In The Forest of the Night.

TV Right, before we get into this, and be warned, I’m really, really not in the mood, I want you to watch the following...

As the various onscreen credits and business explain, that’s a promotional film for the World Wildlife Fund, directed by Stephen Poliakoff starring Bill Nighy and Gemma Arterton and if I can be so bold, and yes, I bloody am going to be so bold, it’s a better episode of Doctor Who, even though it’s nothing of the sort than In The Forest of the Night in which Frank Cottrell Boyce seems to have had similar aims but fails quite spectacularly simply because he is actually writing an episode of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who’s a flexible enough format that now and then it’ll take risks with its tone or premise to do something which is entirely outside of what it might be expected to do. The Short Trips and Side Steps anthology’s an example of this. Robert Shearman’s Scherzo. Kate Orman's Year of Intelligent Tigers. Anything by Paul Magrs. Vincent and the Doctor. The Natural History of Fear. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t and unfortunately for In The Forest of the Night it’s the latter but for dozens of tiny reasons rather than one big flaw. Death by a thousand cuts, or as is the case here, splinters.  I have a feeling I'm going to be here all night.  Good job the clocks are rolling back and I'm getting an extra hour, I'll need it, not that I expect any of the following to be in any way useful for interesting, the textual equivalent of waving a white handkerchief in the air on a stick (which is promptly disintegrated by CGI stealth glitter).

As we saw last month with Listen, Doctor Who's format can also encompass ruminations and mood pieces and In The Forest of the Night wants desperately to be one of those.  But sadly it's the kind of episode in which the title itself is counter productive.  It might be called In The Forest of the Night but the whole episode is catastrophically set during the day (even if it's suppose to be because it grew during the night, half of the world was in daylight anyway) (unless the writer is expanding the meaning of the lines in Blake's poem to suggest that the sun is the "Tyger, Tyger burning bright" and "the forest of the night" is space, but that doesn't work either) .  Such stories need to have a point of view and in ITFOTN (whose acronym fittingly sounds like a brand of Ikea chair) seems like it wants to tell the whole story from the point of view of the children, ala ST:TNG's Lower Decks and perhaps it might have worked if it'd stuck with that.  But throughout the format relentlessly reasserts itself, as to a large extent do this seasons's tedious character arcs, confusing the point.  It's not explained, for example, why there's a bus advertising the fictional construct Doctor Who in full view at one point.  Next week perhaps?

Arguably the premise isn’t actually awful.  Covering the planet in forests is an interesting global threat and there’s always something evocative about cities overrun with plant life, with the film version of A Sound of Thunder a notable example. In the extended Whoniverse, Jim Mortimore’s Blood Heat offered up an Silurian ruling alternative universe in which London has been returned to the Jurassic period.  Cottrell Boyce brings poetic license to his version as the forests are simply there, flouting logic in a way which tends to happen in poetry and art and has happened before in Doctor Who. If we’re ignoring logic for a week, which includes the missing population of London, the whole notion of these trees then being able to somehow cushion the planet from a sunspot isn’t entirely objectionable even if we then might worry why the giant space chicken at the centre of the moon hasn’t also been cooked.

The problem is that Cottrell Boyce then attempts to apply his expected audience reaction to such things to his characters which has the effect of making them all act like morons for the entire duration of the episode. While the world’s governments are attempting various schemes in order to try and destroy this woody invasion, and to be fair it is an interesting approach to have the Doctor working well away from the authorities rather than running headlong towards them ala Aliens in London in order to work alongside them, with the exception of him, our characters seem to embrace the idea, are quite happy with this new state of affairs, Cottrell Boyce deciding that for his big idea to work he has to effectively infect his characters with the spores from Star Trek’s This Side of Paradise, such that the whole things a big, crazy adventure, even as Nelson’s Column falls to the ground and shatters into pieces.  Perhaps he's been watching Fight Club.

