Hello Whovians and DAPs-devotees, and welcome back to the Doctor Who Review! Holy feral foliage, Batman – the world is encompassed by greenery that has seemingly sprung up overnight. When a school field trip goes from sleepover to survival, will the Doctor be able to save the world from destruction, and will Clara be able to keep up her lies to Danny? Find out in this week’s review of Doctor Who ‘In the Forest of the Night.’ Warning, spoilers ahead!
The Doctor arrives in the heart of London, only to find it – and the entire planet – covered in verdant trees and shrubs. Only a few miles away, Clara Oswald and Danny Pink awake from hosting a school sleepover at a museum to be welcomed with the same green sight. Their mission is twofold – uncover the mystery of Earth’s sudden environmental overhaul, and find Maebh, the young school girl who seems to know what’s happening to the planet. As the danger mounts and the day wears on, will the Doctor and the others find solace in the darkness of the forest?
The episode of ‘In the Forest of the Night’ is very much like its title – a bit long and not very dramatic. That’s not to say the episode is bad – writer Frank Cottrell Boyce is an accomplished novelist and screenplay writer whose range varies from adult to children’s fair; ‘ In the Forest of the Night’ leans more towards the latter. While the childlike magic and wonder is prevalent throughout the episode, it’s unfortunately written in the same vein – Boyce’s typical writing is either very straight-played or for young minds; trying to capture the more scientific and galactic wonder of Doctor Who falls short, relying more on unknown beings and young girls with special abilities.
With such a mystical storyline, the Doctor really doesn’t have much to do in this episode. Aside from some admittedly adorable interactions with the schoolchildren and trying to track down Maebh through her cellphone (which ends up not working as planned anyway), Capaldi is left as Mr. Exposition – there only to explain what is happening to the planet. Granted, the Doctor explaining fantastic phenomena which his millennia of knowledge and experience is nothing new; typically however he is given the chance to implement his vast intellect into action. In this episode, he is left to watch the world defend itself as he plays the bystander.
Clara’s role is not much more involved, as she has enough trouble managing the children and trying to explain her travels and lies to Danny Pink. Luckily, her character development continues forward – when it seems all hope is lost for the planet, she masterfully manipulates the Doctor into leaving. Considering that this is still the same man who – not once but twice – left her behind to save a town for centuries on end, it shows how well she understands the Doctor’s nature, guilt, and desire to save the planet he now calls his home.
I’ll admit, I did not expect Danny to handle discovering Clara’s lying as well as he did – I thought I would see an indignant and (rightfully) angry ex-soldier storming off after being handled and misled, and in doing so I made the same mistake the Doctor continues to make with Danny. He is not some militant, irritable soldier – he is a maths teacher who deals with probability and outcomes (as well as misbehaving children). He calls out Clara on her lies but does so gently, being both firm in his demands for truth while also understanding. Samuel Anderson’s portrayal continues to grow on me the more I see of him, playing one of the best secondary characters in this or any Doctor Who series.
I wish I could say the same of the child actors; unlike the older and more nuanced character of Courtney Woods from ‘Kill the Moon,’ these children are younger and not given as much to work with. They are written as both jaded and childlike; they react nonchalantly to the dimensional majesty of the TARDIS and fifteen minutes later are missing their parents as the fate of the planet draws near. While this isn’t unrealistic, it isn’t handled well and ends up feeling forced and insincere. Even Maebh (played by Abigail Eames), who starts off promising as she immediately knows who the Doctor is and his connection to Clara, falls prey to some fairly two-dimensional writing and a less-than-convincing portrayal. Coupled with an exceptionally corny ending, this kid-friendly episode ends up falling just short of an after-school special to save the environment.
If I’m being perfectly honest, this episode is just filler-fuel until the two-part finale beginning next week. It does a nice job of setting up Clara’s understanding and – dare I say – power over the Doctor, which seems to have a purpose in next week’s episode according to the trailer; it also gave the viewer another reason to admire Danny Pink. Aside from that, this episode doesn’t accomplish much of anything. It is certainly not a bad episode and is worth a watch if you have a free hour or so to spare; it’s just not that good, either.