Doctor Who Season 35 – 10

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“In the Forest of the Night”

I’m not sure any of you are still out there, given the lack of commentary on either of the last two episodes (which were among the best of the season). But in case you are I’m going to finish out this season of Doctor Who – though truth be told I’d probably do so even if I knew no one was reading, because this show was really the first fictional thing I was ever a true fanatic for.

The funny thing about this episode is that even as I was reading the poor reviews (sometimes I do read them before watching, sometimes not) I had a gut feeling this was an instance where I was going to part ways with mass opinion.  And so I did.  It’s written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, who’s famous in Britain at least if not in America – one of the bigger names ever to write for Doctor Who, in fact.  In addition to TV titans like Coronation Street FCB also wrote the superb film Hillary and Jackie, and a good number of children’s books.  And this episode is very much in the spirit of a fairy tale, and as such, very much in the spirit of the early days of Doctor Who.  Which sort of fits a story of an irascible Doctor played by an actor in his 50’s running around with kids and teachers from Coal Hill School.

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The title comes from the very famous poem “The Tyger” by William Blake (“Tyger tyger burning bright, in the forest of the night”) which even most Americans know.  Blake is a perfect muse for Doctor Who and Cottrell-Boyce – who knows his Blake – knows it.  This is an episode entered on some rather preposterous notions like little fireflies representing the essence of life who save the Earth whenever it’s in trouble (the trouble this time is a solar flare), but the critics who lampoon the episode are utterly missing the point.  Cottrell-Boyce makes it eminently clear in the words of the Doctor himself that he’s not going for realism here, he’s telling a fairy story both literally and figuratively.  And in my view, he tells it very well indeed.

The plot – giant solar flares, a little girl who hears voices, a worldwide forest that grows up overnight – is really just a pretense for this tale, and the tale a pretense to ponder the myth of the Doctor.  Danny and Clara are growing ever more insufferable, it must be said, but at least Danny was given a bit to do this time.  As usual it’s Peter Capaldi who makes by far the most of his slice of the pie, showing a wonderful rapport with the cast of kids while never dropping his cloak of grumpiness.  I’d much rather see him traipse around the universe with this little group of guttersnipes than their teachers, truth be told, though that would admittedly never happen (and pose some significant challenges for the writing if it did).

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We’ve reached the end now, the two-parter – quite naturally written by Moffat – that will close the season, and “ItFotN” acts as a nice whimsical bridge to those sure-to-be dark and heavy episodes.  His work has been uneven in S35 to say the least, but Moffat tends to get the big moments right so I have high hopes.  There are really two MacGuffins hanging out there, both centered on Clara – the first being the whole Missy deal and Clara’s true identity.  And the second is the more human question of what Clara really wants – to see what’s in front of her more clearly, or to stand in the open doorway of the TARDIS and watch giant solar flares collide with atmospheric air bags at the Doctor’s side.

From my perspective, this has to end – the series desperately needs a fresh start, and Capaldi needs a companion (or two) with whom he can build a rapport from the ground up.  And my sincere hope is that Moffat takes the series in a different direction than another good-looking girl in her teens or 20s, giving us the far more rare spectacle of the Doctor teaming up with an older woman, or a male, or perhaps even two full-time companions.  It’s worked quite well most of the times it’s been tried, and with an actual grown-up in the role now it seems a perfect time to distance the series from the of-late de rigeur sexual tension and explore a less well-trodden aspect of the Doctor-Companion relationship.

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  1. M

    Oh my gosh…

    "And the second is the more human question of what Clara really wants"

    That line just made it dawned on me what this is: A plainer character being indecisive and unable to pick between two or more companions who are fully capable of finding someone "better". This is a (pseudo-)harem, the laziest method of creating relationship drama in literature.

    I've expressed my disgust for Moffat's works before, but now I really dread the rest of this story. (I miss Donna…)

    I whole-heartedly agree with the need for a new companion that doesn't involve sexual tension, but given that Moffat has once ignorantly (in a most asinine manner) commented that asexuals are boring in regards to Sherlock, I'm afraid sexual tension may be inherent to any show being controlled by him.

    The man probably thinks sexual tension is mandatory. -_-

  2. b

    Okay. Let me throw out some random thoughts…. please?

    First off, let it be known that I have been reading the Doctor Who reviews and both look forward to and enjoy them.

    Second: I agree that you that that the previous two episodes were among the best of the season along with the bank heist episode. I think listen and kill the moon could have been great, but were botched.

    Third: I know you don't like Clara. Personally, I liked her fine until this season and now I hate her. I've found a lot of the writing sub-par this season though. Maybe the writers just haven't adjusted to the new doctor. I'm not sure. It's hard to speculate. I liked the nature of the impossible girl, but out and out hate the whinny, self righteous, tedious, suburban, mother-father tandem that is Clara and Danny. He's pink like a medium well steak: the life's almost cooked completely out of him. That said, i never found her an utterly evocative character/actress, but I don't think there's much for her to work with either. The whole dynamic reminds me of the late Pierce Brosnan 007's, where Sophia Marceau, Denise Richards, and Halle Berry started holding Bond's life in their hands rather than the other way around. To which i say, if you don't like power dynamics of a protagonist's world, then make a new one. Don't fuck up the world we're already fans of.

    Four: Okay, one moment killed this episode for me. The Sonic Screwdriver can alter a gravitational field now, but Danny saves the day by scaring off a tiger with a flash light? What the hell? Seriously, if the doctor can deal with aliens and dinosaurs etc…. You know what? I'm just going to stop now. I'm incensed by the stupidity. Otherwise, I got the fairy tale angle and enjoyed it.

    Okay, so, that's enough for now. Thanks so much Enzo. We'll see how Moffat handles the rest. I have hope too. Maybe not high, but hope. lol

  3. He's pink like a medium well steak: the life's almost cooked completely out of him.

    You win the internet.

    I admit I don't like Clara, but she was better with Smith with the whole Impossible Girl dynamic they had. And I did like Danny at first, before he turned into Mary Whitehouse with a hard-luck past.

    At least as much a part of the issue here is that Capaldi simply needs to form a new bond with a companion that's truly his. I like the fact that the series acknowledged chemistry is usually difficult with a new Doctor and an old Companion, but that doesn't make it any better TV.

  4. s

    I love reading your Doctor Who posts even if I normally disagree with 2/3rds of it but I'm not the type to post a reply just to gripe about something you said.

    Danny Pink's explanation why he's not interested in flying off in the Tardis actually remains me of my one grandfather. He fought in WW2, spent time in England then France then Germany as part of the Army Corp of Engineers and when he came home went to work in a steel mill for 30+ years before retiring. For the rest of his life, after coming home, he never traveled further than 15-20 miles from his house. "All the world's the same" he'd say. So I understand where he's coming from and actually like him much more after this episode than I did before.

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