Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 848: In the Forest of the Night
Much like Kill the Moon a few weeks earlier, In the Forest of the Night came under a lot of fire for the science on display. And, once again, I simply wasn’t all that bothered about it! A forest grows overnight to protect us from extinction? Yeah, go on then, why not? However, I did have a few issues with this one, which are only more obvious on a second viewing.
I’ve two main problems - firstly, I simply don’t buy that this forest is in the middle of the city. There’s some lovely shots of phone boxes and busses stranded in the middle of the undergrowth, but there’s simply too much space for me to believe that we’re walking down streets. Lots of London streets are relatively narrow - certainly enough so that you’d be able to see the buildings through trees as dense as we’ve got here. For all the lovely direction of this one (which I’ll come to), it simply fails to convey the central idea of the script for me.
The second big issue I have is perhaps my main one, and the reason that this episode rates so low for me. I simply don’t buy that the forest is so empty. On the whole, we’ve got the Coal Hill field trip, the Doctor, the teams trying to destroy the trees, and Maebh’s mum and neighbour. That’s yer lot! I get that a great big forest growing in the centre of the city overnight is going to cause some traffic headaches when it comes to your morning commute, but it simply rings completely false to me. Tied in with the fact that there’s so few vehicles dotted around between the trees, and the whole plot seems to work on the assumption that the whole of London empties at night-time, and that hardly anyone was able to get back in the next morning. It just feels so off-base. I’d expect at least a few bemused citizens wandering around the foliage (and, actually, I’d imagine there’s quite a lot of fun to be had with that, too).
I think the reason it bothers me so much is simply because it would be so easy to overcome. All you need to do is insert a couple of brief sentences and I’d completely buy it. The trees are here to save us, right? Okay, so the same power that’s able to make them all grow overnight is also able to transport all the people away somewhere at the same time. Humans removed for safety, trees grow to protect the planet, then the humans are all brought back once the danger has passed. See? It seems so simple that I’m actually almost offended that it’s not done! Hm? What’s that? Why are all the people we do see still here, then? Oh, that’s simple! The Coal Hill group are there because they’re with Maebh at the sleepover when the event occurs. The Doctor is there because he’s an alien, so doesn’t get scooped out when the rest of the planet does (or he simply arrived after the fact. Time machine, and all that), and Maebh’s mum is still around because having lost one child, her fear at losing the other one is strong enough to overpower the removal. As for the teams trying to burn the forest… oh, well, I’m not giving you all the answers. Someone else can work out how they remain behind. Magic, possibly.
It’s really those two issues which simply stop me from being able to engage with this story in the way I’d like, and it’s a real pity because there’s some gorgeous work on display visually, and it’s a shame that it’s marred by the fact that it doesn’t really fit what the script is trying to give us. This is Sheree Folkson’s first stab at directing Doctor Who, and I really hope she gets another chance to bring us one of the Doctor’s adventures, because there’s some real promise on display here, but it feels like the various disparate departments simply haven’t all pulled together in the way they normally do so well.