The Good: Acting, Character, Plot development and reversals
The Bad: None!
The Basics: "Forest Of The Dead" is a perfect Doctor Who episode that gives a proper introduction to the potentials River Song represents while resolving the conflict in the library with the Vashta Nerada.
Some brilliant episodes of Doctor Who are hard to go back to because of how they are followed up upon. The saga of River Song comes to a close in "Forest Of The Dead," an episode that introduces Song as a character chock full of potential for adventures with subsequent (non-David Tennant) Doctors. Unfortunately, going back to "Forest Of The Dead" after viewers see "The Husbands Of River Song" (reviewed here!), what stands out most is how River Song had amazing potential that was utterly wasted. The on-screen adventures of The Doctor and River Song end in "The Husbands Of River Song" unless Steven Moffat screws up again or Song is The Doctor's next Companion.
"Forest Of The Dead" is a direct sequel to "Silence In The Library" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the episode without allusions to where the prior episode ended. After all, "Silence In The Library" was a cliffhanger and it left The Doctor and River Song in a remarkably perilous position. Donna Noble was lost while teleporting into the TARDIS and then appeared as a Node which told The Doctor that Donna Noble had been saved. "Forest Of The Dead" was exceptionally good at answering the questions raised by "Silence In The Library."
While The Doctor and River flee the Vashta Nerada, the little girl in her fantasy world watches television. On her television is the story of Donna Noble, who she recognizes from her dreams of the library. Donna integrates to an entirely new life at a CAL hospital. There, Dr. Moon introduces her to a man, who she marries and settles down with. She has a flash of The Doctor and she seems vaguely aware of time moving at erratic intervals, but Dr. Moon quickly corrects her notions. In the library, River Song proves herself to The Doctor when he becomes frustrated that she has some version of his sonic screwdriver. Unfortunately, another member of her team is consumed by the Vashta Nerada.
The next day at the park, Donna confronts a mysterious woman in black she has seen lurking and the woman tries to reveal the true nature of the place they both occupy. The Doctor utilizes the opportunity of the Vashta Nerada being confined to space suits of people they have killed to communicate with the swarms. The Doctor realizes where the 4022 people saved by the computer went and he tries to figure out how to rematerialize those people (and Donna).
"Forest Of The Dead" is a three-pronged mystery and it is a rare one that works on all three fronts amazingly well. The answer to the simulation mystery is cleverly executed. The internal world is an expression of the data core and it is convincingly portrayed. The conflict within CAL adds another layer of nightmare to an episode that is already nightmarish for its creature of the week. The conceit also allows the episode to take on a ticking clock aspect that feels organic, in the form of the main computer preparing to self-destruct (or erase everything).
The River Song storyline is exceptionally well-executed and the result in the episode is very satisfying.
The Vashta Nerada are presented in "Forest Of The Dead" as frightening adversaries who seem like a gimmick, but are fairly fully-formed entities. The idea that the Vashta Nerada can both negotiate and were victims of massive deforestation is clever.
"Forest Of The Dead" is not just clever on the page, it is brilliantly presented and portrayed. The gimmick of CAL could be seen as just a ridiculous gimmick or cheap reversal, but it plays as a revelation that ties the story together in an interesting way. The performances are universally wonderful, most of the best simply being reaction shots for David Tennant, Catherine Tate or Alex Kingston. Between powerful moments of reflection and bold, emotional, proclamations, "Forest Of The Dead" has intense, amazing performances for the essential characters and the supporting guest cast.
Ultimately, "Forest Of The Dead" is an ideal second part; it satisfyingly pays off the elements left unresolved from the first part, while being solid on its own.
For other works with Colin Salmon, please visit my reviews of:
The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret - Season 1
AVP: Alien Vs. Predator
Die Another Day
The World Is Not Enough
Tomorrow Never Dies
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the final season of David Tennant as The Doctor here!
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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