In The Forest Of The Night
Series Eight, Episode Ten
What's this? Three new writers in a row? Praise the Doctor Who gods!
And yet, just getting new people in doesn't automatically mean better episodes. This week, for example: new writer, lots of plaudits, still turns in the year's biggest duffer. (With one possible exception.)
The premise is interesting. Sort of. What if the world was suddenly covered in trees? Where did they come from, and how (besides an army of lumberjacks) do you get rid of them? Okay, forests aren't actually terrifying so much as the things hiding in them, as any fairytale will tell you. And did I say fairytale? Good, because we open with a little red-coated girl running through the trees, later to be menaced by wolves, at one point leaving breadcrumbs for others to follow. LIKE IN A FAIRYTALE. There's plenty of mileage in there for something evocative and scary; it's just that none of it's realised. It's the cute kind of fairytale, not The Brothers Grimm.
|How Not To Terrify Your Audience:|
Introduce an adorable kid and have her point out how lovely
and not scary the situation is. Preferably before the opening credits.
Of course, what really kills it dead is the troupe of kids we're stuck with. Children don't automatically make a story less creepy – horror movies never tire of proving the exact opposite is true, and anyway, School Reunion worked pretty well. But these ones fall more into the Nightmare In Silver camp, adding gentle, fluffy edges to everything. You know no one's going to die or get hurt this week as it'd upset the kids. The emotional heart of the episode concerns a particular kiddiewink, Maebh, who gained insight into the inner workings of trees after her sister went missing. (Slightly Dodgy Message Alert: the Doctor tells her that when she hears voices, it's wrong to use medication to shut them up. Great news, mentally troubled viewers! You're psychic!) The connection between Maebh, the trees and the solar flare that's about to roast the Earth is, er, not as clear as it could have been.
Ah yes, that's why there are trees everywhere: to add an "oxygen airbag" that'll absorb the solar flare. Or something. Science isn't this series's strongpoint, the moon being an egg and everything, but I definitely frowned my way through this one. Trees helping to prevent a fire is just hilariously, insanely stupid. Solar flare + oxygen + trees is literally a perfect fire triangle, it is the opposite of helpful. Schoolchildren know this. But what about the places that don't have trees? When we see it from space, how is the entire planet covered in green, including the oceans? And what about the timeline? Clara says she's been to the future, and happened to notice that there was one. The Doctor shrugs and says it's about to change. Can someone tell me the rules? (Apparently mankind will "forget this ever happened", which is a bloody convenient excuse not to mention it again. We forgot last time, apparently, and just stuck some extra forests into our fairytales. Yeah, Doc, but last time we didn't have 24 hour news or the internet.)
Huge concepts are thrown away just as fast as they're grown. How did the trees get so big, and all at the same time? Because they can communicate with each other, and can grow like that if they want to, apparently. (As for why they don't do it during other times when it would be really helpful, shut up, that's why!) Where do the trees go afterwards? To the land of pixie dust, leaving everything exactly as it was, of course. Why didn't anyone notice the impending solar flare, including the Doctor? Because reasons. I just don't get it. Was there a sale on bollocks at the Plot Supermarket? Fairytales are all well and good, although Doctor Who actually isn't one, no matter how often Steven Moffat insists otherwise. However, even fairytales need a semblance of logic to them.
|So these are... tree spirits? Glow-worms? Thoughts? Fairies?|
Also, trees are sentient. Enjoy never hearing about that again.
Maybe Clara's judgement is compromised because of The Danny Factor, which is just as fascinating as ever. He realises she's been seeing the Doctor on the quiet, and wearily suggests (once again) that she make up her mind. He doesn't need to travel the universe to see amazing things, apparently. She wants to be with Danny, so she'll have to lump it and go with him instead. Right? Well, obviously not, since she's clearly keen to see the universe and there's bugger all wrong with that, especially since she has the rare distinction of being able to stay home as well. There's no competition on the romantic front, so what's the big deal?
I'm just not seeing Danny's problem, aside from Clara's constant lying. It's not wrong to be amazed by the universe and its infinite wonders, because duh, they're amazing. It's not wrong to like what's in front of you either. It's not wrong to want both, if you can have both, which she can. Unfortunately for Mr Pink, if it comes down to a straight choice then Clara made it before she even met him. She likes travelling. He has a problem with that. Okay. Cheque, please.
As for the Doctor, his edges are inevitably sanded off when you shove him into a group of kids, and giving the TARDIS a SatNav was a bloody stupid idea as well, but he still manages a few intriguing moments. Admitting that Clara was right in Kill The Moon, i.e. it's his Earth as well, is an important step. (Okay, he's still an alien, but the Earth is important to him.) Admitting, after everything that happens, that it would be "awkward" for the Earth to get roasted bounces us hilariously back the other way. But unfortunately, the plot requires the Doctor to sit back and let nature take its course. It's not like Kill The Moon, where he deliberately cuts himself out of the equation; the plot just didn't require him to show up at all. There's something amiss with your Doctor Who episode when the Doctor doesn't need to be in it. Worse, it turns out no one was ever in any danger. Thrilling, huh? Watch it twice. I dare you.
|Next stop: the finale! Finally an answer to all of our questions!|
(Q1: "Who is she?" Q2: "Actually, who cares?")
In The Forest Of The Night is sweet and pretty, and doesn't have a brain in its head. It never justifies its barmy notions or makes them work, and when the emotional moments come along, such as the reunion between Maebh and her sister that you knew was coming, it's surrounded by so much candyfloss that it doesn't register. Still, never mind. Second time around, I'd nodded off by then anyway.