Doctor Who: 810 “In the Forest of the Night” Review
Reviewed by John Hussey.
Unfortunately another dull episode has fallen upon us which now makes it two weeks in a row where I’ve been disappointed in Doctor Who. This is a rare thing to happen for me as I’m usually extremely optimistic about the show and find the stories engaging and exciting and above all rewarding in its clever design. Doctor Who is without a doubt my favourite show of all time and has been since I was three years old but despite that I can’t change the fact that I’ve been disappointed of late.
‘In the Forest of the Night’ was by all means a clever concept and had me excited due to this somewhat magical idea of there being a forest in the middle of London. It created a fantasy feel to it, placing Doctor Who into newer territories of storytelling. Like with ‘Flatline’ though the disappointment came with the execution. The execution of an idea is crucial to whether the audience will love the thoughts of the writer, in the process understanding what they tried to get across onscreen, or the audience simply finds it poor in quality. For me I was hyped on the concept that the Earth was fighting back and invading us, something that is more terrifying because it’s not an outer invasion, nor is it an invasion of man, it’s an attack made by the soil in which we stand upon. I suppose a little part of me was hoping for the return of the Krynoids but this wasn’t meant to be sadly enough. At the very least I was hoping for an enchanting tale that fell into that cliché dark fantasy, with a massive reveal that the Earth is out to regain itself by invading the world of man. This is where the story took a turn for the worst.
Instead of the Earth trying to invade us it was discovered that it was instead trying to save us. This in a sense I could understand and found it a poetic resolution to the story but what I didn’t like was the false advertisement for the episode given by Steven Moffat. Earth wasn’t invading, far from it. So because of this I was a little mad at the outcome because it was a cop-out. I also don’t like it too much when there’s no real threat to the story. It makes the adventure rather bland and without any real sense of purpose because there are no variables to get in the Doctor’s way, nor nothing to cause him obstacles or harm. You’re just left with an adventure of mystery that doesn’t really go anywhere, making the story you’ve just watched pointless because there was no danger. In a sense the only danger made apparent throughout the story was the wildlife which in itself is a unique idea because it’s different. I quite liked the scenes concerning the wolves chasing the Doctor and Clara followed by a ferocious tiger.
The whole tree idea could’ve gone in a completely different direction but it was sad to see newbie writer Frank Cottrell Boyce play it safe essentially in order to appeal to children, which is what it felt like. With the children being a main part of the story you did get the feeling that the story was dumbed down and made extra friendly. Even the Twelfth Doctor’s harsh character seemed to have been toned down to appeal to the gentle nature of children which just seemed absolutely stupid. Maybe I’m a little dark at mind and expect to see Doctor Who go into harsh corners and really challenge itself with moral dilemmas and force the Doctor into frightening decisions. This was something I enjoyed about the Twelfth Doctor’s character and the writing so far, at least up to ‘Flatline’, but like I said this was all lost to a poor execution. The children could’ve been put into mortal danger and the Doctor may have been a bit sceptical over why Clara and Danny were so protective of them, making in his eyes idiotic decisions to save them from harm to which eventually makes him realise his wrongs. We could’ve had some more nice character development on our hands but it didn’t happen.
So, yeah, the tree thing really did make me question the point to this story. At least in ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’ I let off the trees being good because of it being a Christmas story and that their reasoning is understandable but in this case it was just a wasted opportunity. Another plot-point that fell for me was Maebh’s physic abilities. I found it wasn’t explained very well and left me confused by the end of the episode as to what her meaning was. It’s made clear that the trees connected to her but then it is later revealed that the trees had saved the Earth before in a similar way which made me confused as to why the trees would need her. Surely they would’ve saved the world anyway or did they use a physic child in the last two occurrences as well. Maybe I missed something, I don’t know. To me it seemed like she was simply a tool to unveil the events going on like the solar flare and the intents of the trees actions. Finally I don’t get how her sister was brought back at the end. All this was just bizarre writing in my eyes as I, a fateful fan to the show, was left confused, unconvinced and simply disappointed.