It’s in the opening moments in particular and Clara’s reaction that my sense of disbelief absented itself from our flat, went down in a lift, left the building and began running naked around Sefton Park and is probably still out there in the dark freezing its knackers off. On the one hand you could argue just as she does, that since the Doctor exists there’s nothing to worry about, but you’d think she’d have taken time out to phone her parents, other friends, family members and the like to see if they’re ok. The phones seemed to be working, after all. I appreciate that you can’t really hold a fictional construct up to realistic ideals and that it was rare in the past for a companion to be on the phone to their Mum every time there’s a global catastrophe, but it’s this thought which lodged in my brain and derailed my appreciation of the thing.  Actually no, the whole thing derailed by appreciation of the thing, but this was probably the start.

There’s a chain reaction because I then noticed just how unrealistic the school group is, which is odd considering Cottrell Boyce’s many awards for children’s literature. Apparently modelled on Kelsey from The Sarah Jane Adventures rather than pretty much every other subsequent tween character on that series, I can only imagine that what’s happened is the writer’s taken what works on the page when writing for a particular demographic and reproduced it in a script for Saturday night television, which means that nothing they say sounds like anything a human being, even a small human being would and even though they’re often gifted with moments of inspiration, there’s not a moment when you don’t wish that this group of presumably clever younger actors hadn’t simply improvised their dialogue Outnumbered-style on the expectation that they’d produce something more reasonable.

Even having rationalised Clara and Danny’s behaviour, especially his door impatience, as reefer madness, there’s really no excuse for the lobotomy carried out on the Doctor. For all my comments about the brilliance of Capaldi, the Doctor really doesn’t come out well here either, mostly because the story is structured in such a way that he spends half of it ignoring the evidence which is right under his nose and the other half simply waiting for a thing to happen. It’s ambiguous as to whether he really thinks that the voice of a small child broadcast across a phone network would be enough to stop a global calamity, but given that most of the forest seems to be covering parts of the globe which would be incapable of destroying the forest anyway it doesn’t feel like it matters much. I’m also now worried about that family, in general. No way the media’s going to leave them in peace.

There’s also a cloying mawkishness; from the moment we’re told little Ruby’s sister’s gone missing we know full well she’s going to be available for a teary reunion at the end.  This sugary sap is layered throughout making an especially big deposit when Clara telling the Doctor to leave and let her and the rest of the planet burn to a crisp apparently quite happy for him to bugger off and leave them to it, which is quite the turn around from Kill The Moon. The Doctor’s protestation that it’s his planet as well should be lovely, and Capaldi tries his best with it, but within this episode it becomes a real teeth rotter. Plus the whole scene’s undermined in seconds anyway because it’s simply a reason for the Doctor to finally put two and two together. Another of the episodes problems is the preponderance of apparently meaningful encounters which are nothing of the sort.

Perhaps it this point I could and should acknowledge a few things, notably that other opinions are available. Glancing around on the Twitter post-broadcast there were a few people who seemed very satisfied with the episode and good for them. Even as I think about what’s in the previous thrumpty paragraphs, I know that some of it comes across as mean spirited especially towards its writer and that it’s entirely possible that in a different mood or indeed a different context, for example in a specially built theatre at the Natural History Museum for which this is surely aimed, I would have been better disposed towards it in the same way you tend to be when franchise properties are utilised for educational reasons (though it’s important to note that there was predictably less science in this than Search Out Space, the special Doctor Who episode of Search Out Science).

It’s also worth noticing just how beautifully directed the episode is, Sheree Folkson, who in her long career has given us three episodes of The Young Person's Guide to Becoming a Rock Star, half of RTD’s Mine All Mine, all three episodes of RTD’s Casanova, The Decoy Bride and an Ugly Betty and her DP on this Mark Garrett also in his Who debut off the back of the last series of Silent Witness filling the screen with lustrous green vistas which look extraordinary across 50 inches on BBC One HD (yes, I have a new television) (it’s a long story), a technicolour version of the Mandalay films logo, including tiger, stretched across forty-odd minutes. But they even managed to find new ways of shooting the TARDIS interior, wide angle lense from point of view of a child, the Doctor’s attack eyebrows swooping in from above. If ever there was an episode which demands a score-only option it’s this.

