A little girl in a school uniform and red coat is running through the forest. She runs and runs, waving her arms around her head sometimes. She comes upon the TARDIS and knocks on the door. It appears that the chameleon circuit of the TARDIS does not work on this little girl.
It turns out that the little girl, Maebh, is looking specifically for the Doctor. In his very best grumpy old man act, he tries to send her away, but when the Doctor learns that there is danger involved, he can’t help but invite her in.
Maebh: “I’m lost, please can you help me?”
Doctor: “It’s this way,” pointing off in the distance and shutting the TARDIS door. Reopening the door and looking up: “Those trees…”
Maebh: I need the Doctor. Are you the Doctor?”
Doctor: “Yes, do you have an appointment? You need appointment to see the Doctor.”
Maebh: “Please, something’s chasing me.”
The TARDIS seems to be treated practically like a public place this season with its many visitors, but, then again, Maebh was being chased by something. Maebh has a fantastic reaction to seeing the TARDIS; it seemingly takes her breath away, which we love. Who can blame her? It does look like a carousel, after all. When Maebh says she is not surprised about it being bigger on the inside, but that she just expected it, the Doctor notes, “Well of course it’s supposed to be bigger. Most people are confused by that.”
It turns out that Maebh is a student at Clara’s school. She came because she thought that Clara had told her to come and find the Doctor, but it turns out this was only in Maebh’s head. Maebh gets to hear the Doctor’s description of Clara: “Dark hair, highly unpredictable, surprisingly round face?” while the Doctor is exposed to Maebh’s assessment of Clara and Danny: “Everyone says she’s in love with Mr. Pink.” The Doctor is under the impression that the TARDIS is not working. He makes another attempt to tell the TARDIS to land in the middle of London. Maebh has the good sense to point out that they are, in fact, in the middle of London, while also being in a forest that hadn’t been there previously. Maebh says she thinks it’s lovely, and we agree. The open for “In the Forest of the Night” is visually stunning. We went back and watched it several times to really appreciate the beauty of the sun-dappled leaves. Clara, Danny, and Clara’s class of schoolchildren have stayed the night at the natural museum on a field trip. It’s like camping for city folk. We love seeing Danny be commanding, even if it’s just with the kids. One of the students, Ruby, points out a red ring on a tree slice that is thicker than the rest. Clara’s skill with dendrochronology comes in handy—she notes, “It must have been a good year to be a tree.”
They all make their way to the exit. Once they finally get the doors open, they find that there are trees everywhere. The best part of this scene is one of the kids immediately taking pictures with his phone once he sees the overgrown trees—because that is exactly what kids would do. In such a crisis Instagram and Snapchat would be just overwhelmed with photos of forests and people waving in front of forests.
Apparently the overnight tree growth has occurred all over the planet, as we see news clips from around the world. (Doctor Who often uses this news clip device—which we think is kind of silly—when they want us to understand an alien problem has manifested outside of the United Kingdom.)
Clara calls the Doctor to tell him about him about the trees, only to find out that he already knows and that one of her students is in the TARDIS with him. Clara then tries to lie to Danny about having called the Doctor, but fails. This Danny and Clara storyline is turning into a bit of an annoying drama in which Clara makes up silly lies and they get into pointless fights—let’s hope that ends soon. At least the kids lighten the mood. Clara, Danny, and the kids make their way through the forest to pick up Maebh in the TARDIS. Clara is worried about solving the mystery of the trees, while Danny is focused on getting the kids home. The kids are mostly absorbed with taking pictures of the forest and each other. In another part of the forest (aka London), the Doctor can’t read the trees with his sonic screwdriver, saying that they don’t communicate. When Maebh notes that they do communicate, otherwise they wouldn’t all grow at the same time, he mocks her, saying, “So, what? Do you think that’s how spring begins? With a group message on tree Facebook? Do you think they send texts to each other?” We love grumpy Doctor Who, despite the shift in his character, and we think Maebh is pretty cool, despite her complicated Irish name. Meanwhile, somewhere else in London, Maebh’s mother suddenly realizes she was supposed to pick her up in the morning. When she opens her door, she sees that a forest has grown up outside. A universal criticism of this episode is likely to be the question of why all the parents didn’t barge into the museum when this worldwide crisis occurred, or at least call their kids on those cellphones they are taking pictures with.
