The whole world, even the oceans, are covered with trees the night before a solar flare threatens to destroy all life on Earth.
This story was broadcast the same day NASA were reporting actual solar flare activity, in their best piece of Doctor Who tie-in space news since Apollo 13 coincided with The Ambassadors of Death.
The idea for the sudden forestation and the striking visuals that accompany it are excellent [Doctor Who](series:200668)-fodder. The story also has some great dialogue, particularly for Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. I found the rest of the episode less effective. The Doctor’s presence made little impact on events, other than as a commentator; with the reveal and resolution being particularly unsatisfying.
The idea of the Earth, God, Gaia, or Mother Nature creating trees to protect the planet from solar flares is nice, but more explicitly ‘magical’ than perhaps Doctor Who has ever been before. The trees here are perhaps cousins to the trees from The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, who also feature twinkly light transportation and a predilection for communicating with females.
Writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce takes the name In the Forest of the Night from the William Blake poem The Tyger. The poem speculates on who could have created the eponymous tiger. The point being that he firmly comes down on the side that it had an all-powerful creator. It shares themes with the poem it takes its names from, that we can only wonder in awe at what divine purpose these creations have. It’s quite jarring with the humanist approach that comprises most Doctor Who stories.
The messages here, if one is to look for such things in the series, is troubling too. The planet does not magically protect itself. One of the arguments climate-change deniers make are that is part of the Earth’s natural cycle, but the evidence points to it being a man-made disaster. The Doctor’s scientific knowledge and technology is shown to be inadequate in this situation.
This elevation of nature above the technological is extended to Maebh, the only person on the planet who can communicate with the tree-spirits. The message is that giving her drugs is wrong, and against nature. It feels dangerous to suggest this kind of ill- informed scepticism of conventional ‘Western’ medicine to children. It’s a step away from promoting alternative nonsense like homeopathy.
Other than the scene with the wolves and the tiger (which are still on the loose!), it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of threat in this episode. The lack of a race-against-time to do something element once the solar flare threat was revealed made me wonder at one point if the Earth was going to be destroyed as a cliff-hanger for the finale two-parter. The children broadcasting to the world didn’t mean much, how much of the worldwide forest could possibly have been destroyed before the flare?
The Doctor predicting that humanity would forget about the magic forest echoes the Seventh Doctor’s comments in Remembrance of the Daleks.
“Do you remember the Zygon gambit with the Loch Ness Monster? Or the yetis in the underground?… Your species has the most amazing capacity for self-deception.”
He’s right though, humanity will forget, and then needlessly build an ark in space in the future to escape solar flare activity. By the time we see the Earth’s eventual destruction in The End of the World, presumably the trees could not stop it because they have rather selfishly evolved and gone off into space. It seems clear now that the real villain of that story was this callous bitch, standing around flirting with the Doctor when she could have saved our planet:
Originally posted on my Doctor Who blog: Trap One