The episode “In the Forest of the Night” continues a number of themes that have been woven throughout this season of Doctor Who: fairy tales and fear; Clara’s strength, her increasing resemblance to the Doctor, and her relationship to Danny Pink; and whatever is going on with Missy. (The “next time” clip suggests that the season finale, in which the season arc with Missy will need to be explained rather than resolved, should be fascinating).
The episode has some wonderful moments of dialogue. I was amused by the comparison of the TARDIS to a Coke – which is only “this big” but contains “this much” sugar. And given the similarity the sonic screwdriver has had to a magic wand in recent seasons, it was nice to hear the suggestion voiced that it isn’t one, that it can’t fix everything. Great phrases from the Doctor included when he talked about the forest as “mankind’s nightmare” – the focus of so many stories that keep us up at night – and about catastrophe as “the metabolism of the universe.” And of course, when Clara says, having seen what it means for the Doctor, that she does not want to become the last of her species. I also liked when the Doctor echoed Clara’s words from “Kill the Moon,” saying that this is his world too. The Doctor learning from Clara has been a major theme this season.
But my favorite lines were from Danny Pink, when he said, “I don’t wanna see more things. I wanna see the things in front of me more clearly.”Doctor Who has a long history of taking things from fairy tales and making them even scarier within the show – from the details in “The Mind Robber” down to the newer seasons with the weeping angels and clowns and dolls and vampires and things under the bed. In this episode, fear becomes a thing that makes us attack that which is trying to save us. And so there is an insightful point there – that fear makes us attack friends and allies while making us blind to where the real threat lies.
The idea that the Tunguska blast was trees protecting the Earth makes little logical sense. But the symbolism of trees protecting us, and us trying to cut them down, remains poignant. And the notion of scary events being forgotten, except for fear embodied in fairy tales, is not far fetched. For real-life examples of how fairy tales can embody cultural memory of trauma, see Charles Häberl’s paper, “Flights of Fancy.”
I was disturbed by the suggestion that people hearing voices should stop taking their medication, since it may be that mystical beings are trying to communicate with humankind through that person. People who experience vivid dreams, hallucinations, and other such phenomena have a long history of being revered as prophets or something similar. But today, we understand more about mental illness, and it seems unlikely that powerful beings would find themselves completely unable to communicate with humanity because someone took necessary medication. It’s a dangerous message for a show to deliver – especially about and to children.
What did you think of “In The Forest of the Night”?