TV EYE: Doctor Who, S4 E09: Forest of the Dead

Now. That was more like it…

Almost all the problems I had with the first episode were swept away here, and even if this still doesn’t quite get near the perfect structure and style of Blink, this is brilliantly ballsy storytelling for a Saturday night prime time show, and exactly the kind of thing I always wanted from New Who. Moffat has a great habit of playing with structure (and worlds within worlds), and the early sequences with Donna arriving in her new world were brilliantly off-putting and surreal. Tying everything into an emotional framework, as well as providing plenty of scares and lots of grand worldbuilding, there were still aspects that echoed back to previous Moffat sagas, but this is definitely in the top tier of New Who stories, dabbling in metaphor and poetry in a brilliantly absorbing way. Plus, you had genuinely spectacular CG cityscapes mixed in with the surrealism of the Donna sequences, and a major emotional kick to the River Song plotline which was one of those ridiculously simple yet great ideas that make you wonder how on earth nobody had done it before. To be honest, I’d worked out that the ‘Girl’ sequences were in virtual last week, but the story still managed to make the journey inventive and creepy, and while there are occasional moments where the storytelling isn’t watertight, it’s so well put together that you can forgive the flaws. Hell, even Murray Gold seemed to wake up, ease off the comedy stings and deliver a score that didn’t make me want to run him through with a harpoon.

Above everything else, it’s yet another story that shows clearly that all the talk about it being a choice between either an emotional story or a science-fictional one is complete bunkum – this was a pretty damn fine example of both, and a tale that’ll hopefully leave eight year olds across the land with quietly fizzing brains. I even found myself forgiving another ‘Everybody Lives’ ending, and the fake-out with the track into River’s diary was enough to mean I was shocked when the episode didn’t actually finish there. It’s a pity last weeks didn’t quite reach this standard, but as a two-parter, it beats the hell out of the Sontaran nonsense (and the two episodes of tangled dross that followed) and shows that Who is at its best when packed full of ideas, and aiming high. Of course, we’ve got what looks like a potentially budget-saving “trapped on a shuttlecraft” story from Russell T. Davies next week, so forgive me for suspecting that the quality spike isn’t going to last….

6 thoughts on “TV EYE: Doctor Who, S4 E09: Forest of the Dead

  1. This isn’t a Dr Who comment, but a question to ask you what you think of UK publisher’s plans to put age bands on children’s books? I know a lot of authors have vociferously come out against this and the site notoagebanding.org is garnering signatures at a rapid pace. As an author yourself what is your take on the situation?

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    • Blimey. Not a subject I was expecting to come up. And ‘as an author’… well, until my book actually gets picked up by a publisher, I feel more like a journalist with delusions of grandeur than an official author, but anyway… my reaction to the news wasn’t absolute horror. When I read the reasons why the publishers want to do it, some of them do make sense (if only from a sales point of view). Unfortunately, just because there may be reasons to do it doesn’t mean you should, and I think it’s a worrying direction to go in that could easily ghetto-ise various childrens books (I mean, they’re already fairly clearly divided up anyway), turning kids off from stuff that’s too old or too young for them. Books are books, and I certainly agree with the line that “everything about a book should welcome readers in, not keep them out.”
      Hope that made sense…

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  2. “Slightly Underwhelming” seems to be this year’s theme. I knew this 2-parter wouldn’t quite live up to the hype. Confusing at times and with pedestrian direction and repeating “Hey, who turned out the lights”/”Donna Noble has been saved” was not scary, it was pretty bloody irritating – just like “Are you my mummy?” ended up in “The Doctor Dances”.
    Alex Kingston turned in a decent performance though and I did like the dystopian atmosphere of the cg library sequences.
    As for rubber skelingtons? Please! They would have been far creepier if the visors stayed tinted out…

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    • Even with the problems and the fact that it’s not as strong as S3’s high points (especially Blink), this was still one of the strongest episodes this season, and I just wish the show could manage to be this weird and inventive every week. You may have been confused, but at least it was willing to risk confusing the audience, rather than simply following the usual formula. Agree that the direction wasn’t quite up to it (although much better in the second episode than the first), and the skellingtons weren’t as scary as they could have been. Hell, it’s Who, and you need a stalking monster of some kind just to keep the story on the move, but I thought it actually got a hell of a lot better once the focus shifted off the Shadow creatures. God, even Tate was pretty good this week, after spending most of last week wanting to hit her. The line-repeating, as I said last week, really doesn’t work, and needs to be given a rest for a while. It was a bit of a Moffat’s greatest hits in certain respect, but saved (for me) by the second episode.
      The hype was always going to be OTT for this one – but I think if Moffatt can be serving up this kind of stuff on a regular basis, I won’t be complaining.
      I would, however, agree that S4 hasn’t managed anything near the consistency (despite many wobbles in quality) that S3 managed – at least up until John Simm turned up and it all went wrong…

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      • Agreed – this was a series highlight (and judging by all the spoilers I’ve been wading through so far for the rest of it, will remain the high point).
        I think I really need to watch them both again and watch for the subtleties. But if “The Moff” can deliver this sort of thing consistently when he helms, I’ll be uber-happy.

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  3. Bloody brilliant!
    Hurrah, Moffat saves the series. I thought this episode ranked among the very best of New Who, and it had some of the most inventive ideas ever in Who. It’s certainly one of the episodes that makes me angry that so much of New Who has been so bland, mediocre and aimed at kids (and underestimating their intelligence) – because Moffat has yet again proven that Doctor Who is capable of being up there with the finest television anyone is producing.
    Yep, four episodes of RTD to go now, ho hum…

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