Doctor Who #957: In the Forest of the Night

"I don't want to see more things. I want to see the things in front of me more clearly."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.25 2014.

IN THIS ONE... A forest grows all over Earth overnight.

REVIEW: If you didn't like Kill the Moon, you will likely hate In the Forest of the Night. Because guys, not only is the Moon a dragon egg, but the Earth is protected by a magical forest that pops up anytime an extinction-level event is expected. Yeah, tell that to the dinosaurs. Frank Cottrell Boyce may be an award-winning novelist and screenwriter, but all he's done here is somehow repeat Peter Harness' points from KTM, and peppered it with Doctor Who's greatest hits. Like Kill the Moon, it's got kids taking part in the action, an annoyingly magical world view, Clara arguing that she's visited the future and it was fine, an appeal to the world not to kill the "monster" (a little girl calling everyone is even less likely to get Earth's cooperation than Clara in KTM, come on), and "doing nothing" as the appropriate solution. The Doctor has very little agency, in fact, useful mostly to puzzle out what's going on and what'll happen regardless. It's even got the Doctor throwing Clara's KTM point back at her about Earth being his home as much as hers (more osmosis). Greatest hits: A solar flare (Time Heist), a ridiculous metaphor for the TARDIS being bigger on the inside (The Robots of Death), there being no monster (Listen), the burning sky (The Poison Sky), and so on. Even so-called character development between Clara and Pink feels completely redundant, with Danny coming out with the same point that he doesn't want to be lied to. He has a nice speech about wanting to explore his world rather than go off to find new ones, but it's hardly enough to save the episode.

No doubt what will infuriate viewers is that, as in KTM, science has taken a vacation. This magical forest appears out of nowhere, disappears the same way, somehow covers the ground with dirt, is flame-proof, and so on. I'm equally perplexed that school kids can have sleepovers in museums, and that despite being a city of millions, cramped into a relatively small space, so few people come out of their houses. Never mind the fact the forest grew overnight... simultaneously all over the world, even where it was day, even on the oceans. And I certainly don't buy Clara refusing to save the children on account of their missing their parents. She lost a mother and turned out all right, didn't she? But while Kill the Moon worked on a thematic basis, In the Forest either doesn't or else hits its themes too bluntly. For example, the whole thing with the problem kids in class actually doing the reverse of what they're known for - literal Ruby (the bit with the x was actually funny) who seems dumb, but as the best sense of observation; the kid with anger management issues asking nice; the silent traumatized child opening up to the Doctor - is perhaps meant to echo the threat turning out to be Earth's savior. Well, okay, but it needed to be more integral to the plot. It just seems like a random weird thing with no explanation. And then there's the fairy tale motifs, which just seem like Boyce is doing Moffaty things because he's working for Moffat. The plot echoes such random things as Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rumpelstiltskin, Blake's Tyger Tyger, and Hansel & Gretel. Had the crisis lasted longer, I'm sure Clara would have lost a glass slipper. The point is, it's there if you want to see it, but aside from screaming "FAIRY TALE!" at you, it doesn't bring anything to the story. It's gratuitous.

But aw, a little girl looking for her lost sister - lost how?! - and then finding her at the very end of the episode in a bush - what?! - it's all so cloying and sentimental, and I feel nothing. Nothing at all. What's left? A neat directorial trick to show how news was reported all over the green world, a distorted view of the TARDIS interior, a few jokes, Danny's speech, kids more acceptable than the ones in Nightmare in Silver... Not enough to recommend. Because we also have a ropey sequence where the heroes avoid being crushed by Nelson's statue, a nearly incomprehensible voice for the "fairies", the TARDIS having a Star Trek computer voice (huh?!), and the Doctor dead set against kids taking their medication, which I must admit made me uncomfortable. A real mess.

THEORIES: Okay, so how do I make this episode make sense? By tying it in with Torchwood's Small Worlds. Remember the Torchwood fairies? (Wow, well that was an unfortunate turn of phrase.) They kidnapped little girls and turned them into fairies, flitting back and forth through time via natural spaces. They could manifest vegetable matter (rose petals, mostly) and were pretty mean and murdery. What if the tree spirits seen here are a different manifestation of the same beings? That would account for Maebh's missing sister and use of Maebh herself as a chosen one they could talk to. The fairies could be grabbing children as payment for the important service they offer, i.e. the protection of Earth from certain catastrophic events. With the temporal abilities, these creatures could conceivably manipulate time so vegetation could grow at an accelerated rate, and take those trees right out of time when the task was done. And if we were willing to accept the fairies in Small Worlds as scientifically possible (extradimensional beings, etc.), then we can accept the New New Forest. Possibly, they will evolve into the Great Forest of Cheem by the year 5 billion.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - The season's low point, it features a magical plot and makes the same points other episodes did, only not as well.


