Abigail Eames, Clara Oswald, Coal Hill School, Danny Pink, Doctor Who In The Forest of the Night, Doctor Who Series 8, Frank Cottrell Boyce, In The Forest of the Night, Jenna Coleman, Maebh, Michelle Gomez, Missy, Peter Capaldi, Samuel Anderson, Sheree Folkson, TARDIS, The 12th Doctor, The Doctor
In the Forest of the Night
Review by Paul Bowler
As a new day begins in London, in every city and town around the world, humanity awakens to find the planet in the grip of the strangest invasion yet. Trees have moved back to reclaim the planet, forests have miraculously grown overnight, appearing all over the word, engulfing every city and every land across the globe. The Doctor, Clara, and Danny must take charge of pupils from a Coal Hill School trip to a museum as they venture into the mysterious forest that has engulfed the capitol, encountering wolves and tigers in their attempt to reach safety. The Doctor has never experienced an invasion like this before, even his vast intellect and technology is of little use against such a natural catastrophe, and this could indeed be the end of humanity…
In the Forest of the Night, the tenth episode of series eight is an enchanting story by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, the acclaimed children’s author, screenwriter, and writer of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. This delightfully paced episode, with its poetic references, allusions to William Blake’s The Tiger, and ecological themes is beautifully told and vividly brought to life by Director by Sheree Folkson.
The trees have moved back in and London has been transformed into a forest. When lost Coal Hill School student Maebh finds the TARDIS, she asks the Doctor for help, and the Time Lord soon realises why the TARDIS won’t start when he finds he’s landed in Trafalgar Square which is now overgrown with dense vegetation. The forests that have suddenly appeared from nowhere look set to become mankind’s nightmare, and soon all of civilisation is seemingly under threat from this bizarre ecological invasion that has mysteriously enveloped the world. Clara and Danny Pink are also trapped in London with their Year Eight “Gifted and Talented Group” of pupils, following a Coal Hill School sleepover in a museum. Clara phones the Doctor and leans that Maebh is with him, concerned that Maebh hasn’t had her medication (which she takes to alleviate the voices she’s been hearing since her sister, Annabel, went missing a year ago), Clara, together with Danny and the students, set off through the forest to Trafalgar Square to reach the TARDIS.
Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor is as magnificent as ever during this episode. In the Forest of the Night shows that the Doctor is at just as much of a disadvantage here as Clara, Danny, and the Coal Hill School pupils – he’s not exactly used to dealing with overgrown forests, wolves, and tigers. The sonic screwdriver isn’t much use to him in this situation either; as it can’t affect wood. In many respects the Earth is also the Doctor’s home, but this bizarre ecological catastrophe has essentially rendered him powerless. The Time Lord is baffled by the inexplicable forests that have suddenly grown worldwide in a day, throw in the added threat of the deadly solar flare racing towards Earth as well, and it’s fascinating to see him faced with such an unusual dilemma.
When Maebh becomes distressed and runs off into the forest again, seemingly because she hasn’t had her medication, the Doctor and Clara have to find her, but the vegetation is overwhelming Nelson’s Column, making it dangerously unstable, government service teams attempting to burn down sections of the forest find the trees are completely resistant to their flamethrowers, and the wildlife which the Doctor believes has escaped from London Zoo is now stalking them all through the forest. Fortunately Danny and the other students are on hand to offer assistance when the Doctor, Clara, and Maebh find themselves corned by a Tiger, so when they all eventually catch up with Maebh it becomes clear the Doctor was right about the voices in her mind and finds that she does indeed have some connection to the source at the heart of the forest.
In the Forest of the Night is another great episode for Jenna Coleman, there are some excellent scene for Clara, and it’s good to see Samuel Anderson return as Danny Pink for another adventure. This story provides some great moments for Clara and Danny, their relationship continues to flourish, although things do hit a bit of a snag when Danny rumbles that Clara went off to phone the Doctor instead of the school and the parents – and later, after Danny finds Maebh’s school book in the TARDIS, he begins to realise that Clara hasn’t been entirely honest with him about finishing her time travelling adventures with the Doctor either.
