The 12th Doctor – Series 8, Episode 10 – “In the Forest of the Night” – Too Much Fantasy

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Since Moffat has become showrunner of “Doctor Who” after Russell T. Davies left there has always been an element of fantasy in his series. The strongest of this and the best version of it was Series 5 when Matt Smith was the 11th Doctor, and weakest was the series 7…Smith’s final season and one of the most inconsistent seasons that gave us a lot of the worst of Moffat’s writing and themes. This episode is not as bad as the worst of series 7 and would have been good if not for the ending, but because of the ending I can only call it okay. I’ll get into what I mean in the assessment.

The episode was directed by Sheree Folkson and written by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

The premise is that the world has become overgrown by a forest that grew in a day. The Doctor doesn’t know why it happened and is left with Clara and Danny as they find that one of the Coal Hill Students Maehb maybe tied to the events and are left facing this new mystery and whether it is something good and temporary or a the signs of an invasion. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a forest overgrowing the world is a great idea! Especially since it adds a lot of mystery and in this instance plays into the human fear of the woods. Which we see in fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood both of which are made visual illusions to in the episode. There is a sense of danger and a sense of loss too given the events of the fairy tales.

Danny Pink – Danny is good at being the one grounded on being in the moment and looking after the kids to make sure they are connected. We see how this appeals to Clara even though she is so drawn to the excitement, mystery and adventure of the current circumstances. She assumes the Doctor can sort things out, Danny assumes nothing. We learn that this was due to his experiences as a soldier and he has no desire to repeat it given what he wants most is right in front of him (Clara). It’s a sweet moment and I liked how he was handled in this episode. Even with Clara lying about adventures with the Doctor and them even happening he is there until she can figure things out.

Clara Oswald – Clara is very much the companion in this episode, and she loves it. We see her separate herself from the Doctor at the end though when she asks him to run since if humanity will go extinct they will do so together and she doesn’t want to be the last of her kind. We see her attachment to Earth in this episode and her love of Danny even if she doesn’t know how to fully communicate her situation with the Doctor and being straight with them both. But she grows some in this episode which leaves things curious in regards to how her leaving will be handled at the end of this series.

The 12th Doctor / The Twelfth Doctor – The Doctor is interesting in this episode. We see him not being very good with children in that he isn’t very aware of them and is drawn in the most to the mystery. It takes a student being connected to the events for him to truly care and though he says he will stay with humanity he is rejected like he rejected helping humanity in “Kill the Moon.” I liked him in this episode but he couldn’t save it as there were other things bringing it down.

The Cons: Child Actors – Having one is bad enough, but this one had a bunch. They weren’t bad all the time but it make the threat seem so much less since it’s a family show…they aren’t going to kill a kid. This made the episode feel G when it was dealing with mortality, which was a shame.

Everything is Okay Again – I really don’t like how this series, especially when the episode has a kid (“Kill the Moon” again, and “The Caretaker”) try to keep consequences from occuring. The Earth doesn’t change and the Doctor talks about people forgetting. There was no point for the episode beyond it advancing the character arcs, which is a waste of a premise. “Kill the Moon” at least gave Clara reason to doubt and for a while was actually a great thriller so the concept was handled better. This one, not so much.

Everybody Lives – There are aliens that predate the Doctor in this episode and apparently they saved Maehb’s sister. “The Doctor Dances” did this so much better, because it was a war, there was consequences going on, there was despair and death so people living meant something. This corny ending gave nothing to the Whoverse and made Moffat going dark feel like a lie. Well, we’ll see how the final goes. Most episodes have been good but this ending is part of what’s wrong with Moffat. It’s too much fantasy, and not the good kind where magic is an element but not a magic reset button of entire character situations.

This episode could have been worse, the mystery was better than “Robot of Sherwood” at least and the character moments did improve the story. But they got to stop using child actors…I know this is a kids show but the original Star Wars didn’t have any child actors and was better for it. Kids can take dark, and some of the darkest Doctor Who (Series 1-3 on “Doctor Who”) were actually quite amazing. Fantasy writing shouldn’t be an excuse for not having stories without consequences. Happy endings should have a cost, or better yet be bittersweet.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10. Would be lower if not for Clara, Danny and the Doctor.

The 12th Doctor – Series 8, Episode 6 – “The Caretaker” – The Time War’s Mark

The Caretaker Doctor Who

“The Caretaker” ended up being a great episode. It started out a bit choppy but the moments of greatness outweighed the moments that didn’t work. This episode shows us the effect of the Time War and his role further on the Doctor and also gives us some great glimpses into Danny and Clara too. The episode was written by Stephen Moffat and Gareth Roberts and directed by Paul Murphy.

