HomeTelevisionTV Recap: Doctor Who, 'In The Forest of the Night'

TV Recap: Doctor Who, ‘In The Forest of the Night’

Photo Credit: Adrian Rogers, ©BBC/BBC Worldwide 2014
Photo Credit: Adrian Rogers, ©BBC/BBC Worldwide 2014

Sometimes a great idea can overtake the actual mechanics of an episode. It applies to pop music as well — the overall appeal of a catchy and clever song comes down to the surface, the hook, but you can’t ignore the mechanics. That is no different with a show like Doctor Who. Thinking back over this season I have raved greatly about the show’s direction and stand by all of it but sometimes a good idea gets in the way of what may not be working elsewhere as was the case with “Kill the Moon.”

I say this because, in looking back on that particular episode, it is a story that brandishes several great ideas to reach one defining point. But, in the process it scuttles the notion of well-developed supporting players and consistent themes with a purpose. Doctor Who, despite my open adoration for it, does flip-flop intentions. In many cases what it’s looking to prove can often hurt the crafting of the story. With this season’s emphasis on a darker, more serious tone it’s odd to see it deliver an episode with a little more whimsy and fantasy than you would anticipate. It’s science that is plausible versus the impossible being plausible and “The Forest of the Night” is just one of those stories. For the most part it does a bang up job, but the episode’s intentions don’t necessarily mirror the intentions of the rest of the show.

Photo Credit: Adrian Rogers, ©BBC/BBC Worldwide 2014
Photo Credit: Adrian Rogers, ©BBC/BBC Worldwide 2014

About 15 minutes in, Whovians may be quick to notice comparisons with the Series 2 story “Fear Her.” That episode focuses on a child with special skills that harbors a dark secret that brings an evil force into the modern world. The difference here is in comparison with the selfish and often Chloe Weber of that story we have Maebh Arden, a bright but distraught young girl, lost in the newly sprouted forests of London. She happens upon the Doctor’s TARDIS who quickly realizes she has more to her than being just another annoying kid.

Indeed Maebh is far from annoying and kudos must go to the young actress (Abigail Eames) playing her and the same goes for the other children of Coal Hill School featured here. The emphasis on how smart kids can be and truly are, is a valid point to make in a show like Doctor Who. It helps that the directing is spot on changing perspective often from the adults to the manic nature of a child, specifically Maebh. Sheree Folkson, the first female director on the show since 2010, does a bang up job of delivering this perspective with quick cut shots and a constant rollicking pace.

The easiest way to describe the overall direction of this episode is it’s told like a fairytale. Considering Steven Moffat’s promises to avoid fairytales after encompassing most of the Matt Smith-era with them seems a bit odd. However, writer Frank Cottrell Boyce really handles the fantasy scenario well because, well, most of the best fairytales often feature the dangerous nature of large forests. Going back briefly to Folkson’s work the big challenge here is conveying a claustrophobic threat to the presence of all these trees. It works really well here and works hand-in-hand with the overall point made about their presence. Humanity loves nature; the endless ability to walk among its beauty and the ability to just stay alive. But, we are more than quick to ignore this because we can’t handle it and are more than capable of destroying it. That eco-friendly notion isn’t necessarily the point but it is an underlying theme as is the idea that humanity’s greatest strength is its ability to forget. While it’s stated in a rather sad and truthful fashion by young Ruby that young people just don’t notice the difference or care it is also an aspect of all humanity. The solar flare will wipe out all the trees that could easily started a war or Earth’s destruction and instead of wondering what to think humans will simply forget it.

This week we are treated to having three leads with Danny Pink finally having a more substantial role after feeling tacked on the last several weeks. I know a lot has been said about how unbelievable the relationship between Clara and Danny is. While I see and understand that, when onscreen Samuel Anderson for more than few minutes makes damn good use of his time. This is also a writer’s thing and the focus tends to be getting Clara to understand a viewpoint beyond her own that brings back to a notion of reality and balance. By lying to Danny about her continued travels with The Doctor it shows that Clara still wants the best of both worlds and often doesn’t see a straight line of what someone wants. Danny is all about that and I don’t think Clara truly gets that just yet. He states that while he gets the desire to continue those travels because he himself wants to see new things he also knows what his priorities are at the moment whether it was the safety of his students or the safety of Clara.

Despite their best efforts this season this was the first time in ages I found Clara’s mentality to be annoying and often unexpected. Her dismissal of The Doctor didn’t seem to make much sense nor does her lack of understanding of her students or Danny. It takes away from the obvious message being made over the past four or five weeks — that Clara is becoming more increasingly like The Doctor. Her decision to take Danny and the children up as defacto companions to solve a bigger problem seems like the right thing to do but Danny sees that it can only be done with the possibility that it will endanger the children. It makes it seem like that despite all this development Clara is still unaware of her actions and with two episodes left I really wonder where this will end up. It’s all up to Moffat to bring this all home starting next week and there seems to be a lot of fire and brimstone afoot with next week’s “Dark Water.”

Photo Credit: Adrian Rogers, ©BBC/BBC Worldwide 2014
Photo Credit: Adrian Rogers, ©BBC/BBC Worldwide 2014

We certainly don’t know where The Doctor stands here and this week there was more kooky in his blood then there was tough, stoic, and grumpy. It plays up the alien and unexpected nature of him very well but it is quite fascinating to see this season really dial back his presence. If anything this week once again instilled the idea that the Doctor is unsure of the result and can be wrong as we see his theory of the trees being killers shift to them being a shield almost seamlessly. This is great for the Doctor because it shows he isn’t always the one with the immediate answers which is something I think has plagued the show in the fact but eventually it would be nice to see him play a character in the forefront again but not overtaking the situation as much as he normally does. It needs to be rectified with the finale because you can’t have Doctor Who without the Doctor playing the biggest part in a finale but I think there will be a meeting of the two and a balance instilled with the Doctor and Clara’s separate journeys.

In the meantime “In the Forest of the Night” rounds out an impressive run of episodes showcasing a series of wonderful new writers (to the show at least). It has its small quirks but overall it was another fabulous installment that continues the unexpected homerun that is Series 8 as we head into dark territories with a two part, show stopping finale.

Jason Stives is the resident Anglophile and Pop-Break representative for BBC America conducting weekly reviews of Doctor Who and Orphan Black. He is currently a contributing writer for PropertyofZack.com and a freelance creative consultant for fundraising and marketing campaigns in New Jersey’s various art communities. He is a graduate of Rutgers University’s class of 2010 with a bachelors in Journalism and Media Studies. When he isn’t attending concerts or writing the great American novel he moonlights as lounge crooner J.M Heavyhart turning the works of Dokken and Dio into Sinatra-esque standards (or at least he would like to be). Follow his constant retweets and occasionally witty banter on Twitter at @jaystives.


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