Doctor Who 'In The Forest of the Night' [TV-EPISODE REVIEW]

We have officially left Mathieson Who and ventured into the final standalone episode before the 2-part finale. Here we have Frank Cottrell Boyce making his 'Doctor Who' debut as a writer with the episode 'In The Forest of the Night'. So how did it turn out?

If you have read my other episode reviews of Series 8 you will know that I have enjoyed each episode quite a lot. I had not in fact enjoyed a season so consistently since Series 5 and I was so happy Peter Capaldi got all these great stories right from the start of his era. From 'Listen' to 'Mummy on the Orient Express' to 'Flatline', giving out 10/10 stars seemed to become common place and seeing as I could not give any of the other episodes a lower score than a 7, it seemed like they had really gotten a hold of what this Doctor needs in order for his stories to work. That is why I am so deeply saddened to say that 'In the Forest of the Night'... kinda sucks. Not only is this by far the weakest story of Series 8 but it is probably the weakest story I have seen since 'The Curse of the Black Spot' which was the third episode of Series 6. I never really expected this to be a standout as I was worried the premise could only lead to a very weak ending. Not only is the ending weak - the rest of the episode is pretty damn weak too. So while you may have gotten used to me praising Series 8, that is all about to change because now we are going to get into a very negative corner.

First though, some positive aspects of the episode. Naturally despite the poor material, both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are great. I do really like the opening were The Doctor runs into a young girl and then walks around (in a really nice and dynamic shot) in the TARDIS. You get the feeling that despite his rather grumpy personality - he still treats children like adults. Yes a person being a child will not stop him from making fun of them but he does that with adults too. If Peter Capaldi had not been in this episode... oh boy. I must say though I also really like the reveal of the world being "taken over" by trees and it cuts nicely into the opening theme.

Really though, when it comes right down to it. What was the point of this episode? While yes it is nice to see that not everything in the universe is out to kill you but what this episode is ultimately accomplishing is pretending something is going on that might kill our heroes - only to pull the rug underneath us by the end and say "NOPE". Watching this episode does become quite a chore as we have to see the episode force in a not-so-subtle and forced message about how you should not cut down trees. Of course I do not think anybody was shocked that an episode like this would try to give a message like that... but I do not know about you but I was not expecting it to be this obviously crowbared into the story. I mean a lot of the episode is literally spending its time on how you should not cut down trees and there is even literally a scene were the children writes a letter that has a sentence that goes;

And please, do not chop, spray, or harm the trees. They are here to help.

The Doctor then broadcasts it all over the world to further force in the message. Of course I do not hate on the episode for telling a message like this - but this was just stupid. Literally the only thing I got out of it was the scenes with Clara and Danny to further their relationship which is great - but it did not need an episode with such a ludicrous premise like this in order for it to work. By the end of the episode the Doctor says something about how we forgot the last time this happened and how we would do it again - what immediately came to my mind was the amount of property damage something like this must have caused. I can also imagine a lot of people living close to a zoo may have even gotten themselves killed by the animals that got out. There are so many unanswered questions here that I cannot even stop myself from wondering whether or not this got passed the first draft before being put into production.

Before the episode came out I had heard people singing the praises of Frank Cottrell Boyce's skills as a writer - and especially as a writer for child characters. It did ease up my initial nervousness towards the premise of the episode and the amount of kids that would feature in it (the original title was 'Child's Play', which in my opinion would have been a huge waste of such a good title for a 'Doctor Who' episode). Honestly though, I am sure Frank is a good writer - but as I have never seen or read anything else he has done, I can only base my thoughts on his talent on this story... and it is not pretty. The children are practically insufferable, the dialogue is really poor and while the actors are serviceable for the most part... I miss the excellent Laurence Belcher from 'A Christmas Carol' (he played young Kazran Sardick). I will say though that the Doctor's dialogue is pretty damn good as usual (or maybe it is just Peter Capaldi who makes them work). The main problem with the writing is just that there is nothing here that makes it worth watching. In fact the way this premise was executed is not even worth producing and it puts a very noticeable crack in Series 8's otherwise very solid armor.

The final straw for me and this episode was the resolution to Maebh's lost sister. I have honestly no clue how this could possibly pop into anyone's head after so much "buildup". In fact it feels like it was even forgotten about in the first (and probably only) draft that was written and the director Sheree Folkson realized it and threw together a really quick and quite terrible resolution at the very last second before the episode cuts to the infinitely better next time trailer for 'Dark Water'.

Overall... this episode is the worst the show has produced since 'The Curse of the Black Spot' from Series 6 and after another re-watch of those two, I may even have to look as far back as 'Planet of the Dead' from the Series 4 specials. Multiple rewrites was needed and multiple child characters needed to be cut. There needed to be an actual threat to actually add some stakes to the story - that is not a random tiger suddenly appearing. The message needed to be conveyed a lot more organic, there was no need for this to be as forced as it was. I can even imagine actual kids thinking this is forced. Simply put, I do not like this episode at all and I hope no other episode in the Capaldi era will ever reach a low like this. 'In the Forest of the Night' sucks, and trust me... no one is more upset about it than me.


- Lucas


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