On the other-hand I can admit this story did have its good points, most notably the overwhelming performances of Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman who continue to shine as their respective characters. Capaldi once again delivered a share amount of wit, which added in a nice sense of humour. What was interesting was his new take on things to which revealed a more gentle and human side to his incarnation. This was put into play quite nicely towards the end when he declared that the Earth was his world too and didn’t want to leave Clara and the others behind. It was also great to see Clara’s change of character, seen within the previous story ‘Flatline’. Her inhuman nature really shone out throughout the story where she showed off lines of dialogue or actions that appeared out of character, developing the idea that she is following in the Doctor’s footsteps. Clara came across as uncaring at times and a little bit manipulative over Danny in order to keep the truth of her travels with the Doctor from him despite the fact she told him she was done. You felt sorry for Danny in many ways as he is a good person who doesn’t deserve deceit. Clara displayed dishonesty which made you start to question her character just as much as the Doctor’s. Like most companions before her she has fallen into the Doctor’s trap and has begun to leave her world behind in favour of his lifestyle.
The best scene of the story was where Clara told the Doctor to save himself and leave everyone behind. I think this was the point where she finally managed to ground herself again after witnessing what she was becoming, knowing too well she was betraying Danny to the point where she selfishly left him behind to baby-sit whilst she had an adventure. The control-freak within her got the better of her and now she wants the Doctor to know she doesn’t want to become him, i.e. doesn’t want to be the last of her kind wondering the stars without a real sense of purpose. It was also a beautiful notion that Clara felt that after all the years the Doctor had been saving the Earth it was time the Earth saved him from peril, which just added to the fantastic scene. Capaldi and Coleman played it out perfectly.
Danny on the other hand gained some more character development, with the interesting notion of why he is the way he is. His days as a soldier left him in some dangerous situations that nearly cost him his life but at the end of it all he realised that the world and people around him was worth moving on for, that the greatest wonders can be found on Earth and not in space. This I think also helped to tell Clara that she can’t forget about her world back on Earth and there is more to life than what she sees with the Doctor. The fantastical tales that she can witness amongst the stars is all fine and good but the mysteries of the world and people around her can be an adventure as well. In this respect ‘In the Forest of the Night’ grants a few life lessons for the characters but this is the stories only positive notes along with the setting.
The children were alright and I am seeing an improvement within their writing from typical stereotypes to actual characters with a story. Something that puzzled me about the story was the absence of Courtney. Where has she gone? We had all that character development for her and then she just vanished without a trace. This is a somewhat annoying trait with Steven Moffat in which he’ll introduce characters and then let them slip away without any real reasoning. Amy’s parents and the Maitland’s family spring to mind for this scenario. You could even say it’s a sad notion that the Paternoster Gang haven’t made a return since Capaldi’s debut, leaving them almost a relic of Matt Smith’s time and their purpose for ‘Deep Breath’ serving no more than a bridging stone between actors and eras. It just makes me wonder why we had all these children within the story unless they’re going to have a significant role in the future, but chances are they won’t so it makes engaging with them all the more meaningless. They simply served as a reminder that Clara and Danny are teachers and have a responsibility to look after the kids but like I said above, without a threat there is no course for concern. Without concern the viewer has no reason to feel tense towards the children’s safety, making their involvement even emptier.
Plus, and I might be wrong for saying this, but surely you wouldn’t have a camp-over at a museum? That was another part to the story I just didn’t understand. A camp-over out in the wilderness as an outdoor field-trip would’ve been a way more believable notion but then again that might’ve defeated the purpose of the plotline if they weren’t in London. One other thing, apart from Maebh’s mum and a group of men trying to douse the forest, where was all the citizens? Surely with a catastrophe like this people would’ve been running around in panic and yet the only characters visible in London where the Doctor and his party. That made the events very unconvincing for me.
‘In the Forest of the Night’ started off well and delivered a beautiful and enchanted story set within a forest but then fell flat on the different things I’ve mentioned throughout the review. It’s been a massive shame that the last two stories have been disappointing and I hope that this is paid off by the fact the two part finale, ‘Dark Water/Death in Heaven’, is tremendously dark and filled with shocks and revelations that make my mind fry and that two quiet stories were needed to help balance out the tone of the series. Either way I can honestly say Missy’s appearance towards the end, along with the amazing next time trailer, served as bigger wow- factors than the episode itself.