The episode’s other great benefit is Peter Capaldi who catches the spirit of what’s trying to be accomplished and goes with it offering us a version of his Doctor filled with relaxed benevolence even as the script is working against him. Again, I wonder about the order in which the episodes were recorded and whether there has been some grand plan in relation to soften the edges of his incarnation, Hartnell’s arc across the year, from joking about human remains floating across the top of a pool to being deeply unhappy about being unable to save a group of children from certain death. More and more, the absent Doctor is returning and a lot of that has to do with Capaldi finally finding a way to temper the harshness of what he’s being asked to do underpinned by modes of written behaviour, which show a clear transitioning from C Baker to T Baker.

The rest? Honking, absolutely honking, best left to decompose with the rest of the compost which will surely be one of the by-products of all the vegetation which has to be left over once the majority of the global forest’s been disappeared by the least convincing Clarke’s Law testing alien substitute for magic since the fairies in Torchwood’s Small Worlds. It’s ironic that the writer of the London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony would produce a Doctor Who script worse than Fear Her which itself featured the actual London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony, but that’s precisely what Frank Cottrell Boyce has managed. Reading back through his preview interview in the party newsletter, unlike some of the Pelican authors last year he seems like he’s seen Doctor Who before, so it’s unfortunate that he’s turned out an episode which fits in perfect with some of those Kindle misfires. Sigh.

Soup Safari #3:
Golden Vegetable at the World Museum Cafe.

Lunch. £3.50. World Museum Cafe. 5th Floor. William Brown St, Liverpool, Merseyside L3 8EN. Website.

Romola on women in the entertainment industry.

Theatre Romola Garai's appearing on the New York stage, at The Roundabout in Tom Stoppard's Indian Ink, and has given this extensive interview to The Interval (a virtual home for female voices of the theatre) about the play and more generally about women in the entertainment industry both in relation to the stories being told about them and how they're treated:
"The industry that I work in is incredibly sexist. When I got to about 26 or 27—when I got old enough to understand that was a problem and why it was a problem, and the way that at the earlier stage of my career it had enabled me and then was actually disabling me—I think it became very important to me to connect with other people who felt the same way. So I think it has inevitably drawn me towards writers who are writing strong female characters, to casting directors who want women to be at the center of narratives, and to people who have the same kind of concerns."
Her top five female characters is very, very correct, especially number four. Very much number four.

Interviews on Richard Ayoade.

Film You may have seen this really rather funny interview from C4 News last night in which Richard Ayoade entirely deconstructs the short interview format for the vacuous process that it usually is.

Like Simon Amstell he's clearly very uncomfortable publicising his wares. But he's pretty genial with Krishnan, which is quite a development from where he was in 2011 publicising his film Submarine on Kermode and Mayo's film review. He talks about the process and the work, but Simon's clearly very thrown by the intensity:

No Fish.

Food Hadley Freeman has much the same reaction I do to fish:
"I manage some of the salad – the squid, surprisingly, is totally fine, as long as I force myself not to think about the Milky Eye – but the mackerel was always going to be my Waterloo. I want to like it, I really do, but the texture and taste cross the boundary from “weird but OK” to “weird get this out of my mouth NOW"
The only fish I'll eat is in batter or breadcrumbs, one of the white ones, cod probably. It's the aroma, the texture in the mouth, the weirdly salty taste and how it feels in my throat as I swallow. I have tried, even one of the white ones, cod probably, without the batter or breadcrumbs and I have the same reaction.  Not just me then.

Links for the Memories.

