TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S8, E10: In the Forest of the Night

Another newcomer to Doctor Who, Frank Cottrell Boyce arrives with a tale of a planet invaded by trees and foliage. There’s a very magical feel in the air this week and as usual, it’s up to one Time Lord and his companion – together with a school teacher and a group of “gifted and talented” children to save the day.

 

 

One morning in every city and town in the world, the human race wakes up to face the most surprising invasion yet. Everywhere, in every land, a forest has grown overnight and taken back the Earth. It doesn’t take the Doctor long to discover that the final days of humanity have arrived.

It is very rare that an episode of Doctor Who turns up and I wonder how it got past the concept phase. Unfortunately, this week’s episode is one of them. The human race has woken up to find trees have cropped up everywhere: in towns and cities around the globe a forest has arisen. Bursting through the pavements and streets. Seemingly avoiding buildings.

A colleague of mine has stopped watching this season of Doctor Who because (in his words) it’s getting a bit too “fairy-tale”. This story would certainly back up this point. On the one hand, I don’t mind this. I really enjoyed Kill the Moon and Listen which were certainly in this vein but on the other I do think there is a step too far for a program that is usually more pseudo-science than magic or actual science to tread. This story is a leap across that line in my opinion.

My main problem arose once the friendly, lush forest that covered London was described as an environment that comes from “everyone’s nightmares”. Now, I for one find forests to be the most calming and relaxing places in the world. Even at night, let alone during what appears to be a warm sunny day. On top of this, there is no real danger at hand. The “nightmare forest” is devoid of wildlife, save for a couple of zoo escapees which include a Tiger which has the sole purpose of reminding the viewer of William Blake’s poem The Tiger which begins “Tiger, tiger burning bright, in the forest of the night.”  Our heroes and their youthful charges otherwise plod through the adventure as if it is a gentle stroll through Sherwood Forest.

This lack of danger and gentle pace allows a viewer time to ponder the situation. In this case, that is no good thing. For example – how did the trees manage to burst through roads without leaving a mess? Where are the rest of the city’s inhabitants? OK – many would not have left their homes, as the Government (eventually) recommended but many others would certainly be out and about, videoing, photographing and investigating. I could almost buy into the whole “everyone is obeying the curfew” concept if not for the Doctor’s later assertion that the Human Race would just “forget” the world-wide arboreal event. Given society’s Social Media and you-tube obsession and of course the masses of road and property damage that would need to be repaired, this seems … unlikely.

The final scene was also unnecessary and only added to the sense of the fairy tale. It’s one of those decisions that work well in a fairy story but here seemed superfluous. Particularly as no explanation was offered at all. To my mind, this conclusion further undermined an already badly-handled look at mental health and post-traumatic stress. Maebh lost her sister a year prior to the events of this story and that event traumatised her. She began hearing voices and developing tics. So she was medicated to help. Throughout the story reference is made to this but never in a sympathetic manner. The stigma of mental health is shown as that but never commented on. Indeed the only time that the child’s medication rather than being counselled or otherwise helped through her issue is called into question is when The Doctor has a theory about it. Even then it’s not for humanitarian reasons. The concluding scene implies that such trauma can simply be cleared up which is certainly not the case in my experience. While a resolution can help, it is unlikely to “cure” the underlying issue.

The cast certainly gave the episode their all. Both Capaldi and Coleman were on top form (as they have been all season). Samuel Anderson conveyed a particularly single-minded focus on his charges to the exclusion of all other concerns. While possibly admirable, this is also redundant – especially as his mission to get the children home is dropped by the wayside as soon as The Doctor arrives on the scene. Instantly, Danny is into “that’s my Clara” mode while trying to take the moral high ground. Disturbingly, his manipulation of Clara works.

This is something I’ve noticed over the course of the series and it worries me. There has been a somewhat odd battle of “ownership” between the Doctor and Danny over Clara. Danny is guiltier, seeming to be fine with Clara’s choices one moment while subtly suggesting she stop her adventures the next. The Doctor is not innocent, though from his point of view it seems more like he is a jealous friend who doesn’t want to lose his “play time” buddy. It seems an odd direction to take Clara’s character and while there are most definitely strong willed people who are susceptible to such manipulations it really seems an odd move for Doctor Who to make.

While this episode is certainly not in the same league as other blunders that Doctor Who has taken, it is a serious mis-step in an otherwise acceptable series. For me, a step too far into the surreal that breaks any sense of reality that the program otherwise attempted. I think the story would have worked if set on another planet. That way, the event could be written off as it was and the ramifications of the events wouldn’t be as irritating. But the striking visuals of London as an Urban Forest and the quality of the acting can’t rescue this story. Not for this reviewer at any rate.

Rating: 1.5/5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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