When people say humanity needs to get back in touch with nature, In the Forest of the Night probably isn’t what they have in mind. One day forests sprout up all over the planet overnight, completely engulfing civilization. Why? Because Doctor Who, that’s why!
The episode starts with a little girl running through the a forest. She runs right up to the TARDIS, and knocks. The Doctor invites her in, and just like that we see the youngest person ever aboard the TARDIS! The little girl, Mave, is lost and looking for help. Lucky she found the Doctor, eh?
Meanwhile, Danny and Clara lead some students on a field trip at a museum. When it comes time to leave they’re surprised to find every bit of open land is covered in trees. Keeping with this season’s theme of juxtaposition between Clara and the Doctor, it is Clara who calls the Doctor with the promise of a mystery he can’t pass up. (Of course he’s already seen it!) At this point I think Clara might be the most independent companion of all time. Not because she successfully—mostly—leads double lives, but because she really has become a strong, confident leader in her own right. That said, each episode seems to make it painful clear that something tragic is going to befall the Impossible Girl.
With the Doctor and his new friend, Mave, in transit, Clara and Danny must lead the students to safety. At least something that approximates safety, since the whole tree thing makes the idea of safety rather questionable. Even the Doctor and Mave are bewildered as they wander through once familiar territory. It doesn’t take long for things to get a bit more troubling, and when the Doctor finally meets up with Clara the real investigation begins.
As danger looms, the Doctor brings everyone aboard the TARDIS. That means we finally get a chance to see Danny get a proper adventure, although this moment isn’t as memorable as I had hoped. Danny only sees the faults in his relationship with Clara more clearly, and chooses to sour the mood as she runs off into action with the Doctor. There are two storylines with Clara this season. First is her maturation as a leader. The second is the waxing and waning of her and Danny’s relationship. There is so much tragedy building around Clara that I actually think we may see a truly shocking exit for her.
Clara and the Doctor search for Mave after she goes missing. The thought of Little Red Riding Hood comes to mind as she hurries through the beautiful and lush forest. As Clara and the Doctor get close they encounter a group of fire starters clearing paths through the forest to facilitate emergency travel. At this point the tone of the episode gets rather somber as the Doctor considers the possibility that the trees themselves are what caused the event.
Things get serious as the local fauna finally come out to play. A wolf has found little red riding hood, but her screams allow the Doctor and Clara to locate her. However, that isn’t enough as a larger threat arrives…only to be chased away by math teacher extraordinaire, Danny Pink! Further diminishing his first real adventure with the Doctor, Danny blends into the forest pretty much all episode long. He had a nice moment in this episode, but it’s looking like Danny has always been about building drama around Clara, and not ever supposed to be a true companion. Nearing the end of Season 8, I’m beginning to think Danny was a waste of time.
Through Mave the truth is eventually revealed as the spirits of the forest speak through her, making it clear they have a part to play in humanity’s demise. An imminent solar flare will cleanse the planet of humanity, leaving it open for reclamation by the forest beings. Or so it seems. The reveal is pulled off beautifully, even if it is a bit underwhelming. But this episode has some great performances, no less captivating than the rest of the season, especially the Doctor and Clara. It is with them that this season has really been as success. The interplay between the TARDIS duo, their dialogue, and their co-evolution, have really matured the show and made for some excellent viewing.
After the Doctor assesses the situation he forms a plan of action. Even the students contribute as the Doctor’s plan goes into effect. A plot resolution that has plagued Doctor Who since its revival is the use of global good will defeating and overwhelming threat. It is fantastical and heart-warming, but has become a little to convenient over time. While this story doesn’t go for that resolution completely, it feels the same. For an episode that otherwise embodies the good aspects of Season 8, In the Forest of the Night ends up feeling a lot like a sketchy Matt Smith mush-fest.
While the Doctor’s defeat of The Boneless last episode was basically a wave of the hand, It didn’t take away from the episode. In the Forest of the Night, however, failed to really shine without a really interesting resolution. This episode wasn’t bad by any means, but what could have been a really interesting story became just average. Things look up, however, although most certainly grim. The two-part season finale starts next week, and for the first time in a long while I’m actually worried about the safety of the characters!
image source: [doctorwhotv]