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DOCTOR WHO Review: “In the Forest of the Night”

DOCTOR WHO Review: “In the Forest of the Night”

Beware of SPOILERS, folks! Do not read unless you’ve seen the episode or you don’t care about getting spoiled.

There’s a very strange trend in Series 8 of Doctor Who, and that is to have threats in episodes not actually be threats. It hasn’t happened in every episode, mind, but it has been happening a fair amount. Of the ten episodes that have aired, four of the episodes have turned out that the big thing that needs stopping is actually nothing bad at all, three have had villains who were simply misguided automaton-like creatures who were just doing what they were programmed to do, and only three have had actual, honest-to-goodness antagonists and in one of those cases it was the Daleks. Not that I have anything against episodes that kind of work themselves out on their own, but it just strikes me as odd that so many this year have been misunderstandings by the Doctor. That’s the theme of the season, it seems. The latest of these is Frank Cottrell Boyce’s “In the Forest of the Night” in which a field trip doesn’t go south and nobody dies.

“In the Forest of the Night,” which is a reference to a line in a William Blake poem, is perhaps the most about children this series has gotten, and that’s rather saying something. A little girl is at the center of all the action and the other children comment on the goings-on in a way only children can. It’s often been said, by me and by others, that when Doctor Who introduces children into the narrative, it saps a lot of the dramatic tension because there’s no way a BBC program made for families would legitimately kill of a child. So here we are with our leads and a group of children, so pretty much nobody’s going anywhere. Any kind of threat the episode puts forth is conceptual, removing of course the wolves and tiger who were in the episode for about 5 minutes total and were defeated by a flashlight.

Doctor Who Series 8 (ep 10)

The synopsis of this episode is very straightforward: one day, everybody wakes up and finds out the Earth has been covered by plants and trees that have sprung up overnight, and nobody knows why. Danny and Clara are leading a sleepover at the Natural History Museum (I’m guessing) and had no idea this had happened. The Doctor gets a knock on the TARDIS by a little girl named Maebh and he discovers she’s one of the students who’d gotten away. She hears voices in her head since her sister ran away a long time ago and is given pills to quiet them. Everybody meets up and the Doctor tries to figure out what Maebh knows about the trees and what the voices could mean, and also how to save the Earth from a solar flare that will destroy everything. And then he does do that, but he doesn’t actually have to do anything except realize what’s going on and tell everybody else in the world not to do anything also.

If you’ll recall from my review of “Flatline” last week, with regard to the trailer for this week, I called it one of the most boring trailers I’d ever seen. I also mused that a boring trailer does not always a boring episode make. Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say this episode was boring, it was just very devoid of things occurring. It felt a lot of the time like we were just watching the characters walk around to eat up minutes until the revelation could happen. And as I said, aside from the wild animals, the only other “uh oh” moments came in the form of Lord Nelson’s Column falling over, Maebh running away, the forest just being big and foresty, and people almost dropping plant killer on everything (in the whole world?!?!?!). My heart sure was pounding when people we didn’t see nearly did a thing that would have taken infinitely longer to figure out the logistics of than 8 hours.

Doctor Who Series 8 (ep 10)

In fairness, there were definitely things I enjoyed. I liked the idea of the ancient terrestrial entities that control the plants and have protected the planet for millions of years. I love that they have no idea what the Doctor is and will continue to exist long after he’s dead. That was a really neat idea. I also liked little character moments between the Doctor and Clara, especially at the end when all hope was lost and Clara tells the Doctor to leave, that an Earthling can save him for once. He’s perfectly willing to save all those kids and Clara and Danny, but she talks him out of it. She doesn’t want to be the last of her species, but she definitely wants to see the craziness of the solar flare, solidifying her being on both sides of things, loving Danny and the Earth, but desperately wanting to see more of the universe. When Danny catches her in her lie, he doesn’t seem to mind, or at least hasn’t yet minded. I honestly don’t know what to make of Danny Pink. I also didn’t MIND the children. They could have been a lot more annoying. Maybe because I was prepared for all the kids from the trailer and pictures, and because I know school kids are the worst, I had my defenses up.

