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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TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “The Caretaker” (08.06, 2014

Written by Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat

Directed by Paul Murphy

Sometimes, Doctor Who just seems to be wasting time. This episode is a good example. Clara’s relationship with Pink is “getting serious” (I hate that nonsensical phrase. It suggests an incredible amount of disprespect in relationships to say that they “get serious.”), so now we have to see whether the Doctor will approve of him. This has been a repeated plot device with this series–the Ninth Doctor was dismissive of Mickey, and then the Tenth Doctor slowly came to give him a modicum (though that is all) of respect. The Eleventh Doctor was pretty quick to be respectful of Rory, but still started out dismissive and then came to accept Mr. Pond as a member of the team, even if he was clearly second banana to Amy. The Twelfth Doctor has not been as enamored of his companion as the past Doctors have been of theirs, which could have led to a different reaction. Instead of saying, “This guy isn’t good enough for you,” he could have said, “Hey, I like this guy. I might like him better than you.” But no, Moffat has to return to the same pattern.

This episode really plays as filler–the monster is ill-defined and dull, the characterizations are flat and lifeless, the interaction is so by-the-numbers as to be dull, even the humor just falls flat (with a few exceptions–“No, I read the book. There’s a biography in the back” was awesome). Nothing that this series usually does well is done well here, and that makes its flaws difficult to swallow. It’s hardly even worth watching. An episode that gives us so many minor characters who are not likely to show up often should leave us wanting to see more of those characters, but I was already tired of Clara’s colleagues before this one ended, which is a very bad sign.

The acting is a mixed bag. With less to do in this episode, Jenna Coleman is fine. Samuel Anderson, meanwhile, continues to be really difficult to take. Danny Pink is an ill-defined character, but he’s especially difficult to understand because of his bizarre smiling and oddly changing affect. I don’t know who Danny Pink is. The writers haven’t helped, but that’s largely because of Anderson’s performance. However, Peter Capaldi continues to be brilliant. The scene of him and Danny on the TARDIS is one that I could not imagine either Matt Smith or David Tennant playing believably, but Capaldi does. While this season has been uneven Capaldi is definitely a great find.

A series like Doctor Who, one that gets to take its time with every season and hire essentially any writer it wants, should not have filler episodes. I understand it with an American 22-episode network series–sometimes you just don’t have it and you don’t have time to wait for it–but it’s really a problem for a series like this. And yet, here we are, with a completely empty episode that none of us is going to remember in a month, let alone a year.

Notes

  • Yes, it’s repetitive, but I actually like the structure Moffat has found with setting up his overall stories over the course of a season. I spent this entire episode thinking, “Well, we will probably at least get a Missy scene to think about at the end,” which made it easier to sit through an exceedingly dull episode.
  • I only knew what the word “squaddie” meant from Amy using it back in season five.
  • While the robot monster thing still looked a bit silly, it was a good example of how much better the effects are now than they were a few years ago.
  • “What good is a policeman without a death ray?” in a country where the police don’t generally carry guns. (At least as I understand it.)