It’d be real easy to lump Flatline and In the Forest of the Night (hereafter referred to as Forest for wordcount and RSI purposes) together as simply being the calm before the big two-part finale storm hits. Easy, but I’ve never been known for making things simpler for myself.
If anything, both episodes – though missing a little meat on their bones compared to the previous two – offer a few answers to subtextual questions posed in previous episodes; the two that stand out for me in particular are the “Am I good man?” trailer-line uttered during Into the Dalek and the “Does being the Doctor cancel out the goodness?” thing posed somewhat by Kill the Moon but especially at the end of Mummy on the Orient Express. While not giving us ironclad, end-of-the-matter responses, there is some considerable food for thought.
Predominantly, the latter question forms the basis of Flatline when Clara is called upon to save Earth from aliens that inhabit walls while the Doctor remains trapped in a Siege Mode TARDIS that’s slowly shrinking. Clara’s assumption of the de facto Doctor role is not handled subtly, sure, and the final conversation she has regarding how goodness has nothing to do with assuming that role is intriguing if a bit obvious. But it’s nice to provide a bit of juxtaposition from Clara’s point of view regarding the Doctor, especially in light of her question at the end of Mummy as to whether or not the Doctor’s actions are heartless. Necessity involves leaving the hearts at home; much like Spock, the Doctor seems to get a bit of the “needs of the many outweigh needs of the few” thing.
But heart is something Clara can’t just abandon when it comes to waving the sonic screwdriver around. The fact she doesn’t immediately clock the racist jerkface community support office on the head when he starts causing trouble goes a way towards testifying to that. More importantly, it offers at least a partial answer to the second question I posed above: being the Doctor doesn’t always cancel out the good stuff. Clara tries to save all of them, including the jerkface. That’d take the resolve and patience of someone who is genuinely good.
Would the Doctor have been as accommodating?
Well, with jerkface? Maybe not. With a pack of schoolkids during In the Forest of the Night who might continue where Courtney Woods left off and throw up in the TARDIS control room? I guess he’d have to if he doesn’t want Miss Oswald beating him across the head with a textbook.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really dig Forest anywhere near as much as Flatline. This is almost entirely a kids’ story, filled with the kind of fantasy elements that made Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis so appealing to juveniles. There’s a giant forest taking over Earth, a
magical (and grumpy) old man in a time-traveling police box, and a young girl struggling to find her runaway sister whilst being pursued by wolves from the local zoo. While this is happening Clara attempts to come to terms with her lies to Danny, and get through what relationship drama they have before the world gets incinerated by a solar flare.
Ok, so not entirely a kid’s story.
While it’s nice to see Doctor Who catering to the young ‘uns every now and then, upholding its proud tradition as a family show no matter what internet nerds might protest to the contrary, Forest was a bit of a dud. The humour was decent, acting was good and the forest was an interesting “villain” (though not really a villain per se). Apart from that, things felt a little too superficial; the implications of a forest completely covering Earth are not really shown the same way, say, the global blackout in FlashForward was. Consequences are briefly touched on in snippets of news broadcasts, but that’s really it. The forest does its job, the Earth keeps spinning and apparently nobody died during the whole ordeal.
At least, no-one in Britain. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that at least one poor polar bear or seal saw its demise when those trees magically appeared in the snow. Come to think of it, shouldn’t trees as green and verdant as these die in colder climes? Wouldn’t that leave each of the Poles completely open to that solar flare’s burninating?
Like I said at the start, if nothing else these episodes provide food for thought.
This paired review comes out a little shorter than usual because, apart from the introspective meanderings in Flatline, there’s not a lot to bite down on. They’re not bad by any stretch, even if Forest lacks the enjoyment factor of previous episodes this season, but they’re not as rife with subtextual material as their compatriots. But I guess some things aren’t always meant to be entirely plumbed to their very depths. Sometimes a forest of magical trees is just a forest of magical trees, and sometimes an alien that lives in walls and does nasty things to people and furniture is just a Lacanian mirror stage nightmare waiting to happen.
– Doctor Clara is a spin-off I would watch in a heartbeat, Moffat.
– I find a lot of sympatico between the jerkface support office surviving in much the same way Mr Slade in Voyage of the Damned did. Possibly another highlighting of the “sometimes the bad ones survive” moral the latter story offered at the time?
– That shot of the sofa disintegrating into the walls was awesome, awesome, AWESOME. Whoever nailed that deserves at least seventeen awards.
– Between this and Mummy, Jamie Mathieson’s proving to be one of the best writerly additions to the show in a while.
– Shrunk Doctor in a shrunk TARDIS. Someone make a model of this, please. With a miniature Peter Capaldi that yells insults when pressed. It can be a new alarm clock.
– Anyone else think the Siege Mode TARDIS looks a lot like the Pandorica?
EPISODE SCORE: 8/10
– A good ol’ fashioned kids’ fairytale. Notice I qualified it as a “kids” fairytale.
– The plot felt a little divorced from protagonist agency; nothing the Doctor or Clara can do alter anything to any great degree. Well, I guess they stopped that one girl from being eaten by wolves, but we’re largely at the mercy of the writers on this one.
– I will also bet dollars to donuts that at least one kid puked in the console room. Courtney Woods has started a proud tradition, people.
– I wonder if UNIT might bring this up with the Doctor next time they all meet for coffee.
– Am I also the only one who thought that ending was super-rushed? Too much emotion all in one go, perhaps?
EPISODE SCORE: 6/10
NEXT TIME ON TARDIS 8:
The two-part finale takes us trudging through Dark Water, before everything comes to a head (presumably) in Death in Heaven. Also there are Cybermen, apparently. So that’ll be fun.