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New Who 8.10 In the Forest of the Night

Behind as ever, I've yet to even watch Dark Water yet, though I am determined to do so before the actual finale on Saturday. Stage one in that process is writing up In the Forest of the Night first.

Short version - I can see what this story was trying to do, but I just don't think it was very good. Things started out quite promisingly, with the title, Maebh Arden's name and her Red Riding Hood cloak-coat all immediately recalling Robot of Sherwood's meta-referential engagement with fairy-tales, and promising to take the theme further. Maebh herself was good value, too - I liked the way she wasn't fazed at all by the way the TARDIS was bigger on the inside, simply assuming that it was meant to be that way, and figured out for herself that the trees must be able to communicate with one another in order for them all to grow at once. London's metamorphosis into a forest was pretty to look at, and this sort of transformation of the familiar into the unfamiliar is very much what fantasy is all about. Motifs like Nelson falling off his column and wild beasts coming out of the bushes tap satisfyingly into our ever-present subconscious fear that civilisation may not be as robust and as proof against the ravages of nature as we think.

But I'm afraid I have to sit alongside the many, many people who found the 'explanation' for it all (faerie beings making sentient trees grow up overnight and disappear just as quickly in order to save the Earth from a solar flare) unsatisfying. Indeed, even before that was revealed, I was having trouble suspending disbelief about some of the details. OK, there were occasional mentions or even glimpses of government clean-up teams attempting to burn down trees, or parents looking for their children, but for the most part forest-London was utterly deserted, which just doesn't make any sense. Where were the hordes of people, emerged from offices, tower-blocks and underground stations, picking their way through the trees just like Clara, Danny and the kids, and loudly demanding to know what the hell was going on? The wolves and tigers also felt too much like they had been crow-barred in to fulfil the promise of the title, and certainly weren't developed enough to fulfil their dramatic potential as avatars of the dark and untamed forces of nature. As for the unexplained reappearance of Maebh's sister at the end - why do that? Either engage with emotive issues properly, or don't include them - don't just tack on a magical happy ending which you have arbitrarily pulled out of a hat.

I am, though, prepared to give the episode a pass on another aspect of it which has been widely criticised - viz the implicit suggestion that people who have been prescribed medication to deal with hallucinations or psychoses should stop taking it so that they can experience the full 'magic' of their symptoms. What makes me willing to let that one go is the Doctor's comments that what Maebh really needs is not medication, but to be listened to. This represents at least a basic attempt to evoke the relevant debates around the issue, such as: do we over-prescribe medication as a quick, cheap fix, rather than listening to and engaging with people properly? Like most of the episode, I don't think this was done as well as it could have been. It was a side-issue, where it really needed to be either a full and nuanced engagement or not there at all. So I have every sympathy with the people who have found the script's overall tone irresponsible here, especially in what is still essentially a family show (despite the later and later scheduling). But it wasn't quite the total mess it could have been without the comments about listening.

Meanwhile, the emotional trajectories of the long-running characters just didn't ring true at all. In this episode, Danny realises for certain that Clara has been travelling with the Doctor after all, and lying to him about it, which he should be furious about. In The Caretaker, he laid down an ultimatum about it, telling her that their relationship would be over if she carried on lying to him. But here, he more or less waves it away, merely saying (with exaggerated patient indulgence) that she needs to think about it and tell him the truth. To me this felt as incongruous as the bizarre point in season 7 where Amy and Rory were supposed to have got divorced one minute, and then were fine again the next. Not quite as bad, but still weak, was the handling of Clara's decision to see out the death of the Earth, along with Danny and the kids, rather than be the last of her kind. This is a brave stance, which tells us a lot about what she has learnt about herself on her travels, and how much she cares for the Doctor. But we should have seen something of the fear which she was having to suppress in order to make it - and we didn't. So the end result was that this scene just didn't fulfil its dramatic potential either.

Water-and-breathing watch noted that:
  • Obviously, the entire plot of this story was inherently concerned with oxygen, which trees are essential producers of even in normal circumstances, and which they have arrived to produce huge quantities of in this particular circumstance.
  • Clara also explains to the Doctor that Danny and the kids in his care come as a package by using the words "Danny Pink will never leave those kids, so long as he is breathing."
  • And the Doctor responds to her attempt to save him by sending him off the planet with the very words she used to accuse him of disengagement in Kill the Moon: "This is my world too. I walk your Earth, I breathe your air."
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( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 6th, 2014 10:39 pm (UTC)
I think Dark Water will justify your water-and-breathing watch.
Nov. 6th, 2014 11:01 pm (UTC)
I've been more or less assuming as much from the title, but am glad to hear it!
Nov. 6th, 2014 11:11 pm (UTC)
Hurry up and watch Dark Water! :)
Nov. 6th, 2014 11:35 pm (UTC)
It's easy to miss, but the sister returning thing at the end wasn't *totally* pulled out of a hat. Maebh takes the opportunity of basically broadcasting across all mobile phones to directly ask her to return.
Nov. 7th, 2014 12:00 am (UTC)
The penny finally drops - I'd not realised people had missed that.
Nov. 7th, 2014 08:44 pm (UTC)
This is interesting. I heard Maebh's appeal to Annabel to come home in her phone message, but classified it as just more of her characterisation as missing her sister, and thus never made the connection to Annabel's actual return. I've just checked the recording again, and I think part of the problem is that we aren't shown enough of the impact of Maebh's message - in fact, the only person we see receiving it is her mother.

Another way of handling this would have been to show montage-like scenes of people all over the world answering their phones and getting the message while Maebh was speaking, and then zoom in on one person towards the end. We would see the message having a particular impact on that person, and them responding by thinking hard for a moment, before setting off purposefully in some particular direction. A few scenes later, we would then see that person again outside Maebh's house, and realise that it was her sister.

I think the absence of any clear linking scene like that which would connect those two moments is a good example of the problems with this episode as a whole - basically a failure to work the material through properly. In fact, a montage of people answering their phones would also have answered another of my complaints about it - where the hell is everybody? Turns out a good crowd scene or two can get you a long way!
Nov. 8th, 2014 12:10 am (UTC)
That's interesting - for me, knowing Maebh's appeal was going out was enough, and I expected to see Annabel at the end.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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