New Who Review: “In the Forest of the Night”
A great actor once said “never work with children or animals.” This episode features both, and once again, the axiom proves true. The students of Coal Hill School have a sleepover in the museum of natural history, and wake up…
IN THE FOREST OF THE NIGHT
By Frank Cottrell-Boyce
Directed by Sheree Folkson
London, and indeed the whole world, ha been engulfed by dense, fireproof forests overnight. The Doctor assumes it’s an act of aggression, but with the help of the kids of Coal Hill School, including one very sensitive girl, the real threat to Earth is identified. But are they too late to realize they’ve been attacking the wrong side?
This is another episode where the main plot and the threat of the week is almost overwhelmed by the staggering character work. Wonderful camera work from the director (the steadi-cam run around the top deck of the TARDIS is wonderful) as well as fabulous work bringing varied and mature performances from a raft of your people. There’s quite a bit that goes unexplained in the episode, but like many great stories, the true star of the week are the emotions and reactions of the main cast. Sometimes you have to let those refrigerator moments pass – it really doesn’t matter where the Harlequin got the jellybeans.
The episode features the return of a common theme in the new series – threats that aren’t threats at all. In the case of this one, it’s actually a benevolent event, misunderstood by everyone, much like the star whale from The Beast Below. Once again The Doctor was wrong about his assumptions. In this case, if he’d done nothing at all, everything would have been fine, save for any small areas the pudding-brains exposed to damage by successfully taking down small areas of ttrees,
GUEST STAR REPORT – Frank Cottrell-Boyce (Writer) has won a Carnegie medal for his novel Millions (and wrote the script for the film) and has written several films with Michael Winterbottom, including Welcome to Sarajevo, 24-Hour Party People and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.
Sheree Folkson (Director) There may not be any female writers for Doctor Who in the new series, as Neil Gaiman so adroitly hung a lampshade on, there’s been at least a couple female directors, including Ms Folkson. She directed the David Tennant film The Decoy Bride, and the mini-series that brought him to fame, Casanova.
THE MONSTER FILES – While the forests of the world certainly seemed to be the baddie of the episode, it turned out not to be the case. But we’ve seen other plantlife on the show as well. The Krynoids in The Seeds of Doom turned out to be quite a threat, as did the Ice Warriors’ biological weapon in The Seeds of Death. The Forest of Cheem evolved from the plant life of ancient Earth, as we learned at The End of the World, and the mysterious sentient forest from The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe didn’t want to harm anyone, but also didn’t care how they got what they wanted.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS
SET PIECES – It turns out if you want to show London covered with forest, it’s cheaper to find a forest and cover it with bits of London. a forest near Newport was the location chosen, which was given the feel of London with selectively chosen icons. The red phone booth, traffic light and entry to the Underground were there, but the double decker bus (with an ad on for the new series of Doctor Who) was only a large photo on a backboard.
NIGHT IN THE MUSEUM – Nice bit of foreshadowing in the museum – we see stuffed versions of a tiger and two wolves, which we see live versions of later on. Tempting to think they came to life somehow, but The Doctor’s theory of the Zoo getting destroyed makes a bit more sense.
“When you drink a glass of Coke, it’s only this big, but it’s actually got THIS much sugar in it. Works a bit like that.” This is the second-best explanation of the TARDIS’ dimensional transcendentality ever. The best one was given to Leela at the beginning of Robots of Death, where The Doctor shows two boxes of differing sizes explained fairly easily how you can place the bigger one inside the little one just by placing it farther away. The Doctor twice gets to be gleefully frustrated by people seemingly being unimpressed by the bigger-insidiness of the old girl.
“Who do you want to talk do, Monty Don?” Monty Don is a TV presenter in Britain, best known for segments on Gardener’s World.
“No circuits, no mechanism…wood” – That’s the first logical explanation we’ve gotten for why the Sonic Screwdriver won’t work on wood, something that’s been the case since at least the Tennant years.
“Not everything can be fixed with a Sonic Screwdriver, it’s not a magic wand” – More lampshade-hanging – it was clearly being used as such in the past series, and as mentioned previously, is used much less so now.
“Furious, fearful, tongue-tied – all superpowers if you use them properly” – There’s a surfeit of bookends in this series – this is a callback to The Doctor’s speech to young Danny about how fear is a superpower in Listen. And as we see in the episode, the “Gifted and Talented” kids all start to come out of their shells and help in their own way, from Maebh’s talking to the forest to Ruby’s literal-minded observations of important things.
