Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 10 – In the Forest of the Night
Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Directed by Sheree Folkson
This is an odd one. But then it’s been an odd season for Peter Capaldi’s freshman season as The Doctor.
Odd can be good and it can be bad. Unfortunately, In the Forest of the Night leans toward the latter in that it’s ultimately an inconsequential episode with untapped potential. It also raises concerns about where the season’s remaining episodes are headed.
The idea of the entire Earth being turned into a forest is an intriguing one, so the episode begins with a mystery that should be entertaining, but much like Kill The Moon, it ultimately doesn’t pay off in terms of logic and lacks any character conflict or real drama to save to the weak plot, which is also more fantasy than science fiction.
For one thing, there’s nothing really scary in the forest aside from the odd wild animal. There’s no monster of the week and the forest itself seems benign until the very end until it isn’t and then quickly is again. Through most of the episode there’s no real sense of jeopardy.
And you could probably blame the kids for that. Clara and her boyfriend/teacher colleague have taken a bunch of smart children on an overnight to a museum and wake up to find out London is overgrown by trees. The very presence of these children in the story are an indicator that nothing truly horrific is going to happen to anyone; we know there’s more to Danny’s story and there’s something happening with Clara that will likely come to a head at the end of the season.
Instead of getting a creepy, edgy episode, we get annoyances, such as the cavalier attitude of letting just about anyone into the TARDIS and letting them know about time travel. This began earlier in the season with the Doctor inviting Courtney along for a ride. There used to be a sense that the Doctor’s companion had to be worthy enough to travel with the Time Lord, but now all you need is an oyster card or a permission slip from your mum.
And that brings us to Danny Pink. Is he a companion? The reason why Clara will give up travelling with the Doctor, given speculation that Jenna Coleman is leaving the series? And does Clara need a romance? Why can’t she just have a friend? When the character of Danny Pink was announced, I was hoping we might get a Second Doctor-Jamie-Zoe dynamic, not Amy and Rory the sequel.
What is interesting to see here a trading of places for The Doctor and Clara, which began in Mummy on the Orient Express. The Doctor, having been ruthlessly pragmatic to the point of being cold-blooded since his regeneration, is softening. The transition to Capaldi to Matt Smith is similar to that of Peter Davison to Colin Baker – the latter began his run by trying to kill his companion, Peri, but in later episodes was considerably more gentle and friendly.
But the slight mellowing of Capaldi in recent outings has been contrasted by Clara’s transformation into someone who, for better or for worse, is starting to see the bigger picture, and almost a little too willing to accept the death of innocents for the greater good. It’s disturbing and obviously going to play a role in storylines to come.
Clara has been a troublesome character in that she debuted as a plot device, an overused theme in new Who. Rose was Bad Wolf, Donna was the Doctor-Donna, and Amy was the girl who waited – with the crack in her wall, no less. Wilf ended up being a story point in the demise of the Tenth Doctor, and even Danny is clearly not just a former soldier turned teacher. It would be nice to have a companion who is just an average person who joins the Doctor on adventures – Martha is the only one who truly fits that bill. After the resolution of the impossible girl storyline, I had hoped for more for Clara.
While In the Forest of the Night has some great moments, particularly Clara telling the Doctor she doesn’t want to be the last of her kind, it’s a mediocre affair just on its own merits, and highlights what’s not working this season.
And then there’s Missy. The lady who is bringing people back from the dead and clearly knows the Doctor and Clara. Steven Moffatt seems to like having mysterious women working behind the scenes in his season-long story arcs, and it’s not clear what this all about.
As we enter the final three episodes of the year, hopefully it will pay off. When Moffatt is on his game, he’s fantastic, but he tends to reuse themes and fall victims to TV tropes, and there’s a sense this year he’s running out of ideas. Prove us wrong Steven.