Doctor Who, S8 Ep10 — In the Forest of the Night

Doctor Who makes a play on “Little Red Riding Hood” in a most unexpected way with “In the Forest of the Night.” This is the second time this season that an episode was based on a famous work of fiction; the first time, in “Robots if Sherwood,” The Doctor and Clara learned that Robin Hood and his Merry Men did, in fact, exist in Medieval Nottingham. With “Forest,” there is no direct mention of Little Red; it’s all allegorical, with unmistakable imagery from the moment little Meave shows up in the opening running through the woods in a bright red jacket.

Danny and the Coal Hill kids

Danny and the Coal Hill kids

The real stars of the episode, though, are the trees. Trees that somehow grew overnight, turning metropolitan London into a thick forest. At first it seems that The TARDIS has landed in an overgrown After Earth-style future London, but it soon become clear that this is the present day. We know it’s the present because Clara, Danny, and a group of “gifted and talented” students from Coal Hill School are having a sleepover field trip at the Natural History Museum, and discover that London had been overtaken by trees when they leave in the morning. Clara immediately calls The Doctor, and learns that he’s with Maeve — one of the children with their group. Danny is annoyed that she called The Doctor before trying to contact the kids’ parents, but she kind of has the upper hand, having inadvertently located their missing student (who they hadn’t even realized was missing).

They soon learn that it’s not just London. The whole world has been turned into a forest. The governments make plans to burn swaths of trees to allow for travel. Problem is, the trees won’t burn. They release oxygen, but they can also control it to the point where they can snuff out flames.

Meanwhile, Maeve seems unwell. She hasn’t taken her medication. Every since her sister disappeared, she’s suffered hallucinations and has had bad anxiety. The Doctor is in no rush to drug her. He thinks they should be listening to Maeve in her untreated state, not trying to “fix her.” All the while, Maeve’s mother is searching for her.

Maeve

Maeve

The trees have caused another problem: their quick growth has destroyed most man-made fixtures, including the fences at the London Zoo. Conveniently, the first animals to show up are wolves, and one chases Maeve through the forest. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of reason for the runaway zoo animals other than tying it into the fairy tale, but it’s fairly clever.

After spending most of the episode convinced that the mysterious trees are there to destroy humanity (and handling it in a surprisingly not heavy-handed way, despite the fact that Clara is planning to stay and die with Danny and the children), The Doctor realizes that the dense tree cover is actually creating a kind of force field against a potentially Earth-destroying solar flare that is heading their way. Just as the trees could resist the governments’ flamethrowers, they could resist the flare.

Clara is excited to go to space to watch the show with The Doctor, but Danny has no intention of going with her, or of leaving the children. Clara goes anyway, but, for about the tenth time this season, it is clear her days with The Doctor are numbered.

Maeve, who somehow made all of this happen with her mind, is reunited with her mother. Then, mysteriously, with her lost sister, before we see Missy observing the whole scene. Are Maeve and her sister party of the Promised Land arc? It seems we’re going to be finding out more about Missy and Clara’s “chosen one” status very soon. I’m a little nervous, to be honest. This has been a terrific season so far, for the most part. I’d hate to see it switch gears to becoming a convoluted mess like the larger Ponds arc.