But, friends, hands down my favorite aspect of this entire episode, with a bullet and a half, is the direction of Sheree Folkson. My GOD was it gorgeous. She’s a brand new director to the show and she really showed what she could do here, from the handheld stuff inside the TARDIS, complete with warped or different lenses to show the POV of the children, to seeing the eyes of the wolves in the trees, like in a fairy tale (which are at the center of the “legend” of the tree entities), to just generally shooting people walking in a forest like every step was dangerous and could spell disaster. She did an amazing job all around, and I really, really hope she comes back to do more.

Doctor Who Series 8 (ep 10)

“In the Forest of the Night” is not a bad episode, I don’t think. I definitely didn’t dislike watching it. The acting is good, and Capaldi and Coleman are endlessly watchable, as was Folkson’s brilliant direction, but by the end I couldn’t help saying to myself “Oh… so the planet had this on lockdown? The Doctor’s only real achievement was making sure humanity didn’t do anything? Like ‘Kill the Moon’ but without the troubling allusions?” It just kind of occurred.

Next week, though, we’re getting the first of the two-episode finale, both written by Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay. It looks like Clara’s not having a good time and Missy definitely is. UNIT’s back, and also CYBERMEN ON THE STEPS!!!!!! It seems so strange that it’s already almost over. Seems like we just started. Enjoy the trailer for “Dark Water” and we’ll talk soon!

Images: BBC

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  1. Benji says:

    So many plot holes in this episode that could have added to the emotional effect of the characters. I loved Clara before she had a boyfriend. It seemed that the possibility of her finding a real story line after jumping into the Doctor’s Time Stream. Or worse, what happens if she meets a future version of herself. All that’s grounding her emotion is a boyfriend. So flat. How did she go from wanting to explore possibilities to only worrying about lying to a guy about the adventures she wants. Where is the humanity in missing her parents? Is she living up or beyond them? I guess I’ll never know

  2. Gunn says:

    Has not anyone noticed the insistence of the students calling Clara ‘Miss’ all season, and then Maebh constantly saying that ‘Miss’ had told her to find The Doctor. Is there no relation to Missy there?

  3. Mark Owen says:

    Everyone keeps saying Capaldi is doing a great job despite the material he had to work with. Let’s face it he plays the role so dry and never really connected emotionally. It makes me think that Smith brought more than just his youthful energy but also charm and wit to the role.

  4. Insightful Panda says:

    Great review! Honestly, this was the weakest episode of the season. From subpar rehashing of old elements or overly complicated storytelling for something that went no where, let’s all forget this episode ever happened – after all, it is our Superpower :p

  5. ZZinDC says:

    How about setting up the eventual showdown between Clara and Danny?  She wants to see more and more of the universe and its wonders – and offers it to him, but for Danny, earth and the kids he teaches is plenty interesting enough. That can’t end well.

  6. B says:

    The ancient protective entities are a callback to the “fairies” in Torchwood’s “Small World”

  7. creepymeepy says:

    “I honestly don’t know what to make of Danny Pink.”

    Oh, I don’t know.  I wonder why they played that same rhythm that haunted the Master, while Pink was using a flashlight to scare away the tiger?  Hmmmm…..

  8. Majd says:

    This episode disappointed me in every regard other than the photography. I can be nice and say it was watchable but I love this show enough to be angry when it is geting butchered. Yes, BUTCHERED.
    I miss the wit in the doctor’s character. I think Capaldi is doing a fantastic job keeping the doctor enjoyable despite the extremely out of touch script. It keeps painting Capaldi’s doctor as a slow, witless and thick old man. I miss when the doctor knew what to do or at least built a plan to know.

