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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

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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  • RogerBW

    One of the things that rubs me wrong about this season is the constant background presence of Missy, because it feels as though it’s put in as a raised finger to the fans. Did something not make sense? Obviously Missy arranged it for reasons of her own, and you’ll have to re-watch everything (by buying the DVD set of course) once you’ve seen the explanation of her. Assuming there ever is one.

    The trees would have to scrub the CO₂. That’s where the oxygen comes from. (Not that oxygen would actually do much good, as you point out.)

  • Maria Niku

    If only the story managed to convey any of the suspense and dread that the protagonists supposedly are in, to the viewers, all the silly details (Danny scaring a big tiger away by waving his torch a bit? etc) wouldn’t matter so much.

  • That’s true about the CO2. So is global warming all fixed now, then?

  • RogerBW

    Depends on what happens to the oxygen afterwards. (And oxygen is profoundly not inflammable anyway. It just allows other things to become more so. So it won’t get “burned off” without the rest of the planet being incinerated.)
    Tunguska. Oh dear.

    Best case, the trees all burn in the oxygen-rich atmosphere and when humanity comes out of the underground shelters we’re back where we were before.
    What’s that? No underground shelters? Oh. Well, I’m sure everything will be fine, must dash, got to talk to my estate agent…

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I did some quick reading and some back-of-the-envelope calculations. There’s currently about 10^12 tons of carbon in the co2 in the atmosphere. A tree is about half carbon. A reasonable value would be about 100 tons of tree mass per hectare. If I take the land area of the earth to be 10^9 hectares, it would take 5×10^11 tons of carbon to make that many trees, or about half the co2. So yeah, global warming, not really a problem anymore.

  • RogerBW

    Except that (a) the trees have all dispersed again, and (b) this series is cleraly more interested in the fantastic and mythic than in the science-fictional, even if it has occasional techie-sounding trappings.
    I’m not meaning to be insulting here, though this isn’t a mode of storytelling that I like; I think the writers would agree that the viewer isn’t supposed to be saying things like “but oxygen doesn’t work like that”, because it isn’t that sort of story.

  • ketac6

    That really wasn’t a terrifying primal forest. More like a nice open sunlit wood. I’d have been happy to wander around in there all day even with the wolves and tigers. Not if I had to wander around with Clara though. I’m really hoping that she turns out to be evil and has to be exiled far away from people at the very least next week.

  • bronxbee

    you know, my mind keeps flashing back to a storyline in one of the old DW series, where there are all these fantastic elements, like a medieval society and strange “nobles”, etc. but the Doctor is puzzled by this “sign” that they use upon leaving a room, and he finally figures out that it’s a spacesuit check. and then he is able to trace how the society came to be what it is — a lot of the story was very silly but just that one little element of “real science” gave it a weight and compelling storyline that’s just been missing in DW since Moffat took over and especially this season, which is just breaking my heart.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Neither does photosynthesis. :)

    And no, it’s not that kind of story. It’s not that kind of series, in my experience. And even it wanted to pretend it was, it wasn’t very good at it.

  • RogerBW

    Speaking purely of my own tastes here, I prefer fantasy not to be dressed up in the language of science. There are already too many people who can’t tell them apart.
    But catering to my tastes is pretty much the exact opposite of how to make a popular show.

  • Danielm80

    I’m a big fan of Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series, which combines magic and archaic scientific language almost non-stop. Some classifications of magic are called “physicks,” for instance.

    Scientifick’ly speaking, a Fairy–what I am–is not much different’n a human. Your lot evolved from monkeys. We evolved…well, it’s not talked on in polite circles, but there never was a polite circle with a human in it. Fairies started out as frogs. Amphibianderous, right? Well, being frogs was no kind of fun, so we went about and stole better bits–wings from dragonflies and faces from people and hearts from birds and horns from various goats and antelope-ish things and souls from ifrits and tails from cows–and we evolved over a million million minutes, just like you.”
    “I…I don’t think that’s how evolution works…,” said September softly.”
    “Oh? Your name Charlie Darwin all sudden-true?”
    “No, it’s just–”
    “It’s Survival of Them Who’s Best at Nicking Things, girl!”
    “I mean to say, humans didn’t evolve like that–”
    “That’s your trouble, then. Don’t you go striping my facts with your daft babbling….”

  • Tonio Kruger

    I think you’re thinking about “Face of Evil,” Bronxbee. That was the episode that introduced Leela — who used to be an okay companion till writers of later episodes had the not-so-wise idea of turning her into a poor man’s Princess Leia. (Because, of course, Star Wars was popular at that time, and every sci-fi show on both sides of the Atlantic felt obliged to “borrow” from that movie lest they lose their audience.)

    I also liked that episode, even though that “spacesuit check” always looked suspiciously like the traditional Sign of the Cross, a similarity which may or may not have been intentional. (After all, religion was a main theme of that episode. As was the way religion was often used to control people.)

  • I think there’s plenty of really good, really plausible ways to do what seems like a traditional fantasy story in a way that is more SFnal. (A lot of urban fantasy is doing that these days.) It’s just that DW isn’t doing it *well.*

  • This episode was just “blah”. Nothing really happened. I’m a total tree
    hugger, but still found the whole “trees are great” business a bit over
    the top.
    Her sisters name was Annabelle? Really? That’s a type of
    Hydrangea, in case anyone didn’t know that. A white one, though. The one
    shown was purple or blue. That little side story was pointless.
    The Clara/Danny relationship keeps getting worse and worse.
    we see the dark haired lady slowly killed in the last episode? Or at
    least roughed up a bit? That might make the whole season worth while.