Clara’s troubled pupil Maebh Arden (played by the excellent Abigail Eames), also has an important role to play during this episode, she has some wonderful scenes with the 12th Doctor, along with her fellow Coal Hill pupils – a great group of young actors – and they all have to find a way to work together in order to survive their adventure in forest. There are flashbacks to their lessons at Coal Hill School as well, and these fun scenes really help to define their characters. I also like how Clara’s group of gifted and talented students manage to overcome their individual problems and differences over the course of this story, they all have own unique attributes and personalities that makes them special to her, and its lovely how Clara explains to the Doctor how she believes that these traits are all superpowers in her eyes if they can be used properly. It’s also fun to see how the children seem almost completely unfazed by the TARDIS interior, before virtually taking over the Console Room as they rush around to explore, with the incredulous 12th Doctor completely out of his depth with all these kids suddenly charging around in the TARDIS.
The pictures the Doctor sees Maebh has drawn in her school book are remarkably similar to the impending solar flare threatening the Earth. It seems that Maebh also believes she created the forest following a dream she had after her sister went missing, but when they are close to the source in the heart of the forest, the Doctor uses the sonic screwdriver to reveal a swarm of tiny glowing energy creatures surrounding her. They speak using her voice, explaining they have existed throughout time, and were summoned by Maebh’s dream to create the forest as they have apparently done many time before in the past.
In the Forest of the Night features some amazing special effects. The panoramic scenes of London, with its famous landmarks overgrown with vegetation, are spectacular, and really engrain the stories premise in your imagination. The way the global effects of this crisis are relayed by a series of television broadcasts are also handled very effectively. There are some good scenes with Maebh’s mother (Siwan Morris) as she sets out to look for her daughter, that also effectively show the vast scale of the forests impact on the capitol. We get to see some very impressive wildlife as well, wolves lurk in the shadows, and a tiger also makes a spectacular appearance.
When it seems there is no hope of saving the world from the solar flare, Clara’s initial suggestion to use the TARDIS as a lifeboat is just a ruse to get the Doctor to save himself, knowing the children would never want to be separated from their parents, even if the world is ending. Clara doesn’t want to be saved either and become the last of her kind like the Doctor. The Time Lord departs in the TARDIS but inspiration strikes as he monitors the solar flare, he returns for Clara, Danny, and the children, explaining how the trees have saved Earth before. The Doctor refers to events in Tunguska, 1908, and the mysterious blast that struck the Siberian region of Russia. He also mentions Curuca, another suspected asteroid impact, this time in Brazil, 1930, and he’s convinced the forests have appeared again; this time to save Earth from the solar flare.
The conclusion of In the Forest of the Night sees the children’s class project to save the Earth become a global broadcast, where Maebh calls on the nations of the world to stop using defoliating agents on the trees so they can protect the planet from the solar flare. She also includes a message for her sister, asking for her to return. Knowing the world will be safe, and having also reached an understanding with Danny, Clara decides to accompany the Doctor in the TARDIS and observe the solar flare from orbit as it strikes the Earth, watching in awe as the trees protect the entire surface of the planet from the effects of the fiery impact.
The ending does feel a little rushed, with the world being saved by the trees and the return of Maebh’s sister feeling perhaps less poignant moments than they should have been, although the intriguing, though brief, interlude with Missy (Michelle Gomez) does give us plenty to ponder over as she watches these events unfold. However, the moment where the Doctor and Clara watch from the balcony of her flat as the trees miraculously disperse, were the Time Lord states that humanities superpower to forget will make these events fade away just like the other natural catastrophes in Earth’s history – to become fables and fairytales – does stretch credibility as it wraps everything up using an evergreen reset switch of epic proportions.
In the Forest of the Night is markedly lighter in tone, the majority of episodes in series eight have been much darker, and as a result this episode does feel slightly at odds with what has gone before. The story by Frank Cottrell-Boyce makes for an engaging and poetic episode, and while its doesn’t quite realise the full potential of its intriguing premise, the excellent characterisation and the solid Direction by Sheree Folkson ensures In the Forest of the Night remains an exciting and entertaining adventure. There’s still lots to enjoy here, and the thrilling next time trailer sets the scene perfectly for an incredible looking series eight finale.
Images Belong BBC