    In addition to that, i think the plots are getting sillier. I understand the fact that this show must suffer from silly plots sometimes because of how flexible and broad the setting is but it’s becoming unbearable.
    This episode was the biggest load of nonsense in this season. Boring, cheesy, dull, silly and dare i say, stupid. Who is that girl? who is her sister? how did the sister disappear and where was she all this time? How did she come back? why is London so empty out of sudden? why did all the governments listen to a little girl on the phone? what’s up with suicidal clara? how come the doctor agrees to leave which is not very not doctorish of him? The only thing I liked in the whole thing is the picture. The lighting was gorgeous, the colors were vivid and appealing, the eyes are sharp and crystal clear. That and Capaldi are the only two things that make this episode watchable. In addition to the little girl – Maebh – resembling Emilia Pond.
    I hope they stop with this nonsense before it’s too late. I really wish to see a very serious finale.

  9. FimusTauri says:

    To be blunt, this was the worst episode of the new era. The children were badly directed, the “plot” was non-existant and what little “science” there was turned out to be completely erroneous. Without Capaldi, this would have been a complete bore-fest. This was the first time I have turned over before the end of an episode

  10. George says:

    It’s funny how we all talk about shows in terms of character development and narrative arcs and so on now. Ten years ago, that wouldn’t happen.
    I wonder whether it’s because of the vast amount of info available on the internet – reviews and discussions – that we’ve all adopted this TV-critic way of viewing shows and movies? We watch as viewers, but always one step removed: watching the watcher.
    Meanwhile, I enjoyed this episode for the direction more than anything. The ideas were nice enough, and it had time to “breathe”, but I felt that the wrap-up was a bit sudden, with no seeds (excuse pun) being planted as regards the ‘earth defence’ nature of trees vs natural disasters. Just a couple more threads to help it along would have helped.
    Nice jumper. Actually, I’m quite liking the approach to his outfit: it does change a bit, and as a result The Doctor feels more like a real person rather than A Character With A Costume (Ecclestone and Tennant particularly).
    Looking forward to the finale.

    • Kathryn says:

      I love that he just wore a black shirt under his coat/jacket/red lined thing. I agree, the fact that he wears the same coat/jacket/thing while switching out a few elements makes him more relatable. We don’t all wear the same pinstripe suit or leather jacket everywhere we go.

  11. George says:


  12. Scott S says:

    I think the synopsis is wrong, Earth has been covered in plants, but apparently only a group of school children and one of their mom’s has woken up to discover it.  In a massive city like London, the only people in the woods are the main characters of the show, and one bunch of government guys in just the right place for the main characters to see them. 

  13. jbean says:

    Maebh? Try Maeve.
    I’m trying to feel the love for this season, but so far it hasn’t happened, and we’re already up to the finale. It’s just been kind of meh for me this year, and that makes me sad.

  14. Connie says:

    Was Annabelle someone we should know?

  15. _Inno says:

    Felt very much like a placeholder; a little moment of calm to prepare for the hectic end of season finale on the way. I did like the way Capaldi was happy to stay somewhat in the background and let Clara and Danny take centre stage – I’m so not keen on those two, but it was nice to not have the three of them all trying to mug screen time from each other.
    Pretty much ready for Clara’s departure. Jenna is a great actress but the character is annoying me now.

  16. the other Doug says:

    This was a nice episode for Clara and Danny, not so much of a character progression for the Doctor.  A nice, pretty, inoffensive episode.  The thing that pricked my ears up a lot was the trailer for “Dark Water.”  Either Missy has taken Clara over, Clara *is* Missy at a younger age, or Clara really was killed by entering the Doctor’s lifeline and the thing that came out was created in her likeness by Missy (or Missy’s minions) to sabotage the Doctor.  Her declaring that “Clara Oswald doesn’t exist!” will have me watching next week!

  17. Christian says:

    Rachel Talalay of Freddy’s Dead and Tank Girl infamy? What an odd choice for a UK series.