Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Doctor Who 8.10 In the Forest of the Night

Doctor Who’s In the Forest of the Night was a mediocre affair to say the least. Depressingly, it kept showing little hints of getting better before getting worse and worse. In the end, what started out as a tense and intriguing drama, fizzled into yet another disappointment.

If you want to read more, please join me under the cut!

The episode actually starts out pretty spectacularly; a little girl called Maebh is lost in the woods and sent, seemingly by Clara, to find the Doctor. The Doctor soon realises with a fair amount of disbelief that the forest itself is in the heart of London. All around the world, vast thickets of forest have sprung up overnight and overrun streets and cityscapes. Maebh and the Doctor contact Clara who, along with Danny Pink, has been supervising a sleepover at the Museum. Alarmed at seeing the overgrowth of vegetation outside, the group set off to find the Doctor and Maebh.

For some reason, I should note, no one is contacted by or contacts U.N.I.T. and this is particularly bizarre given the clip show of the entire world covered in forest and the fact that the Doctor and U.N.I.T have been in contact a fair bit recently. It’s a bit strange that this wasn’t thought through well enough, at least with a mention of why they weren’t involved. I thought I caught a hint of a puffer in the next episode though, so maybe they are being saved for the finale? I digress…

Importantly, Clara and Danny note that Maebh is ‘unstable’, she recently lost her sister who vanished without a trace and has been hearing voices. The teachers have medication for her that she needs to take to stop hearing these voices.

The children along for the adventure seem interesting enough, and although they spark with Peter Capaldi’s grumpy old grandad of a Doctor, they never quite catch. This was particularly distressing for me as I always wait for the episodes with children to be fantastic; I blame Matt Smith and Christopher Eccleston for that! Maebh herself makes up for a little of what the other children lack and her chemistry with Capaldi’s Doctor is gentle and calming. It’s distressing watching her run around and bat away invisible threats, but the Doctor points out that those who have lost someone are more in tune with noticing things that other people do not, and it’s a nice way of looking at the situation. In fact, when Maebh is found again, batting at invisible ‘thoughts’ as she calls them, the Doctor insists that Clara and Danny do not give her medication to dull them but instead actually listen to her. The Doctor manages to reveal tiny, bug-like creatures, swarming around Maebh and communicating with her. They tell the Doctor that they came to our present time called by Maebh and created the forest all over the Earth as they had done before.

Couching mental illness as something that not only addles ones mind but also sharpens other abilities and senses continues to be an interesting concept no matter where it is pitched. Unfortunately, in this case, there was too much else going on in the episode to fully explore the possibilities and really break new ground, or even pull the reveal itself off without seeming heavy handed and a little insensitive. It’s a shame given that the Eleventh Doctor episode Vincent was so fantastic at exploring this concept with an artist, going further with a child could have been really interesting.

Danny Pink continues to do things to save the Doctor and Clara and to valiantly lead his little band of children through the scrub. He’s beyond annoying and it’s only made worse when Clara constantly throws in Moffat one-liners to remind us of how “twuly in wuv” they are. Never mind that it’s the end of the world and she’s still lying to him. Never mind that he’s almost completely wrong about everything and the writers are determined to paint him as the perfect boyfriend.

Building on her insight last week, Clara lures the Doctor back to the TARDIS with the promise that even if he cannot save the planet this time, he can save some people. When he’s back though, Clara tells him that these children need to be with their families, not off on another planet, alive but never whole again. She also says that Danny would never leave those children (because he is SO MANLY) and that she doesn’t want to be the last of her kind. That last line cut particularly deep. I wish that it had more of the kind of punch it would have had with some of the other companions in closer relationships with their respective Doctor’s.

Although the Doctor does leave, prompted by Clara saying that for once humanity is saving him, he quickly returns having figured out that the trees (did I mention they are fire resistant trees?) are actually here to protect the Earth from a massive solar flare and that everything should be fine as long as the forest remains in place. Not only is that a daft stretch, but the explanation that all of this has happened before and everyone just forgets about it because ‘humans forget these things’ is so completely ridiculous that it is amazing Capaldi got the words to come out of his mouth.

The children help with getting a message out to the world to be unafraid of the trees and to trust that they are there to protect them from an unseen danger. I seriously have no idea how this worked. When Clara suggests (the one time in the episode when Clara seems like Clara) that they all go and watch the solar flare from the safest place (the TARDIS in space) all the children cry for their mummy’s and Clara is scolded by Danny for not seeing the wonder in the things around her and taking too many ridiculous risks. I don’t think I have hated Danny Pink more than in that moment. Doctor Who absolutely is about seeing the beauty and wonder in those things around us, but it is also about space and time, about the wonders of exploration and science and about making a difference and seeing the stars. Clara, and to some degree the audience – who absolutely want to get back in the TARDIS and watch the solar flare - are made to feel like they are terrible people and wrong for wanting to see more than this Earth. It’s shit. I could understand if there was any hope that the teachers could return the children to their families, and any real danger that the world was actually going to end, but the kids were never getting back to their parents and actually the safest place for them to be was in the TARDIS. No explorers or scientists to be created out of that group then!

Danny tells Clara that even when she thought the world was ending, she still didn’t tell him that she was in the TARDIS travelling with the Doctor again and asks her to go away and have a think about what she’s done. Remember kids: this is TRUE LOVE.

Clara gets into the TARDIS with the Doctor and watches as the overnight forest averts the solar flare and then the forest itself magically disappears. It fits the theme this year of there being fears or monsters that aren’t real or aren’t really bad, or misguided machines. Everything was a natural response to something, the Doctor isn’t really needed and realistically, no one needed to make any decision about anything.

It’s pretty disappointing to end the episode that way and to have such a non-inspirational tone to the season. I used to come out of each episode of Doctor Who excited about the future, about exploration and about what I could contribute as a person in the world. Now I just basically cannot wait to turn the T.V. off.

Next week it looks like it’s not just Missy but Clara who is the big bad (in a surprise to no-one after last week’s ominous if not a little obvious moment with the iPad in heaven). The tone certainly looks better. Clara saying that ‘Clara Oswald isn’t real’ doesn’t come as an overall shock – though it really depends on the context in which she is saying it. I have had trouble with Clara since the Impossible Girl story arc finished. At what point was she real and at what point did she cease to be at all? What were those other copies? I know there is a very simplistic and crap explanation in the show (or has been previously), but it’s never been cleverly or fully addressed. I guess next week we find out!

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