  • I do wonder how top calibre writers (e.g. Frank Cottrell Boyce or even Neil Gaiman) can write “meh” Doctor Who episodes. Is it just the random chance of scriptwriting success? Or a fault in the editorial/production process? Or is it a fault in the programme itself? Although Moffat and Davies have made much of the fact that you can write a Western one week and a Horror story the next, perhaps the best stories come from strictly applied limitations.

  • althea

    I’m with RogerBW, in that the Missy thing has gotten tiresome. I don’t as a rule like drawn-out teases anyway, but this one is especially annoying. It seems some people think she’s benign, but she looks and sounds very disagreeable to me.

    You’re wondering where all the people are, and likewise there should be lots of vehicles – I suspect they’re all at the tops of the trees, having been pushed up off the ground as the growing started. You’d think there would be people impaled and dripping blood, and the trees’ sacrifice wouldn’t have been so successful at saving the entire population.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Well, Donna Reed’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life had a scene where she ended up hiding in some hydrangea bushes but I doubt that scene with Annabelle was meant to reference that.

    Of course, the writer could have been trying to reference that famous American science fiction show where the male protagonist spent nine seasons trying to track down his missing sister. Then again I could be wrong because everyone knows that Doctor Who never borrows from American TV shows. :-)

  • Tonio Kruger

    I liked this story a lot better when it appeared in a comic book written by British writer Alan Moore — and it was set in Gotham City. :-)

  • Tonio Kruger

    Personally, I find Missy amusing but I can see why others might find her tiresome. After all, the last time Moffat teased us with a mysterious female supervillain, we ended up finding out less about her than was revealed about the Slith in The Phantom Menace. And the resolution of her story wasn’t much more satisfying than that flick.

    Then again I guess we should be glad that Missy doesn’t have an eyepatch. I do, however, keep expecting her to wear a big, black, broad-brimmed hat with a point at its top — and if Clara saves the day this season by accidentally throwing a bucket of water on her, I am going to be severely disappointed…

  • RogerBW

    The structural part of the problem is that we’ve seen this before: introduce something mysterious in the season opener, resolve it (as far as it’ll ever get resolved at all) in the finale, but in between just hint at stuff without actually ever giving out useful information. It’s not a slow burn or revelation so much as a tease. I’m willing to bet that someone who’d only seen the opener and the finale will be just as informed about the nature of Missy as someone who’s watched all the episodes looking for clues.
    It’s like Star Trek: Voyager: you always knew the plot-of-the-week to get them home quickly wouldn’t work, because it wasn’t a series finale.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Compare/contrast with the Davies Method:
    “You know that off hand thing that got mentioned once or twice this season (‘Bad Wolf’ graffiti, the Torchwood estate, ‘Vote Saxon’ posters, ‘What’s happening with the bees…’)? Yeah, turns out, that’s the most importantest thing the whole universe!!!! Oh, I’m sorry, did I just blow your mind?”

  • But if you’d removed those things from the earlier episodes, that would not change those earlier stories. Now, the implication is, “Just wait, and it’ll all make sense eventually.”

  • Lisa

    I’m pretty sure Missy is the master – prepping us for a female doctor which they didn’t quite have the balls to go with this time! She’s someone we’ve met before in some form or other.

  • Beowulf

    You are a glutton for punishment, aren’t you? Why are you still watching. “THIS time I’m gonna catch and eat the Road Runner!”

  • Beowulf

    Glory to the Baby Jesus! Someone intelligently using the now-stupidly-discarded “inflammable.”
    Here’s why we use “flammable”: Dumb Guy: “Nah, it won’t burn–says INflammable right on the tag.”

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    “‘Inflammable’ means ‘flammable’? What a country!”
    -Dr. Nick Riviera

  • steprock

    American viewer here. We’re big fans in our house and we all hated this episode. Clara’s changing views moment to moment and one episode to the next should give us whiplash!

    Tree hugging theme forced in, huge plot holes, the Doctor could have read a magazine the whole time and had the same result. But the worst was that random happy ending!!!

    Awful, just awful. Did she run away and just pop back with a grin? Was she dead? Who knows?!!

    And suggesting that a kid who needs medicine should be left to her own devices?? What a horrible message. Just a mess all over. We could have tracked down Missy or delved into Danny’s occasional melt downs, but no.

    Almost as bad as Fear Her. Almost. /rant

  • I think the only way to truly judge a Doctor is ask… what if they were the First Doctor?
    What if the Twelfth Doctor was the first incarnation, starting out in 2013(or maybe even 1963)? Could his character lead the show then?

  • Jurgan

    Wouldn’t excess oxygen make the fire worse? I don’t know. This episode reminded me of The Happening, which is not a good thing. It’s another good set-up and too easy resolution, and as you point out the same thing just happened in Kill the Moon. It could have been worse- at least there’s no weird gender politics this time. And I admit that I’m starting to like Clara, at least more than in the past. Also Danny and his devotion is admirable. They aren’t my favorite companions by a long shot, but they’re improving.

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