Doctor Who: 8.10 In The Forest Of The Night
With Flatline and Mummy On The Orient Express, Jamie Mathieson has made a storming writing debut over the last two weeks, while Peter Harness’s Kill The Moon, his first script for the show, was the highlight of series eight for me. This week it’s Frank Cottrell Boyce turn and yet again we have another episode that maintains the very strong standard of storytelling this year.
Is it as good as the last trio of adventures…not quite. But perhaps that’s because I’ve enjoyed all the gothic horror and darkness (I’m a Hinchcliffe fan after all) and In The Forest Of The Night was a lighter affair, albeit with the planet of Earth on the brink of destruction. But it still proved that the injection of fresh blood into the show has made Doctor Who really exciting and I’d be happy for Mathieson, Harness and Cottrell to return for series nine.
The idea of the episode – everyone wakes up morning to find trees have sprung up everywhere – is great. It takes the idea of something so mundane, so ordinary and makes it a threat as Doctor Who – and Moffat in particular – does so well. But unfortunately what works in theory doesn’t always work so well in practice and that’s where the episode falls down somewhat.
For a start, the trees grew across the entire Earth when everyone was asleep. How? Even if you ignore the fact that there is never a moment when 100% of the population is asleep (night janitors, doctors, students will be around at three or four in the morning) the whole world isn’t sleeping at the same time. And of course if trees started springing up in the early hours of the morning across Australia, China and so on – following the time zone – the UK and US would certainly have been aware that trees were going to start springing up out of nowhere in the wee hours before dawn. ’Humanity’ wouldn’t have been surprised when it happened. In fact, they probably would have been prepared for it the moment Ayers Rock was surrounded by a lush rainforest.
My other issue with the episode – and this may have been for budgetary reasons – the global event felt so small. The Doctor, Clara, Danny and the kids didn’t encounter hordes of people battling their way through dense rainforest. Where was all the traffic and pile ups that must have been caused the moment the trees started sprouting? There were no scenes (aside from news broadcasts) of New York, Paris or Moscow smothered in forestation. The events could have taken place in a small village in the Cotswolds and worked just as easily.
Oh and I also found a couple of the children a little irritating, but thankfully we weren’t back in the Nightmare In Silver Days of Angie and Artie.
You might be forgiven for thinking that I hated this episode. Actually I loved lots of it, just not the realism of it all. Perhaps that’s just it; In The Forest Of The Night could be best described as a fairy tale. Animals of the loose. Encounters with a tiger. Red Riding Hood and the wolf. The idea that humanity would forget and the trees saving the Earth would just become a legend. It is that kind of beauty that makes it a strong episode despite those flaws. Not to mention that it is visually stunning. Red phone boxes and London Underground signs amid shrubberies and oak trees only enhances the magic of this episode.
Not only was it a beautiful episode but the performances were as good as ever. Danny got to demonstrate his skills once more when he saved Clara, the Doctor and Maebh from the tiger. Samuel Anderson continues to have great chemistry with Jenna Coleman and is believable as the rock that ties Clara to her life on Earth. Though I wasn’t so convinced that he hadn’t worked what Clara was really up to, especially after that phone call last week.
Peter Capaldi was on fine form as always; I liked his banter with Maebh, who was a sweet addition to the TARDIS, even if it was for one episode. There was a nice pulling of the heart strings at the end when she was reunited with her sister. Amid all the death and darkness of series eight, it made for a nice contrast to what had come before.
As for Clara’s decision to force the Doctor into abandoning her with the rest of humanity, it was another wonderful moment in their ever-evolving journey. There was a nice call back to Clara’s rant at the Doctor in Kill The Moon. The Doctor acknowledges that Earth is as much his home as hers. He breathes the same air and it breaks his heart that he can’t find a way to save the planet. It made for a lovely bittersweet moment between the two leads.
So plenty of ups as well as a few logic-defying downs. Is it the weakest episode of series eight? I think so. Does that mean it’s a bad episode? Far from it. There is a consistency to every episode this year that makes even the more head-scratching episodes like this and Listen a joy to watch.
Watching it with my children I found myself a little dissapointed. But afterwards my son turned to me and said it was the best episode of series eight so far. Kids will love it. I think with In The Forest Of The Night you have to leave all sense of realism behind and absorb yourself in the magic of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s fairytale. Do that and Doctor Who delivered some real magic this week.