In the Forest of the Night
The Doctor: Stars implode, planets grow cold, catastrophe is the metabolism of the universe. I can fight monsters, I can’t fight physics.
Doctor Who Season: S34 (Ep10).
Story Number: 251.
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
The title In the Forest of the Night alludes to William Blake’s poem THE TYGER of 1794. After the precredits, (which show the premise of the story, an instant forest across the whole of London), the museum scenes have the first two images of the first few lines of the poem represented – the forest and the tyger, with the section of the tree and the stuffed tiger.
Frank Cottrell-Boyce (writer for, amongst other things, the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony) has written a great episode.
It’s an interesting question whether this 45 minutes of television is “Fantasy” or “Science Fiction” or simply a fable.
You could say it was “Fantasy” as it had roots in Folk Tales and Faerie “magic” but really it was quite a stark story with a tragedy (that happens as part of the real-world) as one of its plotlines.
The Doctor Who story used poetic language to explain how humankind can keep on through the bad times, the wars and the deaths, how new life continues.
“When the stars threw down their spears” – another line from the poem. You can debate whether a Solar flare and associated coronal mass ejection from the Sun would actually be more of an invisible threat to the Earth, that wouldn’t be so visually spectacular and the Forest should really have been strengthening the magnetosphere, however the “burning bright” of this fearful danger to the Earth of this story is a continuation of the poem’s imagery.
That the trees control the oxygen of the planet (and withholding oxygen stops conflagrations) makes a sort of sense when the story is trying to combine some Science Fiction with the poetry – the “airbag” idea is vague enough for it still to make a sort of sense when the Doctor explains how the Forest will save the Earth.
Like J.G. Ballard’s sequence of Catastrophe novels, this is Science Fiction but its concerns go beyond trying to keep to ideas of how the “science” of everything forms the story. It does have solid science-ideas which are important elements of the tale – tree-rings representing years. An instant Forest with no tree-rings. The red ring of the museum is supposed to, perhaps, conjure an idea of some dreadful blood-soaked year, a year that is repeating for this new day.
Clara has a feeling of deep dread not from the immediate situation – she believes the Doctor will save the day – but from how the situation has been made, from the puzzle-pieces of Folk Tales. The Forest is the dark heart of these tales.
The Forest though, has been saving humanity all this time, so the dread must be a distant memory of what they were being saved from. All those times of peril. The glowing lights aren’t merely the spirit of the Forest.
“We are the green shoots that grow between the cracks”
“The grass the grows over the mass graves”
They seem to be an essential part of the universe. Remember what inspired Rusty of Into the Dalek to be good – the realisation that things keep keeping on, the universe keeps turning.
“Life prevails” as Rusty said, echoed by what is said to the Doctor this episode – “We are the life that prevails”.
There is a definite progression to these 10 episodes of Clara & the Twelfth Doctor, their relationship. He seems less distant now, echoing her words that were meant to admonish him at the end of Kill the Moon, when she convinces him to get back to the TARDIS so she can save him.
Her relationship with Danny – there is a greater understanding there too, and he makes a good point that there are wonders here on Earth without having the leave in the TARDIS. There is sorrow on Earth too, but humans keep on keeping on.
As is traditional for this sort of Folk Tale there is a happy ending – as Maebh had heard the forest, the forest heard Maebh.