Recap: 'Doctor Who' - 'In the Forest of the Night' is a good old-fashioned fairy story
After a series high last week where audiences played at being a Time Lord, complete with all the haunting decisions that stick with you forever, what adventure will our plucky heroes get up to this week? With no real villain* to tie the season together, it’s like getting dressed in the dark as to what theme we’ll be exploring each week is. Will there be ramifications to Clara’s psyche for letting people die on her watch? Will Danny discover her lies? Only time will tell “In the Forest of the Night.”
*Obviously Missy is the Big Bad™ (or the Big Red Herring™) but she’s too mysterious to be properly afraid of. She hasn’t even welcomed anyone to “Heaven” in forever.
A little girl is running through the forest to an ethereal soundtrack right out of Middle Earth. There are spiderwebs — again? — and I momentarily fear for her mortal safety. But never fear, she has found the TARDIS and her knock brings a confused Doctor to the rescue. He might not know who this child is, but something is chasing her and she was specifically sent to Twelve for help. No Doctor worth his salt could turn down such a tantalizing mystery, so she’s ushered in.
Our pint-sized TARDIS passenger is quietly impressed with the interior. The Doctor adorably explains by saying soda might only be yay big but the amount of sugar is exponentially bigger. The girl appropriately side-eyes this, but accepts a police box with a huge interior as quickly as any kid her age. Besides, she’s got bigger issues. Ms. Oswald was inside her head — odd phrasing that I’m sure we’ll come back to later — and Mr. Pink was in charge of her group but she got separated.
As is his wont, the Doctor is only half-listening because the TARDIS is broken. He keeps telling it to go to London and it keeps plopping him down in the middle of this forest. “You have reached your destination,” Sexy says repeatedly. The little girl can’t believe the denseness of old people. She takes the Doctor by the hand and drags him outside to point out the obvious: they ARE in London. We pan up to discover the whole city, nay the whole world, is covered in lush vegetation. It’s a veritable “I Am Legend” up in here.
Cut to a terribly stuffed wolf, which definitely isn’t symbolic of something later. Also, the London museum should fire its taxidermist. A group of children are waking up after an overnight school excursion to the Natural History Museum, supervised by one Mr. Pink and one Ms. Oswald. These kids seem a hell of a lot younger than their normal charges so is their school K-12? Or whatever the British equivalent is?
On the way out, the ginger girl is drawn to a fellow red-head in the form of an ancient tree. The budding dendrologist points out one of the rings is thicker and redder than any of the others. Should I be taking notes? There’s a lot of foreshadowing being dropped.
A standard issue ancient security guard unlocks the museum doors — wait they were literally locked in all night? — but it won’t budge, prompting Mr. Pink to engage in a Heave-Ho with the kids. The doors finally pops to reveal the lush forest the Doctor is already dealing with in Trafalgar Square. The kids are taking this a little too well. Damn jaded unnamed generation after the Millennials!
Clara calls the Doctor to brag that she’s found a mystery and he’s all “Yawn. Old news. Also, come get this kid.” Clara has no idea what he’s talking about but it soon becomes clear that Maeve is the missing girl. Of course the Doctor wouldn’t think to ask her name. Clara and Twelve bicker like an old married couple about the logistics of returning Maeve to the group. “No YOU go get her from piano lessons!” basically. In the end, the Doctor wins.
This means Ms. Oswald has to tell Mr. Pink that Twelve is in town. Awkward since, as far as Danny knows, she hasn’t seen the Doctor since the events of the Orient Express. So what does she do? Lies to Danny’s face. Twice. With ease. First by saying she called the school but had to leave a message. She only backtracks when Danny catches her out and THEN she throws the Doctor under the bus by saying he called her. When that lies falls flat, she deflects by asking Mr. Pink if he realizes he’s lost one of the children.
Out of all the companions on New Who, Clara is the only one that seems to be morphing into a mini-Time Lady. This pragmatism mixed with selfishness is becoming more pronounced. Interesting.
Danny is distraught, both at the thought of assumed sociopath Twelve being in charge of a child and the fact that Maeve needs medication of some sort. As mad as he is at Clara for lying, his first priority is keeping the kids safe and getting them home. By contrast, Ms. Oswald’s first thought is on how to solve the mystery — were they asleep for years or did the forest grow fast? — and she seems momentarily nonplussed by the verbal slap to get her shit together and focus on the children.
Back in Trafalgar Square, the Doctor is trying to get a reading but it’s all trees. The Sonic still doesn’t do wood. But something new! As far as I can remember, Twelve’s rant about wood having no mechanisms or circuits to control…not even rudimentary communication…is the first solid explanation we’ve gotten for why the Sonic Screwdriver is ineffective against wood.
Maeve, with the wisdom of children, states you don’t have to talk to communicate. “I don’t have a phone and I know my mom is worried about me.” Bam! A Time Lord just got outwitted by tiny human.
Speaking of Maeve’s mom, she’s also having an argument about the logistics of picking up her kid and is shocked to open the front door to dense underbrush. So either the WHOLE world has been asleep or this is indeed a fast-growing forest.
The field trip group is trucking through the underbrush towards the TARDIS and Maeve. Our ginger dendrologist — named Ruby because really? — points out one of the trees has blossoms and nuts, which is weird. Clara tries to balance the teaching moment with being desperate to get to the Doctor and, assumedly, safety.
All the kids want to do is take a selfie with the lion statue, though.
We get a flashback to Mr. Pink teaching math and I know I’m supposed to be focused on how the kids are acting nicer and smarter than in their daily lives but all I can think about is how Danny draws an “X” weird.
Meanwhile, in the present, the kids newfound interest in education continues. Nelson’s Column wobbles menacingly and the kids rip out part of the underbrush to show Ms. Oswald and Mr. Pink something amazing. The trees have no rings.
Enter the Doctor, right on cue, to say “Of course” they have no rings because the trees grew up overnight. Which makes me wonder how well that went over in parts of the world where “overnight” was actually “the middle of the freaking day.” Clara is confident the Doctor can solve all this but Twelve is still not one for sugarcoating things, even in the presence of children. There’s nothing to save humanity from, this is a natural catastrophe. First the Ice Age, and now the Tree Age.