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10 December 2014 @ 09:32 pm
In the Forest of the Night  
Before I say anything else I will say that NLSS Child was completely and utterly captivated from start to finish. I gather from FB that she was not the only child the episode had this effect on.

It's not often I react badly to the treatment of science in Doctor Who episodes because, well, because it is Doctor Who and complaining about dodgy science seems to be missing the point somewhat, but I was actually really irritated by the science of In the Forest of the Night. I'm not sure quite what set me off. I think it may be that I had gone to the effort, a couple of years ago, of looking up Coronal Mass Ejections because I wanted to write a story which was the space-faring equivalent of an Age of Sail caught-in-a-storm story. At any rate, possibly its because I know a little about CMEs but don't know a lot about them.

Tame Layman was away when the story aired and didn't see it. When NLSS Child began pressing that he should see it, I mentioned that I thought he might find the science irritating and so had to explain about CMEs and, in particular, how a CME big enough to engulf the Earth with fire (were it not for Magical Trees *sigh*) would do really bad things to all our electronics, and discuss the Carrington Event. It must be said I'm a little hazy on whether a really big coronal mass ejection would actually engulf us with fire (if not for Magical Trees). I have a nasty feeling that, no, it wouldn't work like that, though lots of electronics might catch fire, but that would be different. At any rate, I suppose the ensuing discussion was educational, though perhaps not in the way Lord Reith originally imagined.

The bottom line is I vaguely feel that "Coronal Mass Ejection" is a word the writer had heard once and which sounded cool and which he simply adopted as a convenient back drop for his Magical Tree story. I'm in denial about the Magical Trees, that's why I'm focusing on how the writer was Wrong about CMEs. Doctor Who has never had a lot of respect for science, but I've always felt that better Doctor Who mined science for cool story-telling ideas. This felt like Doctor Who was simply mining science for cool words and then totally ignoring what they meant.

At any rate, I was irritated.

I was also irritated by the moment when Clara explained that the children in the story were not actually gifted and talented. "Gifted and Talented" is not a label teachers use to be kind to problem students. NLSS Child has two cousins in the Gifted and Talented program, one of whom has a serious mental health disorder, so I actually felt the need to interrupt her fascination with the story to point out to NLSS Child that Clara was wrong here and her cousin really was Gifted and Talented.

It looked lovely though. This kind of story, always makes Red Riding Hood references. I'm not sure why Red Riding Hood is quite so inevitable and pervasive in modern TV fantasy. I suspect it has something to do with both the easy visual signifier of the red cloak and the fact that it is the least sanitised of the fairy tales we commonly tell our children. However the strange world of London covered by Magical Trees (*sigh*) was well invoked and the production exploited it well for the subtext about choices and facing facts.

I think NLSS child's delight in the whole thing was partly the fairy tale atmosphere but also the cast of children and teachers. She's a big fan of books about school adventures (which I never really saw the point in) and this episode was pushing all those buttons. It was, in some ways, an interesting lesson in how much more strongly a child can react to something if they have a concrete identification point. She loved the interaction of the children with Danny Pink and with the Doctor, and kept quoting their lines back to me.

I would really, really, have liked to like this story more. Partly because NLSS Child loved it so much, partly because I really like this kind of atmospheric storytelling and TV which tries to exploit imagery in the place of explanation, but there were too many points where In the Forest of the Night was cavalier with the facts to a level that suggested not that they knew the reality and were choosing to ignore it for dramatic effect, but that they simply had never been sufficiently interested in the reality to find out what it was. It suggested to me, I suppose, a contempt for science which I have not felt before from Doctor Who.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/133517.html.
fredbassettfredbassett on December 10th, 2014 10:10 pm (UTC)
I just kept wanting to know where all the other people had disappeared to! I couldn't seem to get beyond that point, although I did like the Doctor, Clara and Danny in the ep.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on December 10th, 2014 10:12 pm (UTC)
Agreed. That too. I'd forgotten that in the intervening weeks, but I remember thinking it at the time. The story was dumb on so many levels, which is such a shame because the visuals were great.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on December 10th, 2014 10:16 pm (UTC)
Doctor Who dices with credibility issues every time it encounters a scenario which needs a large cast of non-speaking characters whom it can't afford, and this certainly was one of them.
fredbassettfredbassett on December 10th, 2014 10:17 pm (UTC)
Yep, it lost me at that point, although there were things about the ep I liked.
louisedennislouisedennis on December 11th, 2014 10:41 am (UTC)
It would have had a very different atmosphere though with a large cast. Even if they could have been afforded, I suspect they wouldn't have been.
parrot_knight: MummyIconparrot_knight on December 10th, 2014 10:14 pm (UTC)
Less contempt for science, than ruthess indifference; we have forty-five minutes, and we want magical trees. You may feel this is splitting hairs.

