Monday, 27 October 2014

Doctor Who: 'In the Forest of the Night' Review

Trees have grown everywhere around the world, covering it overnight. What caused the trees to grow like this and who is responsible? Can The Doctor figure these mysteries out and return the world to how it was? Or has humanity entered “The Tree Age”?

So I quite often get the feeling that ‘Doctor Who’ has been made for idiots. This week I had the rather refreshing alternative of having it made by idiots. The concept for this episode raises so many questions and refuses to answer any of them properly. It’s baffling how many elements of ‘In the Forest of the Night’ are not explained, properly researched or simply don’t make sense. Now I don't want to put all the blame with Frank Cottrell Boyce. This episode really feels like a first draft, it just doesn't hold together and it's hard to believe such a well established writer could have intended his episode to be like this.

So the episode opens with Maebh Arden, as in the Forest of Arden, running towards the Tardis. She asks to come in because “something” is following her. What this something might be is never explained. It could be the glowing things we see later, that’s the most likely option. Or it could be the wolves but we aren’t told. Then again, The Doctor is confronted by a little girl telling him she is being followed and he doesn’t care to ask by what, so why should we?

We see the earth from space and see how it is entirely covered with trees. To run this point home we see comedy news articles talking about the new amount of trees. I have to hope that if trees suddenly covered the entire earth over night the news media may deal with bigger questions than if people can ride a train to work or if football matches might be cancelled. This is fundamentally the biggest issue with this episode, the sudden trees are being treated like a giant peach or some other bizarre situation from a children’s book. Nobody seems to really care.

How many people died when the trees grew? Even if we assume that nobody was directly impaled on them, so many people must have died. What about the trees that suddenly grew on the busy roads for example? What about the lootings and the mass murder? The episode directly mentions that the roads need to be cleared for emergency services. With the routes blocked to the hospitals anyone injured by the trees or otherwise would have died.

Even if we assume, as the episode does, that the only issue is the escape of dangerous wild animals that’s still a pretty major issue when viewed globally. Dangerous animals are nothing however, when compared to dangerous viruses that may have been released from chemical labs during the chaos. I suspect that a few Nuclear reactors may have been breached by trees also but none of this is mentioned. We are given an unrealistically simplistic view of what would have been a truly terrifying situation for humanity.

That being said, the many positives of the situation are also ignored. With that many trees the whole global warming issue would have been fixed almost instantly. With all the trees apparently bearing nuts and fruit I guess world hunger is a thing of the past also? These topics aren’t questioned at all. To go with such a big story idea but to completely ignore the positive and negative ramifications of it seems really bizarre.

Now even if you ignore the many larger issues with logic this episode presents, it has many smaller issues that it seems to not care about fixing either.

Clara tells The Doctor, after hearing a wolf howl “No, that is impossible, we are in London!”. To which he replies “Would that be the London with a zoo? A zoo with a pack of wolves…No! Wolves are not impossible!”

This sentence has two distinct issues. Firstly and least importantly, London has several zoos, so it doesn’t have “a” zoo. Secondly and more importantly, London Zoo doesn’t have any wolves. London Zoo hasn’t had wolves for a very long time. The nearest zoos to Trafalgar Square with wolves seem to be Colchester and Reading. Now Reading Zoo is the nearest and is still 1 hour and 12 minutes by car approximately from The Doctor and Clara.

Even if we accept ‘Doctor Who’ exists in a fictional version of our own world, one where London Zoo has wolves, the wolves attacking them still doesn’t make sense. Why aren’t the wolves hunting the other animals at the zoo, or the other animals in London?

I find it hard to believe that a wolf would choose to risk attacking a human over a domestic dog or cat. Most wild animals don’t eat that often also. Unless the fictional workers of London Zoo were starving them, they must have been fed within 24 hours of the tree situation. I find it hard to believe that captive wolves, ones who have never hunted before, would so quickly risk going out into the world to hunt unless they were starving.

This also entirely ignores the fact that wolves are scavengers; they’ll eat food they find lying around before they’ll hunt. I guess that they must have ignored all the rubbish bags they walked past on their trip from London Zoo to Trafalgar Square, all 2.5 miles of it!

I’m not even done with the list of dumb things about this episode. I haven’t even touched on the stupid things the characters do. Maebh’s mum is angry because the trees have blocked out the sunlight in her house, so she can’t see anything. I guess when night time comes she just has to feel around her house in the dark? Maybe those light switches you have on the walls could be switched on? It’s just a suggestion.

Sadly enough the biggest idiot in this episode is The Doctor. Last week he assumed The Boneless might be friendly, even after they’d killed several people. This week he automatically assumes the trees are bad in some way. The idea that they might be friendly doesn’t even cross his mind for the majority of the episode. In addition he completely ignores a child who mentions that she gets exterior thoughts that she can’t explain, despite him having been a vocal believer of psychic powers in a lot of other stories. He carries and uses psychic paper for crying out loud!!

Now on the subject of hearing voices; this episode has another horribly thought out social message. Maebh has been on pills since her sister went missing, ones to stop her from hearing voices and having nervous ticks. This makes The Doctor angry:

“What is it with you people? You hear voices; you want to shut them up!”

I assume, therefore, that if The Doctor met someone who heard voices telling them to hurt themselves or other people he’d just leave them to it? I guess he’d assume that it was just psychic aliens and let things play out? This anti medication message is insulting; it’s insulting to everyone who has to take life improving pills on a daily basis. It’s also insulting to the real doctors who prescribe them to people, trying to help them. It’s weird to think that The Doctor, the one who met and understood Vincent Van Gogh, has such a childish view of mental health issues.

The high levels of stupidity in this script are making me almost ignore the smaller ones. I can’t believe that Clara, a teacher and human, asks The Doctor “Why am I frightened?” when she loses a little girl with apparent mental problems. That being said Clara is written to be pretty unlikable in this episode. When The Doctor offers to save her and Danny she says “Danny Pink would never leave those kids as long as he is breathing” I guess if Danny Pink was willing to leave the kids then Clara would have no issue also with leaving them alone to be eaten by wolves?

Now let’s move on to more positive things about the episode. I’m usually pretty hard on both Clara and Danny but this week they were considerably better than usual. Danny in particular was given more character and we, as an audience, could see and understand the good points that Clara can see. Now this might have been nicer nine episodes ago, when we were being told to like him for no reason. Better late than never I guess.

The child actors also weren’t bad, for child actors at least. I could have done with less of Maebh’s rave dancing but she was pretty good actress for her age and had a nice spark with The Doctor.
Peter Capaldi is yet again great and has some really nice lines. The line “I told you they were rubbish!” when the wolves run away is brilliant. The episode had a lot of really nice lines in general. Clara’s “I don’t want to be the last of my kind” was also a good line and it was well performed.

So what do I think of ‘In the Forest of the Night’? To be honest the constant stupidity of this episode is really hard to ignore. This episode has some really interesting concepts but they are at best handled badly and at worst handled insultingly. The script does have some really nice pieces of dialogue but the actual structure is really messy. This episode tries to do way too much and fails most of what it attempts due to this. So many elements are introduced that some of them are not explained enough to warrant them being included in the first place.

My reaction to the very last scene in this episode was to burst out laughing. I was laughing at just how stupid and unexpected the final scene was, I wasn’t alone in this reaction. To be fair, although this episode is probably about as stupid as ‘Kill the Moon’ in terms of science and social issues it didn’t make me as angry. Unlike ‘Kill the Moon’ I didn’t feel any attempt to manipulate me as if I were an idiot. That being said, the fact that watching 'In the Forest of the Night' didn't make me that angry isn't really a recommendation is it?  

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