In the Forest of the Night

12-episode set
Region A/1
12-episode set
Region B/2
(Doctor Who Story No. 256, starring Peter Capaldi)
  • written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce
  • directed by Sheree Folkson
  • produced by Paul Frift
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 47 minutes
Story: The Doctor, Clara, Danny, and a group of schoolchildren find themselves in the middle of a thick forest that has grown up in the center of London, seemingly overnight. How has it happened, and why? Do the disturbed ramblings of one little girl have any connection?

DVD Extras for this story include:

  • Behind the Scenes featurette (11 min.) with Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink), Abigail Eames (Maebh),
    executive producer Steven Moffat, production designer Michael Pickwoad, and location manager Iwan Roberts.

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program.
To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide to the season instead.


Now we come to a really slow piece of filler for the season. Though there is a neat idea contained within the main sci-fi concept for the episode, it can support at most only about 3 minutes of screen time single-handed. The remaining 40 minutes completely fail to get an actual story moving.


Really, what you end up with in this episode is a load of Clara and Danny aimlessly wandering around a forest with a load of kids. They all circle around on each other, coming back to the same places, and there is no lasting sense that they have anywhere to go, or that in retrospect it was important for them to be at any given place at any time. In terms of the geographical plot movement of the characters, this episode is a total disaster.

The Doctor's presence is also quite off-format for Doctor Who in ways that lack inspiration. He's just parked there in the forest, doing nothing, going nowhere, and winds up tagging along behind the others. We hear him repeating Clara's line from the Moon episode, that he breathes Earth's air, and walks among Human beings. This is a really disappointing mode to park the series in, and makes you wonder how afraid the production team might be to attempt other planets and cultures.

Bizarre also are the number of people who you might expect to see in London trying to deal with the crisis, people that this episode totally ignores. It's as if the whole thing takes place in a fog-like dream.


Now the central idea at the heart of this piece - that nature takes care of balancing itself - is all quite neat and healthy and in good taste. The mechanism by which it becomes the episode's sci-fi concept - massive forest growth protects the planet from solar flare - is a bit of a stretch.

As I often say, we automatically get more flexibility for such stretching when we go to new planets. The planet's eco-system could be better designed to accommodate the concepts, and there is more flexibility in terms of timing the events and not having to worry so much about how to reset everything (including the public's memory) for the next episode. By doing it all on Earth, the credibility of the concept is substantially reduced. Plus, the constant overuse of London for Doctor Who stories is truly sad, worthy of all the groans and cringes fans can chuck at it.

To its credit, the episode makes some attempt to "teach science", although recreating a classroom atmosphere inside the TARDIS is many notches less attractive and less inspiring than the usual atmosphere of adventure and sci-fi exploration. This episode brings in some actual relevant scientific terms and events as well. But it doesn't really connect the dots plausibly.

If you really want to learn about "Coronal Mass Ejections", I suggest Season Five of The Universe in which it became the favourite buzz-word topic of the year, with the third episode "Magnetic Storm" going into particularly good depth on the subject. There, you'll learn that a planet's magnetic field is nature's primary way of protecting an atmosphere and ecosystem against solar events. Earth's solid uniform field is compared with the fragmented remains of Mars' magnetic field, as a way of getting into theories of how the Martian climate may have devolved.

If you want to really learn about the Tunguska Event of 1908, I suggest both "Cosmos" episode 4 as an excellent introduction, and the third season episode of "The Universe" titled "Deadly Comets and Meteors" in which complex scientific simulations with very memorable visuals appear to confirm that the effect on the trees of Tunguska was caused by a surprisingly small comet fragment entering our atmosphere at such reckless speed that it exploded just before actually reaching the ground.

As a science-teaching medium, this kiddies' fairy-tale episode of Doctor Who is sadly outclassed, mucking up and muddling together things that don't fit very well. And the plausibility of the episode's concept is not helped by its attempt to say that trees can grow that fast overnight if they feel they need to, or that their natural by-product of oxygen - one of the most flammable substances in the universe - is a good thing to have more of when the sun lights a match and throws it our way. Oh well.


Believability is drained in another way as well. As already noted, there's a lot of wandering in the forest in this story without much happening. One of the few attempts at an exciting action sequence comes from an encounter with wolves and a tiger escaped from a zoo - which also really struck me as being terribly staged. For an episode that has as its central theme Mankind learning to trust Nature, it really doesn't characterize animals very well at all - most of whom would accurately regard human beings as the most dangerous/unpredictable creatures in the forest and keep a wary distance. They might walk up to be friendly, if they've grown accustomed to people at the zoo. If they're hungry, and decide to hunt, they'll sneak up on a small, weak individual who's alone or has fallen behind the others. They will not run up and snarl and posture, to try to make you afraid, particularly not if they're lost and have no territory or young ones to defend. If you want to learn animals, "Dog Whisperer" gives a good key to their mindset. As for this episode, I'm left worrying about what the film crew may have done to upset their tiger and their wolves on screen, because those animals clearly have some serious concerns, and I feel for them.


Well, this episode is a bit of a stinker, and one that most viewers can easily skip, particularly on repeat-viewing. It really didn't flesh out the potential of its central concept very satisfyingly, nor did it have any real substance as an adventure. It's in a very similar mode to this season's Moon episode, but without making the exploration of its ideas or its setting anywhere remotely near as interesting. Definitely the most "fluff" episode of the year.



This story is available on DVD and Blu-ray:


Season 34 Box Set
11 stories in 12 episodes
U.S.


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
Canada


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
U.K.


NEW for
Nov. 17, 2014.
Blu-ray U.S.


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
Blu-ray Canada


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
Blu-ray U.K.


NEW for
Nov. 17, 2014.



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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "Dark Water"



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