Sunday, 26 October 2014

In the Forest of the Night

"I promise that I will never call an 8 year old girl a c**t again."

The episode preceding a series finale has traditionally been a lighter affair, or at least not bore much relevance to the story arc. A breather, if you will, before the roaring finale. It is also customary for these episodes to be a bit crap. In The Forest of the Night does not disappoint in this respect; unfortunately it's about the only front it doesn't fall on.

A car crash of an episode, I'm finding it quite a challenge to thread all of its biggest problems into a coherent post. So taking inspiration from the story itself, the best I can put forward is a meandering mess...

Clearly drawing inspiration from fairy tales and poetry, In the Forest of the Night adopts a vaguely similar tone to some of Matt Smith's earlier stories. It takes itself far less seriously than the rest of Series 8 and has an element of childish whimsy about it. There are several references to the likes of Sleeping Beauty and Hansel and Gretel, but the story goes beyond reference and becomes both a fairy tale itself and a meta justification of their tropes. However, it fails to effectively weld itself into a workable narrative or into the wider Doctor Who universe.

Another big, wacky concept. How long before it unravels?
The story is basically nonsense. Typical of a fairy tale, there isn't much internal logic and frequently relies on hocus pocus or simply failing to explain something. I don't think any of the finer details get much of a look-in, and certain elements such as the trees "withholding" Oxygen just don't make much sense. Perhaps this is both intentional and justified by the fairy tale tone, but it's not something which works for me as there is nothing of substantial quality to fill in for the lack of a story. It's not like, say, Kill The Moon: which had a fluctuating and equally silly story, but also a strong emotional core and character development to prop it up.

Instead, the focus of the plot is mostly on The Doctor, Clara, Danny and a group of younger Coal Hill students aimlessly wondering around the forest. Frank Cottrell-Boyce said that he wanted The Doctor to be without his usual superpowers and it means that the cast don't really achieve anything. Sure, The Doctor eventually works out what is going on (though the twist that the trees are saving the Earth comes with all the surprise of a cold winter), but it does little to change the feeling that no one makes much of a difference in the grand scheme of things and it makes the whole exercise come off as a tad pointless.

As previously stated, I'd be less bothered by the lack of a solid plot if everything else is well-executed. The actual process behind the story doesn't need to be faultless if the ideas they present are explored in an interesting way. But they aren't. The trees don't seem to cause any lasting damage to infrasturcture aside from a brief set piece with Nelson's column, and despite the standard news report montage, we don't get much of an idea what kind of effect the sudden arboreal invasion is having - central London is surprisingly deserted! This only adds to the pointless impression I got: the episode is totally lost in the woods. (lol)

Though lost in woods which are, admittedly, very pretty.
Character development is the other thing which could have saved the story, but that's unfortunately lacking too. Clara has demonstrated a startling level of dishonesty with Danny Pink over the past few episodes regarding The Doctor and it looks like this would be the episode where this would have to be addressed. It's not. At least not in any meaningful way. Danny's reaction to it is very understated after what we've seen from him so far, and any dramatic potential is broadly ignored. Saved for the finale? Maybe, but it still leaves this story a bit cold.

On a related note, there's still not much reason to buy into  Clara and Danny's relationship. If anything, each subsequent story they share just further demonstrates their differences and leaves me wondering what, exactly, they see in each other.

References to previous episodes and plot threads is pretty much the only thing I can praise this story for. We get a call-back to the climactic argument of Kill The Moon (and it is very sweet), Clara demonstrates a more considered understanding of The Doctor following her go at being him in Flatline, and we continue to see The Doctor having a negative effect on Clara, this time in her repeatedly forgetting the welfare of her students. It feels like the groundwork is being laid for Clara to make some reckless decisions in the finale and that her actions will have some dire consequence. Which could be fun.

Neither Clara nor Danny come out of the episode looking like the best teachers ever,
but her 'addiction' to The Doctor is starting to look more concerning.
I've yet to mention the elephant in the room: CHILD ACTORS. A gamble, at best... They're not the worst thing about the story. There is some stilted dialogue for sure and the characters are very standard archetypes, but they nonetheless provide some of the episodes more passable and - dare I say - funny moments.

If I did have a significant issue with any of them, it would be Maebh: arguably the focal point of the episode. Some backstory about a missing sister and resulting emotional issues are contrived to make her stand out, but it's handled with all the delicacy of one of the bad Sarah Jane Adventures stories. Additionally, her importance to the plot and relation to the (again, not very well explained) glowing bug-like creatures is a bit confused... Much like her weird arm-flailing.

Far from being a cute "happily ever after", the unexpected return of Maebhs sister
emerging from a vanishing bush is nothing if not a bit creepy.
In the Forest of the Night is a bit like a bad poem. The message and moral of the story is there but dropped with all the subtlety of a wooden anvil, and the execution was florid, nonsensical, and empty. It does indeed recall some elements of Matt Smith's fairy tale era, but seems to almost exclusively pick out the most tedious tropes of it while failing to catch any of the actual atmosphere and ingenuity which made it work.

I said I was giving scores a miss until the end of the series, but I have a very clear number in mind for this one and it's a 1/10. No sense of threat or urgency, a weak and flowery plot, and lacking in any significant strengths. Startlingly bad.