This could have been a great episode of Doctor Who. It’s a beautiful idea, the forest, so frequently the setting of fairy stories, is based on real events that have long since been forgotten. The forest setting itself leads to some beautiful shots and even though it’s set on Earth, it’s not like any Earth we’ve seen before. The addition of the kids is also a nice touch, although why they’re dispensed with Courtney, the one kid we’ve already met, is a mystery. There is so much potential to be mined from the basic ideas. It should have been Little Red Riding Hood meets The Doctor, where the wolves are hyper-intelligent canine aliens trying to reverse the damage that humans have done to the forests of the planet building cities. Instead “In the Forest of the Night” is an unintelligible mess that, while pretty, is decidedly lacking in substance.
The big problem is none of the good ideas here are fleshed out. Instead everything is sketched out in a attempt to get to the next interesting shot. Let’s take the character of Maebh. In theory, she should be a great asset to the Tardis—a little girl traumatized by the loss of her sister that has become vulnerable to the voices that exist on another wavelength. As a result she has become slightly clairvoyant and and extra sensitive to the thoughts of those around her, human and otherwise. This has a ton of potential to explore what could be beyond our perception and make Maebh a perfect character for understanding the existence of the forest. However, the episode is so poorly concieved, that not only is this not used, but it also makes everything extremely confusing. What exactly are the firefly things she keeps trying to swat away? (A note to the director: if you’re going to use voice effects, make sure the dialogue is still audible.) Why does she keep running away? The list is endless and doesn’t stop at Maebh.
Nothing in the episode holds up to anything resembling scrutiny. It’s an amalgam of what appears to be what writer Frank Cottrell Boyce thought would look really cool shoehorned into a story outline. Not only does it make no sense, there are no stakes. Yes, the world is covered in trees, but even with The Doctor’s fear mongering, it’s difficult to see why this is something that should be frightening. For an episode entitled “In the Forest of the Night” it’s surprisingly bright, with lots of lovely shots of the sunlit forest. Even the moment that sets Danny up to be the hero and save The Doctor and Clara from a tiger is decidedly uninteresting. It also begs the question, what’s with the tiger?
Apart from being gorgeous to look at, this episode is so bland that even an hour after watching it I can barely remember anything about it. That seems to be a running theme this series. Either the writers have no new ideas and borrow from the past, or they are at a loss of how to make their new ideas function. “In the Forest of the Night” wasn’t a train wreck, but honestly a train wreck would have been more interesting. All I’m left with is a feeling, a few sparks of something great and a whole lot of meh.