Edited at 2014-12-10 10:14 pm (UTC)
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on December 11th, 2014 10:43 am (UTC)
Possibly. I have a feeling we've had some episodes this season that have been unusualy bad (for Who) science-wise. However given Who habitually only nods in the general direction of science, it is difficult to pin down exactly what the difference is.
lukadreaminglukadreaming on December 10th, 2014 10:19 pm (UTC)
One of the things that's frustrated me about this series has been the simplistic storytelling and the hand-waving. Too many gimmicks, not enough building strong plots.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on December 11th, 2014 10:44 am (UTC)
There has been some nice character-work from which Clara, in particular, has benefitted, but I'm not sure it all fell together. I'll be interested to rematch it when NLSS Child inevitably catches up and see if, in retrospect, the themes about the Doctor understanding and redefining his own identity are clearer.
Gabby: doctor whogabcd86 on December 11th, 2014 12:58 am (UTC)
I really love the way these reviews foreground NLSS's perspective, as I think it's so important yet between my miserable opinion and then reading the opinions of other adults, you don't really get any sense of how kids react to it. Even better as you sort of contextualise her? IDK. I struggled a lot with this episode because I really don't like Dr. Who + kids but I can absolutely see how that'd make it much more enjoyable for her so.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on December 11th, 2014 10:53 am (UTC)
It is very different, and enjoyable, watching with her. Her reactions are much less mediated by preconceptions of what Who (or entertainment) should be. People often say that kids can manage fine without viewpoint characters in stories (and of course they can, just as women and people of colour etc., etc., can) but I think having a readily identifiable person does help draw people into stories. NLSS Child had a lot of opinions about what the children would be thinking and feeling, more so than she does with the adult characters.
wellinghallwellinghall on December 11th, 2014 06:00 am (UTC)
Thank you for a great post - interesting as yours always are about Dr Who (and about other things!), and it led me to look up the Carrington event, and gave an update on NLSS child, and was personally relevant in ways I may (or may not) post about later - great!
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on December 11th, 2014 11:52 am (UTC)
wellinghallwellinghall on December 11th, 2014 08:21 pm (UTC)
At the risk of taking over your LJ, the personally relevant bit is that my parents got financial support from the National Association for Gifted Children, which enabled me to attend boarding school for a couple of years; and that I had a mental health disorder as a child / teen (and as an adult).
Susanlil_shepherd on December 11th, 2014 08:26 am (UTC)
Interesting that this was a child's reaction. For the adults here, this was the episode where, ten minutes in, we finally decided we had HAD IT with Dr Who this season and haven't watched it since.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on December 11th, 2014 11:54 am (UTC)
It could have been very good, I think, in a Sapphire and Steel-ish kind of way, but they do seem to have misjudged their plausible hand-waving. I suspect it's a mixture of giving too much explanation so that the viewer can't fill in the gaps with magical-science of their choice and, at the same time, not having enough internal consistency in the world they are building that you believe it would make sense if you had all the information.
Susanlil_shepherd on December 11th, 2014 12:11 pm (UTC)
One of the things that far too many writers of fantasy/science fantasy forget is that if their world, be it run by magic or science or a mixture of the two, is not internally logical - that is, it does not establish its rules and abide by them - it loses all credibility. TV writers are doubly prone to forgetting this.