Sunday, 26 October 2014

DOCTOR WHO, 8.10 – 'In the Forest of the Night' • growing pains

Sunday, 26 October 2014


While nowhere close to the level of Neil Gaiman as a "celebrity guest writer", it's something of a coup for DOCTOR WHO to secure the talent of screenwriter/novelist Frank Cottrell Boyce—best-known for scripting numerous Michael Winterbottom films (Welcome to Sarajevo, 24 Hour Party People) and the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony. He's also won two major awards for his children's literature, Millions (which he later adapted into a film) and The Unforgotten Coat. I was anticipating "In the Forest of the Night" this year because FCB has obvious skill and is well-suited to writing for a British institution like Who, but after a promising start this episode quite literally got lost in the woods...

Things started so well, which is the biggest frustration. A little girl called Maebh (Abigail Eames) wandered through a green forest, found the TARDIS and took refuge inside with The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), before the exciting reveal this forest has grown overnight to overrun London and, indeed, the world. The Doctor's at a loss to explain this horticultural phenomenon, with his sonic screwdriver particularly useless when faced with nothing more sinister than rapidly-growing trees.

It was also nice to get Danny (Samuel Anderson) directly involved in a storyline after "The Caretaker", as he discovered the Trafalgar Square forest along with girlfriend Clara (Jenna Coleman) while heading a school expedition to a local museum. This also allowed for an unusual situation with The Doctor's companions including a small class of school kids. I'm sure this delighted viewers of a similar age, as it would be fun to see the dynamic of fellow children interacting with the tetchy Time Lord, but for adults the Coal Hill clique were slightly annoying. Although some of this irritation was tempered by The Doctor's hilariously brusque way with them.

Capaldi's performance plays into that type of whimsical character kids find intriguing because they're eccentric adults not trying to earn their affection, and are oblivious to how fascinating this makes them to youngsters. This new Doctor's the Willy Wonka type, if the chocolatier was in a perpetually bad mood.

Sadly, it became increasingly apparent "In the Forest of the Night" didn't have anywhere interesting to go after portraying a strange arboreal London; where Nelson's Column's roped in vines, traffic lights and road signs stood incongruously alongside oaks, and escaped zoo creatures appear for a burst of added drama...

Oh yes, drama. There wasn't a great deal to be found here; just a sustained feeling of 'ooh, how weird'. It was interesting to have an episode where there wasn't a big villain plotting behind-the-scenes (as that's a big cliche for the show), but the lack of a clearer enemy did seem to rob this outing of any dynamism.

The ongoing relationship drama of Danny and Clara has been okay to watch, but it's started to get a little tiresome because nothing much has actually changed—despite "The Caretaker" suggesting a unique triangle forming between Clara, Danny and The Doctor. Danny grumbles about The Doctor and doesn't find time-travel very exciting because his army past has made him appreciate the humdrum, while Clara finds her new boyfriend's lack of enthusiasm a little odd, and The Doctor occasionally remembers he has a weird dislike of soldiers now.

I'm also beginning to dislike Danny just recently; he's always a buzzkill and, frankly, is sometimes written like he's using his laconic sex appeal to control spirited adventurer Clara; charming her away from incredible experiences because he's secretly threatened by an "older man" who's cleverer and can offer her a better time.

Overall, while enjoyable in fits and starts, the problem with Frank Cottrell Boyce's debut episode was very simple: the setup was imaginative and allowed for some visual treats (despite some wonky moments of CGI), but the story didn't go anywhere very interesting and lost pace. The lack of an enemy was an interesting choice (the trees were the silent heroes, protecting us from a giant solar flare), but it also meant the bulk of the episode felt unthreatening and dull.


  • Since when do schools have sleepovers at museums?! It seemed like a weird break from reality, just to get all of those characters together the morning after the forest had grown.
  • Why do most black children in UK dramas wear large headphones around their necks? I see it a lot.
  • This week's title is slightly paraphrased from a line in William Blake's famous poem The Tyger.
  • This episode's difficulties were exacerbated by the "Next Time" tease for the two-part finale, which delivered a more exciting thrill in a mere thirty-five seconds. Any theories about Clara as a turncoat or mole? Maybe she's just brainwashed or under the control of Missy?
written by Frank Cottrell Boyce • directed by Sheree Folkson • 25 October 2014 • BBC1

Next time...