Sunday 26 October 2014

Reviews in Time & Space: In the Forest of the Night

Doctor Who s08e10 - In the Forest of the Night

Say, have you been enjoying the fact that because Clara and Danny now work in Coal Hill School that a lot of these episodes have featured children in some form or another? Because if you haven't, you really aren't going to like In the Forest of the Night. This week, rather than just one or two kids we have a whole class of them, as Clara and Danny navigate a class through a huge forest that has inexplicably grown all over the world overnight. Even the Doctor doesn't seem to have an answer for why this has happened. As humanity attempts to rid the world of these mysterious flame-proof trees, the Doctor seeks help from a young girl who seems to be seeing more than those around give her credit for.

Danny and the kids
Oh joy.

In the Forest of the Night features a very simple plot, with no alien threat or monsters to be speak of. There are a few badly photoshopped tigers and wolves running around the London jungle, but otherwise its all about the trees. The story and its eventual "surprise" ending makes for a good concept, but just doesn't seem to have enough meat to it to cover a whole 40-minute episode succinctly. The actual story seems to take up 10-15 minutes tops, and the rest just feels like padding as everyone walks around a forest with a few London landmark props thrown into it. Despite it's name the episode also takes place entirely in the day (so I assume the night refers to its origins more than anything else), giving it more of a fantastical/fairytale feel than one that's particularly eerie.

The dilemma that the Doctor and Clara face when the trees have been identified proves nothing new, as it harks back to only a few weeks ago when the Earth was facing a similar fate in Kill the Moon. This time however things seem to have switched around a bit, with the Doctor wanting to help and Clara denying him it. Like last week's episode the Doctor is again in a position where he can't fully understand what's going on, which is still a nice break from the usual "know-it-all" Doctor we see. This episode even lets him be wrong about something again! Clara's near-unflinched reaction at the supposed damnation of the human race does come across as a little cold though - is the hope that the Doctor brings really beginning to run that thinly?

Everyone aboard the TARDIS
I said I wanted more companions, but this isn't what I had in mind

But unfortunately, the rushed progress of Clara's relationship again does no favours for poor old Danny Pink, who still doesn't feel anywhere near as rounded as the numerous similar characters that have populated the modern Doctor Who universe. Considering he's now a semi-regular character, he shouldn't be coming off as a bit-part role that could have really been filled by any Coal Hill School teacher (save for a few poignant lines about him not wanting to travel the universe, but even those weren't anything that couldn't have been done elsewhere). Admittedly it took the likes of Mickey and even Rory time to settle into their respective roles properly, but Danny doesn't feel half as established as those did in the same amount of episodes.

Finally we come to the elephant in the room - the "gifted and talented" class of Coal Hill School. Now I fully admit that I'm constantly skeptical of the use of child actors in Doctor Who because it seemingly always turns out badly, but the cold opening of this episode gave me some hope. Maebh proved to be quite an interesting little foil to the Doctor thanks to her unfazed reactions to the TARDIS, but once those opening credits hit all that hope came crashing down. The children were an excuse for some HORRIBLY cringeworthy dialogue, with first-time Who writer Frank Cottrell Boyce trying his hardest to seem as "down with the kids" as he possibly could ("Can we take another selfie sir?"). I'm sure many will praise the episode for its coverage of children with presumed mental illness and learning difficulties, but flat characters and lines like "when I get scared I forget my anger management" don't really feel like progression at all so why even bother. Even the ending, while sickly sweet and wholly predictable, comes off as far too contrived and tacked on.

The Doctor and Maebh
Best child.

In the Forest of the Night lures audiences in with an exciting teaser and interesting premise, but reveals itself to have nowhere near enough substance to cover a whole episode, horribly written characters and just an overall feel that it doesn't really contribute to anything at all. It's Doctor Who fluff at its very finest, and the first episode this season that I've struggled to find anything salvageable in. Possibly not the best note to close things on, as next week we being the big finale and finally found out what the deal with Missy is...

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