In the Forest of the Night by Frank Cottrell Boyce
I was joined by Jaz and James for this episode. And this episode was a gamble. New writer. New director (Sheree Folkson). No monsters. I wasn’t expecting an episode this experimental just after Flatline! But does it work?
This puts you in mind of a few other experimental episodes as it focuses on a child with unusual powers and the Doctor doesn’t actually save the day (like Fear Her in series 2) and ultimately the episode is more about the concept, character and visuals, not the plot (like The Rings of Akhaten in series 7). Neither of those episodes is very popular and this one is admittedly flawed. But while probably the weakest episode of the run, i liked what it was trying to do. The basic plot? The Doctor is contacted by a girl called Maebh, who has a strange psychic ability, who was from a school trip being led by Clara and Danny. Both groups converge, only to find London (and the world) overgrown by a giant forest, which is still growing, and worse: a massive solar flare is on collision course with Earth.
So what worked? Well, i don’t really need to comment on Capaldi or Coleman anymore, as neither of them has ever turned in a weak performance as the Doctor or Clara this season and they are as good as ever here. Samuel Anderson continues his fine work as Danny Pink, who realises that Clara has been lying to him and has still been travelling with the Doctor (although judging by that kiss at the end, it isn’t over for the two of them yet). There was potential disaster with so many child actors involved (James gets minor panic attacks when child actors appear due to how bad Angie and Artie were in Nightmare in Silver), but the one who had a major role in the episode, Maebh (Abigail Eames) was good in my opinion and the others provided decent comedy value.
The visuals where stunning, and i know I’ve said this 3 weeks in a row, but this episode, like the previous two, wouldn’t have worked a few years ago because the special effects wouldn’t have been up to it. The science involved (trees control over oxygen etc.) wasn’t too hard to swallow either (i liked the Doctor referencing the Tunguska and Curuca events as an example of when this could have happened in history). The sight of London overgrown by trees was very convincing. Sheree Folkson can definitely come back as a director next series (I’m indifferent if Boyce returns). The CGI animals have been criticised by some other reviewers but i didn’t think they were particularly bad (though admittedly they didn’t do much).
On that note, the things that didn’t work: The Doctor and Clara didn’t do much and not a lot happened in the episode itself. Jaz blames the episodes environmental message, and i agree: it was so obvious it completely overshadowed the plot. The lack of a monster meant that was a definite lack of tension, and the threat of the solar flare never concerned me (the Doctor might lose people or let monsters escape – but Earth is never going to be destroyed on the show, so it was hard to worry about it!) Missy’s cameo appearance felt like a let down after last week’s teaser, i was hoping for a bit more.
Overall, a episode that is going to be divisive, but with a strong message and some great visual elements and good acting, its far from terrible.
Rating; 3 out of 5
Next Time: Our first two-parter in 3 years, as the Cybermen return and Missy makes her entrance…