‘Doctor Who’ review: ‘In the Forest of the Night’

Posted Filed under

Jean-Luc Godard once said: ‘It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to.’

Recent episodes of Doctor Who have demonstrated a raft of originality but also embraced much from the show’s past – yet whatever has been appropriated from the old days is always successfully synthesised into something fresh.

The gothic arachnid horror of ‘Kill the Moon’ is very much in the spooky vein of Who chillers from the ‘70s, following to the letter Steven Moffat’s instruction to writer Peter Harness to ‘Hinchcliffe the shit out of it’, but the notion of the moon being an alien egg is as innovative as the two-dimensional Boneless from ‘Flatline’.

Doctor who In the Forest of the Night 2

Remove the colours and contemporary references from ‘Robot of Sherwood’ and it could almost have been a William Hartnell story – only the production team of the 1960s would never have delved into the mythical status of their main character to compare and contrast him with Robin Hood.

However, the era that Season 8 has repeatedly referenced is that of the Third Doctor – and never more so than ‘In the Forest of the Night’.

It’s not just that Peter Capaldi’s combination of manic energy and exasperated grumpiness at the human race is reminiscent of Jon Pertwee’s performance (even though it is, and the flamboyant costume only accentuates this).

An overgrown London, with familiar landmarks emerging from the trees like lost furniture in an untended garden, is the kind of freakish occurrence in a near-contemporary setting that characterised the Third Doctor era (it’s especially redolent of the Virgin Doctor Who novel ‘Blood Hunt’). The ecological subtext is also solidly Pertweeovian.

Doctor who In the Forest of the Night Danny Clara

What makes ‘In the Forest of the Night’ unmistakably 21st Century, though, is Miss Oswald and Mr Pink’s troupe of Sylvia Young schoolkids. From the Night at the Museum opening to the amused but genuine applause near the end when the loved-up teachers share a kiss, it’s the ‘gifted and talented’ pupils of Coal Hill School who make this arboreal adventure a thoroughly modern affair.

Jenna Coleman’s portrayal of Clara is as excellent as ever; Samuel Anderson is growing into the role of Danny (the measured, panic-free way he defeats a tiger with a bright torch – framing its fearful symmetry? – is possibly his finest moment to date).

Yet the child actors are almost as impressive, particularly Abigail Eames as Maebh. The way she interacts with the Doctor when he reveals The Life That Prevails – the apparently immortal, firefly-like creatures defending Earth from solar flares by erecting immediate patches of woodland – is almost as powerful as the Eleventh Doctor’s with the young Amy Pond. Her classmates’ larking about inside the TARDIS, to its owner’s scandalised consternation, is equally enjoyable.

Doctor who In the Forest of the Night

Little touches like this make a good episode great – although the subtlest part comes when Clara is addressed as ‘Miss’. In the split second of silence that follows, it’s impossible not to flash back to the closing scene of ‘Flatline’, where it was revealed that Clara was placed in the Doctor’s company by Missy.

What the badass overlady of Heaven has in store for the Doctor and his companion remains a matter of conjecture: we still don’t know where she’s from or what she’s up to, although the mystery surrounding her is certainly something fresh. But this enigma won’t remain unsolved for much longer.

Season 8’s climax is almost upon us – and the impending two-part finale has a lot to live up to. The recent run of episodes has been the best in some considerable time. Anyone trying to claim the contrary is barking up the wrong tree.


Aired at 8.20pm on Saturday 25 October 2014 on BBC One.

> Order Season 8 on DVD on Amazon.

> Order Season 8 on Blu-ray on Amazon.

What did you think of the episode? Let us know below…

> Follow David Lewis on Twitter.