‘Dan the Soldier Man’ has come a long way since his introduction in Into The Dalek and this week’s episode In The Forest Of The Night definitely felt like a big one for him. The opening of the episode gave much more attention to him than it did The Impossible Girl and the big emotional payoff came in his proud rejection of the opportunity to travel with The Doctor.
Those merits aside however, In The Forest Of The Night did feel like it fell short – especially considering the big two-part finale around the corner.
Doctor Who: Season 8, Episode 10, ‘In The Forest Of The Night’ Review
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD
In The Forest Of The Night started – as have many of this latest series’ episodes – with a fantastic premise. In a Series that’s has seen The Doctor face off against an unseeable Mummy, a ‘Good’ Dalek and an overweight moon, writer Frank Cottrell Boyce’s decision to throw Capaldi’s Timelord up against a “global reforestation crisis” is genuinely refreshing and inspired.
Opening with a young girl draped in a red coat running through a forest, In The Forest Of The Night was positively drenched in fairy-tale allusions. It was a cool, more fantastical tone to see Doctor Who take on – though it did lend itself to some inconsistent characterization from Capaldi & Clara. In particular, I feel like the fantastic mood-building the episode does came at the cost of properly foreshadowing and emphasizing Clara’s big moment – her speech to The Doctor about it being the Earth’s turn to save The Doctor. It felt like neither of the pair really appreciated the gravity of the speech and so the whole scene just came off as a bit overwrought and indulgent.
Spotty plots aside, In The Forest Of The Night did do a phenomenal job of building on the character arcs developed in Flatline and The Caretaker. Clara is acting more and more like The Doctor with each passing week and Danny’s speech to her about “learning to see the things in front of him more clearly” was genuinely my highlight of the episode. Samuel Anderson’s performance has been generally pretty good but he killed it here.
Sadly, In The Forest Of The Night wasn’t quite as effective at conveying its fantastical elements as it was its emotional beats. The premise of the overnight forest was good (and the imagery of an overgrown London, fantastic) even if the scale of the event was undermined a little by its quiet emptiness. I’ve never been there but I get the vibe that London is a very crowded city and it seemed perhaps a little too unbelievable that this week’s adventure didn’t see The Doctor run into a single confused passersby at all.
Additionally, the pacing of In The Forest Of The Night felt very all-around inconsistent and some of its major plot developed felt simultaneously over dramatic and unclear. The relationship between Maiv & the entities controlling the trees never quite made sense and their manifestation towards the end felt like a bit much.
Likewise, the humor throughout the episode was a bit of a mixed bag. Danny’s interactions with the Coal Hill field trip class were fun but I felt like there was a missed scene here connecting their departure from the TARDIS to the tiger-attack scene. Though the involvement of so many child-characters in this week’s episode did lead to some cringeworthy and heavy-handed moments, Capaldi’s cranky chemistry with the class definitely had its moments.
Though a mixed-bag in a number of aspects, In The Forest Of The Night was still a bit of a letdown after last week’s seminal episode. Despite a fantastic premise and some great character moments, the episode failed to pull things together in the face of pacing-problems, unclear plotting and a schoolsworth of hit-or-miss humor. It’s an interesting effort, but far from Capaldi & Co’s best.
Just to let everyone know: As the next two episodes are part of a two part finale there will be no review for Doctor Who next week, but one the following week covering both parts together instead.