As the kids walk to the TARDIS, Ruby, a little arborist, points out that most trees either have flowers or nuts, but that this particular tree has both. Later she notes that the trees don’t have rings. The Doctor suddenly springs up from behind a tree, and points out that the tree has a lack of rings because it grew overnight. As the Doctor talks about the trees, we see Maebh hiding in the woods, watching everyone.
The Doctor, Danny, Clara, and the kids go into the TARDIS. The kids begin touching everything in the TARDIS – moving levers, repositioning dials, and pushing buttons. The Doctor yells at them not to touch anything. When interacting with the kids in this episode, the Doctor alternates between being wise and grown up and being grouchy and childish. Though the last couple Doctors were friendly and kind with kids, Twelve’s irritation at small people is kind of refreshing. The Doctor finds Maebh’s drawings, indicating she knows something about the forest. Everybody then realizes that Maebh is gone. Apparently Maebh has been hearing voices, for which she takes medication, but the Doctor realizes that it means she can lead them to the source of the forest. After an awkward scene between Danny and Clara, the Doctor and Clara leave to find Maebh while Danny stays back to mind the other kids. The kids convince Danny to leave the TARDIS to find Clara—Ruby chastises him, “You let her go off with some random man in the forest. You’re supposed to be madly in love with her.” Apparently Clara and Danny’s relationship is the talk of the school. Either Clara and Danny have been smooching in the supply closet, or kids simply know everything—we think the latter. The path through the forest is disappearing behind Clara and the Doctor. They find Maebh’s cellphone and wonder if Maebh left it as a breadcrumb to help them follow her. Clara becomes very fearful and the doctor tells her that it’s only natural that the forest should terrify her.
Clara: “Any minute now, we are going to find a gingerbread cottage with a cannibal witch inside.”
Doctor: “Exactly. The forest is in all the stories that kept you awake at night. The forest is mankind’s nightmare.”
Men in protective suits are in the forest, up to no good. They remind us a lot of the men in radiation suits from Repo Man. It turns out they are trying to burn down the trees, but the trees are withholding oxygen to suppress the fire. The Doctor shows Clara that Maebh has drawn a picture of a solar flare that is heading towards Earth. Clara assumes she left Maebh’s drawing on the TARDIS previously, and is concerned that Danny saw it. The Doctor responds, “I’ve just informed you that a solar flare is going to wipe out your planet. You’re worried about a row with your boyfriend.” Once Clara realizes the seriousness of the problem, she asks if the Doctor will fix it. He says he doesn’t know if he can. Suddenly we hear wolves howling. Clara says it’s impossible, but the Doctor points out they could have escaped from the zoo. Next thing we know, the wolves are all around Maebh, in her Little Red Riding Hood moment.The Doctor and Clara find her and rescue her from the wolves. Then the wolves run away because a tiger comes along. The tiger is scary and we get a bit worried. Then our hero Danny appears and uses his flashlight to confuse and scare away the tiger. All the kids cheer. He must have learned that during his special tiger training when he was a soldier. The Doctor, Clara, Danny, and the kids travel deeper into the forest, following Maebh.They come upon an area that seems to be the heart of the forest. It is breathtakingly beautiful. The Doctor tells Maebh that she is the only one who can communicate with the forest. When he asks Maebh who created the forest and what it wants, she guiltily answers it was her. Maebh believes that she created the forest with her thoughts, but the Doctor reassures her she did not. Maebh says that she finds thoughts and the big forest was one of them. Maebh start grabbing at the air around her head, saying that “the thoughts, they go so fast.” Clara realizes that Maebh can see something that the rest of them can’t observe. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to make what Maebh describes as “thoughts” visible. They are mysterious ancient creatures, that happen to look a lot like fireflies. But who doesn’t love fireflies? They communicate through Maebh, saying that they are ancient beings who come when they are needed. They don’t provide very much clarity about why they came and what they intend to do. They say, “We are the life that prevails.” The Doctor asks why the creatures called for him, and they say they didn’t. They are so old they don’t even know who the Doctor is. What? They is really old! It turns out that Maebh was hearing Clara’s thoughts, and that is what made her seek out the Doctor. The Doctor is hurting the creatures by keeping them visible with his sonic screwdriver, and they tell him to let them go. He tries to find out what must be done and why they are there, but the creatures leave. The Doctor tells Clara that he can’t stop the flare.
