Monday, 27 October 2014

In The S***e Garden

Doctor Who
In The Forest Of The Night
Series Eight, Episode Ten

What's this?  Three new writers in a row?  Praise the Doctor Who gods!

And yet, just getting new people in doesn't automatically mean better episodes.  This week, for example: new writer, lots of plaudits, still turns in the year's biggest duffer.  (With one possible exception.)

The premise is interesting.  Sort of.  What if the world was suddenly covered in trees?  Where did they come from, and how (besides an army of lumberjacks) do you get rid of them?  Okay, forests aren't actually terrifying so much as the things hiding in them, as any fairytale will tell you.  And did I say fairytale?  Good, because we open with a little red-coated girl running through the trees, later to be menaced by wolves, at one point leaving breadcrumbs for others to follow.  LIKE IN A FAIRYTALE.  There's plenty of mileage in there for something evocative and scary; it's just that none of it's realised.  It's the cute kind of fairytale, not The Brothers Grimm.

How Not To Terrify Your Audience:
Introduce an adorable kid and have her point out how lovely
and not scary the situation is.  Preferably before the opening credits.
A world covered in trees could be a post-apocalyptic nightmare, and yet despite the title, it's all set in broad, really quite pretty daylight.  The only things roaming the forest are a couple of wolves and a tiger, appearing in one scene before harmlessly buggering off.  No one seems terribly upset about the whole trees thing, as there are virtually no extraneous people in the story at all – apart from disembodied newsreaders watched by no one, snarking about the whole thing like it's the "And Finally" bit.  If there is an interesting reaction to all this, it's happening somewhere else.  That is surely not the way to do it.

Of course, what really kills it dead is the troupe of kids we're stuck with.  Children don't automatically make a story less creepy – horror movies never tire of proving the exact opposite is true, and anyway, School Reunion worked pretty well.  But these ones fall more into the Nightmare In Silver camp, adding gentle, fluffy edges to everything.  You know no one's going to die or get hurt this week as it'd upset the kids.  The emotional heart of the episode concerns a particular kiddiewink, Maebh, who gained insight into the inner workings of trees after her sister went missing.  (Slightly Dodgy Message Alert: the Doctor tells her that when she hears voices, it's wrong to use medication to shut them up.  Great news, mentally troubled viewers!  You're psychic!)  The connection between Maebh, the trees and the solar flare that's about to roast the Earth is, er, not as clear as it could have been.

Ah yes, that's why there are trees everywhere: to add an "oxygen airbag" that'll absorb the solar flare.  Or something.  Science isn't this series's strongpoint, the moon being an egg and everything, but I definitely frowned my way through this one.  Trees helping to prevent a fire is just hilariously, insanely stupid.  Solar flare + oxygen + trees is literally a perfect fire triangle, it is the opposite of helpful.  Schoolchildren know this.  But what about the places that don't have trees?  When we see it from space, how is the entire planet covered in green, including the oceans?  And what about the timeline?  Clara says she's been to the future, and happened to notice that there was one.  The Doctor shrugs and says it's about to change.  Can someone tell me the rules?  (Apparently mankind will "forget this ever happened", which is a bloody convenient excuse not to mention it again.  We forgot last time, apparently, and just stuck some extra forests into our fairytales.  Yeah, Doc, but last time we didn't have 24 hour news or the internet.)

Huge concepts are thrown away just as fast as they're grown.  How did the trees get so big, and all at the same time?  Because they can communicate with each other, and can grow like that if they want to, apparently.  (As for why they don't do it during other times when it would be really helpful, shut up, that's why!)  Where do the trees go afterwards?  To the land of pixie dust, leaving everything exactly as it was, of course.  Why didn't anyone notice the impending solar flare, including the Doctor?  Because reasons.  I just don't get it.  Was there a sale on bollocks at the Plot Supermarket?  Fairytales are all well and good, although Doctor Who actually isn't one, no matter how often Steven Moffat insists otherwise.  However, even fairytales need a semblance of logic to them.

So these are... tree spirits?  Glow-worms?  Thoughts?  Fairies?
Also, trees are sentient.  Enjoy never hearing about that again.
And that's just the science.  Characters deal with all this enormous stuff in much the same way.  Obviously no one really reacts to the trees when they come, apart from the occasional "Wow", because the reasonable reaction would be screaming panic.  (Or it would be if it wasn't all so... pretty.)  But when it looks like the world is going to get roasted by a solar flare, Clara calmly accepts that and sends the Doctor on his way.  What the actual fuck?  Would you accept the death of your species that easily?  Bearing in mind the worlds, realities and whatevers Clara has personally helped save.  She won't even pack any of the kids into the TARDIS because they'd miss their mums too much.  Right, so that's more important than being alive?  Have you not considered using the TARDIS to grab all the mums and dads on Earth?  Or continuing to study the problem until a solution is reached, like you do every week?  Crazy idea.  It usually works.

Maybe Clara's judgement is compromised because of The Danny Factor, which is just as fascinating as ever.  He realises she's been seeing the Doctor on the quiet, and wearily suggests (once again) that she make up her mind.  He doesn't need to travel the universe to see amazing things, apparently.  She wants to be with Danny, so she'll have to lump it and go with him instead.  Right?  Well, obviously not, since she's clearly keen to see the universe and there's bugger all wrong with that, especially since she has the rare distinction of being able to stay home as well.  There's no competition on the romantic front, so what's the big deal?

