I went back and watched my favorite two episodes of Doctor Who yesterday (Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead) and something caught my attention. The Vashta Nerada are intelligent as a swarm in that they can assimilate knowledge from a living being (as when when they take over the consciousness of the expedition team), but at what point were they actually the Library itself?

At the end, the Doctor tells them 'you are the biggest library in the Universe, look me up' (paraphrased) at which point the Vashta Nerada in the suit coming for him stopped and responded "You have one day."

How did they have the ability to look through the knowledge in the books?

  • I rewatched it to make sure I didn't miss anything, which made about the twentieth time I have seen it, and still couldn't figure it out.
  • The only answer I could come up with it the knowledge from the people they "assimilated" allowed them to read, and as a swarm they could read the entire Library in a short amount of time... but that doesn't even make much sense to me.
  • Thanks in advance for any insight and sorry if this question is redundant, I looked and couldn't find anything like it.
  • Thanks for the input everyone. From the answers received, the conclusion seems to be that the Vashta Nerada were using the Neuro Links from the suits and possibly throughout the Library to scan the Library database, and as such could "quick search" any topic. Being that they were a sentient swarm, any knowledge that was gleaned from one part of the entity was relayed to the whole. This helped me out a lot, and now I enjoy the episode even more!
    – Dragus
    Jan 14, 2013 at 5:05
  • Books are nothing more than the written knowledge of people, and the Vashta Nerada had assimilated an entire world full of the universe's best & brightest librarians. I just assumed that they had the accumulated knowledge of all those librarians in them.
    – Omegacron
    Apr 23, 2015 at 19:22

3 Answers 3


According to my closed captioning, the quote is "You're in the biggest library in the world, look me up."

He's assuming that they can access the library's data in the same way that anyone else can. Given that they've been able to communicate with him via the "possessed" humans, and manipulate things like the space suits, I would guess they could use the indices and read books like anyone else.

  • Thanks for this, I'll make sure to turn CC on next time :)
    – Dragus
    Jan 14, 2013 at 1:39
  • I wouldn't take it as gospel, it's frequently wrong, but the CC version of the quote does make more sense :)
    – KutuluMike
    Jan 14, 2013 at 1:42
  • It is a correct quotation in this particular instance... Jan 14, 2013 at 2:07
  • Another partial line I misheard was "It's a world. Literally a world. The whole core of the planet is the index computer, biggest hard drive ever. And up here, every book ever written. Whole continents of Jeffrey Archer, Bridget Jones, Monty Python's Big Red Book. Brand new editions, specially printed. We're near the equator, so... (he licks his finger then lifts it up to feel the wind) this must be Biographies! I love biographies!" The part about it being an Index computer... the things that fly by when I listen lol... Yeah, now it is a bit easier to grasp how it might have happened.
    – Dragus
    Jan 14, 2013 at 4:59

If I do a search in my library's catalogue, I get links to electronic resources (ebooks, databases etc) as well as physical books. Most (if not all) physical items have a short description, table of contents, chapter headings, or similar. So even without ebooks I can get an overview of a subject pretty much without opening a physical book. Obviously if I want proper understanding or in-depth study, I will need to study further, but a quick search is enough to find basic information, and point me in the direction of more sources.

(As for looking in physical books, they are shown as being able to affect physical things - the chicken, the shredded suit, moving the skeletons in the suits.)

I believe the Vashta Nerada could have gleaned enough information about the Doctor to make them at least pause and give him more time - or did they give themselves more time to research him?


Though individually relatively harmless, the Vashta Nerada were sentient when sufficient numbers of them were collected together. In the Library, there were thought to be a million million strong and were sentient enough to use the Neural Relay and Data Chip technology in the suits of the explorer/scientists they killed earlier.

Since the technology for the Neural Relay is of a "point and think" variety and was able to be linked up to the library, which was also using a similar technology, it can be presumed the Vashta Nerada used their connection to the library through the Neural Relay and Data Chips to peruse the library and discover any information about the Doctor.

  • This makes sense to a point. I guess the episode really never said anything about the books being in the system as data and I assumed they were all just print and bound. The Neural Relays being connected to the Library's interface is something I hadn't thought about as well.
    – Dragus
    Jan 14, 2013 at 1:33
  • 1
    Our modern libraries have both printed books and data archives of information. A library in the 50th century should surely have as much in its digital domain as it does in print. Jan 14, 2013 at 1:59
  • Think of it this way. They were microscopic creatures, so opening a book probably wasn't going to be an option for them. Since they could move and manipulate the suits, and use the voice systems, in a limited fashion, the Doctor figured it wouldn't be much of a stretch to access a mentally-controlled library function in a similar manner. Jan 14, 2013 at 2:09

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