Doctor Who: “In the Forest of the Night”

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Some of this season’s most memorable threats share a curious feature: they are not actually threats at all. In “Listen,” the Doctor imagined an enemy so good at hiding that no one had ever seen it—but the enemy turned out to be a figment of his over-active imagination. Then in “Kill the Moon,” the Doctor and Clara split hairs over how to manage a giant creature that was about to hatch from the moon’s crust. Would it kill everyone on earth? What would happen to the planet with no moon to guide its tides? No matter—the creature flew away harmlessly, hatching a new moon/egg in its place. And now, we meet another threatless threat: trees.

After taking a group of “gifted and talented” kids on an overnight field trip at a museum—fun!—Clara and Danny reemerge into central London to find something has changed. Since the previous evening, the city has become overgrown with a lush and quickly expanding forest. And London isn’t the only site of this sudden forestation—the whole world has turned leafy and green. The Doctor can’t immediately figure out the issue, though the trees seem aggressive. And they also seem somehow connected to Maebh, one of Clara’s students whose sister disappeared a year before. She’s got a notebook filled with cute drawings that seem to depict a not-so-cute future for the world. A giant solar flare, similar to the one that destroyed the Bank of Karabraxos, is headed for earth.

The Doctor thinks the world is doomed—and even goes so far as to bid a final farewell to Clara—but then it hits him. The trees aren’t bad. They’re there to act as an organic shield, protecting the earth from the flare. Once this is realized, the kids head home to their parents and Clara heads up into space, to watch the flare from the TARDIS like it were a movie.

This Doctor is a prickly type, and a lot of humour was gained from watching him interact with Clara and Danny’s class. The kids were entertained by the museum, but the TARDIS is something else: obviously they can’t help poking and touching everything. The Doctor can barely handle a hug, so having ten rowdy kids prodding at his time machine is not his favourite way to spend an afternoon. We frequently see the Doctor find great sympathy and connection with slimy, nasty-looking aliens. But ask him to interact with a normal human 10-year-old, and he basically rolls his eyes.

Danny, on the other hand, is excellent with kids. He and Clara have very different initial reactions to the London-wide forest: she is excited, and wants to find the Doctor so she can figure out what caused the overnight overgrowth, while he just wants to keep the kids safe. Although the Doctor and his companion are constantly helping creatures throughout the universe, there’s also an inherent selfishness to travelling in the TARDIS. Most companions do it because they want something more from their daily grind—to the chagrin of their loved ones, who are often (understandably) very worried about them. They may be saving lives through the galaxies, but the Doctor and his companions do it out of hedonism as much as altruism. And this may break Clara and Danny. Having been in a war, he wants simple, meaningful connections with another person. While she wants big, splashy shows—for the sake of enjoying herself.

Which brings us to shocking teaser for next episode, in which Clara seems to have turned evil—if she ever was herself to begin with. “I’m not Clara Oswald,” she says, “Clara Oswald has never existed.” What the eff does that mean?! Has she been connected to the mysterious Missy all along? The season eight finale starts next week, and it seems we might find out why the Impossible Girl deserves that nickname.