Madeley said...

Agree with all of this. I'd give it a medium-low myself, too, medium being the excellent character work that's been the hallmark of this series (Clara telling the Doctor not to make her the last of her people was such a powerful moment), low being everything else. Particularly the obnoxious and irresponsible jab at prescribing medication to children.

For fuck's sake, perhaps PERHAPS MAYBE there is an argument that children maybe MAYBE being overprescribed medicines, but in a country with a revolting tabloid press that demonises mental health issues and stops people getting the help that they need, and a history of anti-vaccination hysteria that has actually killed children, I found this throwaway plot point utterly unacceptable.

Madeley said...

Okay that kind of went to an angry place.

LiamKav said...

No, I agree. It does seem to take a very tabloid idea that disruptive kids are just "kids being kids", rather than admitting that they may have some issues. It's easy for people to sit there and moan about (for example) ritalin being overperscribed, but you try telling a parent struggling to deal with a child that keeps climbing onto the roof or breaking into their brothers bedroom and breaking all their things that it's just "youthful hikinks". Never mind the whole "if someone is hearing voices in their head, it's magical and giving them medication to stop it is just destroying the magic" argument, which was nonsense of the highest order.

Siskoid said...

Right. I think there ARE abuses, and probably too many kids are being prescribed things they don't really need, but we can't paint everyone with the same brush, much less a child depicted as having auditory hallucinations.

Ryan Lohner said...

Doctor Who: The Happening!

Easily the most interesting part was getting to wonder if sleeping over in museums is really a thing British schools do. If it is I'm absolutely all for it, but I doubt it.

The really wonderful thing is that in trying to give a story worthy of Captain Planet, the episode actually gives people the best excuse possible to keep harming the environment. "Don't worry, it'll all grow back instantly the second we need it." And given that there's no way Nelson's Column was the only structure destroyed, I'd guess that what followed was a deforestation campaign the likes of which we could never dream.

Oh, and nothing like making your final image a person we've never seen before to make the audience as apathetic as possible. Well done.

Madeley said...

Ryan- weirdly, to my knowledge museum sleepover events for school-aged kids are actually a fairly regular thing over here, particularly in the big museums in London.

Anonymous said...

Say what you will guys, but I learned that, if a tiger is stalking you, you can drive it away by wiggling a flashlight. I'll outlive you all!

Martin Léger said...

Hated this episode. Everything is basically useless because it solves itself in the end. We already got that thematic out with Kill the Moon.

They could of overslept in the museum, got up and never knew what happened.

Paul C said...

I think this is the first time an episode of Doctor Who has made me angry. As someone who takes medication for mental health and has benefited from it, it always irritates me to see that stupid 'Garden State' "anti depressants repress the real you, man" attitude. Medication may not be for everyone but my experience is that medication has helped me get to a place where I could start to work through my issues and it bugs me that someone might be put off something that could potentially help them because of crap like this episode.

Anonymous said...

If it helps you be a little less frustrated about it, not taking your meds works only in a world where there are also magic trees trying to protect you from a solar flare. The sort of person who would take the Doctor's advice to heart because faeries is probably an anti-vaxxer already.

I mean, Jon Pertwee was saying "SPLINK!" to kids for ages, but do you imagine a single one of them was saved by it? I doubt it. Hell, I can't keep the acronym straight to this day:

I would pay Sean Pertwee a million dollars just to dress like his dad and say "SPLINK!"

Anonymous said...

BTW, nothing of note to add to the discussion of the episode, but museum sleepovers are quite popular in the US too (working as a museum tour guide and as part of a curatorial team, I've worked at a few for schools or Scout groups).


Siskoid said...

I worked as a museum guide locally for 7 years and it wasn't something we offered, so I was quite surprised. Of course, it must depend on the type of museum.


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