Sunday, 26 October 2014

Review: Doctor Who - In the Forest of the Night

Once upon a time a forest grew across the world overnight.. But does this story have a happy ending?

'This is my world too. I walk your earth. I breathe your air.' 

Doctor Who has fashioned a new tradition for itself under Steven Moffat's reign; that of the 'celebrity guest writer.' Though perhaps not as much a household name as other such writers as Neil Gaiman and Richard Curtis, this week's episode was penned by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, the Carnegie Award-winning novelist and writer of the famous opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. Clearly, this guy has big writing chops (never understood that phrase. Doesn't chops mean mouth? And if so, why does the size of your mouth denote how talented you are at your chosen field?). So did he pull it off with his déb-Who?  

'In the Forest of the Night' opens with a wonderful pre-titles sequence featuring the Doctor befriending the sweet yet troubled Maebh (Abigail Earnes being by far the best of this week's younger guest stars). It's a charming scene that really feels like a new writer putting a fresh stamp on the show (the explanation of the TARDIS as like sugar in coke is inspired) and its topped off with the reveal of London landmarks surrounded by trees, a truly enchanting image that sets up the whimsical tone of the episode.

Unfortunately, this assuredness does not hold out for the whole forty five minutes. The symbolism of forests in our collective consciousness, how they are always places of danger in folk tales and myths, is very strong. Hidden amongst other plot points there was even a reason why woods are humanity's primal fear. It is a shame then that this fascinating notion was passed aside for none-too-subtle ecological messages ('if they're good then why are we chopping them down?' one child even says) which feel somewhat recycled from the other year's 'The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe' (which also featured living trees with tinkly lights, now I think about it).

Still, Samuel Anderson is served a considerable role this week as Danny gets to be in his comfort zone, leading his young troops through danger, and Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are as good as ever with particular praise going to the Doctor's touching nod back to 'Kill the Moon.' Also, not enough mention has been made this year to Murray Gold, who has delivered endless memorable music for the show for almost ten years now. In this episode he seemed to have a ball, playing off the fairy tale qualities of the story in his score (there was a fabulous, rousing piece of music accompanying the shot of Nelson's Column surrounded by the forest). It's amazing that man's talent hasn't run dry after all this time.

Full of literary allusions, this ecological fairy tale of an episode was certainly an original treat. It had its flaws - a promising premise that never quite lived up to its potential (with an unfortunately risible final scene that was predictable from the off) - but Cottrell-Boyce bravely fashions a sort of all-ages modern fantasy out of the stuff of Doctor Who and experimentation must be encouraged. Otherwise nothing would ever grow.

'You need an appointment to see the Doctor' - The TARDIS turns classroom this week...

Next week: Old friends and foes alike return for the first part of this year's finale. Terrible sacrifices must be made when things get murky in 'Dark Water.' BBC One, next Saturday.

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