Posts Tagged ‘In the Forest of the Night’

It says something about the much vaunted-flexibility of the Doctor Who format that a relatively traditional-looking story like Kill the Moon can have as its companion piece┬ásomething as weird and atypical as In the Forest of the Night and it not seem that peculiar. Kill the Moon is stuffed with planetary bodies, space-suits, spaceships, gribbly alien monsters, and the star-faring destiny of the human race. Forest, on the other hand (no, I’m not typing that title out in full over and over again, sorry), has some trees and wolves and magic golden fairies. Or something.


Given that Kill the Moon drew heavy flak for its charmingly nonchalant attitude to basic physics, I’m curious to see quite how Forest is received – not just for its magic golden fairies, but for its peculiar world where trees can grow, not just overnight, but without anyone noticing, and to defend yourself from a solar flare all you need are a few extra trees flooding your atmosphere with surplus oxygen. (This in itself overlooks the fact that the principal effect of solar storms/CME events is its impact on our technology, rather than flesh and blood.)

I rather suspect people will cut Forest a lot more slack, quite simply because Kill the Moon has spaceships and aliens and technology in it, and this week’s story just has a load of trees. In short, Kill the Moon is positioning itself much more explicitly as an SF story, and as a result inviting us to judge it on its science content, while Forest is full-bloodedly going for that mythic, fabulous (in the technical sense), fantastical vibe.

I am not particularly inclined to be nice to Forest simply because it is a fantasy, as this season is really making me realise that I don’t really enjoy Doctor Who as an out-and-out fantasy (trains flying through space, etc), but much prefer it when it retains its SF trappings. Note I say trappings, and note also that all my Doctor Who reviews are tagged ‘fantasy’ rather than ‘SF’. The awkward thing for me is that I would never describe the series as actual SF, but – at a push – something more like science fantasy, which is to say it’s something that uses an SF rationale to explore fantastical concepts.

It’s curious, looking back on Steven Moffat’s scripts from before he was showrunner, that most of them are couched very firmly in a strong SF framework: most of them include spaceships or other planets, and revolve around strange alien technologies. Spaceships and alien races, per se, are a little thinner on the ground in the show these days – Moffat’s template from the series seems to have been derived from his most atypical episode, Blink, which is much more of a fantasy. (To say nothing of the cut-up narrative form.)

So, anyway, Forest is pretty much a pure fantasy story in a fairy-tale tradition: little girls lost in the forest, big bad wolves, tree spirits, and so on. You may like this or you may not. This is something subjective. As, I suppose, is the story’s sentimentality – particularly the final beat, which is massively sentimental. We’re told virtually nothing about the girl who disappeared, who she was or why she went, and yet we are invited to derive a big emotional moment from her sudden return. The script doesn’t provide any emotional context or detail – we are invited to project whatever we like onto the scene, based on vague generalisations about the positivity of family and motherhood.

But, again, your mileage may differ. Same with the story’s vague attempts to say something about the nature of modern childhood (apparently kids should go outside more, or something). However, what I think is objectively flawed about this story is that, as a piece of Doctor Who, it is lamentably light on genuine jeopardy.

At one point Nelson’s column nearly falls on the Doctor and Clara. Later on, a tiger turns up and growls at them and the little girl with the laboriously symbolic name. Apart from this, no-one is really in any danger at any stage in the story. There is, I suppose, a vague sense of menace and mystery, but the whole story is too much predicated on the Doctor not knowing what’s going on for this to really be sustained. And it’s a prime time BBC fairy tale, so you know none of the kids are going to get eaten.

As usual, I must qualify all this by saying that Peter Capaldi is, as usual, brilliant as the Doctor – and Jenna Coleman and Samuel Anderson aren’t bad either. The scene counterpointing the end of Kill the Moon was immaculately written and played, and there were some genuinely funny bits along the way.

But overall this was a story which felt like it didn’t quite know what it wanted to be – not rigorous or honestly realistic enough to work as SF, or even science fantasy, too soft-centred to really function as an adventure, and nowhere near dark or menacing enough to even be a good fairy tale. It looked nice and the acting was mostly solid, even from the kids. I suspect the images will linger much longer than the story, though.


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