In the Forest of the Night

Posted in Episode by - February 18, 2016
In the Forest of the Night

‘In the Forest of the Night’ bucks the recent trend of Doctor Who episodes and goes in a wholly different direction, offering something a bit slower and subtler. The threat, rather than a tangible monster as is usual, is a solar flare heading for Earth that could cause a mass extinction. With no warning, a dense forest has also grown across the world overnight, carrying with it some ecological undertones, and that is the core conundrum facing the characters throughout the tale. It’s another strong offering for this series, more of a character piece than action piece, but ‘In the Forest of the Night’ does undoubtedly suffer somewhat for not having a core antagonist at the centre and so not being able to offer a continued dramatic sense of tension.

Fortunately, the remainder of the episode takes care of its business very effectively and efficiently. Viewers are quickly introduced to Maebh, a Coal Hill pupil played by Abigail Eames, a lonely girl making peculiar gestures. She knows about the Doctor and without understanding why knows that she needs to find him; this is achieved quite quickly since he happens to be in London… in the middle of that newly sprung forest.

This episode also continues the trend of the Doctor and Clara being apart, Clara instead joining Danny for his Coal Hill School class night out at the museum. Whereas it would have been an easy step to take to have some sort of alien threat within the museum, writer Frank Cottrell Boyce instead uses this time together to explore the rift that still exists between the two. Finally Danny explains the he can’t fully support Clara travelling with the Doctor because it’s too reminiscent of a life he has already led and chosen to leave behind him. He’s been the militaristic man who has had to make difficult decisions, and he desperately wants to not be associated with that type of living any more, even through Clara. Clearly Clara is focused more on the exploratory and wondrous aspects the TARDIS and the Doctor afford her even despite some tough choices she has had to make in recent episodes, and so there is still a slightly disjointed viewpoint between the two.

Clara herself continues to live somewhere between the convictions of the Doctor and Danny, occasionally sliding close to one more than the other, and so, for as much discussion about Clara as there has been, there still hasn’t been any firm progression as far as what she will ultimately choose. And, of course, the lingering threat of Missy who seems to be involved with Clara in some fashion remains unresolved as of yet as well.

Throughout the series, the CGI effects have been superb and have allowed the fantastic to blend into the mundane seamlessly. In ‘In the Forest of the Night,’ however, that is not always the case. While the forest flora work is fairly strong and believable, the wolf, tiger, and other animals that appear partway through are easily distinguished as CGI. Considering that the animals do not play a central role to the story other than a moment’s heightened tension, it’s unfortunate that they are so bluntly detracting.

Danny comes off as an extremely strong and likable person, his attention never wavering from the achieving the safety of his class. The Doctor, of course, is much more focused on the sudden appearance of the forest rather than the children, but both characters’ actions dovetail into a very heartfelt finale of Maebh finding her sister and explaining those aforementioned gestures. While there certainly could have been some more workup to that ending in order to heighten the emotional connection and lasting impact, it is still a satisfactory resolution to an intriguing concept.

‘In the Forest of the Night’ will not be remembered as the highlight of the series, but there are certainly plenty of memorable moments. In particular, Boyce proves adept at creating well-rounded young characters, and seeing portions of the story through the lonely eyes of Maebh is a particular highlight since she forms such a strong emotional core. The Doctor is once again relegated to a more powerless position, a continuing theme, but Capaldi is again fantastic and commanding in the screen time he gets. This is a story that takes risks, and while it’s not the strongest nor anywhere near the weakest of episodes, it’s still another good episode in a very strong run.

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