The premise of “The Caretaker” is that a Skovox Blitzer has been attracted to London due to special particles and that if it feels threatened it has enough fire power to destroy the entire Earth, leading the Doctor to go undercover as the Caretaker under his popular alias of John Smith of Coal Hill where Danny and Clara teach. It is here Clara’s double lives are at stake of being revealed and the Doctor’s prejudice against soldiers is fully expressed.

Per usual SPOILERS ahead

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Direction and Cinematography – There are some great shots that help with the time where the episode lags. Such as Clara’s reflection being filmed during her confession of her double life of life with Danny and life with the Doctor. Also a Wes Andersonish shot of the school was appreciated, however brief it was.

Courtney Woods – A rebellious kid who reminds the Doctor of why he fights for humanity. She believes him when he says that he’s an alien and isn’t putoff by the TARDIS. Ellis George does great for what little scenes she is in.

Skovox Blitzer – The soldier who is there to take out threats to it’s existence and follow the rules of it’s superiors. It is a great alien and one I hope we see again. Our introduction to it is it blowing up a police officer. The alien is like Garris from “Mass Effect” meets a giant robotic crab.

Coal Hill School – Coal Hill feels like a real school and Danny and Clara actually feel like teachers. It’s great seeing their interactions with the Doctor as the Caretaker and with one another professionally. I hope we get more drama here at the school as the series progresses. It really grounds the series which has never been done before in the new series as characters ended up switching universes (Rose and her family), retconning it happening (The Year that Never Was in regards to the Master arc) or always new jobs and environment ( In the case of Donna’s Life as well as Amy and Rory’s). The school adds a much needed base for the human element.

Clara Oswald – Clara is human, flawed and fantastic. She is tackling the dilemma of her double life in a way Rory and Amy never were and I think that adds a lot of depth to at times a very slow and tonally inconsistent episode. We see how her love for Danny and the Doctor come out and why she was attempting to protect them from one another when she didn’t have to. This episode is her learning to trust and it is done well as aspects of Danny and the Doctor are revealed that she and we hadn’t known before.

Danny Pink – Danny Pink has had a bad experience with officers because he was a soldier risking his life while the officer was safe. The Doctor acted like his officers and there is precedent that he is an officer both in his Children of Time (Rose, Donna, Martha and for the 11th Doctor Rory and Amy) and how he never fully accepted how he made them in to soldiers. Danny hates that the officers he worked with didn’t realize that, and I don’t think the Doctor does yet too since Danny tells Clara that if he pushes you too hard come to him for help. They have a grudging respect for each other at this point since they’ve both disrespected one another to each other’s faces multiple times in this episode. Though Danny respects Clara’s love for the adventure the Doctor offers too.

The Doctor – The Time War…it’s all about the Time War though it doesn’t state it out right. The Doctor commanded troops, he was one of the higher ranking Time Lords and though he was a soldier sometimes he had the privilege of his position which he still does to this day. He’s the thinker and planner who has his companions as the decoys and warriors. He doesn’t use a gun…he just uses others to shoot for him. I hope this addressed as the series progresses. It was dealt with at the end of Series 4 and “Dalek” and “Into the Dalek” but never fully. So much potential here…I’m glad Danny is a regular as I think he will be the one to shine that light once again on the Doctor as he did in this episode. Also he approves of Clara and Danny’s relationship and has a grudging respect for Danny for helping him stop Skovox.

The Ending – The Police Offer died is in heaven or paradise and this time it’s more foreboding as Missy has someone else speak for her and only glares when we see her. If you didn’t realize she was the villain this episode should make it very very apparent. Still good though as it has a haunting feel now added to paradise. The people are dead and may be trapped.

The Cons: The Tone – This episode didn’t know if it wanted to be a drama or a comedy at times which made it really hard to invest in initially. At times it is zany and the Doctor is up to antics…and other times there are character revealing heart to hearts. The extremes are very apparent and that brings the episode down.

Slow Start – The episode starts really slow which is ironic since it starts with Clara and the Doctor chained to posts about to be eaten. The Skovox takes too long to appear given how much of the main threat it is in the episode and how it the initial double life of Clara takes a rough beginning.

This is an episode I’d recommend. The great moments really shine and the bad moments aren’t enough to make me not recommend it. It is a great Clara, Doctor and Danny episode and one that gives us a lot of potential into future development of the Doctor and how he lived the Time War and is dealing with it in his current incarnation who remembers once more.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10.