Sunday, 22 June 2008

Doctor Who, Series 4, Episode 9: Forest of the Dead

It looks like I have fallen behind in my inane ramblings about the current series of Doctor Who. I'm not quite sure why I started writing these little pieces; I think I blame Loren Rosson who suggested it to me. One of the fun things is contrasting my views with his, and I have started so I'll finish. As I write, we have just had episode 11, "Turn Left", so I have a couple more episodes to catch up on before being up to date.

So back to Episode 9, "Forest of the Dead", the second of a two-parter written by Steven Moffat, the first part of which was the superb "Silence in the Library". This second part was also excellent, all the many fascinating threads begun in the first part now carefully worked out in the second, with the identity of River Song the most intriguing. What a fantastic idea to have a companion from the doctor's future now meeting him. This is the kind of playing with time that Steven Moffat is so good at. He understands that Doctor Who is a time travel show and looks for ways of exploring the weirdness of the very idea. Some fans have suggested that this character is even his future wife -- perhaps that is how she knew his name. At this point, I am not so sure. Moffat was still a bit reticent to commit himself on the identity of River Song in the episode commentary (a particularly good one, as it happens, with the dream team of Moffat, Russell T. Davies and David Tennant). He could have told her his name in order to bring about the successful "saving" of River Song in his past -- he needed to find a way to make his past self trust her. His "saving" of River Song at the end of the episode was fantastic -- I love the idea of the future doctor effectively communicating with himself across time.

I hope that we do get to meet River Song again, and I hope that the meetings will be such that they will make us go back and enjoy this story afresh. This story, more than any other written by Moffat, actually felt strangely out of time, a little out of sync with the rest of the current series. That worked because it was giving us a taste of the future in several ways, not just a future character appearing now, but also in the style of story that we will see again in Moffat's reign as the new show runner from 2010.

But that brings me to the thing that troubled me a bit about this episode. It was a bit too convoluted. It tried just a bit too hard. Given that Moffat sees Doctor Who as a children's series, he didn't quite hit the right notes. There was far too much going on for kids to follow the story-line easily. And the scary-factor was pretty near zero. When Moffat gets it right ("Blink"), the story is scary and it is loved by the hard-core fans and the kids too. When he tries a bit too hard, as here, the fans still like it, but the kids turn off and don't find it scary.

A fine episode, but not Moffat's best. I don't think he'll win a Bafta this time round. But he has given us lots to think about and enjoy. 4 1/2 TARDIS groans from me, bringing my ratings for the series so far to the following, with some fresh adjustments, e.g. I rewatched "Unicorn and the Wasp" on SciFi Channel a week ago and I loved every minute of it:

Partners in Crime: 4 1/2 TARDIS groans
Fires of Pompeii: 3 1/2 TARDIS groans
Planet of the Ood: 4 1/2 TARDIS groans.
The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky: 3 1/2 TARDIS groans.
The Doctor's Daughter: 4 TARDIS groans.
The Unicorn and the Wasp: 4 TARDIS groans.
Silence in the Library: 5 TARDIS groans.
Forest of the Dead: 4 1/2 TARDIS groans.

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