The Doctor is powerless as the Tree Age comes to Earth. The planet is on the brink of destruction. And not even the sonic screwdriver can help him this time!
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
For generations to come the children of Earth will be taught how trees sprouted planet wide overnight in order to protect their world from the onslaught of an apocalyptic solar flare. Eventually fact will become fairytale and legend as all good truths do. No need to mention the presence in London at the time of the mysterious Time Lord known as the Doctor in London – he’s completely superfluous to what unfolded.
You people, you never learn. If a child is speaking, listen to it!
That’s right the Doctor is completely unnecessary to the plot of In the Forest of the Night. Nothing he does in this episode affects the outcome. The Doctor spends his time blundering around the newly manifested forests trying his best not to get himself, or the children on an overnight outing from Coal Hill School, eaten by an escaped tiger.
The Doctor being superfluous to his own adventures isn’t anything new. Arguably this applied to many of the pure historical adventures that the First Doctor found himself embroiled in. An observer of, rather than an influencer of, events. Similarly the presence of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark is superfluous. Think about it. If Indy hadn’t interfered the Nazis would have ended up with the genuine headpiece from the Staff of Ra, Belloq would have found the Ark of the Covenant unmolested, and the baddies would have still died in a splendidly gory fashion when the chest containing the Ten Commandments was opened.
The forest. It’s in all the stories that kept you awake at night. The forest is mankind’s nightmare.
Drawing upon William Blake’s famous poem The Tyger, the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, and the Gaia hypothesis of the Earth as a self-sustaining organism, In the Forest of the Night belongs to Abigail Eames. As Maebh Arden (a nod to the Forest of Arden from William Shakespeare’s fairy tale-like pastoral comedy As You Like It) the actress magnificently carries the plot upon her young shoulders. It’s not easy for anyone to hold their own against Peter Capaldi’s simultaneously frightening and amusing presence but she does. She’s far more fun, complex and downright enjoyable than the dire Courtney of The Caretaker and Kill the Moon.
Once again lurking on the negative side of character development there’s Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). Even saving the Doctor and Clara from being eaten by the aforementioned tiger with just a torch fails to render him heroic, interesting, or remotely likeable. Whilst the Doctor may be superfluous to this particular episode Danny has been so for Series 8 so far. There needs to be a bloody good role for him in Dark Water and Death in Heaven to compensate up for his annoying presence…
Stars implode, Planets grow cold. Catastrophe is the metabolism of the universe. I can fight monsters. I can’t fight physics.
Frank Cottrell-Boyce was the writer of the justly acclaimed 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony. With his first script for Doctor Who his background as an author of children’s fiction (including three sequels to Ian Fleming’s Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car) shines through. The Steven Moffat era is replete with examples of the power of a child’s imagination and a fairy tale ethos. In the Forest of the Night mixes these two elements into one of the most unusual and ethereal tales the series has ever told. When the polls for Series 8 occur expect to find this story in the middle ranks of voting. It’s nothing revolutionary like Deep Breath or Flatline but stands heads and shoulders above the clunky Robot of Sherwood, Time Heist and The Caretaker.
Once again the fantastic filmic production values of the NuWho team come to the fore as famous London iconography and woodland vistas are merged together. Imagine the behind the scenes team of the 1970s collectively freaking out upon being handed a Third Doctor/UNIT script where London becomes a forest! A couple of days of filming in a BBC owned wood somewhere and some ropey Colour-separation overlay of the London skyline would have been the best that could have been hoped for. Invasion of the Dinosaurs with trees instead of giant beasties. In 2014 there’s no problem. “Earth turned into a forest? No problem, guv”. Though the absence of UNIT from In the Forest of the Night is rather noticeable given that their UK headquarters is at the Tower of London, within walking distance of Trafalgar Square where the TARDIS was sat. Kind of like not calling the Ghostbusters when spectres, phantoms and wraiths are roaming around.
This is my world too. I walk your earth, I breathe your air.
In the Forest of the Night was the final story filmed for Series 8 (after Steven Moffat’s forthcoming two part finale) and the chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman crackles beautifully right to the end of their filming. Clara’s completely forgiven the Doctor for his antics in Kill the Moon and does her best to trick him into abandoning the Earth to its fate. She knows that other worlds need the Time Lord and refuses to allow him to die when he can easily escape. In a moving scene the Doctor turns Clara’s words from Kill the Moon around and declares himself a denizen of Earth. The world of humanity has fascinated the Doctor since time immemorial. He’s always been a citizen of Earth without realising it.
Essential services have been disrupted due to an unexpected forest. We’d like to reassure you that situation will be rectified very soon. Please don’t be scared. And please don’t chop, spray or harm the trees. They’re here to help. Be less scared. Be more trusting.
In Vincent and the Doctor the series explored themes of mental health in an understanding fashion and here Cottrell-Boyce gently touched upon similar themes. Voices in the head are often taken as a sign of mental imbalance and the sufferer medicated, but what if at times it’s due to something beyond human comprehension attempting to communicate? Doctor Who should be applauded for embracing the notion that those with mental health issues are as important as any other human being.
In the Forest of the Night passes time in an entertaining enough fashion without ever threatening to become a NuWho classic. A case of marking time in a harmless fashion after the memorable duology of Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline before Moffat’s supposedly game changing (again) finale arrives.