It’s the calm before the storm. Before the finale begins, we almost always get a bit of fluffy fun and “In The Forest Of The Night” is no exception. In fact, this episode is so far from the horror-esque pseudo-science that has been characteristic of this series so far that it’s an actual fairytale. Nothing about this episode makes ANY sense, and when the episode finished I found myself questioning everything. Luckily, it wasn’t until after the episode was over that I began to see the flaws, because the experience of watching it was actually rather enjoyable.
This episode presents a whole new form of logic that even Doctor Who fans will probably cringe at. Like the fact that it completely ignores the concept of timezones, because if the magical forest grew up in the night in England then it appeared in broad daylight on the other side of the world. Not to mention the fact that not everyone is asleep all night – shift workers, students, homeless people etc. They all could have witnessed the sudden appearance of a forest. Then there are Maebh’s (Abigail Eames) powers of precognition which are never fully explained. Also, are we supposed to believe that the whole world just listened when a little girl said they should leave the trees alone, and that in the age of smartphones the entire human race managed to forget the forest ever happened? It seems the trees are a lot more tech savvy than I gave them credit for.
So yeah, this episode is particularly illogical even by who standards, but I think that kind of works with the fairytale style this story employs. The terrifying forest is a classic fairytale trope as is the little girl lost in the forest. She’s even wearing a red hooded jacket to make the connection super obvious. The monsters (well, it turns out they’re not so monstrous after all, but they fill that role for most of the episode), even appear like tiny fairies flittering around Maebh’s head. Clara even says: “Any minute now we’re gonna find a gingerbread cottage with a cannibal witch inside”. Not to mention the allusions to William Blake. Everything about “In The Forest Of The Night” tells the audience that this is not a science fiction story, this is a fantasy. This is a fairytale, there’s no use for logic here.
If the fairytale narrative isn’t enough, the addition of kids is a reminder that Doctor Who is a family show and I’m pretty sure that kids will love this episode, if only because the message seems to be that we should listen to the children. It’s a nice message, and a much needed one considering the harsh exterior of Capaldi’s Doctor. The Doctor might be callus and even cruel sometimes, but he’s still a figure of whimsy and adventure for children, and that is the Doctor we see in this episode.
The voices of children is the obvious message within “In The Forest Of The Night” but I have seen others mention mental illness and environmentalism. I have to say that I really hope those were not the intended themes of this episode because if that’s the case the message was not a very good one. Maebh has suffered a traumatic experience and has been put on medication to help her manage her symptoms, the Doctor basically calls this a mistake and suggests that by putting her on medication they are limiting her potential. That is a seriously problematic view treatment for mental illness. And the environmental message seems to be that the earth will protect itself no matter what happens, so humans should just let it happen. Neither of those are particularly good messages, so I’m going to stick with the idea that this fairytale was all about listening to children.
It’s worth mentioning that the visuals in this episode are stunning and the performances are solid as usual. Clara continues to grow on me, and this episode managed to soften Capaldi’s Doctor enough to make him likeable. They still seem to be pushing this strange love triangle angle between the Doctor, Clara and Danny Pink, but I’m just trying to ignore that. Danny Pink is still terribly disappointing, particularly the way that his time as a soldier seems to be his only defining characteristic. His answer for everything is that he was a soldier once and now he knows things that Clara doesn’t, which makes him come across as condescending. It seems to suggest that he is more mature than Clara because he has moved beyond the desire for adventure and it’s making me wonder what the hell she sees in him.
As a fun fairytale this episode works, until the final scene when Maebh’s missing sister Annabel magically reappears. Now, I’m a sucker for a happy ending as much as anyone, but I felt this tacked on addition undermined the wonder of the fantasy adventure. The forest was gone, the story was over, Maebh had been reunited with her mother and it felt like they were going to be able to deal with their real world loss because of the way the dealt with the episode’s adventure. Instead the missing girl returns, and the fantasy elements are brought into the real world which forces the audience to question all of the logic defying plot holes that run rampant throughout this episode. If they had maintained the distance I probably wouldn’t have been bothered as much. Unfortunately that one final miracle ripped me from the fantasy and forced me to re-evaluate.
The promo for the final suggests that Clara never existed, which makes a surprising amount of sense considering her adhock characterisation, but I don’t think that’s what they’re going for.
Anyway, what did you think of “In The Forest Of The Night”? Did you fall into the fairytale? Or were you bother by the lack of logic, even by Doctor Who standards?
Author: Undie Girl
Undie Girl (aka Von) has a BA (Hons) Major in Cultural Studies. The title of her honours thesis was “It’s just gay and porn”: Power, Identity and the Fangirl’s Gaze. She’s currently pursuing a Masters of Media Practice at University of Sydney. Von’s a former contributor The Backlot’s column The Shipping News and a current co-host of The Geekiary’s monthly webcast FEELINGS… with The Geekiary.
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