From the previews I thought this would go down a spooky girl fairy tale path, influenced by William Blake (Tyger Tyger!). Easy to assume with the kid in the red coat running around through the woods, and with the wolves, and the deliberate spoken references to Hansel and Gretel. This current series does like making it ultra clear with the telling (Clara-fying) doesn’t it, when it could’ve been left up to the acting and stage craft. Then I thought it was some kid of inner world childhood version of Clara. However, In the Forest of the Night was not the fairy tale, but a happier version of the Nicholas Cage film Knowing, which is high concept solid SF story as well as really, really depressing. The fairy tale overlay is explained as folk memory. We do remember the fear, and invent the story when the facts disappear.
If I may digress to Knowing. It was directed by Alex Proyas* and you could put his films Knowing together with Dark City to explain his vision of the end of the world and how anyone might survive it. Apparently tall, slim off-putting pale psychic alien men are mostly involved. Who are slightly different to the Promethean tall white alien beings. Sigh.
Any who, Doctor Who is sometimes a vehicle of a kind of Proyas-lite. Not quite at the level of the Gothic murder mayhem of The Crow, but still, as a ‘family show’ it ventures into dark places at times. Comedy though, and flirting, lighten the mood. Importantly, most endings if not triumphant, at least see some survive. Hopefully not just because it’s a serial.
Speaking of Proyas, IMDb has this to say of his themes: ‘often involve people who can’t be entirely certain of their own natures or the world around them’. Well, yes. That’s The Doctor isn’t it? A man not entirely certain of his own evolving nature, popping up on worlds he isn’t always sure of? But it goes to human nature too. Time and again it’s human nature that’s in flux, making a lie of the world. We see this with the multiple Claras across time and space. And I’ve a hunch this is what the finale is about. Who and perhaps what Clara is or being used for.
More than anything though as nice it was to see Clara and Danny’s relationship define itself, and Danny do stuff. I now suspect this is to heighten the impact of the finale though. The Doctor and Clara’s conversation towards the end was a highlight too. However, the episode was not without its flaws. Like where are the Londoners? And would an entire world do the bidding of one girl? Why not have The Doctor (and girl) contact Unit, for instance?
For all the running around, world in peril stuff, this episode felt a bit like a pleasant interlude while we’re waiting for the big main event. This is the trouble with writing an interesting high concept story and have it play out, only to be completely be overtaken by the last-minute preview of the next episode, which seems to turn everything about Clara upside down. If I had been the writer I would’ve been a bit peeved. Maybe it’s a matter of having a different kind of preview for this kind of reveal, or not having the preview tacked onto the end of the episode.
*As an Australian, it’s great spotting the well-known and not so well-known Australian actors Proyas uses in his films including Play School’s legendary Benita Collings).