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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Doctor Who blogging: “In the Forest of the Night”


[previous: “Flatline”]

warning: spoilers!

Okay, if Doctor Who will insist on hanging around 21st-century Earth, and will insist on putting the planet and human civilization in mortal danger, and will insist on having the Doctor “explain” that even though we’ve seen lots of futures for humans and Earth it really is all going to end now, Doctor Who is actually going to have to follow through on destroying — or at least badly damaging — Earth and human civilization and the show’s pre-established timelines at some point if we’re going to feel the slightest bit of threat when a planet- and civilization-threatening menace pops up like this.

What we have here is basically the same overall idea that “Kill the Moon” hoped to make us feel suspense over: “Ooo, Earth might really be in danger this time!… Oh no, false alarm, it’s fine.” You might get away with that once, but twice is pushing it. Twice in four episodes is ridiculous.

It’s nice that the menace — a worldwide forest that pops up overnight — wasn’t actually a menace, and the trees only wanted to help us. But still. This may be another reason for the show to get away from Earth some. “Catastrophe” may be “the metabolism of the universe,” or so says the Doctor, but not, it would seem, for planet Earth or humankind.

Once again, the scientific legitimacy of the science fiction is the least of the problems. (Would even a worldwide forest be able to absorb a coronal mass ejection aimed square at us? I don’t think so. And what about the radiation? A CME isn’t just an enormous fire. Never mind absorbing a comet or meteor impact. Wow.) Is Doctor Who also going to insist on pinning down a concrete, rational explanation for every human fear… even if it has to stretch to reach for a fear, too? “The forest is mankind’s nightmare” may be overstating the case just a tad: a fear of the forest is more archetypal and metaphoric than actual. This episode is more like “Listen” — the one about monsters under the bed — in how it can’t quite convince us it knows why we harbor a certain seemingly inexplicable terror, than it is like last week’s “Flatline” or “Blink,” which used a ubiquitous ordinariness to invent a new creepiness. If Clara had a “dread” of this really quite pleasant forest, however mysterious its sudden appearance, we really needed to feel that. I certainly did not. Tossing in some wolves — in a pointless bit of jeopardy to pad out the episode — and a Red Riding Hood


didn’t do it. (And how bizarre that the Doctor would call Clara Red Riding Hood, when he surely must have noticed Maebh’s jacket? Then again, he seems to have forgotten what the little girl looks like five minutes after having an intense conversation with her, so maybe he didn’t notice.)

As for Maebh: I guess we’re meant to presume that Missy had something to do with putting voices into the little girl’s head, like the one that told her to find the Doctor.


Missy must have also been behind how Maebh got out of the museum so easily, when it was a major pain in the ass for the guard to accomplish. Was Missy — perhaps assisting the little glowing firefly things — also behind Maebh’s prediction about the solar flare? (I saw that in a Nicolas Cage movie once. Please, Doctor Who, don’t be stealing from Nicolas Cage movies.)

Would anyone heed a little girl asking people over their phones not to burn down the trees? I doubt it. But gosh, she was cute, wasn’t she?

Anyway, putting the planet in danger was, it would seem, merely a way to get Clara to realize that she would rather die with Danny and the whole rest of humanity rather than travel with the Doctor anymore. Which is another thing I didn’t buy for a minute, for reasons both big and philosophical and also small and plot- and character-related. She was lying to the Doctor when she said, “Hey, let’s use the TARDIS as a lifeboat!” because she would rather her students die rather than live and miss their moms and dads. Really? We can imagine that she didn’t need to say much to Danny to convince him — the guy she previously asserted would do anything for these kids, and he himself said pretty much the same thing — that they could at least save this little group. So what did she say later to convince him that, Nah, no one is worth saving and let’s all die together?

“Forced” doesn’t even begin to cover this. But if we are to buy this… boy, the Doctor really needs to find some new friends. Clara is a major depressing bummer.

It would be cool if we could use our human superpower of forgetting to forget this.

Random thoughts on “In the Forest of the Night”:

• So, are even the oceans covered in trees?


Or I guess it’s algae or something…

• It’s a longish walk from the museums in Cromwell Road to Trafalgar Square. Danny and Clara and the kids should have meet lots of people along the way. Where is everybody? Ditto with all the running around Maebh and then the Doctor and Clara later do around Trafalgar Square and along Piccadilly. We see an Underground sign for Green Park station, which looks nothing like how it looks here but that’s beside the point. That station is smack in the middle of Piccadilly, an area that is home to lots of hotels. So many tourists would be out taking pictures of the trees in front of the famous buildings and monuments. I mean, c’mon. Not everyone would be obeying the instruction to stay indoors. They’re only trees, not Triffids.

• Who is Annabel that she gets to hide in a special flowering bush that doesn’t disappear until after all the other new foliage has turned back into fireflies-or-whatever, and just when Maebh will see her?


“I knew you’d be here,” Maebh says. “The thought of you came to me.” Is this more of Missy’s doing, for some reason? Or just the trees being weird, for some reason? And if Annabel is just a normal girl, how did she know that the bush she was hiding behind would behave as it did?

• When he’s talking about how trees carry bits of the past in them, the Doctor says that a tree planted in 1795 would carry a bit of that year in 2016. Is this meant to be happening in 2016?

• Hey, wouldn’t it be great if the trees, seeing how they love us so much, also scrubbed from the atmosphere all that extra CO2 we’ve tossed up into it over the past couple of centuries? I mean, if they’re all up in the atmosphere anyway…

• Great quotes:

“When you drink a glass of Coke, it’s only this big. But it’s actually got thiiiis much sugar in it. Works a bit like that.” –the Doctor, explaining how the TARDIS is bigger on the inside

“Not everything can be fixed with a screwdriver. It’s not a magic wand.” –Clara, to the Doctor, about the sonic screwdriver (that’s what I’ve been saying!)

[next: “Dark Water”]

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