This review is very delayed, largely because I thought this episode was the worst of the season by far and I was putting off having to re-watch and partly because my family and I recently discovered the excellent (if depressing) crime drama, Line of Duty. I couldn’t keep shirking forever though so here I am.
To be honest, I’m actually not all that clear on what this episode was about. The first half follows Clara and Danny doing the obligatory zoo sleepover with their students, but with a twist. A giant forest comes to London and the children and teachers wander around aimlessly. Meanwhile, one student, Maeve, gets separated from the others and finds The Doctor (aside: strangely though the giant forest takes over London, there are surprisingly few people about for students to bump into). Then there’s something about people destroying trees and something about earth getting destroyed and something about the trees loving earth and saving it and pretty gold dust stuff and the power of the mentally ill to find lost things and… yeah… I don’t know… as I said… a big mess.
Companions who never were?
Child actors generally don’t bode well for companions of the week (see Nightmare in Silver and Courtney) but Maebh was quite good even if her storyline was rubbish. Her plaintive ‘everyone knew everything but me’ felt quite honest and I liked the way she thought differently to not just her teachers and fellow class mates, but also The Doctor. The most interesting scene for me in the whole episode was the one where Maebh told The Doctor that the trees were communicating silently and he didn’t believe her because he couldn’t hear them speak. I can’t find the exact quote online, but she basically pointed out to him that people communicate non-verbally all of the time and it was a pretty neat put down.
Clara and Danny
Urgh, these two are just no Amy/Rory no matter how hard this show tries to sell them to me as such. I genuinely don’t give a damn about Danny until Dark Water (which is pretty ironic as you’ll see in my write-up next week) and imo Clara is too good for him for the most part. The decision to have Danny constantly question Clara’s choice to travel with The Doctor, essentially forcing her to lie to him about still travelling in the TARDIS drives me insane every episode.
Danny: You said you haven’t seen him in months
Clara: Something like that
Clara, the fact you have to keep lying should be telling you something!
Danny brings out the worst in The Doctor too. When Maebh first meets The Doctor and tells her story he pettishly replies with, ‘Mr Pink was looking after you… that explains why you’re lost.’
Finally, Danny gets extra irritating this episode when he tells Clara why the TARDIS isn’t for him.
Danny: I don’t want to see more things. I want to see the things in front of me.
Yes, I get that Danny was a soldier and saw and did awful things. The problem is, we’ve been told about it, not shown it and I simply don’t buy his comments. Who wouldn’t want to travel the TARDIS? Really? (Ok, so I know Rory didn’t want to, but he loved Amy so much he did it anyway and found hidden reserves inside himself he didn’t even know existed. I love Rory. Danny just stagnates)
Harsh Doctor is back in full force this week. Take when Maebh first turns up. His response to her unexpected appearance on his TARDIS doorstep is, ‘You need an appointment to see The Doctor.’ Callous, much? Though this Doctor does seem to have travel differentiating between adults and children and tends to lump all humans in terms of functionality in the same basket.
Capaldi is also given the opportunity this week to dig into his softer side in time for the finale and the Christmas special. He tells Clara he can use his TARDIS to save Clara from the destruction of earth.
Clara: I don’t want to be the last of my kind.
The Doctor: This is my world too.
The conviction and quiet delivery of the lines is quite beautiful. I think Capaldi is also very good when he says that the human super power is forgetting, sounding sad, thoughtful and relieved all at once.
Mental illness, fairy stories and un-earnt denouements
In general, the main problem for me with this episode is the lack of real conflict. However, where everything really started to go pear-shaped was when the script writer thought it would be a good idea to imply that mental illness equated to some kind of magical ability that could inexplicably bring back lost things. Wow, way to perpetrate stereotypes much! The fairy story tone didn’t actually give the writer a get out of jail free card as some episodes got in series 5 because tonally it didn’t match the rest of Capaldi’s run. I simply felt cheated when Annabelle turned up in a bush by Maebh’s house. Furthermore, Maebh’s imagination (depicted through her coloured drawings) felt too Fear Her for my liking and the reveal that she’d created the tree plague felt pretty random. When The Doctor says that the forest is mankind’s nightmare (hello Into The Woods), it’s actually Maebh’s nightmare (or deep desire), but none of these reveals really gel or feel earned. Look, maybe I’m just sensitive, but this whole concept felt like a hot mess.
Missy turning up, even if for a minute, is always welcome. This episode I just felt confused. Why was Missy surprised that the trees saved earth? Or was she actually implying that she was surprised at The Doctor’s choice to remain on an earth about to be destroyed? Why? Does anyone know what this scene was about? Please help.
On the plus side, next week is Missy in crystal clear abundance and one of the best episode’s of the season.
In The Forest of the Night: 2/10 inky stars