10 “In the Forest of the Night” (Doctor Who series 8) [SPOILERS]

doctor who peter capaldi

 The titles of episodes have, this season, been a bit terrible, if I’m honest. They’ve oscillated from the obvious (“Kill the Moon”) to the misleading (“Robot of Sherlock”). I rather liked “Deep Breath” as a title for the series premiere, but since then they have failed to wow.

This week’s episode is entitled “In the Forest of the Night”, which is a line — for those who don’t know — from the William Blake poem “The Tyger”. I quite like using strains of poetry for titles, but past experiences with this series of Doctor Who have left me a little concerned this might be another of those ‘up the garden path’ bits.

The quality of Calapdi’s first season at the TARDIS console has improved markedly over the last few weeks, and he is rapidly achieving what I knew he could and desperately wanted him to. The dark, grumpy, Troughton-esque performances he gives has been lightened with a touch of razor wit, and a dash of Doctor-y niavety.

But this episode puts him with Clara and Danny’s pupils again, which I didn’t particularly enjoy the last time, in “The Caretaker”. So will this round improve the formula any?

This week’s episode opens with a young girl, Maebh, running through a forest until she comes to a strange blue box with a cantankerous old man in it. It turns out that she’s one of Danny and Clara’s pupils, run off from a sleepover in a museum, (Is that a thing? Do schools do that? -Ed) and the forest is, in fact, central London. The entire world is suddenly covered in un-burnable trees, and the Doctor must figure out why, and what it has to do with a little girl who hears voices, and a solar flare about to cook the Earth.

First off, Capaldi is much better with children than any of his reboot predecessors. He has that slightly gruff, but ultimately caring, manner. Like a teacher, ironically. His bits with Maebh are heartwarmingly and eccentrically brilliant.

Which is a good thing, because this episode generally wasn’t one of the better ones.

I preferred it to “The Caretaker” — natural disaster trumps poorly-designed and poorly-explained creature which looks like the prop department made it from whatever was lying around — but it didn’t come close to the likes of “Listen”, “Mummy on the Orient Express”, or last week’s “Flatline”.

The biggest problem for me was that there was too much crammed into it. The little girl who knew about the impending end of the world was a touch Knowing (Hey! Knowing is a good film a Nicholas Cage film! -Ed) and worked, but the firefly things were under-explained for something which carried the weight of the plot.

The actual resolution was founded on some scientific fact — extra oxygen providing a buffer — but I’m not sure that everyone wouldn’t still have gotten roasted. By radiation, if nothing else. Also, the overnight forest wasn’t justified by the aforementioned fireflies, and its disappearance into said fireflies made even less sense. Why not just have the trees be burnt up by the solar flare? Wasn’t that the obvious solution?

And the solution was obvious. It robbed the moment when the Doctor is despairing of tension a bit, and Clara tells him to go — playing off her “banishing” him a the end of “Kill the Moon”, with a neat reversal of the lines used there. I don’t know who wouldn’t have been able to figure out the fix a good five minutes before the Doctor does.

Whilst we’re on the subject of things which brought the episode down, I don’t care about Clara and Danny’s domestic rows. Really don’t care. They have had too many, over the same subject, for me to still be interested. Move on.

So not one of the finest episodes of the season. Though, actually, probably not as bad as my torrent of criticism might suggest. All the above is true, but it wasn’t without a sense of fun. This Doctor is much more complicated than the last, and it is nice to see a catastrophe where actually the Doctor is caught in the middle without needing to fix it. If the writers and producers can manage to pare down some of the extra stuff they’re burdening onto them, then these could be good episodes.

Time and again we’ve seen that the lower-key, stripped-down episodes of Doctor Who tend to be the better — and “In the Forest of the Night” was more or less the opposite of stripped-down.

Closing thoughts:

  • For anyone still wondering about the title, the tiger bit was a bit of a red herring, but the “forest of the night” bit itself was pretty apt.
  • I’m not sure tigers are usually scared of torches, but maybe someone will correct me on that point.
  • Shows like this depicting schoolchildren always miss the mark slightly in terms of portraying real life, in that none of the kids called Danny a prick, or told him to “F**k off”. And before anyone gets upset, he was several times in this episode, and he did need to. (Eastenders, actually, suffers from a similar problem — as well as the fact that none of those people could afford to live in east London…)
  • So with Maebh’s missing sister, Annabel, was she conjured by Maebh thinking of her? Or did Maebh know she would be there because the fireflies told her? This would have been a more interesting subject of exploration than a lot of the other things in the episode.
  • The stupid humans will forget everything that just happened is becoming the “…and it was all just a dream” of Doctor Who. You can stop that now, please.
  • Only two episodes to go? Are you kidding me? We’ve only just started, though…

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