Tiger, tiger burning bright, in the forest of the night… – William Blake
Saturday’s episode of Doctor Who, “In the Forest of the Night,” was another great installment in the season with Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor. Written by new-to-Who Frank Cottrell Boyce, the episode was a great break from the fast-paced action of the past few episodes, and gave a great story while still giving all of us Whovians and viewers a breather before the two-part finale.
The Doctor tries visiting downtown London at Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square (a place the Doctor has visited several times during his many regenerations, for those who are keeping track), but he is immediately confused by stepping out of the TARDIS and into a dense forest. Despite his protests, the TARDIS is insistent on telling him that he has reached his destination.
A young girl in a red coat and school uniform then runs up to the TARDIS and asks for the Doctor’s help. In one of the best Doctor Who openings, the Doctor simply leans down and asks, “Do you have an appointment?”
One thing leads to another, and Danny Pink’s class of students, along with Clara, are lost in the forest that used to be London. The girl with the Doctor is one of the students who wandered off (well… really she went looking for him, but that comes later) and soon everyone unites. The mystery is how a giant forest grew up overnight without anyone noticing, and of course what it is doing there. Is it an invasion? If so, the Doctor points out that the invasion is already over.
There is some really great – and subtle – imagery going on throughout the episode. Wolves escape from the zoo and are chasing everyone for a while, but they get scared off by a tiger, which pays homage to the title of the episode (a line from William Blake’s poem, “The Tyger”). At one point the girl in the red coat is running from the wolves, which gives a great Little Red Riding Hood feeling. The same girl, Maebh Arden (played by Abigail Eames), is an allusion to the setting of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” Arden Forest.
That connection with the forest and Maebh goes far beyond her name, though. Clara tells the Doctor that she is a special student on medication because she hears voices. The Doctor quickly puts it together that Maebh is quite literally connected to the trees through the voices that she hears, and with some sonic screwdriver gimmickry, he is able to make those voices appear visible. Little flashes of light that speak through Maebh say they are an ancient form of life and that the trees are there for protection.
They are not happy-go-lucky little lights, though. Rather more menacing than anything else. “After your wars are over, we will still be here. We are the life that prevails.” As Doctor Who on BBCA tweeted, “collective fandom shriek.”
Again, one thing leads to another (hey, if you want to put the pieces together, go watch the episode – this is a review, not a plot summary) and the Doctor finds out that a massive solar flare is about to strike the earth – enough to kill all of mankind.
Clara convinces the Doctor that he cannot take the children with him in the TARDIS because they need to be with their families, he can’t save Danny Pink because he’ll never leave the children, and he won’t save her because she is staying… she doesn’t want to be the last of her kind.
“Then why did you bring us all here?” (to the TARDIS) asks the Doctor.
Clara responds, “Because it’s the only way to get you back to the TARDIS – make you think you’re saving someone. Well, you know what, Doctor? This time the human race is saving you. Make it worthwhile.”
It’s a great emotional moment. It’s one of a thousand great speeches from Doctor Who, and it’s just a fragment of the amazing dialogue throughout “In the Forest of the Night.” In fact, I wish I could list all the great lines. Better yet, let’s all just go watch it again.
I think the emotion of the moment was caught during the live tweet by @mrsannahanley: “I think I can actually see both his hearts breaking.”
“This is my world too,” says the Doctor in response. “I walk your earth. I breath your air.”
For those of you really paying attention, this is the Doctor mirroring what Clara told him in episode “Kill the Moon” when she thought he didn’t care about the Earth’s safety: “You walk our Earth, Doctor. You breath our air.” This time, however, instead of getting furious with the Doctor for leaving, Clara is the one asking him to go. It shows a real change in Clara – a change that has been going on all season long.
In the end, the trees save the world from the solar flare by creating excess oxygen that burns up instead of the earth. Clara and the Doctor have some more personal reflection at the end. And then Missy turns up again, remarking how surprised she is. But what is she surprised about? Based on her last comment about choosing Clara well, I’d say she is surprised by how Clara acted in this situation. We will find out soon.
That brings us to the start of the two-part finale on Saturday. The first episode, “Dark Water,” already has two trailers out and it raises a whole boat load of questions. We see Clara grabbing the TARDIS key and telling the Doctor, “You will never step inside your TARDIS again!” and to a Cyberman, “Clara Oswald has never existed.” At the end of the trailer, we see Missy telling someone (we don’t see you, but I’d bet it’s the Doctor), “You know who I am.” The other trailer shows a facility where the dead or stored… but they seem to be staying somewhat less than dead.
Keeping with the Promised Land/Heaven, death, and technology, it seems only fitting that Missy is controlling or working with the Cybermen in the finale. It just fits. Who else could it have been? Robots seem to want to go to the Promised Land where Missy controls things, so could that be the resting/storage place of the people “upgraded” by the Cybermen? That’s one theory I’ll throw out there.
Is Missy a controller of the Cybermen, like previous characters John Lumic or Miss Hartigan? If so, following the history of Lumic and Hartigan, she probably won’t have a pleasant ending. It seems like Missy wants a lot more out of the Doctor than just the Cybermen’s desire to “upgrade” everyone and everything.
The “Promised Land” was pictured on a screen in “Robots of Sherwood” and looked like a dark planet, so it seems to be a physical place; but it also seems to be somewhat out of time, as Missy has mentioned taking in dead people from various centuries in her brief appearances.
Or could it be that there isn’t really a physical person named Missy, but she is only a computer program part of the Cybermen mainframe? Pictures and video released of “Dark Water” show Missy and the Doctor interacting, so that’s probably a rubbish theory.
Then again, Steven Moffat might just laugh that idea off. Who can guess what will come out of his brain next?
In short, “In the Forest of the Night” was a great episode with amazing dialogue thanks to writer Frank Cottrell Boyce and at the same time gave us a little breathing room before plunging into the two-part finale where we may be saying goodbye to Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) for good. Watch it. Watch it again. Then go back and watch all of season 8 and see if you can put anymore pieces together before Saturday night’s episode.
As always, I will be live tweeting during “Dark Water,” part one of the season 8 finale, on Saturday night @PNGuinOfficial so get online and tweet along with me while we watch!