Monday, 23 March 2015

Anniversary Week: In The Forest Of The Night Review

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the revival of Doctor Who, some of TGT's writers will be chatting about an episode that they love - it may be a fan favourite, or it might be an under-appreciated gem. To kick the week off, TGT writer Harris will be making the case for a recent, polarising episode - In the Forest of the Night

Episode: In The Forest Of The Night
Written by: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Director: Sheree Folkson
Starring: Peter Capaldi as The Doctor, Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald and Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink

Doctor Who has become known for being a controversial TV show. Series 8 is no exception to that rule. Even so I was rather shocked by the reception to In the Forest of the Night. I’m not one to complain, my least favourite episodes include The Waters of Mars and Listen, however I agree with Steven Moffat that Forest is largely underappreciated.

The episode, for a start, brings something very new to the table, the idea that planet Earth knows how to solve its own problems. Nothing of the like has been tried in Doctor Who before. I’m sure Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks would have loved he concept with their Earth-bound Third Doctor. Keeping the setting grounded on Earth always works effectively. Russell T Davies played on the human element during Series 1, not setting any episodes very far from Earth. Everyone across Britain, and across the globe, will know where London is giving the whole episode a sense of fear living in the heart of what we know best. This episode of Doctor Who works best when you keep an open mind, as the Doctor suggests, you should live with the fear that these events might actually happen.

Children have appeared in Doctor Who on and off throughout its long history. There is something special about Forest’s children and I’m not talking about their ‘gifted and talented ‘ability. Maebh, for example, stands out as a real child. No more cartoon Angie and Artie, instead we have a child who lives in the moment, just as she should. With a whole cast of other kids to back her up; Ruby, Samson, Bradley etc. Frank Cottrell Boyce depicts what is, all in all, a realistic group of schoolchildren. Of course it all comes down to the children’s relationship with the adults. Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink is a perfect example. The enthusiastic teacher type who doesn’t mind letting the children have their fun but somehow still manages to educate them on many different things. The story begins by suggesting it is Danny’s fault that Maebh is lost but his action throughout the episode suggests otherwise. I fear it is Clara who lets the side down on this account. While Jenna Coleman pulls off Clara’s struggle with school life versus Doctor life as well as she did in The Caretaker it feels as if she favours her time with the Doctor over the protection of the children, rather out of character. It is, therefore, encouraging to see the Doctors warm reception to having small people aboard his TARDIS. Even his brash reception of Maebh when she first arrives is playful and warm in its own special way. Over the course of the episode this continues to develop, culminating in his quick agreement with Clara that the children should be saved. This is not the klutz that the Eleventh Doctor was but someone who knows how to handle the younger generation.

To amplify the revolution of the episode around the children Sheree Folkson pulls off some brilliant camera shots. Often they are down low to the ground or from a child’s height to create the impression that you should be seeing this with the wide eyed curiosity that the Coal Hill Gifted and Talented are. The wolves in the bushes, the close up of the children’s faces and the leering figures of the men burning the forest are all reminders that this episode is not meant to be scrutinized but openly enjoyed as something of the imagination.

What is most brilliant is Murray Gold’s music for this episode. The opening especially invokes the mystery and trauma of the forest and the appearance of ‘the thoughts’ is a particularly chilling moment.

The ending is perhaps not the greatest of ways to finish off an episode but I’m sure somebody is ready to mop that up in a future story. For now we shall speculate that Annabel ran away and upon the appearance of the forest decided to return home from living on the streets.

This episode may not be grounded in sci-fi roots (see what I did there?) or have a coherent threat but what is magnificent about it is the way it stretches into your imagination and makes you wonder how much of the story is something we should be concerned about. Steven Moffat thinks that In The Forest of the Night will grow in acclaim over the years and I hope that this is a major stepping stone forward. Thank you Frank Cottrell Boyce, you have written something truly stunning to lead into Moffat’s epic two part finale but that, I’m afraid, is a completely different fairy tale.