I'm just not seeing Danny's problem, aside from Clara's constant lying.  It's not wrong to be amazed by the universe and its infinite wonders, because duh, they're amazing.  It's not wrong to like what's in front of you either.  It's not wrong to want both, if you can have both, which she can.  Unfortunately for Mr Pink, if it comes down to a straight choice then Clara made it before she even met him.  She likes travelling.  He has a problem with that.  Okay.  Cheque, please.

As for the Doctor, his edges are inevitably sanded off when you shove him into a group of kids, and giving the TARDIS a SatNav was a bloody stupid idea as well, but he still manages a few intriguing moments.  Admitting that Clara was right in Kill The Moon, i.e. it's his Earth as well, is an important step.  (Okay, he's still an alien, but the Earth is important to him.)  Admitting, after everything that happens, that it would be "awkward" for the Earth to get roasted bounces us hilariously back the other way.  But unfortunately, the plot requires the Doctor to sit back and let nature take its course.  It's not like Kill The Moon, where he deliberately cuts himself out of the equation; the plot just didn't require him to show up at all.  There's something amiss with your Doctor Who episode when the Doctor doesn't need to be in it.  Worse, it turns out no one was ever in any danger.  Thrilling, huh?  Watch it twice.  I dare you.

Next stop: the finale!  Finally an answer to all of our questions!
(Q1: "Who is she?"  Q2: "Actually, who cares?")
At first I thought In The Forest Of The Night was just dull.  Now it comes to it, I'm struggling to find anything nice to say about it.  I thought one of the kids, Ruby, was actually pretty funny.  ("I don't have an imagination!  You can ask Miss Oswald!")  Peter Capaldi seems to enjoy playing off the urchins, which is no surprise at all given the amount of time he spends signing autographs.  The forest looks cool, especially with London landmarks dotted everywhere.  And the pro-environmental message is laudable, even if it's muddled by heaps of idiotic science and pixie dust, and is about as subtle as an airhorn concerto.

In The Forest Of The Night is sweet and pretty, and doesn't have a brain in its head.  It never justifies its barmy notions or makes them work, and when the emotional moments come along, such as the reunion between Maebh and her sister that you knew was coming, it's surrounded by so much candyfloss that it doesn't register.  Still, never mind.  Second time around, I'd nodded off by then anyway.


  1. We hesitated over whether to castigate them over the title. They obviously shoehorned it in and thought they were clever because of the tiger, but it was just stupid considering the whole thing was sunny. In the end, given that the forests do appear overnight, we gave them a pass. Reluctantly. Frankly, the most fun we had with this was ripping it apart afterwards.

    1. Me too. And bad as it was, the second viewing was worse, knowing it's all heading for nothing.

    2. You watched it a second time? I admire your fortitude.

    3. Thank you, mysterious stranger. I tend to watch them twice, make absolutely sure I didn't miss The Bit Where It Turns Out This Was Actually Brilliant.

  2. Hello! Just started reading, decided to go through your reviews for season... err... series... 8 (I'm American... sorry).

    I was really excited when I read this from you:
    "Have you not considered using the TARDIS to grab all the mums and dads on Earth?"

    I've been feeling woefully like the only person who's noticed just how *small* Capaldi's TARDIS is. When Smith was at the helm, the TARDIS was huge... practically infinite. And I feel like, if this had been a Smith episode, he would've found a way to load up the entire life population of the planet (animals [including humans, obviously] and plants) into his TARDIS and then somehow reboot the earth using the TARDIS's Time Lord tech or perhaps vent the energy of the solar storm towards empty space or something.

    But apparently all Capaldi has is the control room and nothing else. Hell, if you interpret the mid-credits scene of the finale that way, he even *sleeps* in the control room!

    So yeah... Capaldi's tiny, tiny TARDIS has been bugging me, and I hope they fix that in series 9, because it's supposed to be insanely huge with an insane amount of rooms. I mean... I know "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS" was extremely unpopular, but I liked it well enough and I frickin' loved the exploration of the TARDIS. I loved it back when Tom Backer did it, too. I like seeing more of the TARDIS, so I hope they do it again...

    Hehe... imagination the return of the Zero Room... :D

    (Also, in case this forces me to post as "Anonymous", my name's NateHevens. I don't have a Blogger account, but a Wordpress account, so... yeah...)

    1. Hi there! Welcome.

      The smallness of the TARDIS hadn't really occurred to me, but you're right: apart from that one episode (opinions vary on it!), we just stick to the console room. They've tried to give it nooks and crannies, but it's not really the same. Why *can't* we have a few other rooms? A lab might be useful.

      Re Matt Smith, he would generally have found ways around problems in each episode this year, and made people feel a bit better about themselves. It wouldn't be quite as, er, gritty, and it would probably have annoyed me just the same, but I do miss him. The universe was a friendlier place when bow-tie was in it.

      Re seasons, I don't know why we don't use that word, because "series" is too ambiguous. Funnily enough, the entire run of Classic Who is referred to in seasons. It's only when you get to the new stuff that it's Series 1, etc. Annoying, it is.