REVIEW: Doctor Who - "In the Forest of the Night"
For science fiction shows on TV, I often sympathize with the creative teams. They often have to stretch their production budgets much further than most other programs, just to sell the idea of interstellar or futuristic locations. Usually, that means that some episodes look more convincing than others – there’s no guaranteeing that the visuals will live up to the story’s premise.
That being said, the past two episodes of Doctor Who, “Flatline” and “In the Forest of the Night”, boast some particularly notable imagery. “Flatline” featured creepy “3D to 2D” sequences and monsters that move in a jumpy, stop-motion-animated style. Meanwhile, Saturday’s “In the Forest of the Night” gave us an Earth reclaimed by nature, with that Life After People vibe that makes post-apocalyptic productions so evocative.
Sadly, having set up some engaging landscapes, “In the Forest of the Night” ran out of energy at that point. Instead, it delivered a rather meandering plot that was sorely missing a strong villain or some interesting supporting characters. And while I’m usually very forgiving when it comes to the scientific grounding of Doctor Who, it became rather hard to suspend my disbelief when the Doctor was going on about trees producing oxygen to shield the planet from solar radiation. Similarly, we see none of the chaos that a sudden tree invasion would create.
The story opens with the Doctor trying to land in London, only to find himself in the midst of a huge forest. He soon finds that the trees have, in fact, taken over the whole planet for an unknown reason, and the event is somehow connected to one of Clara’s young students at Coal Hill School. Only then does the Doctor realize that a massive solar flare is headed for Earth, and that he’s powerless to stop it.
Most the episode consists of the cast wandering through the new forest, trying to figure out what happened. At one point, they face off against some escaped wolves and a tiger, but other than that, there’s an uninspiring lack of tension in the episode. Even the revelation that the Earth may be doomed is handled in a ho-hum fashion. You’d think that the creative team could drum up a bit more drama when the Doctor and Clara are (theoretically) saying goodbye, and the Doctor believes that Earth’s about to be torched.
On the whole, the episode almost feels like an extended version of one of those Doctor Who shorts we see from time to time – stories like “Time Crash” that aren’t essential to the overall arc of the series.
I suspect it’s partially because “In the Forest of the Night” is missing a villain – even though “Listen” showed how episodes can shine without them. At first, the episode resembles the terrible 2008 film The Happening (trees are killing people for harming the environment, or something). Then there’s some business about a race of beings that look like fireflies, who claim to be Earth’s eternal protectors, and who communicate with Clara’s student Maebh.
But the creatures aren’t adequately explained, and eventually seem to act like some kind of magic spell, restoring the Earth to normal once the solar flare is dealt with. In short, you know you’re in trouble when the strongest influence on the episode seems to be coming from a recent M. Night Shyamalan movie.
The only truly useful pieces of the episode were the conversation about lying between Clara and Danny (which could have easily been added to the last episode or the next one) and a couple of funny moments from the Doctor. All “In the Forest of the Night” really accomplishes is to dilute the handful of great episodes from Series 8, and leave me hoping that the upcoming finale gives us a reason to want Steven Moffatt at the helm for Series 9.
“In the Forest of the Night” gets two and a half stars out of four.
What did you think of the tenth episode of Series 8? Were you impressed by the lead-in to the upcoming two-part finale, or do you think the “tree invasion” concept could have been handled better? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!