We are now very nearly at the end of this season of Doctor Who; a 12-episode run that has split viewers as divisively as a politically-motivated calypso number.
It feels like we have hardly gotten to know Peter Capaldi’s Doctor yet, but soon we’ll be at the two-part finale, having hardly gotten past the waspish comments and that habit of leaving humans to die in their own bickering.
In the Grand Moff tradition, it seems that the companion is getting more airtime than the title character. That’s not exactly a new concept post-2005 (Exhibit A: The Ponds), although this time around, the character development of Clara is being inextricably written into the narrative itself. Those in the audience who are feeling frustrated at the apparent under-use of Capaldi may – forgive us – be missing the wood for the trees.
The haters who are gonna hate on Doctor Who becoming ‘The Clara Oswald Adventures’ with cameos from her Time Lord friend are going to find very little to alter their views in this episode, which really concentrates on a school trip to a London museum being led by Miss Oswald and Mr Pink (neither of whom teach anything even vaguely relevant – Ofsted would not be impressed) just before London – and the rest of the world – gets covered in greenery.
In terms of visuals, at least, ‘In the Forest of the Night’ shares a lot with the New Adventure Blood Hunt, although the themes of the episode (and indeed the title) owe more to the work of William Blake.
The schoolkids are well performed with impressively believable dialogue from children’s author Frank Cottrell Boyce, although it’s worth noting that none of them are overly surprised to see the school caretaker turn up in a magical blue box. Perhaps, as one pupil suggests, once you’ve seen London engulfed by trees, everything else is much easier to believe. The visuals and pacing are thrilling, even if the episode occasionally wears its inspirations a little too heavily (right down to the girl in the red coat).
‘In the Forest of the Night’ completes a four-episode run of very decent stories (yes, four: this reviewer genuinely liked the whole giant-egg-giving-birth-to-another-giant-egg thing) that really gives this season pulse and muscle alongside everything else that’s giving us pause.
And let’s be honest – that can really all be boiled down to what we’ve already discussed: lots of companion, not so much Doctor. But perhaps there’s a larger story to be told here: after all, the very first season in 1963 was all about a pair of school teachers from Coal Hill school having their lives turned upside down by a strange angry man in an impossible blue box.
What we get to see then, is a fleshing out of the Fearful Symmetry between The Doctor and Clara, and the distorted reflection between them both that will no doubt come to a head once we get to the bottom of the Missy-tery.
A sometimes frustrating episode, then, but it all depends on how long you’re willing to play the long game. As we’ve seen before, the Grand Moff is excellent at the tease, but when it comes to the grand reveal, it can often be rushed or somewhat incoherent. But when we can cheerfully say a frustrating 45 minutes is still exciting and exhilarating television, sometimes the journey is as thrilling as the burning bright destination.
Airs at 8.20pm on Saturday 25 October 2014 on BBC One.
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