Doctor Who Takes a Breather Before the Finale

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This week’s episode is pure filler, but filler can be fun too.

This week’s Doctor Who is really just filler: it’s a chance for the show to stop and take a deep breath before the sprint through the last two episodes of season 8. As such, not a whole lot happens…. but the episode does have some important character beats with The Doctor, Clara, and Danny. Capaldi finally feels like he’s hit his stride with a version of The Doctor who’s alien and strange, but also caring and relatable — pairing him up with a young Coal Hill School student, Maebh, provides an entertaining contrast to his gruffness… and seems to give him an excuse to be a bit softer than he might normally be.

The story isn’t perfect: it continues to push a jealousy between Danny and The Doctor which is more annoying than entertaining and one has to wonder how it’s possible for Danny not to be on to Clara’s sideline of adventuring (especially after last episode)… but minor flaws aside, this week’s installment is a lot of fun.

Interestingly, as the rough edges seem to wear away from The Doctor’s character, Clara is more like the darker side of The Doctor every episode…. coincidence? With Steven Moffat in charge, few things are. But wither it is or it isn’t, we’ll find out just what’s happening with Clara and Missy as the season comes to an end.

You can see new episodes of Doctor Who on Saturday nights on BBC America — though cord-cutters will have to pick up the current season on iTunes or Amazon Instant. If you want to catch up on earlier seasons, they can be found on both Netflix and Hulu.

To get you up to speed for this episode, in the last episode we saw:

  • The Doctor gets trapped in the TARDIS while Clara has to take on his role and save people from the thoroughly creepy monster of the week, The Boneless. (More definite articles — and we get another one this week.)
  • We learned a lot about why The Doctor acts the way he does, as he coached Clara through an episode of being him.
  • Clara’s been telling both Danny and The Doctor fairly ridiculous lies because Danny thinks Clara’s done with time travel and The Doctor thinks Danny’s okay with Clara’s adventures in the TARDIS. That’s probably going to come back to bite her soon. As in now.
  • The Doctor finally gets a proper “Doctor” speech where he tells off an alien threat because the Earth is under his protection.
  • Mystery woman Missy makes a brief appearance at the end of the episode to suggest that Clara isn’t all that she seems, which probably won’t lead anywhere good.

Now, on to the latest episode: “In The Forest Of The Night.” Spoilers follow!

This episode kicks off with Maebh, a child in a red coat (Little Red Riding Hood, anyone?) running through a forest until she finds the TARDIS. What follows is perhaps the best scene in an excellent episode as she reads the TARDIS sign and proceeds to knock on the door and ask for help. The Doctor, as has become his way, is more than happy to leave her to her own devices until she asks “Are you The Doctor?” It’s enough to get his attention and he kneels down to talk to her face-to-face, asking if she has an appointment.

Her innocence contrasts perfectly with his cynicism, but he’s not as harsh with Maebh as we’ve seen him be with others — he’s a heck of a lot kinder to her than he was to Courtney in “Kill the Moon,” never dismissing her entirely even if he’s not quite paying attention to her.

Maebh is lost, which is no doubt in part because the forest they’re in is actually the middle of London… which probably would have been more of a surprise reveal if it weren’t in all of the trailers. Oh well. When the camera pans up to show a London skyline with trees everywhere, it’s still pretty impressive.

But Maebh actually hasn’t wandered far: she was part of a school trip Danny and Clara had escorted to he museum, and The Doctor calls Clara to have her removed. (“I’m a Time Lord, not a child minder!”) When the Doctor, musing to himself, wonders how all of this happened, Maebh chimes in that the trees must be able to communicate in order to grow all at once like this. “So, what, you think that’s how spring begins, with a group message on tree Facebook?”

Seeing Danny in action herding a group of reticent schoolkids is great — especially since we’ve seen relatively little of Danny so far. It’s clear from the start that the kids are important to him as he focuses on getting them to safety and, for the most part, ignores the madness of the forest-covered world around him. (Clara, meanwhile, marvels at the forest and has almost entirely forgotten she has kids to look after… remind you of anyone?)

Everyone meets up at the TARDIS, which gives The Doctor a chance to play grumpy — okay, grumpier — old man with a whole classroom’s worth of kids trying to touch his TARDIS. But soon they realize that Maebh has gone missing again — and The Doctor is very interested in finding her, since he’s convinced she’s communicating somehow with the trees. After all, she found him and knew his name… and seemed to know other things about the forest, though he didn’t pay her much mind at the time.

The Doctor and Clara rush after her, leaving Danny and the kids in the TARDIS, which is the “safest place on the planet.” So, of course, Danny leaves shortly afterwards, with all of the children in tow. It’s one of those “let’s create a dramatic moment by making the characters do something impossibly stupid” scenes, but the trope doesn’t quite play out: instead, when Danny finds The Doctor, Clara, and Maebh being menaced by a tiger, he runs it off…. with a flashlight. (This is not something I’ll be trying at home. Where I hope there are no tigers.)

Maebh hears voices — which she’s usually on medication for, but with the whole “forest appearing overnight” situation, she hasn’t taken he pills and is acting a bit erratic, swatting at the air. It turns out that she’s communicating with something called The Here — yes, that’s another definite article character, a conceit that’s getting a lot of play this season. This group of trees claims to have been here since the beginning, as “the life that prevails.” The Doctor was hoping that they caused the solar flare that’s rushing to Earth and could stop it… but they didn’t and offer no answers.

The Doctor is out of solutions. He’s not sure how to stop this, and that’s where things get interesting with Clara. In a very Doctorish move, she says they have to save what they can and escorts everyone back to the TARDIS… but when they arrive, she insists The Doctor leave on his own. The kids would never stop missing their parents, Danny would never agree to leave without them, and Clara won’t go alone to become the last of her kind. This is a bait and switch we’ve seen The Doctor pull on his companions plenty of times, and it’s interesting to see the tables finally turned.

However, it’s more interesting to see Clara not only tricking The Doctor into leaving but also being willing to allow their entire group to die without consulting Danny or anyone else as to their fate. Would being dead really be worse than being alive and missing your parents? It seems like a very harsh move for Clara to make, but it fits in with how we’ve seen her learning from The Doctor this season.

But because we have two more episodes left, we know this can’t be the end, and it’s not: the trees, it turns out, have arrived to protect the earth from the solar flare, providing a cushion of oxygen around the planet that will prevent it from burning to a crisp. (Don’t think about this too hard and you’ll be alright.)

The other thing worth noting this episode is the dynamic between Clara and Danny. Clara’s been telling him increasingly outrageous lies to cover that she’s been traveling with The Doctor and after last episode’s phone call during a near-death-experience, it’s frankly shocking that Danny hasn’t realized what’s going on. This episode, of course, makes it pretty obvious… and Clara’s oddly more concerned about the fact that Danny might be on to her than the fact that a solar flare is going to kill them all.

Considering Danny had picked up on something wrong with Clara before she told him about The Doctor, it seems as though he’d catch her having the same odd behavior — and really dreadful, dreadful lies. Instead, we get to see his sad face when he realizes she’s been lying to him… and he entreats her to be honest with him moving forward.

Because, right, that worked last time it around.

Regardless, the end of season 8 is fast approaching… and the trailer suggests we’re in for a doozy. Stay tuned!

Bottom Line: Though this episode does little to advance the plot, it’s an entertaining side story with some truly great character moments.

Recommendation: So long as you go in not expecting big plot development, you’ll probably enjoy this one.



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