TV Review: Doctor Who – In the Forest of the Night (S8, E10)
Oh dear. I always knew “In the Forest of the Night” was destined to be a “Fear Her” / “Closing Time”-esque filler episode that bridges the gap between the series so far and the two-part finale still to come, but I didn’t expect it to be anywhere near as tedious and insipid as this. Were it not for the talents of Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, who as ever give it their all even when they have absolutely nothing to work with, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a low-budget CBBC show rather than the BBC’s most successful and profitable TV drama series of the decade.
The plot – if one can call it that – revolves around a sudden “invasion” of indestructible trees, that have grown overnight in every town, city and conurbation on the planet. The Doctor, baffled by what has happened, must team up with Clara, the insufferable Danny (Anderson), and a motley crew of “gifted and talented” children who spent the night before on a school trip to the London National History Museum with two teachers who really should’ve felt the full scorn of Ofsted’s wrath by now. After encountering some lazy CGI wolves and a girl, Maebh (Abigail Earnes), who is able to “hear” the trees, the Doctor realises that a solar flare is about to wipe out all life on Earth. Just another normal day in the life of a Timelord, eh?
“In the Forest of the Night” is written by a man best known for his children’s books, and it really does show. It plays out like a fable, with elements of a fairy tale (most notably, “Little Red Riding Hood”) thrown in to try and inject some magic in what is a mostly drab and uninspiring story. With an air of pomposity that has thus far been lacking from pretty much all of Capaldi’s first series, Boyce’s episode extols the virtues of environmentalism in such a cack-handed way that even the most eco-friendly members of the audience will roll their eyes at how obtuse the metaphor is. This message takes precedence over everything else, the result being that the plot goes nowhere and the characters behave in ways that are wholly inconsistent with the manner in which they have been developed so far this series.
To give you an example, about 15 minutes before the episode’s conclusion Clara tricks the Doctor into returning to the TARDIS so he can save himself and allow the Earth to burn. With barely a hint of protest, he does what she says. Obviously things turn out alright in the end – thanks to a plot twist so predictable I initially assumed it was a joke – but the fact that the Doctor leaves in the first place is just bizarre. Alongside this we get a subplot involving Maebh’s Mother (Siwan Morris) and a missing sibling that just dissolves into nothing, as though it was an afterthought in Boyce’s head.
There’s actually very little else to say about “In the Forest of the Night”. It’s so forgettable and inoffensive that I’m struggling to believe that Steven Moffat gave it the go-ahead in the first place. In all seriousness, it might well be the worst episode of his tenure so far, not because it does anything particularly wrong but more because it just doesn’t do anything at all. Capaldi and Coleman rescue it a little bit with their usual vigour and charm, but not even The Doctor’s sarcastic humour and utter befuddlement at a bunch of hyperactive children running around his TARDIS can stop this from being a complete and total turd.
With just two episodes to go, all the goodwill built up by “Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline” has been shattered. I’m still hopeful that the finale won’t be a let-down, not least because the wonderful Rachel Talalay (best known as the director of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare) and Tank Girl) is behind the camera for both episodes, though the trailer doesn’t fill me with a huge amount of confidence. We shall see though…