Season 8, Episode 10—“In the Forest of the Night”
Well folks, this was an episode that will get very little snarky commentary from me, as I thought it was one of the most successful adventures of this season. Tapping into the magic of “Listen”, first-time Who screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce was able to create a story that was both visually and emotionally rich. “In the Forest of the Night” did away with predictable twists and repetitive plot points, focusing instead on lovely character moments that were surprising but not inconsistent with previous events. So what exactly happened in this great episode?
To the recap!
Much like “Listen”, we start off with echoes of children’s tales. We open with a small girl running around a forest wearing a red hooded jacket, foreshadowing the predatory wolf that was not far behind. Instead of a wild animal, however, young Maeve runs into another creature: The Doctor. Apparently this child never got the “stranger danger!” memo from her parents, because she immediately follows the trenchcoat-wearing man inside his big box (I’m not saying Peter Capaldi looks like a sex offender, but I’m also not not saying that he looks like a sex offender).
Maeve immediately proves herself useful by informing the Doctor that the TARDIS is not really in a faraway forest, but rather in the middle of present-day Trafalgar Square. Yep, nature seems to have decided “fuck it, I’m not waiting for y’all to go extinct until I let my hair down. Momma’s having a glass of pinot and going to that cougar bar to photosynthesize all over the place.”
Across town, Danny and Clara have taken a class of ‘gifted’ (read: problematic) kids on a sleepover at the museum (because what child wouldn’t jump at the chance to sleep on hard surfaces alongside their teachers and enough stuffed animals to fill a nightmare with?). After the class steps outside the museum, we find out that the forest covers not just London, but the entirety of Earth. When Clara phones the Doctor to try to one-up him in the “impressive wonders” department, her friend rains on her parade by telling her not only that the forest is old news, but that he’s in possession of a tiny child that Danny allowed to wander off. Minus points, Bearded Boyfriend; get your shit together.
Taken aback by the deflation of her potential one-upmanship, Clara trips in her web of lies while talking with Danny, letting slip that she and the Doctor have been in contact. Like any good terrible person, Clara deflects attention from herself by making Danny feel bad about losing Maeve.
In a subsequent scene, Danny uses the word “orientate” which made me shout “it’s ORIENT, you fool!” at my television. Of course I then Googled the word and found out that British folks tend to use “orientate”, which is an actual word and not a made-up piece of garbage like “overneath” and “comfortability”.
Throughout the episode, Danny emphasizes that while he’s curious and enchanted by the forest, his main priority is taking care of others, in this case the children he is guardian of. Despite his relative youth in comparison to the Doctor, Danny’s attitude is light years ahead of the titular hero’s in terms of maturity. Yep, at this point the Doctor might as well be wearing a beanie while telling Clara that he’s still trying to find himself through his carpentry hobby.
After some excellent navigation by the troubled youth Bradley, the schoolchildren find the Doctor. Unlike his usual confident self, the Doctor expresses doubt as to how to deal with the natural event. Robbed of the opportunity to interact with creatures who can speak, be tricked, or be reasoned with, the Doctor is a befuddled mess.
Inside the TARDIS, the gang theorizes as to how the forest could have grown overnight. Was it aliens trying to scrub the atmosphere clean before taking over the planet? Was it a seed planted hundreds of years ago that somehow messed with the fabric of time? Is M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening more than just a hackneyed grasp at relevance by a once great director (hint: no, it’s still a piece of poo)?
In the frenzy of hypotheses, Danny finds Clara’s student books lying in a neat pile on the ship, a curious fact seeing as Clara totally isn’t traveling with the Doctor anymore, right? RIGHT?
Danny is not buying any of Clara’s shit.
While Danny puts two and two together, the Doctor notices that Maeve’s notebook has a drawing with the present date depicting a solar bolt hitting a forest. When he checks the TARDIS for signs of an impending cataclysmic event, the Doctor realizes that a solar flare is set to hit the earth that day. Instead of thinking, “man, that schizophrenic girl sure draws a shitty ass sun”, the Doctor deduces that Maeve knew the event would happen because she is in tune to the trees’ frequency. Clara and the Doctor then set off to find young Maeve with the hope that she has information that can save the planet (no pressure!). Of course the other children convince Danny that Clara needs saving (paternalistic little bastards), and the group leaves the safety of the TARDIS to go after them.
Elsewhere in London, the humans decide to do away with careful monitoring in order to blast things with fire, because the best solution is always the one a caveman would employ. The trees don’t take kindly to being burnt, however, and smother the fires by withholding oxygen around them. Somewhere Bill Nye yells out, “that’s not how trees work!”
Doctor Who screenwriters: “More like BYEEEEEEEEology, amiright?”
Within the depths of the forest, Maeve evokes yet another fairytale heroine’s actions when she leaves items behind in a Gretel-like fashion. Much like Red Riding Hood, Maeve is chased by a big bad wolf that recently escaped from the zoo before being found by Clara and the Doctor. Unfortunately, the wolf becomes the least of their worries when a tiger appears on the scene. With the help of a simple flashlight, Mr. Pink saves the day and scares the animal away.
