Doctor Who: In the Forest of the Night (8×10)
Synopsis: In another Earth-based adventure, the Doctor parks the TARDIS only to find that London has been inexplicably overgrown by a massive forest overnight. He, Clara, Danny, and a team of Coal Hill students must fight their way through this wilderness to solve the mystery of this new forest that seems to be threatening the existence of human life on Earth.
This week the Doctor left his TARDIS only to find himself in the middle of London, albeit one very different than the city he expected. London—and in fact the entire world—has been overrun with forestry overnight, and even the Doctor finds himself stumped as to how the full-grown trees suddenly appeared. This mystery needs solving, and with a hoard of students and their teachers in tow, the Doctor sets out to find answers. But there’s one problem: the Sonic Screwdriver doesn’t work on wood.
We are introduced to young student Maebh early on as she stumbles into the TARDIS, and it is soon discovered that she has some kind of connection with the supernatural, and possibly knows something about these mysterious arboreal happenings. A group of Coal Hill students, who had been spending a night sleeping in a museum, meets up with their missing classmate and the Doctor, and the mystery-solving ensues (did no one make the connection that this man was their school’s caretaker from a few episodes back?). But as the team attempts to find out why these trees have overgrown the entire planet in a single night, they are thwarted at every turn by wolves, tigers, and other wild hazards to which even the Doctor is rendered defenseless.
Through Maebh’s drawings in her journal, the Doctor concludes that the Earth is due to be hit by a massive solar flare. Which actually does happen, as the Doctor and crew are helpless in the face of such a powerful natural phenomenon. But guess what—surprise! The trees are all fireproof. Well, fireproof to the extent that they can withstand a blast from the sun and then disintegrate as if they had never been there in the first place, thanks to some helpful firefly-like organisms that share the planet. …Yeah. I really wished the writers of the show had explained some loopholes (Why didn’t any other planets get incinerated? How did the trees actually grow overnight?), but alas, my questions will likely never be answered. I was also a bit surprised that the Doctor didn’t make the connection between the solar flare and the fireproof trees sooner. It just seemed a bit obvious.
For all of my complaints, and as much as I’m not a fan of kids starring in episodes of my favorite TV shows, I have to say that the episodes featuring Coal Hill students (this week’s story and “Kill the Moon”), have surprised me with their quality and lack of stereotypical annoying factors that typically accompany child actors. Maebh was charming and rather intelligent to boot, and even the rest of the Coal Hill kids, while they had their moments of annoyance, were handled rather well by the writers and grounded the episode in the reality of London in crisis. Not to mention that the Doctor’s interactions with kids are always priceless.
“In the Forest of the Night” was full of gorgeous scenery and was a fun episode, but was lacking some of the depth that we’ve come to expect from season 8 so far. But from the looks of next week’s preview, the series finale looks like it’s going to be a doozy, so perhaps it’s best to enjoy lighthearted episodes like this one while we still can. Overall, even though it wasn’t much more than an entertaining romp in the woods, “In the Forest of the Night” follows the trend of being yet another relatively solid installment in series 8. Perhaps it was the respite we and the Doctor needed before the intense final episodes that will air over the next couple of weeks.
If nothing so far this season has thrown you for a loop, I guarantee you the preview for the first half of the season finale will. “Dark Water” premieres on Saturday, November 1 on BBC America and BBC One. Don’t miss the trailer below!