Vashta Nerada show up in search of supper and they are very, very hungry... (There's also a subplot involving a little girl's therapy sessions with a Dr. Moon but I can't really discuss that without giving things away, so I won't.)
The aftermath of the Vashta Nerada attacks leads to truly creepy results (see the above photo), providing a new kind of zombie and visually cribbing from SCOOBY-DOO, WHERE ARE YOU?
This story is quite compelling and will have viewers going nuts trying to figure out exactly what the hell is going on and just how the characters are going to get out of their no-win situation, but those answers will have to wait until the next episode.
Episode 9-"Forest of the Dead"
River Song tells it like it is. But exactly who the hell is she?
The Vashta Nerada are closing in and it's only a matter of time until the Doctor, Donna, and what remains of River Song's crew end up as Vashta Nerada shit, and there are still no answers as to the whereabouts of the Library's populace or exactly what's up with that little girl and her therapist, but the real mystery here is just who exactly is this River Song? She's clearly traveled with the Doctor, but she's from his future so he hasn't met her yet, a state of affairs that causes her not to answer the majority of his questions about how she knows him. It's also clear from something she whispers to him (to prove she's absolutely trustworthy beyond the shadow of a doubt) that their relationship was quite intimate, and when the Doctor can be as shaken as he is by her, that's really saying something. That said, I will say no more other than that this is a satisfying conclusion to the first part's setup, and I eagerly awaiting meeting River Song for the first time again. (I know that last bit reads as confusing, but deal with it. This is time travel, dammit!)
I'm sure you've gathered that I liked the enigmatic River Song quite a bit, and I bet you ER fans out there recognize her as actor Alex Kingston, who played Dr. Elizabeth Corday on the long-running NBC series for roughly seven seasons.
Believe it or not I've only seen one episode of ER after all the years it's been on but I knew Kingston looked familiar from somewhere, and that somewhere was the 2003 British TV film BOUDICA that ran in the States in 2006 as WARRIOR QUEEN on MASTERPIECE THEATER.
It was about as historically accurate as any given episode of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, but as long as it had chicks with swords it had my attention and it was certainly entertaining. But enough about chicks with swords, back to the Time Lord!
Donna wisely sits this episode out and enjoys the full spa treatment on the planet Midnight while the Doctor takes a four-hour shuttle to observe one of the planet's natural wonders, but since this is a DOCTOR WHO story things of course go awry. The shuttle breaks down and strands the Doctor and the passengers and crew in the middle of nowhere, and then the shuttle is menaced by a presumably evil and unseen presence. The presence tears off the cockpit, killing the pilot and ship's mechanic, then possesses one of the passengers and engages in some bizarre (though uninteresting) wordplay with the Doctor, during which the freaked-out passengers turn on the Doctor and decide to gang up and chuck him out of the airlock. The shuttle attendant instead grabs the possessed passenger and sacrifices herself by fling the two of them outside, vaporizing them instantly, leaving the Doctor and passengers to await rescue, after which the Doctor reunites with Donna.
If this sounds like a slapdash mess, it is. There is no explanation of or name for the presence, and it has no discernible agenda other than to scare the shuttle passengers. The incidental characters are all devoid of interest, and the episode's running time drags on aimlessly with no worthwhile resolution. Just like "The Doctor's Daughter," you can skip this episode and miss nothing of the season's connecting story arc elements, so I'd advise you to do just that.
Episode 11-"Turn Left"
When Donna visits a fortune-teller, she is mysteriously given a "do-over" for her recent life when her past self opts to turn right rather than left, a choice that leads to her never meeting the Doctor. As Donna's reality is re-written, the Doctor perishes following the events of series three's Christmas special — "The Runaway Bride" — , which sets in motion a domino effect of incidents from previous stories that would have been handled by the Doctor turning out as worst-possible-scenarios (Martha Jones and Sarah-Jane Smith die when the Judoon transport the Royal Hope Hospital to the Moon, the Adipose situation kills millions in America, The Sontaran ATMOS is never thwarted, the space-liner Titanic crashes and levels London, etc.). It only gets worse from there, and Rose Tyler keeps popping up, attempting to get Donna to come with her. But how the hell did Rose escape from the alternate universe, and what is it that she wants Donna to do? And just how was Donna's reality rewritten anyway? You'll have to watch it for yourself, bunky, 'cause I ain't telling! And if you're a Donna fan this episode is tailor-made for you.
I will say that this largely Doctorless installment is very well-written and Catherine Tate is really given a chance to show what she can do dramatically. Billie Piper's return as Rose is quite welcome (although her considerable weight loss only accentuates her Chavvy chipmunk buck teeth), and the maturation of Rose's capabilities is cool to see. And any of you who may have a phobia of beetles are advised to proceed with caution...
That's all for now, but I'll be back soon with a rundown on the two-part, guest-star-crammed series four finale!