Writer: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Director: Sheree Folkson
Starring: Peter Capaldi, Jenna-Louise Coleman, Samuel Anderson, Abigail Eames
The Story: Clara, Danny and a gaggle of schoolchildren step outside a London museum and into a forest that has seemingly covered the planet overnight. Only one small girl seems to have any idea what’s going on, as wolves and tigers run amok in the capital and the Doctor fears the worst…
Another week, another Doctor Who episode with very little Doctor. Once again, the show is relegated to Clara-and-the-rest status, as Capaldi’s companion joins partner Danny Pink on a school trip. Quite why an English and Maths teacher are taking children on a history trip is never revealed, but then Series 8 hasn’t really boasted the most watertight scripts.
Anyway, the gang leave the anonymous museum in Trafalgar Square to find a forest has bloomed overnight – an idea which actually gives the episode a real sense of mystery. Where previous episodes have suffered due to a lack of villainous presence, In the Forest of the Night differs by capitalising on that trait. While the final reveal is euphoric for our characters as the trees save the earth from a solar flare, the minutes before that – where the Doctor genuinely believes the world is about end – are some of the best so far this series.
That’s partly down to Frank Cottrell Boyce’s script, which, while being riddled with the disbelief-suspending plot holes that have plagued Capaldi’s run, is otherwise generally superb. The dialogue sizzles; there’s a real element of threat and tension established, and its pacing is spot on. Capaldi also gives one of his best performances yet in those scenes, torn between honouring Clara’s (presumed final) wish and saving the planet he, too, calls home.
In the Forest of the Night looks lush: it makes a change to see such vivid colour in a Doctor Who episode, and the greenery of the forest pops with aplomb. The child actors are generally decent too, serviced by Boyce’s dialogue – still, as a children’s fiction writer, we should have expected no less.
References to the Doctor being the last of his kind do feel slightly out of place given events of the 50th anniversary – okay, so we don’t know where Gallifrey is, but we know it’s out there somewhere and therefore not impossible to access. Maebh is merely a prototypical plot device – the ‘different’, affected child who turns out to be the one necessary to solve the mystery (of course), while the return of her missing sister only feels contrived.
Other plot holes abound, from those only explainable within the boundaries of the show – of course, only the new trees disintegrated from the solar flare, and it’s oh so convenient that people will just ‘forget’ what happened – to those a little more difficult to let go. Why would the government attempt to clear a path by burning specific trees? Someone needs to teach Frank Boyce how wood works. If the trees hadn’t been impervious to fire, the whole planet would have been up in flames before the solar flare had a chance.
Ultimately, In the Forest of the Night fails to really advance our characters further in any substantial way. Much of the episode once again revolves around Clara and Danny’s relationship and their back-and-forth over the former’s secret trips with the Doctor. It’s tiresome by this point and still doesn’t feel fleshed out – next week is the first part of Series 8’s finale, though it hardly feels warranted yet.
Christopher Eccleston only had one series, but left his impact on the show to become immortalised in the role by fans. Were Peter Capaldi to regenerate in two weeks, this reviewer would have no strong feelings one way or the other. He hasn’t had chance to make his mark, and that’s mostly down to playing second-fiddle to Clara and Danny. This may be a consistent theme of these reviews, but it bears repeating when their plot fails to improve week-on-week.
On its own two feet, In the Forest of the Night feels like a refreshing change. It doesn’t have a typical monster, but it doesn’t need one – and in the end, the antagonist turns out to be friendly, in an odd realisation of the Doctor’s wishes for the Boneless in last week’s Flatline. Onto the finale, then…
The Doctor’s initial realisation that the earth is about to be destroyed by a solar flare. It’s Capaldi’s finest moment of the season since Deep Breath and shows why we need to see more of his Doctor.
The Doctor: Stars implode; planets go cold; catastrophe is the metabolism of the universe. I can fight monsters, I can’t fight physics!
Clara: Why would trees want to kill us? We love trees…
The Doctor: You’ve been chopping them down for furniture for centuries! If that’s love, no wonder they’re calling down fire from the heavens!
[usr=3] THN’s Doctor Who Series 8 Blog returns next Saturday.