Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Great Message, Abysmal Execution When Doctor Who Goes “In The Forest Of The Night!”

The Good: Admirable moral
The Bad: Terrible concept, No real character development, Erratic special effects, Utterly unremarkable performances
The Basics: Arguably the worst episode of Doctor Who in quite some time, “In The Forest Of The Night” is an awful execution of an intriguing environmental and psychological message.

One of the keys to making Doctor Who work is that the Doctor has to be smarter than the audience. The Doctor must be written in such a way that his epiphanies are revelations; he has to be a step ahead of the viewers. Unfortunately, “In The Forest Of The Night” is written as a plot and moral-based episode where The Doctor is almost an incidental character and the elements of the story are thrown together so haphazardly that it is surprising the episode ever managed to get produced.

At varying points, “In The Forest Of The Night” oscillates between being a second-rate, Doctor Who take on Once Upon A Time (season 1 is reviewed here!) and a thematic partner to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Force Of Nature” (reviewed here!). Unfortunately, “In The Forest Of The Night” makes the viewer ask, above all, why the hell can’t contemporary science fiction writers string together a compelling pro-environment narrative?! With “In The Forest Of The Night,” Doctor Who tries to make a statement on the importance of trees and the value of nature, but it utilizes such ridiculous conceits that in order to make it work it makes nonsense out of other episodes in the franchise.

A little girl is running through the forest to the TARDIS, where The Doctor lets her in. She is Maebh and she tells The Doctor that Miss Oswald sent her. Upon leaving a sleepover at the Natural History Museum, Danny Pink and Clara Oswald – and their students – discover that London has been overrun with trees. The appearance of trees all over is a worldwide phenomenon and in London, crews are being dispatched to burn the trees down to clear paths. As Clara and her students make their way to Trafalgar Square where the TARDIS is parked, the Doctor tries to study the phenomenon.

In the process, Clara’s students note that the trees are actually new (they have only one ring) and Maebh’s homework from the future reveals that a massive solar flare is about to hit the Earth. Maebh runs off and the Doctor and Clara chase her and protect her from the wolves that have fled the zoo. The sudden appearance of the trees seems to be related to Maebh and her ability to communicate with beings that only she is able to perceive.

It’s hard not to discuss just how bad “In The Forest Of The Night” is without revealing spoilers. The truth is, the episode is terrible in a way that plumbs a new low for Doctor Who. In order for the mysterious, magical protectors of the Earth that the episode introduces to make sense, “The End Of The World” (reviewed here!) has to be completely disregarded (after all “Earth Classic” would have its saviors and could not be eliminated without the saviors trying again the same tactic they take in “In The Forest Of The Night”). But then there are the non-spoiler aspects of “In The Forest Of The Night” that are just rotten.

“In The Forest Of The Night” is such a thinly plotted episode built up around such a simplistic concept that the episode has to include multiple, pointless running sequences of Maebh running a la Little Red Riding Hood through the forest. The episode includes a witless, utterly pointless, unexplained and unsatisfying subplot centering around Maebh’s lost sister who has been missing for a year. The episode also asks us to believe that Danny Pink would rather die than leave the children under his care to the mercy of the forest . . . but that (at least twice) he did not notice Maebh was missing.

The plot-centered episode is very unsatisfying on a character level. The Doctor is not the smartest person in the room (or the forest); the viewer is. Clara is well behind the curve and her random lines that spark The Doctor’s sudden epiphanies are ridiculous in their simplicity. Maebh is not clearly-defined enough to be a decent supporting character. Danny Pink’s moments of honorable values are undermined by his bland acceptance of Clara’s exposed lies to him. Danny made himself clear several episodes ago, but in “In The Forest Of The Night,” he has to reiterate that he does not care what the truth is, he just needs the truth from Clara. So, why has Clara been lying to him for the past few episodes and why does Danny Pink just accept that she has been lying to him?! The episode does not satisfactorily address that; it simply acknowledges that Pink has caught Clara lying and he accepts that.

There is nothing compelling in the performances in “In The Forest Of The Night.” Peter Capaldi’s quips fall flat and Jenna Coleman seems bored with Clara throughout the episode. Samuel Anderson does not even make Danny Pink appear protective of the children that are supposedly worth his character’s life.

Even the special effects in “In The Forest Of The Night” are wonky enough to be embarrassing. The computer generated tiger, for example, undermines the momentary humor derived by Maebh sensibly opening the gate as opposed to scaling the fence she faces. The result is an episode where the moral does not save the episode from its own ridiculous execution, making for a Doctor Who episode that is very easy to pass by.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Eighth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor here!


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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