Originally, I had little expectations for “In the Forest of the Night”, imagining it to be a throwaway episode suited towards the younger demographic of the audience – which is some cases it was – however it also managed to explore complex morality and a few dark themes in between, just as you would expect from Frank Cottrell Boyce!
The story relies on your suspension of disbelief, if you can’t accept that trees miraculously grew overnight covering the entire Earth, you won’t be remotely impressed; the episode doesn’t seek a faux-scientific explanation, but rather just practically has a ‘just go with it’ vibe, having let the craving go for there to be an explanation, I managed to enjoy this episode more than most. The plot has an interesting premise, the Doctor lands his TARDIS in the middle of London, yet argues with his TARDIS this isn’t the middle of London, but a middle of a forest – only to discover that the whole Earth is overridden with trees. There’s two directions this episode then goes by; the “how, who, why, when?” in which the Doctor and Clara prominently follow, then there’s the “priority” of the safety of others. It’s a dark and manipulative tale to watch the Doctor refuse to give Maebh her prescriptions to deal with her mentality issues, of course the Doctor is deemed as right for doing so eventually as it unravels the conclusion of the plot, however others (mainly concerned parents) could see it as the Doctor exploiting Maebh and mistreating her, it isn’t morally right to leave a child to have mental reactions in front of all her classmates (children who are most likely judging and teasing her).
Eventually, Clara inhabits the role which she once rejected from the Doctor in ‘Kill the Moon’, which is her taking control. Clara has increasingly become the decision-maker ever since ‘Kill the Moon’, as she decided the fate of the moon, then took the role of the Doctor in ‘Flatlines’ and now even kicked the Doctor out of Earth, despite knowing that he could’ve thought of a last-minute plan to save the day. The Doctor even pleads “I walk your Earth, I breathe your air” which mimics what Clara blurted out in the climatic moment of ‘Kill the Moon’ when she says “You walk our Earth”…”You breathe our air”, connoting that the Doctor doesn’t want to put Clara in a position to make a heart wrenching decision again, yet she dismiss it. The plot-twist is that the Earth didn’t even need saving, as the Doctor kept stating, it was a natural event and he doesn’t deal with “physics”, so if there’s nothing extraterrestrial (other than the magically grown plants) , then the audience can’t really expect the Doctor to be in control of what is happening. I predicted ever since seeing the non-flammable trees that the trees are used as a safety mechanism from the solar flares which Maebh envisioned, however I just wish the actual resolution was handed better. All of a sudden, the trees just disintegrate and then people apparently “forget” that any of this ever happened – because apparently the human race is ignorant. I feel the majority of the episode was actually worthwhile and just about watchable, yet the last sequences seemed almost too over-the-top and ridiculous to accept.
So what made it far from just your standard throw-away episode? Surprisingly it was from the kids – well one kid in particular – Maebh! Watching her run through the forest and twitching her arms and eyes due to whatever that force was (I really do not want to say the trees) was tearful to watch, we were actually witnessing a characterisation of a girl who’s suffered through some trauma ever since her sister disappeared. There isn’t an actual ‘monster of the week’, but rather the monster of humanity. Humanity is evil for immediately judging those through mental trauma and not listening to their thoughts, humanity is evil for deforestation, humanity is evil because they ignore the idea that burning trees will cause some victims to burn. Someone could tell me that this was a Greenpeace campaign and I would believe it! Other than Maebh, the other children were essentially outright unbearable! They whined and made stupid judgements and in fact weren’t as insightful as a television character should be, for a television show knowing that they’re child characters haven’t always been the best, they should have surely enforced a better portrayal of children within the episode! But alas, other than Maebh, I had no interest for the rest of the children.
What did remain interesting was the characterisation between the Doctor, Clara and Danny. I’m actually quite impressed that Danny hasn’t jumped aboard the TARDIS yet, or in fact managed to discuss much with the Doctor at all! Ever since their dispute in ‘The Caretaker’ they seem to utterly despise each other and not care for each others opinions. We’ve had some companion boyfriend conflicts before (such as Mickey Smith or Rory Williams) but they either still allowed there to be signs of a friendship evident, or managed to make the trio seem as a team – however it seems this time we always have to see Clara either sideline Danny or the Doctor, unable to merge the two lifestyles together. Earlier I mentioned how Clara transgressed from unable to make a decision, to kicking out the Doctor, however I didn’t mention just how notable it is – she decides to sideline the Doctor because she sees streaks of the Doctor being “not good” as clarified in ‘Flatlines’ and instead being his manipulative self as seen throughout the season as he causes Maebh to be in evident suffering without her prescriptions. It strikes the audience to wonder, who does Clara prioritise, does she focus on the “how, who, why, when?” and sidelines Danny, or does she focus on the “little things in life” and sidelines the manipulative Doctor?
The provocative ‘Next Time Trailer’ will most likely answer these concerns as we find out more about Clara than ever before. ‘In the Forest of the Night’ wasn’t created to start a brand new exciting plot, but rather to be a breather for what seems to be an extravagant season finale, so for that I cannot wait!
+ Stunning scenery, congrats to the props department in making the London Overground signs, the Belisha beacons, the telephone boxes and other iconic London objects all fit in fluidly in the forest setting.
+ I love the Clara/Danny relationship, I love that there’s a growing dispute with the couple and the Doctor.
+ Just as ‘Listen’ did, Doctor Who didn’t follow the ‘monster of the week’ formula which it usually commits to, however there wasn’t as much of an engaging plot as ‘Listen’ fulfilled.