For about 27 minutes, I thought I had a new favorite episode of the season. The central image — a forest grows in London overnight — is so appealing to me, and such a wonderfully Doctor Who idea. I enjoyed the interplay between Danny and Clara, and the way Capaldi’s Doctor balanced the flavor of the whole thing. Even the kids were reasonably well-drawn as characters, and acted as well as kids ever are in these things. Despite the fact that the whole episode takes place in broad daylight (so “forest of the night” must refer to the period over which it grew, presumably), there’s interesting attention paid to the fairy-tale scariness of the forest — the animals that hunt in it, the fear of getting lost.
After that point, though, things began to take an oversweet turn (so that throwaway quip about the amount of sugar in a Coke can turned out to be plot-related after all). We meet Maebh’s primordial pixie-dust friends, we learn (spoilers!) that the trees have actually magically appeared in order to save the planet from a solar flare. And, I mean, look: I’m thrilled to pieces that there’s at least some sort of lip service paid to science in this season, that there’s an increased emphasis on looking, learning, thinking, figuring things out, but I’m not sure whether that compensates for the risk of filling kids’ heads with some unlikely scientific “facts.”
Then again, who knows? Maybe I’m the one who’s uneducated and it really is reasonable to say that the glaciers of the Ice Ages sprang up overnight. It is true that hundreds of trees were flattened by the Tunguska impact, even if the idea that they were sacrificing themselves to save the people who weren’t living there seems a little questionable at best. And maybe an “oxygen cushion” is a viable idea I just don’t know about, as opposed to being the very opposite of what you’d probably want in a situation like this.
Maybe this is more than usually intended for the kids. There’s something poetic about the image of kids writing a message to all the adults to save the trees, and if it encourages real-life kids to get involved with environmental causes, it’s probably worth a little gut-churning induced in those of us who are old and cynical. And sure, we could probably all do with trusting more and fearing less, even if it does seem like an excellent policy to allow everyone from kidnappers to politicians to have their assorted ways with us. And if that strangely tacked-on ending with Maebh’s sister being dropped off at her old house by the hydrangeas seemed a little strange and tacked-on…no, come on, that was just bad.
So yeah, lovely setup, shame about the ending. But that’s 21st century Doctor Who all over. How about the trailer for next week, huh?