TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “In the Forest of the Night” (08.10, 2014)

Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Directed by Sheree Folkson

Since “Listen,” this season has really spiraled badly. It has lost track of the show’s usual mix of logic and science with magic and wonder, favoring the latter to such an extent that it has become absurd. It has lost track of any sense of Clara’s character, turning her into just whatever they want for that scene. It has lost its usual balance of adult ideas with children’s ideas, favoring the latter to the point that it’s starting to feel like The Sarah Jane Adventures (which was intentionally aimed at younger viewers). Yes, I’ve been relatively unhappy since Amy’s departure, but I got very excited when Moffat proved to be able to write something as good as “Listen” this season, and the series has since squandered the excitement that it gave me. The finale has a lot of consecutive weak episodes to make up for.

Danny Pink has never made much sense as a character and has always had bizarrely unnatural dialogue. Samuel Anderson’s performance has not helped. All of those problems remained on display when he had a large part in this episode. He keeps saying, “The kids are the priority!” with a smirk and then doing bizarre things like leading them to within a few feet of a tiger while he scares it away with a light. He keeps acting like Clara concerns him but not actually trying to stop her or thinking through that she is doing the right thing in turning to the Doctor to resolve this bizarre situation. Every moment that he’s on screen is a false one, and he really needs to go away.

Meanwhile, the episode’s thin plot is just painfully obvious. When the Doctor calls himself “Doctor Idiot,” he’s exactly right, because any fool should have been able to see what the trees were doing, especially when it turned out that they were not flammable.

The Doctor’s speech about the human power to forget was also a cringe-worthy moment for me. The Doctor has often evinced a negative view of humanity on this series, but never has he appeared quite so purely pessimistic. The man who earlier in that episode explained that earth was “my planet, too” was now saying, “You people just forget everything by sheer force of will” as though it’s some terrible vice in the human spirit. This Doctor has been less instantly likeable than others by design, but that was a level beyond what even he has done previously.

I still really like the possibilities that Capaldi gives the series and feel like he’s doing a wonderful job, but the show around him doesn’t deserve him right now.

Notes

  • This was an episode that sent me scurrying to the internet to look up its Britishisms far more often than usual. Oyster card? I imagined that meant it was something for getting food at Thai restaurants or something. (I’ve never seen a Thai restaurant in real life and know nothing about Thai cuisine, so I would not be surprised to discover that they never use oysters.)
  • School sleepover at a museum? That’s just so weird on so many levels. Perhaps it is another Britishism.
  • I wish I grew up near an actual museum. The “museum” in my home town is just a tiny fake old west town and a building full of stuffed birds.
  • Annoying plot hole: Why on earth would burning the trees be the first thing someone would try? It would be cheaper, easier, and safer to chop them down.
  • Psychology major nerd note: “The Forest is mankind’s nightmare.” No, the reason forest imagery occurs in fairy/folk tales and nightmares is that it is traditionally connected to “primal” emotions and thoughts–we are at our most emotionally naked without a society around us.
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