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21 February 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 782: Forest of the Dead

Dear diary,

Yesterday felt like a proper turn around for this story. Whereas I’d always thought of it as being terrible, and one of my least favourites, there were lots of elements to the proceedings that I was actually quite enjoying. It was never going to suddenly find itself sitting at the ‘top table’ among other favourite episodes, but equally it had managed to break free of the shadows (pun intended) it had been cast into for years.

But then today… Oh, I’m just a bit bored with things, if I’m honest. I think I’d normally say something about the fact that I’ve spent so many years not being fond of this story meaning that I’m simply failing to engage with it this time around, too, but that’s not really it - because I’d broken that pitfall with the first episode. I think it’s more a case that the things I found to enjoy yesterday had started to wear a bit thin by the time we reached this one.

That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing in here for me to enjoy, and it has to be said that in a complete turnaround from my reaction when this episode was first broadcast, my favourite thing about it is the presence of River Song, and watching her story with the Doctor both begin and end simultaneously. I mused yesterday that having now seen the rest of their time together makes the scenes they share here all the more poignant, and that’s certainly true in todays episode, as we hurtle ever closer to her death, and the realisation that the Doctor must have always known that this is how their life together would end. Tennant and Alex Kingston play those moments perfectly, and there’s something about the reproachful look that hangs over Tennant’s face one River is gone which really connects with me. I’m looking increasingly forward to watching their relationship play out now.

For me, the real highlight of this episode has to be the way that it ends - and no, that’s not me trying to be funny. There’s a beautiful kind of melancholy that really envelops everything from the moment we see the Doctor wake up to find himself handcuffed at a safe distance, right through to Lee teleporting away, and not quite being able to call out for Donna before he’s gone. I moaned a bit the other day about Jenny’s sudden ‘back to life’ at the end of The Doctor’s Daughter, when the Doctor and co all thought her gone for good, but this is almost that exact same idea, but done right.

That melancholy is only lifted by the Doctor suddenly realising that there’s a way he can save River. Oh, that’s a gorgeous moment. The episode is clearly over and done with. The Doctor and Donna have summed up, and started making their way off into the sunset… and then he comes charging back onto screen and we get a whole new ending that really sings, and is the perfect way of really establishing that River means the world to the Doctor at some point. Forget all that gibbons about his name (have we actually found out yet when she learns it?), this is the good bit! 

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