I’ve just finished watching the latest episode of “Doctor Who” – so, I thought that I’d review it. Sorry about yet another lengthy plot summary, but I’ll mark where the summary begins and ends in case you want to skip it, since it takes up between about half and two-thirds of this review.
As I say every week, I’m not sure how many episodes of this series I’ll get round to reviewing (or even how promptly I’ll be able to review them) but I’ll try to look at as many as possible.
Before I go any further, I should also point out that this review will contain MAJOR SPOILERS. You have been warned.
—- Beginning of plot summary ——
“In The Forest Of The Night” begins with a schoolgirl running through a forest until she finds the TARDIS. She knocks on the door and, when the Doctor answers, she tells him that something is chasing her. He invites her inside the TARDIS and is surprised that she isn’t shocked that the TARDIS is larger on the inside than it is on the outside and that she also seems to know a lot about who he is too.
The Doctor tells the schoolgirl that he had meant to travel to London, but that the TARDIS has been malfunctioning. However, it quickly turns out that the TARDIS is already in London – and that the entire city, as well as the rest of the world (yes, other places than London actually exist in the “Doctor Who” universe), has been mysteriously covered by a giant forest.
Meanwhile, Danny and Clara are with their year eight class at a sleepover at the natural history museum – however, when they all leave in the morning, the museum doors won’t open properly. And, after they manage to prise them open, they see nothing but a giant forest. Clara calls the Doctor about this and is surprised to learn that he’s already in London with a member of Danny and Clara’s year eight class called Maebh (pronounced “Maeve”).
It also turns out that Maebh has been experiencing psychological problems after her sister went missing a year earlier and that she needs regular medication (which Clara has), otherwise she starts hearing voices.
So, after an argument between Danny and Clara, they decide to find Maebh and the Doctor. They lead their year eight class into the forest until they find the TARDIS. The Doctor seems totally bewildered by the newly-grown forest. Especially since, from examining the trees, it quickly becomes clear that they have no roots and that they are less than one year old. The Doctor fears that this may have been done in order to quickly increase the oxygen content of the Earth’s atmosphere, as a prelude to an alien invasion.
However, by the time that they have worked all of this out, Maebh has run off again – so The Doctor and Clara go off to search for her. In the process, they are almost crushed by Nelson’s column and they briefly meet a government deforestation team who are trying unsuccessfully to burn the trees with a really cool-looking flamethrower.
Eventually, they find Maebh, but she is being threatened by a group of ferocious wolves that have escaped from a nearby zoo. The Doctor and Clara manage to save her and they stand together in a large group in a hope of scaring the wolves away. The wolves flee a few seconds later, but it quickly becomes obvious that they’re actually fleeing from something else.
Needless to say, a tiger from the zoo saunters into view and growls loudly at them. But, before it can attack, it is frightened away by Danny (and the year eight class) who dazzle it with a powerful torch that one of the kids had brought to the museum earlier.
After this, Maebh starts flailing her arms wildly and Danny tells Clara to give her her medication, but the Doctor disagrees because he thinks that the voices Maebh hears are actually some kind of alien message. Whilst they’re arguing about this, Maebh runs off again and everyone starts chasing her as soon as they notice that she’s gone.
Eventually, Maebh stops in the middle of a cobweb-covered clearing and starts talking about how there are thousands of thoughts flashing through her mind and about how she fears that they might have caused the trees to grow. The Doctor creates a gravity well near her using his sonic screwdriver and lots of strange firefly-like creatures emerge from Maebh.
The creatures speak through Maebh (in a vaguely “Exorcist”-like fashion) and tell the Doctor that they are timeless beings who have existed longer than the earth and that they will even exist long after the Doctor eventually dies. They possibly also mention something about a solar flare, but I can’t remember exactly.
Anyway, when everyone returns to the TARDIS, the Doctor runs a scan and learns that there is a giant solar flare that is about to destroy the Earth. He tells everyone that he can save them in the TARDIS, but most of the kids want to go home – so eventually, Clara tells the Doctor to save himself, before leaving with Danny and the year eight class.
The Doctor leaves in the TARDIS, then he suddenly realises something and returns to London. Apparently, during the past few giant solar flares, the earth has been saved because the flares were attracted to forested areas (due to the large amount of oxygen that the trees produce). So, the mysterious forest is actually the timeless aliens’ way of protecting earth rather than conquering it.
Since the government is about to spray the area with herbicide, the Doctor calls the year eight class back into the TARDIS and gets them to compose a message to send to the world. After this, he uses the technology in the TARDIS to call literally every phone on the planet and asks Maebh to read the message to the world. Surprisingly, it actually works. It also reassures Maebh’s mum, who is in the forest looking for Maebh – and finds her fairly soon after the phone call.
The Doctor asks everyone if they want to stay in the TARDIS and watch the flare from outer space, but most of the kids just want to return home and Danny gives a rather moving speech about how his experiences in the army have made him focus on Clara and the rest of humanity rather than grand things. So, everyone except the Doctor and Clara leave.
The Doctor and Clara then watch the solar flare from space and, the next morning, the forest begins to disappear – as thousands of the firefly-like timeless aliens fly away from the earth and back into space. Maebh’s sister also mysteriously re-appears too.
In another unknown location, the mysterious woman who has appeared at the end of a few other episodes (I’m not sure why I haven’t mentioned her in these reviews yet) watches everything that has happened on a screen.
—- End of plot summary —–
One of the first things that I will say about “In The Forest Of The Night” is that I absolutely loved the concept behind the episode.
Seriously, the idea of a giant forest suddenly covering the earth is almost straight out of an old J.G.Ballard novel from the sixties (before he started writing more urban and dystopic fiction) and it’s great to see some classic “golden age” science fiction in a modern TV show.
Another good thing about this episode are the special effects in it – the CGI scenes of the heavily forested London landscape are amost movie quality. And, although some of the CGI effects are slightly noticeable (eg: the scene when the wolves jump over the gate), they still work fairly well and help to give the episode a slightly more cinematic quality.
These CGI scenes also help to break up the monotony that comes from the fact that most of the episode takes place in a fairly “ordinary”-looking forest.
But, these are about the only good things that I can think to say about this episode. I found the central plot to be slightly confusing at some points and some parts of the story are never really quite explained properly. For example, why did Maebh’s sister mysteriously disappear and re-appear? There isn’t really much of an explanation for this given in the episode.
Still, saying this, the storylines in most episodes of “Doctor Who” are at least slightly confusing and ambiguous in order to fuel fan speculation. And the main part of the storyline isn’t too confusing, so I guess that this isn’t a major issue. But, even so, the ending to the episode seemed more than a little bit contrived.
In addition to this, whilst there thankfully aren’t a huge number of arguments between Clara and Danny, their relationship is still at least slightly antagonistic and they often end up bickering about various things. Even though the chemistry between the Doctor and Clara is better than it used to be earlier in the series, it’s still kind of annoying to see any of the three main characters argue with each other on a regular basis.
Talking of annoying, whilst the fact that the main characters are followed by an entire year eight class adds some comedy and drama to the episode – I think that the episode would have probably been better with a slightly smaller cast of characters.
I don’t know, The episode just felt slightly crowded by all of the different characters and some of the scenes where Danny and/or Clara were talking to their class were kind of an annoying distraction from the main storyline and felt more like filler material than anything relevant to the main story.
All in all, this probably isn’t my favourite episode of the new series. But, at the same time, it isn’t really a “bad” episode either. Although it’s really nice to see some classic 1960s-style sci-fi on TV, I guess that I’m also slightly disappointed that this wasn’t another horror-based episode.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, then it would probably get three and a half.