Forest of the Dead
The Doctor: Time can be rewritten!
River Song: Not those times. Not one line. Don’t you dare.
Episode star rating:***** (out of a possible five)
When John Lucarotti wrote Doctor Who: The Aztecs in the early sixties, could he have imagined his lines would be referenced in the same programme over forty years later? Not just once, but twice in the same year. (First The Fires of Pompeii, then this episode by Moffat.)
One more story that this episode recalls is another one by Moffat, Blink, with its loop of instructions followed by the Doctor. Except, unlike Sally’s folder, he doesn’t take River’s journal but leaves it in the Library? That was one odd note (of two strange notes) in the otherwise wonderful song of this episode.
The other odd note – “Everybody lives” (like in Moffat’s The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances) but the (after)life of River Song and crew are coloured by our previous perception of this limbo dreamworld as a dreadful sort of place. CAL says its a better sort of place now, but it seems a less than perfect resolution compared to Moffat’s earlier two-parter.
Still, this episode was, as a whole, as strangely magnificent as the previous part of the story.
Update evening of June 8th, 2008: Review of 4.8 & 4.9, Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
Two-parter star rating:***** (out of a possible five)
Why is this two-parter so magnificent? One major reason is the new perspective Moffat brings to the idea of: “What if this story featured a romantic interest for the Doctor?” (An idea that has been aired every year for three years now). The fresh approach is that while the Doctor is newly introduced to her, she has a extensive and intense history with his future self. Although it’s never plainly stated – she’s his wife.
This fascinating central idea jostles for attention within the story with a multitude of other ideas, some which are old sci-fi tropes, some newly conjured by Moffat. These ideas fizz and spark off each other, sometimes connecting in unexpected ways. Moffat’s Blink had two main brilliant ideas, the stone angels and the loop of time, but this two-parter is brimming with them. This means it doesn’t quite have the clockwork perfection of Blink, but compensates with a messy exuberance.
Aside from thrilling ideas, another area that Moffat excels in is the use of language. Although you don’t necessarily notice this when you immersed in the story, every line is crafted, such as the scenes featuring Doctor Moon’s repeated “And then you remembered / and then you forgot”. Moffat recognises the effectiveness of the repetition of an intriguing phrase. As well as the repeated phrases, there are some great one-liners. Is this the most quotable Doctor Who story ever?
Moffat has an understanding of just how to write Doctor Who so it is by turns enjoyable and genuinely unnerving and scary, and he knows that he does, as illustrated by the sequence of the girl enthralled by the Doctor’s escape quickly followed by her hiding behind the sofa cushions at the reveal of the transcription errored Miss Evangelista.
The sounds and images are excellent as Murray Gold and The Mill’s FX continue to impress. Gold’s wonderful theme All the Strange, Strange Creatures, (otherwise known as the urgent 2007 trailer music) appears in various forms, at one point being used as the starting point for jazzy Bach-influenced arpeggios on what sounds like an electronic harpsichord. (Seriously. It’s when the Doctor is with the spacesuits of the Daves on the bridge between the towers.)
The cast bring all of Moffat’s characters to vivid life, with some of the most emotional scenes of the season. An illustration that the Vashta Nerada, while part of the story, are not the heart of the story is the scene where the Doctor resolves the situation with his suggestion that as they are in the library: they look him up. I like to think the hive consciousness swept through the pages of the books to look the Doctor up and were awed by a few of Terrance’s Target novelisations.
Just as the early years of Doctor Who were a success due to excellent writers like John Lucarotti, what will become the “early years” of 21st Century Doctor Who has great writers like Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat. As they contemplate River Song’s diary, the Doctor asks Donna if she wants to peek at the end. They agree not too, striding instead out the door and towards the “next chapter”. The next chapter is scribed by Davies, but the next volume in 2010 will be Moffat’s: here’s to the beginning of the next forty years!