REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘In the Forest of the Night’

This week The Doctor is baffled by a global forest that has sprung up overnight.
This week The Doctor is baffled by a global forest that has sprung up overnight.

So what happened?

It was calamity all round this week as a mysterious forest sprang up overnight across the whole of Planet Earth. Believing that the TARDIS’ navigation system is faulty, it’s not until a schoolgirl called Maebh (Abigail Eames), who’s been mentally disturbed by her sister’s disappearance, wanders away from Miss Oswald’s and Mr Pink’s overnight school trip at the natural history museum and finds Twelve in his blue box, helpfully informing him that he is indeed in London and not some other overgrown location. As The Doctor mistakenly allows the little girl to wander off on her own, it’s not until Clara, Danny and the rest of the children also find their way to the TARDIS that he realises just how important she could be when he examines her homework book and finds a drawing of a solar flare with today’s date on it.

Leaving Danny to look after the rest of the ‘gifted and talented’ class, Clara and Twelve go off to look for her, finding things from her backpack that she’s purposefully left as trail for them and encountering an unsuccessful government tree-clearing task squad along the way. They soon hears screams as Maebh is chased by a pack of wolves who’ve absconded from the zoo, and narrowly escape to the other side of a fence, huddling together to create an utterly, unscary three-headed monster. Their lupine threat is frightened however, but not by them. Hopping over the fence they run a from a huge tiger that threatens to do what large, meat-eating animals do when action man, Mr Pink, arrives in the nick of time with his trusty torch and the other kids, shining it in the eyes of the escaped zoo animal and sending it on its way. Apparently in need of her medication, the disturbed little girl once again runs away, wafting her arms as if she’s swatting away invisible flies, and leads the group to a clearing in the forest where she reveals she was the one who summoned the trees. Using his sonic to highlight what she sees, brightly-coloured firefly-like creatures reveal themselves and are able to use the little girl to speak, telling those who look on in disbelief that they come when they are needed and are extremely old. Sound familiar? You bet!

The Doctor 'bonding' with Maebh.
The Doctor ‘bonding’ with Maebh.

Fearful that the solar flare Maebh predicted in her drawing will signal the end for Earth, The Doctor tries and fails to convince Clara to save herself, and is poignantly told that she’d rather not be the last one of her species like he is. Instead she’d rather stay with Danny and the children. Crestfallen with her decision, Twelve thinks over the dilemma and remembers the task force and the fire retardant tree, soon realising that the trees are indeed there to protect the planet from the solar storm by pumping more oxygen into the atmosphere .Gathering the group and the two teachers back into the TARDIS he tells them about his hypothesis, and gets the kids to put their heads to come up with a statement that he’ll beam to all of the mobile phones in the World, before governments start dropping chemicals on the very natural phenomenon that will ultimately save them. Aptly it’s the little girl who delivers the message and when the flare hits the atmosphere, Clara and Twelve watch normality return to London from the vantage point of her balcony, as Maebh and her Mum are delivered the missing sibling by the mystical, ancient fireflies. Awww! Just as we fear things have ended a little too well for everybody, there’s the whole issue of Missy watching the whole adventure like a sci-fi version of GCHQ.

Monster of the Week

Marieke: Well not the trees. It was the Sun in the end. Or the people trying to burn the trees. I quickly figured out that the trees weren’t the monsters, why did it take the Doctor and rather massive company that long? There really wasn’t any tension there. Basically it set off a Pulp song in my head. Let’s all sing along now!

“Yeah, the trees, those useless trees produce the air that I am breathing.
Yeah, the trees, those useless trees; they never said that you were leaving.”

I have to correct Mr. Cocker here, the trees weren’t that useless! We’re still alive because of them! Hurrah! I guess the biggest monster is the end is that people forget. But as the Doctor stated that is also a good thing. Hmm I don’t know. This episode actually lacked anything menacing, didn’t it? Let’s just continue the singing… ‘Yeah, the treeeeeeeeeeeeeees….”

Danielle: I quite liked the premise of the monster being indeterminate. I suppose the escaped zoo animals provided the threat that the normal monster would in your average Who episode, but it was interesting to see the Doctor up against something that he had no idea how to deal with, even if it made him seem a little dense. I mean come on, who honestly believed those trees were truly evil?

The mystical firefly-like creatures that made the forest grow overnight ended up being the good guys.
The mystical firefly-like creatures that made the forest grow overnight ended up being the good guys.

Creep Factor

Marieke: The fact it was a situation in current London (Earth), where Clara and Danny have a school trip and trees suddenly appear and they don’t know why… Well, that is a bit creepy. The not knowing factor has returned again this series. Also The Doctor is right, forests are creepy and are the background in a lot of fairy tales. I have to say that forests are definitely more scary at night time and we didn’t really see that. Just some wolves and a tiger at day time… So even though Maebh was running around waving her hands, the creep factor was definitely long gone. There were basically just a lot of trees.

Danielle: The only real sense of danger came from those wolves hiding out in the bushes and then chasing poor, little Maebh through the forest. After Danny shone his big torch (overcompensating much?) in the tiger’s eyes there was pretty much no tension at all. I suppose the firefly things using a little girl to channel what they wanted to say, Exorcist-style, was a tad creepy, but it was more odd than anything.

Mystery

Danielle: Once more, one of the final scenes was given over to Missy and her all-seeing IPad. It’s good to know Apple have a burgeoning market in ‘The Nethersphere’, but this particular plot thread has dragged on for far too long now without much further interest being sparked. Why she was too “surprised” by how things turned out in this episode is beyond me, but I’m pleased to see we’re on the precipice of finding out what’s going on with this whole heavenly arc in ‘Dark Water’ and what Clara’s role is in all that. BRING. IT. ON.

Marieke: I think the trailer for next week said the most… Or spoiled the most? I wasn’t keen on a certain revelation or maybe it wasn’t one and it was a trap… Oh who knows?! FINALLY we’re getting there… But since it is a two-parter, we’ll probably be even more confused after this Saturday.

Abigail Eames playing Maebh more than made up for the lack of 'familiar' acting talent.
Abigail Eames playing Maebh more than made up for the lack of ‘familiar’ acting talent.

Familiar Face of the Week

After a plethora of famous faces throughout Series 8, there were none to speak to speak of in this episode. Not that that was a problem. Blowing the budget on the child actors was an excellent move in an outing that was almost entirely driven by them, and Abigail Eames deserves a whole lot of credit for hitting all the right notes with her portrayal of Maebh.

Danny and his 'Action Man' schtick is wearing a little thin.
Danny and his ‘Action Man’ shtick is wearing a little thin.

The Verdict?

‘In the Forest of the Night’ was a mixed bag. Yes, there was no real tension to speak of as the characters fumbled around and finally came to same epiphany that the audience had come to ten minutes in. Yes, Danny is veering wildly into the sphere of unlikeability with his constant demands on Clara. And yes, elements of the episode were so saccharine that they gave us tooth ache, but there were things to like too. Even if the execution was far from perfect, the idea of waking up to a World taken over by a global forest is a rather ingenious one, and whilst the overall message of ‘Trees good, Humans bad’ was a little heavy-handed, we can’t find a good enough reason to criticize them for going there on a family show. Visually it was often stunning, and once again the real emotional impact came from the push and pull relationship between Twelve and Clara. Her admission that she doesn’t want to be the last of her species like he is, when he offered to save her, was a blow to the gut. All in all, it was enjoyable enough and probably a necessary change of gear before we launch into the eye of the storm with the two-part finale.

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