Spoilers for tonight's "Doctor Who" coming up just as soon as I take my daughter to the playground...
Due to a time crunch, I'm going to be briefer about this one than I'd like. The Steven Moffat-scripted episodes of "Doctor Who" are always special (though we'll see if he can maintain that quality when he's running the show in 2010 instead of parachuting in for one or two episodes a year), and there's a lot I could say about "Forest of the Dead" that I just don't have time for.
There were some complaints last week that "Silence in the Library" played a little too much like Moffat's Greatest Hits, with River Song's out-of-sequence relationship echoing Sally Sparrow from "Blink" (though the more obvious parallel was the one I made, to "The Time Traveler's Wife"), the Vashta Nerada as the new nanongenes, "Hey, Who Turned Out the Lights?" replacing "Are You My Mommy?," etc.
I don't know that "Forest of the Dead" is going to quiet that notion for the dissenters, as the finale -- with the souls trapped in the mainframe restored to their bodies and River and her dead crewmembers granted eternal life of a sort inside the repaired computer -- is very much in the "Everybody lives!" vein of "The Doctor Dances." (Even Moffat seems to have recognized that this is a pattern for him, and promised that there will be more permanent deaths once he's the showrunner.)
But in some ways, I compare what Moffat does to a great musician. There are enough recurring themes and stylistic elements in, say, a Bruce Springsteen song that you'd know it was one of his even if you put another singer in front of the E Street Band, but that doesn't lessen the impact of hearing the latest variation on the theme, because the innate craftsmanship is so good.
Take Donna's alternate life inside the computer. I've seen variations on this story before on other sci-fi shows (most famously "The Inner Light" from "Star Trek: The Next Generation," where Picard spent an entire lifetime and had many children and grandchildren in the space of a few real-world minutes), but the dream logic nature of that existence and Catherine Tate's performance as Donna began to realize that her kids weren't real made it feel like its own thing. And then Moffat went and gave the thing its own vicious kick by having Donna's computer husband turn out to be very real but unable to call out to her because of the stammer that he'd spent so much time establishing earlier in the episode. Take the size of the universe, multiply it by the number of eras that The Doctor can take Donna to on the TARDIS, and you have the odds of her ever running into her fella again -- especially since she doesn't even know to look for him. So cruel. So perfect.
Even The Doctor figuring out a way to save River (and to let her spend the rest of her days palling around with Proper Dave, Other Dave, Anita and the restored Miss Evanglista) wasn't quite the happy ending it initially seems. The Doctor did, after all, hand over ownership of the planet to the Vashta Nerada, so it's not like he can come and visit her whenever he's in a romantic mood. Obviously, he has the ability to go visit younger versions of River, and we know that he'll either seek her out or run into her again one day, but barring something incredibly clever, there will never be a moment in time where the two of them can be on equal footing in their knowledge of the other.
I really, really enjoyed this one. The Doctor opening the TARDIS with a snap of his fingers was practically worth the price of admission by itself, with all that it signified.
As always, a reminder: we're respecting the American broadcast schedule, so no talk, however vague, about things happening in episodes that have yet to air in America. Got it?
What did everybody else think?