Oh, Doctor Who season eight, I think you’re slowly killing Chuck. I mean it, he was nigh onto apoplectic after watching “In the Forest of the Night”–all of his emails and texts to me started with “Why?” or “So bad. So, so bad.” But I am a Whouffaldi girl till the end and did not think it was “so, so bad,” or even “bad.” Was it my favorite episode of the season? No. Was it great writing the whole way through like we’ve seen the past two weeks? No. But I’m playing the long game on this season, taking the slow path and all that, and I have utter faith that Moffat will pull one of his typically genius moves and give us a season finale that will leave me in tears and saying “Moffat, you bloody genius.” Moffat gives us season-long puzzles. It’s what he does. And I am used to him feasting on my tears at this point, so we’ll leave it at that and dive in.
As always, here there be spoilers, massive spoilers, because we’re discussing the plot points from this week’s episode that we loved and hated. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Chuck: I love Doctor Who. I want to love this Doctor. I don’t.
This is not a Peter Capaldi rant. Lord knows the man’s a fine actor. And the two episodes previous to “In the Forest of the Night” were good. But two really good episodes this season don’t make up for the fact that the latest episode really pushed the boundaries of what I believe Doctor Who to be.
The story had more gigantic holes than swiss cheese. The writing was almost insulting. We open in a forest. A girl runs through it obviously being chased by something (or someone). She comes upon the TARDIS. She asks the Doctor for help telling him “please, something’s chasing me”. Guess what, no one (that was ever mentioned or shown) was chasing her. When he lets her into the TARDIS she already knows way too much. And she’s unimpressed. She says she was sent by Ms Oswald, but no it was just a voice in her head. Well we meet those voices later, they certainly didn’t send her to the Doctor.
Julie: But something was chasing her…the ideas, the trees, the voices, whatever the hell it is you want to call them that are specially tuned into Maebh’s frequency since her sister disappeared. When we first hear about Maebh from Danny and Clara, they let us know that she’s emotionally disturbed since her sister’s disappearance. And so the entire time she’s flapping her hands at the sky, I see a child that’s trying to fight something off, something that only she can see, like a schizophrenic. It took us a while (perhaps too long) until we got to the point where the Doctor allowed us to see it, but I was quite sure something was going on in Maebh’s mind.
Chuck: And spare a moment for that forest. We find out momentarily that it’s a forest that has sprung up overnight over the entire world (including the oceans somehow?) And we’re in London, Trafalgar Square to be precise. Where is everybody? Where are all the flipped over cars. The knocked down and grown over buildings. This set looks like a park. Why aren’t there people roaming around in awe of what’s happened? They pass multiple tube stations as they roam around this seemingly endless forest but alas no one is around, sleepy little hamlet this London eh? In 2013 London had a population of over 8 million. We get a girl. One very small primary school class. Two teachers, a parent, a neighbor, a fire team (5 guys), and the Doctor in an area a little over 2 acres?
Julie: Yeah, I hear you. But I went into willing suspension of disbelief. The several rum and diets I’d had before the first time I saw the episode probably helped, because it bothered me more the second time I watched it. But still, willing suspension of disbelief. It’s Doctor Who, weird stuff happens.
Chuck: Ok fine, everyone stayed home because the news told them to. Right. Let’s take on Mr. Pink. What kind of a moron takes his class out of the safety of the museum they camped in last night and begins tramping with them through the mysterious forest without communicating with the school or the parents. Or the police. Or anyone. At all. And about that. The Doctor lands in London, things are obviously a little bigger than usual and he doesn’t call U.N.I.T.? They don’t call him?
Julie: To be fair to Danny, Clara did tell him she had tried to call the school and had gone straight to voicemail. And at the beginning of the episode when this happened, he didn’t have a reason to distrust her. Although in the next sentence she told him the Doctor had called her, so taken with a grain of salt. As far as the Doctor calling U.N.I.T.? I think you’re thinking of another Doctor. Twelve doesn’t see a need to rely on any humans other than Clara. Remember “Planet of the Pudding Brains”? Yeah.
Chuck: It seems as though this season exists in some weird extra-Whovian bubble where none of the past seems to matter. Case in point The Doctor calls the sonic screwdriver a “communication device”. “It interacts with any form of communication you care to mention”. Really? This is the definition most fans will find familiar…
“The sonic screwdriver — sometimes called the sonic — was a highly versatile tool used by the Doctor. He modified and ostensibly upgraded it over the years, giving it an increasing number of applications. Early versions were used mainly for the picking of locks and for projecting sound so as to, for example, detonate bombs. By the time of the Ninth Doctor, the sonic was able to also be used as a sophisticated scanning device, with medical applications. Subsequent incarnations gave it even wider functionality, such as the ability to hack into computers, provide geolocation and actively defend against some types of assault weapons.” (- Tadis Data Core – Doctor Who Wiki)
So the Doctor doesn’t deal with the British government anymore. The Sonic Screwdriver is now a “comm device” (though later it inexplicably creates a little local gravity increase by interacting with, what?)
Julie: The sonic has been evolving a lot in recent seasons, going from something you’d use to “assemble a lot of cabinets one night” to more of a jack of all trades cover for some lazy/incomplete writing. Really cool idea for a story and we’re not quite sure how the hell to make it work? Point the sonic screwdriver at it! Now with more sonic-ness! And super powers! (So yes, I’m with you on this. However, I reserve the right to put on my sonic screwdriver goggles—the Whovian equivalent of beer goggles—and roll with it when I want to.)