Once the group is safe, the Doctor creates a local increase in gravity around Maeve to see what she has been swatting at this entire time. In an instant, fairy lights appear and the little girl uses the devil’s auto-tune to tell the Doctor that the originators of the forest are tiny spirits (I think?) that answer the calls of crisis given out by the planet. We also learn that the spirits were not the ones who called out for the Doctor. While Maeve says the thought may have come from “Miss” (aka Clara), my bet is that it came from Missy.
Distraught about his impotence in the face of pure physics, the Doctor depressingly concludes that the Earth will likely be destroyed. Upon hearing this, Clara lures the Doctor to the safety of the TARDIS by telling him that the spaceship could be used as an escape pod for the children. When they get to the TARDIS, however, Clara is all “JK, let everyone die because space-adventuring with orphans will be terrible.”
While I wanted to agree with Clara’s reasoning that the children would always want their parents, part of me couldn’t help but think, “Dude, the TARDIS could pick up the parents too, are you new here? You’re making a lot of hasty decisions about other people’s lives.” When the Doctor asks to save Clara, she painfully confesses that she would rather die than be the last of her kind.
I’m not crying, YOU’RE CRYING
Jesus Christ this scene made me a blubbering mess. Damn you, Doctor Who for knowing how to play with my emotions.
Thankfully, everyone doesn’t die, as the Doctor soon figures out that the trees’ ability to extinguish fire is the very reason why the planet will be safe. Apparently, each time a planet-threatening extraterrestrial event is about to happen, trees pump up the atmosphere with an insane amount of oxygen. This layer of gas then acts like an airbag for the planet by giving flames something to burn. The trees are then not the enemy, but rather the Earth’s shield. With the help of a sweet message from Maeve, the Doctor is able to signal to all humans on Earth to stop destroying the trees.
When the Doctor offers the group an opportunity to see the geomagnetic storm from space, everyone but Clara declines (I call bullshit; no one would say no to this). Danny in particular declines because he would rather get to know his world better instead of seeing bit and pieces of other universes. I love that the character doesn’t try to convince Clara to act the way he does, but instead explains how his wartime experiences have influenced his perspective on how to go through life. In other cool guy news, Danny also doesn’t blow up at Clara when she finds out she’s been lying to him this entire time. Instead of getting mad, Danny simply asks Clara to be honest with him, no matter what her choices are. Gold star, Danny!
Back in the Nethersphere (perhaps where River Song is?), Missy watches the events unfold like a cyberstalker. URL bad man, Missy.
Somehow, the trees just magically disappear, and Maeve’s lost sister materializes out of a hydrangea bush….?
Pictured: Who screenwriters trying to end an episode logically
Overall opinion: This was definitely one of my favourite episodes this season. In addition to the beautifully surreal imagery, the episode was solid from start to finish (a hard feat these days for Who). Not only did the story mostly make sense, it also built upon this season’s themes without bashing us over the head with repetition. “In the Forest of the Night” also showed us a Doctor who can admit when he is wrong and respect others’ decisions about their own lives. The episode also satisfyingly explored Clara’s desire for adventure and taught us something new: the main difference between Clara and Danny is scale; while she wants to help solve big-picture interplanetary issues, he is more grounded and enthralled in micro-issues that you and I can relate to. In addition, the writers were smart enough to not reduce Danny to a stereotypical boring love interest that weighs their partner down. Instead of getting mad at Clara’s lies, Danny happily surprised me by being understanding and thoughtful in his reaction.
Lastly, the episode managed to build emotion in a way that felt very earned. Although the audience knew the Earth would be saved at the end of the day, the characters seemed unaware, acting in ways that perfectly matched the high stakes of the episode’s circumstances. When Clara said goodbye to the Doctor her reaction felt not only real, but final. Despite my knowing that the duo would be present in the final three episodes, the actors made me believe their characters were walking away from one another. Capaldi and Coleman’s acting ability together with Frank Cottrell Boyce’s writing was a beautiful match. MORE OF THIS!
This week we also learned that the Season 8 finale will be an epic two-parter!
Favourite lines (I had lots!):
Clara: “You’ve got a spaceship. We’ve only got our Oyster [metro] cards.”
Doctor: “Do you think that’s how spring begins? With a group message on tree Facebook? Do you think they send texts to each other?”
Doctor: “There is no such thing as an arboreal coincidence.”
Doctor: “This is my world too. I walk your earth. I breathe your air.” / Clara: “And on behalf of this world, you’re very welcome. Now go. Save the next one.”
Doctor: “What is it with you people? You hear voices you want to shut them up. The trees come to save you and you want to chop them down.” / Clara: “Or you think the Earth needs saving when it’s already saving itself.” / Doctor: “I did admit that I was wrong…”
Danny: “One person is more amazing… harder to understand… but more amazing than universes.”
Doctor: “I hope I’m right. It’d be slightly awkward if the world was destroyed at this point…”