Just saw this slightly later than planned and don’t really have time to post in detail but…
I was trying not to have unreasonably high expectations of this one. Fortunately it exceeded my unreasonably high expectations.
Loads of things to like, listed here in brain-dump format:
* The off-beat opening and the slightly surreal little-girl interludes.
* Playing around with the Doctor’s personal timeline. Alex Kingston is great here because she’s classy enough that you can believe she has a future relationship with the Doctor. Always assuming it’s not a huge misdirect and she’s actually eeevil.
* Making the everyday creepy – in this case the shadows. Looking for shadows that don’t quite belong is really unsettling, and the idea of them as a swarm of shadowy piranhas is nasty.
* The sense of unease generated by the early part of the episode is tangible, especially the matter of fact, slightly humorous, slightly macabre journal entries delivered through the library access point. Very post-Lovecraftian.
* The data ghost – a really unusual, really effective sequence. Combining this, Donna and the 4022 saved message it’s now pretty apparent what’s happened, but still very inventive stuff.
* The Library setting: beautiful, strangely Asimovian, well-realised. I wasn’t quite so keen on the concept of a future library involving physical books. As with the future Agatha Christie book (which this segueways neatly from) I don’t quite believe it. I’d love to believe it, but I’m not sure I do. It doesn’t really matter, though, as the library setting is lovely, timeless and evocative.
* The classic Who trope of the isolated expeditionary force out of their depth and under seige, reminiscent of ‘Tomb of the Cyberman’ and countless other episodes. You can’t go wrong with this, and there’s enough inventiveness surrounding it to stop it feeling hackneyed.
* Clearly something Bad is going to happen to Donna. If we didn’t know it before we certainly do now.
In short: me like.
EDIT: In many ways this episode is a conglomeration of elements from past Moffat stories: the two disparate environments which are somehow linked, the strong romantic interest for the Doctor, the elegant threat that will scare small children, the jumbling of timelines. Fortunately it feels like more than just a riff on past glories. (And if we’re to have episodes that are reminiscent of past ones, the source material here is more worthy than Who’s normal riffs on its tried and tested forumla.)
It’s absolutely criminal that this episode got the show’s lowest ratings for ages, due to the tripe that is Britain’s Got Talent sucking everyone’s brains out of their ears. I know the episode is repeated several times uring the week, but not on BBC One so I doubt it can make up for the loss. It’s particularly annoying since it’s part 1 of 2 meaning that a segment of the viewers won’t be able to fully enjoy part 2. Grrr.