Everywhere, in every land, a forest has grown up overnight and taken back the Earth. It doesn’t take the Doctor long to discover that the Earth’s days are numbered…
In the Forest of the Night is one of those episodes that has an intriguing concept at its centre, however, it doesn’t feel as though it has enough plot to cover the story’s run time. After a strong run in the latter part of Capaldi’s debut series, and indeed some great stories that I’ve recently reviewed on here, I’m not going to deny that this story took some effort to watch to write this review. There are certainly positives here, but make no mistake, this is the weakest episode of Series 8 for me, made all the more surprising that it has come from the acclaimed writer, Frank Cottrell Boyce, who would later go on to write Smile, which is certainly a better story than this one.
I’ll start with the main positive, which is the direction of Sheree Folkson. This is her only directorial credit for Doctor Who, which is a great shame as I think she does some great work here. The early establishing shots of Maebh running through the forest are simple but really fantastic, starting off by focussing on the trees before introducing us to the character. Equally, once Maebh arrives at the TARDIS, there is some lovely camera work going around the upper level of the set as the two walk around before coming back down to the central console – it is a good use of the available space. Folkson does the more out of the ordinary stuff well here too – the scenes where Maebh talks to the lifeforce of the trees looks visually stunning. If Sheree Folkson came back to direct another episode, I think we could expect some more solid direction work from her.
As I said in my introduction, I think the central idea of In the Forest of the Night is an interesting one, but it is possibly too simplistic to cover a 45-minute story and would possibly have felt more at home with Matt Smith as the Doctor than Peter Capaldi, as this feels like a fairy-tale. I think that a large degree of this is because there is no real sense of threat. Whilst Maebh, the Doctor and Clara encounter wolves and a tiger whilst in the forest, they are dealt with easily and the fact that the reasons behind the forest springing up overnight are benevolent undermine the story somewhat. From reading around in preparation for this blog, a lot of commentators draw parallels between this story and Kill the Moon, which certainly is the case here, especially with the speech Maebh gives telling humans not to attack the forest feeling very similar to Clara’s about the hatching Moon earlier in this season. For my money, Kill the Moon takes similar steps and does them better than they are demonstrated here. This story also has some leaps, like the world waking up at the same time to find that the world is covered in trees, disregarding time zones entirely, or the fact that London is seemingly deserted, with only the central characters, Maebh’s mother and the team trying to burn the trees down out in London. Whilst Cottrell Boyce’s central message of listening and believing children is admirable, it almost goes too far in suggesting that children taking medication to help them deal with issues is a problem – Maebh is presented as the rule, rather as an exception. However, the story is clearly intending for us to agree with the Doctor rather than Clara and Danny, who are insistent that she needs to take her medication, which is a troubling message for the show to be sending out. The story also falls down when it comes down to the ending. As soon as Maebh mentions her missing sister, Annabel, you can almost guarantee that she will show up come the ending. It feels like an afterthought, however, with no real reason for this brief scene to be there. The story also has the problem that the human race ultimately just forgets the events of this story is also a big minus and feels like a cop out.
This story features Clara and Danny’s ‘gifted and talented’ group of school kids who have had an overnight field trip in a museum. As the famous saying goes, ‘never work with children or animals’, and Doctor Who is no exception to having had experience of the lottery of child actors. The most recent examples before this episode were the Maitland children from Series 7 and Courtney Woods from Kill the Moon. The kids here are a bit of a mixed bag, from good (Abigail Eames as Maebh) to non-descript (the majority) and the irritating (Harley Bird as Ruby). I don’t think that the poor performances are entirely down to the actors, but, as mentioned above, the story isn’t fantastic.
This is stressing me. When I get stressed, I forget my anger management.Bradley
This is an episode that certainly focuses more on Danny, who almost occupies the Doctor role of this story, focused on getting the children to safety. Samuel Anderson does really well here, as Clara is preoccupied with the situation with the Doctor. This story marks the culmination of Clara’s lies to both him and the Doctor, with Danny finding her marking on the TARDIS. This episode showcases the Doctor’s innate ability and affinity towards children, especially characters like Maebh. The fact that she is able to break down his coarse exterior is something that we previously saw with Courtney Woods and reinforces that this is the same character as his predecessors. Equally, the scene where Clara sends the Doctor away shows how far this Doctor has come. Clara is a bit of a mixed bag here and her priorities seem off for the entire episode. At first she is more concerned about informing the Doctor than ensuring that the children in her care get back to their parents safely. Later, she is more concerned that Danny has found her books on the TARDIS than a potential disaster.
Verdict: A good concept for this story coupled with some great direction is let down by the lack of peril and there is not enough plot to cover the runtime. 3/10
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink), Abigail Eames (Maebh), Jaydon Harris-Wallace (Samson), Ashley Foster (Bradley), Harley Bird (Ruby), Michelle Gomez (Missy), Siwan Morris (Maebh’s Mum), Harry Dickman (George), James Weber Brown (Minister), Michelle Asante (Neighbour), Curtis Flowers (Emergency Services Officer), Jenny Hill (Herself), Kate Tydman (Paris Reporter), Nana Amoo-Gottfried (Accra Reporter) & Eloise Barnes (Annabel).
Writer: Frank Cottrell-Boyce
Director: Sheree Folkson
Behind the Scenes
- The title is taken from William Blake’s poem The Tyger – “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/in the forest of the night!” It had previously been quoted in Planet of the Spiders and audio story The Emerald Tiger.
- One of the buses seen in the background has an advert on it for Series 8 of Doctor Who. A in-universe appearance for the show previously occurred in Remembrance of the Daleks.
They are pretty thin on the ground here. I like the brief Missy cameo and the shots of the spirits of the trees.
Be less scared. Be more trusting.Maebh
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