Critiquing Capaldi: “In the Forest of the Night”

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With a TV programme as broad and subjective as Doctor Who, it’s almost a guarantee that you will occasionally come across an episode you don’t particularly like, or at least don’t like as much as others. Doctor Who is very good at appealing to different tastes, this is a show where there pretty much is something for everybody, but at the same time, not every episode is going to appeal to every fan. Everybody has a very different definition about what Doctor Who at its best, and while In the Forest of the Night will almost certainly be “perfect Doctor Who” for some people, I can’t say it is for me.

Effectively, In the Forest of the Night probably isn’t a bad story objectively. It’s far from a great one, but it’s a reasonably well-made piece of TV. It’s well directed, it looks nice, the performances are decent. There’s nothing really offensive about it on a production level. The question is whether it’s a good piece of Doctor Who or not, which brings us back to the question of what Doctor Who actually is, as talked about in my Flatline review. For me, my idea of Doctor Who was pretty much everything we saw in the last two episodes. For others, it could be this. In some ways, this makes this episode really quite hard to review. If the direction was shoddy or the script was pants then it would be one thing, but they’re not. I just really don’t like it.

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Well, why not? Why don’t I like it if it’s admittedly a decently made bit of telly? I’ve already explained this: because it doesn’t fit my personal idea of what Doctor Who is. Why doesn’t it? To me, a key aspect of Doctor Who is interesting and bizarre ideas and concepts. It’s fair to say that In the Forest of the Night has one. The idea of a forest covering the whole world in a single night really is an intriguing concept. The problem, and this is a problem Doctor Who does suffer from occasionally, is the execution. This concept, which you could have done so much with, including a return from the Krynoid (from the Tom Baker serial The Seeds of Doom, aka probably my favourite Doctor Who story of them all), is frankly wasted to give us a “look after the environment” message, one which is pretty forced too. Having great ideas, and wasting them to either be political, educational, or soppy (why are so many monsters in love now? Why can’t we have pure evil monsters anymore) is a personal gripe with the show recently. While I support the message of looking after the environment, I’m not too convinced that Doctor Who is the greatest place to teach it. Yes, allegorical stories are good, but this isn’t an allegory, it’s what the story is actually about.

This episode is also in some ways too happy, almost in a way which makes you feel kinda sick. Yes, I don’t want depressing episodes all the time, and episodes which make you feel good are particularly welcome nowadays, but this almost goes too far for my personal tastes. Danny and Clara’s relationship in this is almost unbearable. While Samuel Anderson and Jenna Coleman are both good actors and work well together, there is something almost artificial about their relationship, and while Gareth Roberts gets the almost comedic nature of their relationship in The Caretaker, Frank Cotrell Boyce pretty much makes it seem to be fully romantic, and I don’t think it works. You could get hospitalised if you took a shot of alcohol every time one of the kids mentioned that they were supposed to be madly in love with each other. It’s a classic case of “show, don’t tell, and while that criticism isn’t always valid, I think here it is.

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The stuff with the kids, particularly Maebh, is also far too sickly happy for my liking. Yes, the idea that people leave trees alone because a little girl told them too is incredibly sweet, but it’s too sweet. Unfortunately, I think in the real world it wouldn’t have made a scrap of difference. There’s also the missing sister subplot. I don’t want to say that I wish she hadn’t have come back at the end, as it would probably be offensive to those who have lost friends or relatives, even if I do think the scene with the Doctor and Clara at the end would have made a nice closure to the story. Annabelle (the sister) and the reaction of Maebh and her mum as she returns is again far too sickly. I’m all for happy endings, but this one is just, I don’t even know the word. It’s like if you got a meringue and ate it with honey, golden syrup, and a kilogram of caster sugar. The performances of everybody in that scene also seem really stiff. It’s unbelievably forced, and terribly random.

I also find this episode really quite boring. For an episode which does seem to want to appeal to children, hence the younger guest cast, as well as Siwan Morris (the mum) from CBBCs Wolfblood, the pacing is unbelievably slow. I can’t imagine a very young child staying up and watching this one because there’s really not anything to keep them entertained, bar the odd tiger or wolf, and saying that would appeal to kids is almost patronising. It’s almost like children’s fantasy for adults, but there are better examples of this both in the show and out. I do also have to say that some of the kids seem really bored to be there as well. Unlike Ellis George, who despite her mediocre character did come across as being thrilled to be on Doctor Who, these guys sometimes feel a tad unimpressed. Some lines are delivered very in a very monotonous manner, and facial expressions are flat as a two-week old cola. Even the leads seem a tad bored at times. This could be tiredness, as I think this was one of the last filmed this series, but I haven’t really got the sense of enthusiasm from the main cast as I did with the last few episodes.

That being said, it’s easy to tell that Peter, Jenna, and Samuel really like kids. Which is always a good thing.

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If there’s one thing Boyce does do well, then it’s the writing of Twelve. He does know this character very well, and the layers of arrogance, bluntness, as well as the most positive aspects of his character like his care and desire to do the right thing are all present. The “This is my world too” scene is lovely, the best in the episode.

The episode looks really nice, certainly coloured very well for a fairy tale styled adventure, and the direction is also rather good too. The kids are cute, despite some of them looking a bit bored, and I do think there’re some good bits of humour in there occasionally too, the “has he even been CRB checked” being my personal favourite.

Overall: It’s not for me, but I wouldn’t go as far to call it awful.

Previous Score: 1
New Score: 3

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