BRITISH CULT CLASSICS - Witchfinder General / Digitally Remastered Special Edition / Blu-ray Review
"Meanwhile, the film went into production on a final budget of £83, 000 in September 1967 and some exteriors were shot in Norfolk and Suffolk and the Dunwich coast, in Black Park and Langley Park and the interior sets were filmed mainly in converted aircraft hangers in Bury St. Edmunds. The arrival of Price precipitated frequent clashes between the young director and ageing actor as Reeves desperately tried to reign in what he saw as Price's often florrid and camp performing style. The film was constantly short of equipment and extras and was briefly hit by a British technicians union strike. To cap it all, AIP producer Louis M Heywood insisted on the insertion of some brief nude scenes for the export version of the film, scenes he took great pleasure in 'supervising' on his brief visit to the set in Lavenham and which Tenser directed simply because Reeves refused to do so. "

Towson professor explores whether social media have left us disconnected:
"Reiner, a lecturer in English in Towson's Honors College, says students sometimes pretend to send text messages when they are alone out of fear that if they are not constantly connected to their smartphones, they will be seen as losers." [via]

Noisetrade: Free Comics & Graphic Novels:
"Mike Mignola - Hellboy: The Fire Wolves"

Doctor Who's identity crisis:
"The show is suffering from an identity crisis. It's now, alongside that
programme where they send three car-loving racists to various countries so they can laugh at Johnny Foreigner, one of the BBC's biggest exports. The problem with this is, in order to compete internationally, especially in America, it's lost its quintessential Britishness. It's aiming to be a big, respectable sci-fi show, and that's not what Doctor Who is."

"Twitter's for 140-character short-form writing and Medium's for long-form. Weirdly, there really isn't a great platform for everything in the middle — what previously would've just been called "blogging." Mid-length blogging. Middling."

‘Broken Windows’ and the New York Police:
"The inequity is glaring. With the aim of maintaining order in poor, high-crime neighborhoods, police saddle thousands of young men with criminal records for an offense that the state has largely decriminalized and that white people regularly commit with impunity. Penalties imposed by the courts for possession are usually minimal—dismissal of the case after six months if the person has no further run-in with the law—but the damage can still be considerable, taking the form of rejected job and housing applications or being banned from joining the military and attending certain colleges."

Beast: restaurant review:
"You could easily respond to this week’s restaurant with furious, spittle- flecked rage. You could rant about the posing-pouch stupidity of the meat- hanging cabinet that greets you as the lift doors open, and the frothing tanks of monstrous live Norwegian king crabs next to it, each 4ft across. You could bang on about the bizarre pricing structure, and the vertiginous nature of those prices; about the rough-hewn communal tables that are so wide you can’t sit opposite your dining companion because you wouldn’t be able to hear each other, and the long benches which make wearing a skirt a dodgy idea unless you’re desperate to flash the rest of the heavily male clientele. You could shake your fists and roll your eyes and still not be done."

The other Flatline.

TV I was thinking whilst on the bus again today and something occurred to me about Saturday night's Doctor Who which I haven't seen anyone else extemporise. It's a small point, a directorial decision born by something in the writing.  But I think it explains why Peter Capaldi suddenly felt like he was playing the Doctor and the same man previous essayed by Matthew Smith.

I could well be imagining it, but here goes.

One of the elements of this series, as we've discussed, is how distant the Doctor has seemed. Some of this has to do with the decisions he's taken and how point of view on those and I don't want to dissertation on that all again with the swearing, but the distancing has partly been to do with how the Doctor has worked within scenes and episodes.

Looking back and I can't completely verify this without watching all of it again, but looking back I don't remember many scenes in which the Doctor has narrative agency, in which the scene is about him and his actions, without it being seen through the eyes of another character.

Agency within a scene is often kept pretty invisible unless your attention is being drawn to it and created through a mix of camera angles, close-ups and reverse shots designed to draw your attention to who's reaction in a scene is most important.

A classic example from Star Wars, because everyone uses Star Wars, is in the Death Star scenes at the end of Jedi, which are all about Luke's reaction to the Emperor. Throughout we keep cutting back to his face, in close-up to his reaction of the ensuring murder.