Chuck: This is just more of the same problem. The writers aren’t writing Doctor Who, they’re writing some pale imitation. And it just keeps sliding. The Doctor goes into this absurd diatribe about needing to “mess with the fabric of time” to create a forest over night. That you can’t grow them all over night with some special fertilizer. But this is another of the red herrings thrown around in this episode. It goes nowhere has no (or little) bearing on the result (which we’ll get to later) and was really just fodder to show the Doctor finally has, as Clara put it “[the]clever kicking in”. Rubbish. Then when he realizes he needs Maebh to figure this out and she’s no longer in the Tardis he becomes an utter moron, campily calling MAEBH in every persons face and even adding an “AHHHHH!” when one of the children say she might die out there. Rubbishy rubbish.
Julie: Yep, that scene was over the top, no doubt about it. And I have no explanation for it except to say that at least one episode a season is totally geared towards kids, and kids eat that kind of thing up. This, complete with kids on a school trip so the children in the audience can imagine that they’re the Doctor’s companions, is our especially kid friendly episode of the season. I frequently imagine that I’m Clara, but that takes us down a whole different path. Ahem.
Chuck: Another great line, “every communication channel on the Tardis is open and… nothing” Really? Really? The countries of the world aren’t flooding the airwaves with chatter about this? The whole time they’re outside they don’t see or hear one helicopter or emergency vehicle? Add to all of this that the Doctor once again leaves everyone to their fate. He returns, as usual, but does absolutely nothing to affect anything. He was utterly pointless to the whole episode.
Julie: I figured that was referring to non-terrestrial communication, since the Doctor was looking for something to pin this on. Sontarans or Daleks would be communicating loudly. Trees are…using Tree Facebook, apparently. Re: the emergency vehicles, they can’t get through since the paths are quickly closing up behind people walking single file. I would imagine the helicopters are grounded with trees growing out of them. I was actually more irritated at the concept that tigers can be deterred with a flashlight, but that’s just me. And sometimes the Doctor doesn’t know the answers until late in the game. He freely admitted that on this ep, calling himself “Doctor Idiot.” Sometimes the clever doesn’t kick in quickly enough.
Chuck: The scene where Clara sends the Doctor on his way can only be described as the one bright spot in this otherwise dismal series. And she should keep it on her highlight reel for the rest of her career. I could keep going scene by bloody scene but it just seems pointless, the little hope I had for the season was crushed with this episode. A friend mentioned that maybe the problem is that it’s time for a “regime change” in reference to the creative team. I have to agree. Passing the torch was a wonderful idea but it seems to have created a spiral downward. Sloppily written, bad characterizations, gross ignorance of established Whovian history, a crappy deus-ex-machina ending, all led up to another episode when Jenna-Louise Coleman’s performance is the only thing worth the time it took to watch this episode. Next week starts the two part season finale and guess what we’re finally going to get a bit of the over-arching plot with Missy. In the last two episodes. Great.
Julie: So much going on here, so I’ll just go point by point. Yep, Clara was brilliant and totally Doctor-like in her scheming. She was a little weak the rest of the episode as she stumbled from lie to lie and forgot about the children in her desire to be part of the Doctor’s adventure, but that’s some weakness in the writing (I’m sure this is Moffat leading us somewhere, I just don’t know where yet) and not on Jenna’s part.
I wouldn’t mind someone beside Moff being the show runner for a while. Yes, the big puzzles are brilliant, but the bits that get us there aren’t as amazing as they once were (River Song’s storyline, anyone?), and I sometimes get tired along the way. He’s very lucky that Capaldi and Coleman are such great actors and that they have awesome chemistry together, even though they’re not actually a couple anywhere outside my (and every other Whouffaldian’s) head canon. Missy is an example of the problem with Moffat: unless the payoff is spectacular, I am going to wonder why the hell it took us ten episodes to get there. Unfortunately, because it’s Moffat, the payoff will probably be spectacular and I will be sobbing on the couch, begging for more. Whovians are in an abusive relationship with him on a number of levels, but I don’t see him going anywhere. Kind of makes you long for Russell T. Davies, doesn’t it?
So, what did you think of “In the Forest of the Night”? Are you completely over it like Chuck, or are you playing the long game with me? Have you started drinking just to get through episodes? And where do you think Moffat is leading us with Missy? Let us know in the comments below! And tune in next week for what might mark the end of Chuck as a Whovian: he’s just that close to the edge!
Editor’s Note: These point-counterpoint articles are a lot of fun but sometimes (like last week) it takes some time to get these out to you. This time the piece was delayed by me, you stalwart editor. See I meant what I said at the top. I love Doctor Who, I’ve enjoyed (on level or another) every season I’ve had the pleasure of viewing. This season has been more than a little difficult for me though, as you can see, and this article was languishing in drafts. It may have stayed there if it weren’t for the fact that I saw a conversation on Facebook between a school friend and big-time Whovian Tom LaSusa and some of his friends. He didn’t exactly echo my sentiments but the conversation was opinionated enough to remind me that this, critiquing or heroes, is what it’s all about. Fans we are and fans we’ll remain but it’s up to us, the fans, to call bull$#*% when we see/feel it. Thanks Tom! Hope you enjoy the article.