Clara: “But we saw the future. Lots of futures. Earth’s future.”
Doctor: “They’re about to be erased.”
Clara points out to the Doctor that the TARDIS can be a lifeboat, saying, “If you can’t save them all, save who you can.” Danny and the kids are not aware of the impending solar flare. It seems a bit patronizing to not clue Danny in, at least, but hey, that’s the Doctor. The Doctor, Clara, Danny, and the kids head back to the TARDIS. Danny keeps spirits high by having the kids sing marching songs.
Though Clara described the TARDIS as a lifeboat, it turns out she doesn’t want the kids to get on it. For some reason she prefers leaving them to die alongside their parents on Earth to taking them away in the TARDIS. Doesn’t make sense to us either. The Doctor offers to take Clara and Danny. Clara says, “Danny Pink will never leave those kids so long as he is breathing,” which we think is pretty sweet. When he offers to save Clara, she says that she doesn’t want to be the last of her kind. There is no pleasing this woman. She tells the Doctor to leave on his own—that this time humankind will save him. He leaves, which is unexpected. Clara and Danny start to walk the kids home, to their impending deaths. Somehow, this doesn’t seem quite right.
While in the TARDIS, the Doctor has an epiphany: “Flameproof forest. A thousand atom bombs and no one hurt. I am Doctor Idiot.” He goes back to Earth and grabs Danny, Clara and the kids for a science lesson in the TARDIS. He explains that the massive overgrown forest has grown up to protect the planet from the impending solar flare, as the forest has in the past: “Trees. Whenever there’s a planet-threatening extraterrestrial impact—trees.” Once the kids realize the forest is there to protect the planet they tell the Doctor that the government is planning on attempting defoliation. They decide to call everyone on Earth to tell them to leave the trees alone. “Class project—save the Earth.” Maebh gets to make the announcement. Very Sherlock-esque music is used during this scene.
Danny and Clara take the kids outside the TARDIS, and there is much noise and rejoicing—so much so that Maebh’s mom hears them and finds her daughter! Maebh and her mother go home.
The Doctor invites everyone to come into space to watch the solar flare, but after seeing the reunion between Maebh and her mom, the kids want to go home. Danny also doesn’t want to go to space to see the explosion, which Clara has a hard time understanding.
Danny: “I was a soldier; I put myself at risk. I didn’t try too hard to survive, but somehow, here I am. And now I can see what I nearly lost, and it’s enough. I don’t want to see more things. I want to see the things that are in front of me more clearly. There are wonders here, Clara Oswald. Bradley saying ‘please,’ that’s a wonder. One person is more amazing—harder to understand, but more amazing—than the universe.”
They kiss and all the kids cheer, which seems wrong.
As they walk the kids home, Danny gently confronts Clara regarding her lying about continuing to travel with the Doctor. Danny tells her he just wants to know the truth. Yeah, Clara. Stop lying all the time, already.
Clara accompanies the Doctor to watch the solar flare from the TARDIS. We love it when the open the TARDIS doors when they are in space, but we’re still always a bit afraid the occupants will fall out.
As they watch, the layer of oxygen created by the trees buffers the heat and flame from the solar flare. We’re no scientists, but this seems implausible, even for a science fiction show. But it sure is pretty to watch.
We then find out that Missy is watching the solar flare too, on her flat-screen monitor. Last week an iPad, now a run-of-the-mill monitor—where and when exactly is she? She murmurs, “Now that was surprising. I love surprises.” Though she looks like she really hates surprises. Back in London, the Doctor explains to Clara that mankind will forget this whole forest experience—that it will generate fairy tales instead. He says that forgetting is the human superpower. Things we loved about “In the Forest of the Night”: Grumpy Doctor, beautiful cinematography, assertive and loving Danny, William Blake reference, and kids taking lots of selfies.
Things we didn’t love so much: Missy, the episode not ending as soon as the solar flare occurred, Clara and Danny bickering, and not enough fairy tale references (at least ones we are clever enough to understand). Overall, the good outweighed the bad, as we are left remembering how beautiful this episode was and how the kids cracked us up. Though it feels like the season has just hit its stride, next week the Season Finale begins and the mystery of Missy will be revealed—let’s hope it’s worth it.