I didn’t dislike this episode as much as the ones I hated… But I didn’t like it as much as even “Mummy on the Orient Express,” a good episode just brought down by Clara Oswald’s existence. It was basically on par with last week’s “Flatline” for me — just meh. It didn’t hang together. It was a decent episode and the pacing was quite good, but it never feels like anything’s really happening or like the episode has anything to say.
Spoilers. Skip down to the big bold heading below if you just wanna see the finale discussion!
Basically, an enormous forest grows up all over the world overnight. (Even in the Sahara? Even on the polar caps? Even over the ocean? Apparently.) Clara and Danny were chaperoning an overnight trip, and they’re now stuck in the forest with a bunch of kids. Yay. Kids are always so awesome on Doctor Who. (Sarcasm). One of the kids, Maebh, has run off, and she finds the Tardis. It so happens that she’s been disturbed since her sister disappeared, is hearing voices, and is being prescribed medication that makes them stop. Eventually the rest of the kids end up in the Tardis while the Doctor tries to figure out the invasion of the trees.
First, you gotta love how concerned Clara is about all those kids! Which is to say… Not worried. At all. Doesn’t even care. Her ONLY distinctive trait was that she was good with kids! Sure, it’s possible to be good with kids without actually caring about their wellbeing, but once again, her “character” is totally inconsistent. Second, if the story does have a moral, it’s “Don’t take your medication, and do whatever the voices tell you.” I’ll agree that some children (and adults) are perhaps over-medicated, but I do not appreciate the common SF/F theme of “psychosis means you know the truth.” I don’t see how that message is anything but harmful.
Speaking of Maebh, she’s the most prominent aspect of the story that just doesn’t make much sense. She is, apparently, some sort of empath, and having seen/felt the forest happening ahead of time, she thinks she’s the one who caused it. Okay so far. But then she says she started it all, so she wants to be the one to finish it (by sending a phone message to everyone on Earth), and the Doctor lets her… And then she creates a creepy magical simulacrum of her sister? Or something? And if she gained these empathic powers because her sister was missing, and people who’ve lost someone are always looking and listening as the episode states, why doesn’t every bereaved person on Earth know the trees are coming?
My favorite part of this season has been how each episode hangs together thematically. The scripts have been really good in that regard… but this one just wasn’t. The red riding hood theme is there, with Maebh in her red coat being chased by wolves, but it has nothing to do with anything. Then there’s the title, and there is a tiger in the story, but the tiger REALLY doesn’t have anything to do with anything. The forest itself is too bright and happy and green to be scary — and you can’t see the buildings, so rampant reclamation isn’t scary either. The final shot of the girl’s sister was creepier than all of that, to be honest, and I still can’t figure out if she was SUPPOSED to be creepy! That’s all without even discussing the weird solar science. As I mentioned just yesterday, I am not Carl Sagan, and I have no idea if extra oxygen in the atmosphere would be the slightest protection against a massive solar flare. However, I did kinda predict the big twist. So, on the whole, shaky script.
So, let’s talk about the season thus far.
There are several themes (outside of “is the Doctor a good man” and his issue with soldiers) that have held strong throughout the season, which I believe will have an impact on the finale.
First, “In the Forest of the Night” contains another scene of Missy watching stuff on her screen. Missy is not a theme or an arc as yet — she’s simply foreshadowing. I’m not sure Moffat understands the difference. However, I’ve pointed out the possible theme of a meta-story in other episodes. Robin Hood was indeed our “artist” of the season, since there hasn’t been another one, and then there are the Listeners. Missy ties into this because, for all intents and purposes, she’s watching Doctor Who episodes on TV. I hope the idea of the Doctor-as-story will be important in the finale. This is where I see Clara’s “Clara Oswald never existed” comment coming into play.
My brother pointed out a theme of red herrings, or sudden turnings. The Orient Express was designed specifically to research the mummy. Robin Hood wasn’t a robot. The bank heist was planned by the Doctor. The trees aren’t invading, they’re saviors. The moon was an egg. The Listeners were (apparently) Clara all along. Fellow Who-reviewer Gene’O has pointed out in his reviews on Part Time Monster that we have no indication that Missy is a villain yet — she could be an ally, gathering other allies to help the Doctor. That’s looking plausible right now.
What about the plotline we thought we were getting in the first few episodes, the robots looking for heaven? Well, we see the Cybermen in the next-time trailer. They’re robots. And those other robots we saw? They’re robots taking human parts. Just like the Cybermen. Maybe Missy is the creator of the Cybermen, and the other robots were failed attempts? Maybe Missy is actually a tool of Cybermen displaying hitherto-unseen creativity. (There’s also just a general “robot” theme, though, and not all of them are looking for heaven — the Skovox Blitzer, Rusty the Dalek, Gus the train AI, etc.)
This is shaping up to be an intense finale with a lot of questions to answer. Here’s hoping for a new kind of finale!