Dear Steven Moffat: In the Forest of the Night

DW ITFOTN

Dear Steven,

I can’t say I was expecting much from the clunkily titled “In the Forest of the Night”, so it was good of you and Frank Cottrell-Boyce to under deliver and meet expectations. This was pre-finale fluff, a lightly comic romp designed to cleanse the palate ahead of the plot heavy, character skewing, mind-mashing end of year blow out that’s now de rigueur in shows of this kind. In fact, so bland was Boyce’s reforestation yarn, so maddeningly inconsequential, that it was only notable for condensing everything irritating about Doctor Who into a single forty-five minute block. Yes, I had my bête noir bingo card and was able and to stand up and yell, “house!”, long before the end.

In this series we’ve talked about the Doctor’s reduced screen time, Clara’s prominence, the sense deadening Mr Pink, Coal Hill refugees flooding the TARDIS with their retarded, childhood shtick, and much more besides. Boyce’s episode checked all of the above and added something we’d been stupid enough to think we’d seen the last of – the Doctor’s pop culture cache. Was this an old Matt Smith script, Steven? One you blew the dust off because you had 45 minutes to fill and the alternative was to commission a female writer with a great idea? When Peter Capaldi’s Doctor refers to Wolves been “rubbish”, Facebook, Les Mis and Star Trek, by way of allusion – “I’m a Time Lord, not a child minder”, we’re reminded of that dark time not long ago when an ancient alien with knowledge and experience spanning thousands of cultures, had the same reference points as a 17 year old from Didsbury.

Boyce’s script was broad enough to have everyone doing it, you understand – Clara talked about playlists, got a Monty Don joke in, Danny Beige asked about the Doctor being CRB checked, the wag, but the point of The Doctor spouting this guff has always been to tether him to the imagined audience, ignoring the, some would say bleedin’ obvious point, that if you want a story to stand the test of time while heightening the sense of escapism, all references to the lifestyle detritus of the present day should be deleted. When the Maebhs of tomorrow sit down with their kids to watch this thing – a little something to help them sleep, they’ll be lucky to get through it without reams of questions about all the miscellanea spilling from the character’s mouths. If you want to instantly date an episode, this was the way to do it.

Having the TARDIS flooded with kids allowed me to cross another square on my bingo card, namely this season’s strategy for neutralising the imaginary negative that is Capaldi’s grand old age. Surround the Doctor with youth, that’s the trick – keep it coming, more screentime for Clara, more heroics from Metrosexual Man Danny, more kids – let the fresh faces flood in, then maybe, just maybe, everything will be feel invigorating and new, like a verdant forest.

Sure, some miserly viewers may hate the TARDIS being retooled as an after school club, and may wonder what else could have been happening instead of these redundant scenes featuring the bully, the panic attack girl and the would-be bad boy, but don’t let that stop you. Just because the show runners of the past had the good sense to take the teachers away from the school and leave the kids behind, doesn’t mean you should follow suit. I for one love Doctor Who when it resembles a biology field trip, and long may it continue.

So “In the Forest of the Night” didn’t do much to engorge the loins, which is appropriate given that it was full of kids. The green plot aside, the episode was driven by the old cliché of the young child with highly attuned senses that was in contact with forces beyond the reach of adult perception. Kids’ thoughts becoming reality is an old sci-fi standby, but the real danger with a child-centred plot, is that the whole story can become a mawkish washout. Boyce didn’t disappoint on that score.

There was Maebh’s dull backstory about a missing sister and the aside of her worried Mum. We might have hoped that Annabelle, the lost child, was a big part of the mystery, but in the end she just reappeared in a bush surrounded by fireflies, just to give the whole fucking show a little emotional lift. Was this the real sister or a version built from Maebh’s mind, like the trees? What had happened to the original? Had she been murdered? Run away? The girl that showed up at the end looked fine – well-dressed too. Did Maebh’s mind choose her wardrobe? Why am I wasting time asking you about this, you say? Well, there wasn’t much else to chew over, was there?

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: “We’re going to call everyone on Earth and tell them to leave the trees alone”, may just be the worst line ever delivered in episodic television, second only to Star Trek: Voyager’s “get this cheese to sickbay!”

P.P.S: It was good of London’s population to say at home for this one. I counted 12 people on the streets – a record low.

P.P.P.S: The Doctor compared the TARDIS to a can of Coke. Did someone snap your red pencil, or something?

P.P.P.P.S: Clara’s “I don’t want to be the last of my kind” was an aside that seemed more interesting once you’d seen the teaser for the finale. Two big hints were contained therein: Missy is, as suspected, a new face from the Doctor’s past – so I’m going to go all in and bet on The Master, as your rule of thumb seems to be, if it’s obvious it’s probably correct – and Clara’s not who we thought she was, namely the woman vying to replace the Doctor on his own show. “Clara Oswald has never existed,” she said. Well, what the fuck does that mean? Has she always been a plant (no pun intended)? Is that the real reason the TARDIS hated her? What’s going on? I don’t know, but I’ll be in America watching so will catch up with you when I can to discuss, once all has been revealed. Until then…

The Adventures of Clara and her Geriatric Pal:

Doctor Who: The Youthful Years

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

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