Or most of Citizen Kane.

In Doctor Who terms, when the Doctor and Clara are in a scene together, the narrative agency is all with her. It's been like watching Rose's reaction to the Doctor in Rose for eight episodes.

In pretty much every scene we've been seeing the Doctor through the reactions of Clara and in key moments when we might previously have followed the Doctor somewhere, for example into the crust of the Moon in Kill The Moon, previously we might reasonably have expected to follow him and make the discovery with him.

About the only episode in which this "rule" is properly broken is The Caretaker notably in the moment when he reacts to Clara and the man he thinks is her boyfriend as they walk away.

The Doctor when he's alone indeed has had a fair bit of agency.  Right through Flatline in fact.  But whenever Clara's been part of the conversation, it's still about her reacting to him.

But there are, and again, I'm willing to accept if I've missed one, but there are no scenes in this series in which we see Clara through the Doctor's eyes.

Except, in Flatline, right at the end, we suddenly do.

It's at an interesting moment too - just after he gives his "I am the Doctor" speech.

In the next scene  when he's dropping everyone off and Clara says her goodbyes, whereas previously such things have happened with the Doctor almost skulking in the background suddenly we're getting close-ups, reaction shots from him watching Clara, questioning Clara, who's standing in a mastershot or mid-shot much smaller in the frame.

I don't want to fill your screen with these little screenshots, so go back and watch the ending and I think you'll see it too. Suddenly Clara's back to being the one the Doctor's curious about as per last series and in every shot she's in the Doctor is a presence, over the shoulder, in large close-up or completely within the frame.

That's why Clara, who's been our hero for the past forty minutes suddenly becomes a mysterious, slightly sinister figure again.

At the very end of this scene when the Doctor's entering the TARDIS it seems like we're back with her.  He's walked inside and there's a big old close-up as she considers what he's said about "good not having anything to do with it" her eyes giving every indication that she doesn't understand.

Except within seconds we realise that the agency has in fact passed invisibly to Missy watching that reaction on her iPad.  Which means timing wise, Clara stops being the main figure in the episode from the moment the energy reinvigorates the TARDIS and seemingly the Doctor within.

Peter Capaldi, now, is the Doctor, just as he says he is.

But there's more.  After he literally says "I am the Doctor", there's a rather marvellously dramatic bit of score.  Up until this point too, I don't think we've definitively heard the Twelfth Doctor's theme, if he's had a theme at all.  Indeed in the some of the trailers, the Eleventh Doctor's themes been used.  If we go back and rewatch this series, will we, rather like Bond's theme in Casino Royale and Ode to Joy in the early movements of Beethoven's 9th, hear snatches of a Twelfth Doctor theme still cooking, which only really gain fruition in this "I am the Doctor" moment?

One other note: the Twelfth Doctor mourns the deaths, properly mourns them.  Ok, yes, he says the wrong people may have died, but that's not unusual.  He goes there in Voyage of the Damned, but in a switch it's him lecturing Clara about morality and mortality.

Now, it's possible he's testing her, trying to work out why she's not mourning them too.  Why she's being so cocky.  But I don't think so.  I think he's genuinely being compassionate for once.

It's almost as though when he said, "I am the Doctor" this incarnation finally believes it and his wrestingly back of agency from Clara, the music and his more obvious sentiment in relation to the loss of human life could signify that.  Effectively it's taken nine episodes to get to post-regenerative point the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors did in an hour.

Goodness knows what any of this means.  Could mean nothing.  Could be in the next episode we're back to the status quo of the previous eight episodes, me loathing the Twelfth Doctor, Clara in charge, all that business.

But, and it's a small but, it's also possible, that the Doctor's agency will continue, or we'll be back to the joint Time Lord / companion agency of previous series and that we could reassess his behaviour this series as post-regenerative torpor, about him learning to be the Doctor again.  If that is indeed the case, I wish they'd made it clearer...