Doctor Who: In the Forest of the Night
(1 episode, s08e10, 2014)
Forest conservation saves the world.
A schoolgirl runs through a forest in search of a doctor. Instead, she finds the TARDIS. When he answers the door, the Doctor finds himself among trees instead of in London (where he expected to be). He and the girl have a discussion inside the TARDIS about Clara, Danny, and the inner dimensions of the blue box.
The TARDIS refuses to start because it’s exactly where it’s supposed to be. The forest is actually Trafalgar Square. The trees have returned to London with a vengeance.
Meanwhile, Danny and Clara are chaperoning a group of students on a museum sleepover trip. After they deal with an annoying student, they pack up and head for the exit. On the way, one girl notes that a tree cross-section shows a thick red ring, leading Clara to quip that it was a good year to be a tree. When the class exits the museum, they find that the city has been flooded with trees. Danny goes to the roof to scout out this development as the world responds to the invasion with panic and awe.
Clara phones the Doctor and finds out that the little girl in the TARDIS, Maebh, is one of Clara’s students. Clara asks the Doctor to bring her by as Danny chastises Clara for talking to the Doctor. The students dismiss the argument as Clara and Danny being in love.
Danny and Clara lead the group through the forest as they discuss the trees. Once they rendezvous with the Doctor and Maebh, they find out that the forest sprung up overnight. The Doctor is unable to get any readings and decides to move everyone into the TARDIS for safety, but he soon finds out how bad that plan was when the kids start playing with the console and touching everything.
Danny notices folders of homework assignments that Clara left in the TARDIS, prompting the Doctor to search for Maebh. Clara explains that Maebh is fragile and hears voices, which the Doctor interprets as the girl being on a different frequency. The Doctor tracks Maebh with Clara’s phone as Danny remains skeptical that Clara ever left the Doctor’s side. The children persuade Danny to follow.
Maebh encounters teams from the government who are trying to burn paths through the trees. She’s frightened, so she continues to run but leaves items along her path like breadcrumbs. The Doctor and Clara also find the burn team and are amazed to see that the fire has no effect. The Doctor believes that it’s because trees control the oxygen and can suffocate the fires.
The Doctor also reveals that Maebh has accurately predicted a massive solar flare that will destroy the planet. He believes that this is because Maebh has lost someone close to her, so she’s always looking and observing, searching for hope in the world.
The whole crisis is further exacerbated when the trees break the gates at the zoo, releasing the wild animals to chase Maebh, Clara, and the Doctor. The wolves jump the fence and run away scared, but that’s only because of a large tiger that has now arrived on the scene. Luckily, Danny arrives with the kids and scares the tiger off with a flashlight.
The Doctor notices that Maebh is waving at the air above her head and refuses to give her any medication. Maebh runs to a lighted area and explains that her own thoughts in her grief led to the forest’s growth. The Doctor is able to illuminate the beings swarming around Maebh, making them present as fireflies while they explain that they are the lifeforce of the trees. They have been and will always be there and are aware of the powerful solar flare. The lights leave and Maebh is freed from their thrall.
Clara realizes that this threat cannot be stopped and urges the Doctor to use the TARDIS as a lifeboat. They arrive at the TARDIS and Clara tells the Doctor that he should leave without them, but the Time Lord refuses. Earth is his planet too. He’s reminded that the trees were flameproof and boards the TARDIS, leaving the humans behind. Once the realization strikes him, he returns to Earth and summons everyone to the TARDIS. He explains the threat to the kids, which accidentally frightens them, then reveals that it has happened before, namely in the Tunguska and Curuçá events. The red ring in the museum exhibit is proof.
Maebh offers to appeal to the world. The Doctor calls every phone in the world simultaneously and Maebh advises everyone to remain calm and leave the trees alone. She also asks her sister to come home. When she’s done, her mother arrives and their reunion inspires everyone except Clara to turn down a trip to space to watch the flare. Clara will join the Doctor after the children are returned home, and Clara apologizes for lying to Danny. She and Danny then share a kiss, which proves the children right about those dating rumors.
From the TARDIS, the Doctor and Clara watch the flare harmlessly strike Earth. Missy watches as well, surprised at the resolution. Later on, the trees vanish as the Doctor and Clara watch, and Clara is surprised to realize that the people of Earth will forget that this ever happened.
Finally, Maebh and her mother return home. When they arrive, a hydrangea vanishes like the trees did, revealing Maebh’s lost sister, Annabelle.
This is a fairly interesting episode that runs along the same narrative lines as Kill the Moon. The events would have happened with or without the Doctor’s interference, and the events do not truly pose a threat the humanity or the planet. Effectively, our normal protagonists could be removed from this story entirely and nothing would change.
What’s left is an intellectual mystery that the Doctor and his companions are compelled to resolve so that they can understand it. It’s that perpetual quest for knowledge that our favorite Time Lord seems to follow. Further detail comes from the investigation of Maebh’s behavior, which is often disregarded as a disability by everyone. I enjoy the beauty in exploring how such differences make us unique, but I’m not too keen on the idea that her unique skill is completely “cured” by the end of the story.
The title of the episode is taken from a verse of William Blake’s “The Tyger”. Not only does this foreshadow the tiger’s appearance (dodgy CGI and all), but it also calls back to Planet of the Spiders where it was previously read aloud. This poem also made an appearance in the audio story The Emerald Tiger.
Of course, in a moment of meta, this episode is an example of Doctor Who as a television show being referenced within the show itself. There is a bus (which is really a cardboard cutout) amongst the trees displaying a one-shot ad for Series 8. We previously saw this in Remembrance of the Daleks, which was set on the same day that the show first premiered, where a television aired the BBC commentator’s lead in before the debut of An Unearthly Child. Once again, the Doctor is a character in his own story.
We’ve seen solar flares before (Time Heist, The Ark, The Ark in Space, The Beast Below, The Mysterious Planet) as well as evidence of humanity’s “capacity for self-deception” (World War Three, Victory of the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks) and communication with telepathic trees (The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe).
Overall, this was a slightly above average story even with its somewhat problematic approach to neurodivergence. The fairy tale ending was also a bit syrupy.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.