“Trail of breadcrumbs, Hansel and Gretel” – The connection to fairy tales and forests recurs through the episode – Clara asks if they slept like Sleeping Beauty and fears they’ll find a gingerbread cottage. Maebh leaves a trail, she is wearing a red coat (with a hood) and is pursued by the Big Bad Wolf.
“This is a massive solar flare headed for Earth” – Earth suffers from attack by solar flare more then a few times in the history of the show – aside from the final one in The End of the World, there’s the one that Nerva Beacon tries to survive in The Ark in Space, and the one that Starship UK escaped from in The Beast Below.
“The thoughts…they go so fast” – Maebh’s hand-waving gestures are sometimes a symptom of autism, a repetitive action it’s believed helps calm the person. The autistic person can often feel overwhelmed by the sensory input we take for granted. To take those gestures and turn them into a literal attempt to wave errant fleeting thoughts away is quite illuminating. Maebh is described as being “tuned to another channel”, which is also a pretty good description of Autism. That other way of seeing things is presented a number of ways in the episode, from being sensitive to the communication from The Green (to take a description from DC’s Swamp Thing) to being the only who notices there’s a gate just a few feet down the fence that The Doctor and Clara are trying to get her over.
“But we saw the future – lots of futures” – This is the first of two bookends to Kill the Moon – Clara asks again how the Earth can end now when they’ve both seen it so many times in the future.
“This is my world too. I walk your Earth, I breathe your air” – and this is the other. He’s parroting what Clara said to him in anger, and he’s saying it earnestly. And while in Kill the Moon, The Doctor says he can do nothing and walks away so humanity (through Clara) can make the right choice, here humanity (again through Clara) tells The Doctor to leave, because he can do nothing.
Which is, if you think about it, rubbish. The TARDIS is powered by the full output of a dying start housed in the Eye of Harmony, and has the power to pull the Earth physically through space. It seems to me that it could either absorb or deflect the solar flare, or just drag the Earth out of the way of the flare and pop it back after it passes. But of course, that would leave us with no story, so I should just shut up and move on.
Also, both stories also feature truly outlandish saves to global catastrophes that should cause humanity to undergo a change to its shared human zeitgeist, but are virtually forgotten a galactic-scale tick of the clock later. Truly we are short-sighted creatures.
“There are wonders here” – This little speech is on par with Tony Randall’s speech in The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, and I am not being sarcastic.
“If you remembered how things felt, you have stopped having wars…and stopped having babies” – We are pretty good at romanticizing trauma, to the point that we’re keen on trying them again.
BIG BAD WOLF REPORT
“Let him call – this is more important” – If the subtext theme of the last two episodes was lying, if you had to name the theme in this episode, it would be “Priorities.” Clara calls The Doctor before she calls the school or any of the kids’ parents. More than once in the story, she’s more fascinated about what she’s seeing than in the safety of the kids – something she was chastising The Doctor about doing not too long ago. And while Danny does stop things once or twice to discuss the fact that Clara is clearly still in touch with The Doctor, and still traveling with him, his priority is protecting the kids, a mindset Clara can’t deny she finds alluring. Clara is more worries about Danny finding out about her still being on the TARDIS than the news that a solar flare is headed for Earth.
“I thought Miss Oswald told me to go find The Doctor, but it wasn’t her – it was just in my head” – There was no exact explanation for Maebh’s abilities – the voice of the plants said they had no idea who he is, so it seems unlikely they’d be behind her seeking him out. Clara wasn’t even aware there was a problem when Maebh went off, so it wouldn’t have been her. It’s possible this might be the subtle hand of Missy, guiding the young girl to The Doctor to make sure he doesn’t stroll off.
“…like the one that destroyed the Bank of Karabraxos” – The mention of the Bank from Time Heist specifically suggests a connection between the two – both were apparently a surprise to the planets in question. One has to wonder whether Missy was behind the solar flares, here as well as on Karabraxos – bad guys seem to love big powerful weapons
“I didn’t try too hard to survive, but somehow, here I am” – Almost as if there was someone watching over him, perhaps?
“Well, that was surprising…and I love surprises” – Was Missy just watching the events, as we did, or did she have a hand in it somehow? Well, we’ve not got long to wait to find out…
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO: Not the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, and not the remake of the Japanese horror movie. Dark Water comes marching your way, as does the beginning of the end. of the season, that is.