Tuesday, July 07, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's 4x09: "Forest Of The Dead"

Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Euros Lyn

The Doctor (to Vashta Nerada): “Don’t play games with me. You just killed someone I liked. That is not a very safe place to stand.”

Last week gave us one of the best cliff hangers in any show and this week goes to great lengths to prove that this storyline justified being a two parter as opposed to a regular episode.

As The Doctor and River come to the horrible realisation that Donna is a Node the first thing they have to do is get away from an advancing Proper Dave. He’s still repeating the whole “who turned out the lights” spiel but the question remains – is Donna actually dead?

The Girl mentioned that Donna had been saved and clearly she wasn’t wrong. No fewer than three minutes into the episode we see The Girl watching Donna’s life unfold on the television and to be fair, it’s a decent take on It’s A Wonderful Life as you can get.

First Donna gets sectioned and then two years passes. Doctor Moon asks her if she’s still seeing The Doctor and TARDIS and before she can properly comprehend her surroundings, Doctor Moon is speeding everything up by simple stating things.

In a matter of seconds Donna goes for a walk, meets a bumbling but sweet man named Lee, goes on a date with him, gets married and has two children named Ella and Joshua. It’s the wackiest bout of speed dating I’ve ever seen on TV but the speediness is a deliberate take on most TV shows going from A to B without being married to the script so to speak.

Not to be ageist, but I can’t see this different life altogether happening with Rose or Martha. Had it been Rose, I’d expect a version of the Buffy episode “Normal Again” and with Martha, she’s probably be an abrasive UNIT soldier but this story actually plays to Catherine Tate’s strengths as an actress.

Although we know good and proper that this new life of Donna’s is a total lie we still have to believe that Donna totally buys into it. We especially have to believe that when she starts getting clues that her perfect world isn’t real.

If Doctor Moon correcting her and speeding up time wasn’t enough, then there’s Donna getting a brief glimpse of The Doctor in her living room. Of course it’s not just The Doctor that poses the threat of Donna’s world being exposed as a lie. A certain girl still isn’t quite so dead after all.

When Lee picks up an unusual letter, Donna decides to go and meet the person behind it. Doing this in the park is the strangest of all places but the person is Miss Evangelista. Death may have increased her intelligence but it’s seriously damaged whatever fashion sense she might have had too.

Dressed like a creepy Victorian lady, Miss Evangelista is making it her mission to prove to Donna that this world isn’t real. Donna isn’t exactly keen to embrace such an idea but given the amount of inconsistencies that surrounds her world, she’s not as resistant to Miss Evangelista’s warnings either.

The fact that she also still remembers key moments from the library makes it easier for Miss Evangelista but even though Donna knows the dead girl is telling the truth, she still doesn’t want to believe that Lee, Ella and Joshua are not real.

In fact she goes out of her way to try and keep her children by her side but when even Ella begins to realise that herself and Joshua only exist around Donna, there’s not much that Donna can do to stop them disappearing from them. Again while this world is totally fabricated you do feel for Donna.

Even when she’s desperately trying to keep Lee and loses him, there’s still an impact in that performance from Catherine Tate. That being said, I still want Donna in the real world as opposed to the fantasy setting she got to explore.

The Doctor meanwhile also had his fair share of problems. Without Donna, he had no choice but to trust River and even then he was still resistant to her. It even got to the point where Lux made a comment about the two of them behaving like a married couple.

That’s the thing – a part of me did wonder if River was that intimately involved with The Doctor. Judging by her reaction, while her and The Doctor might have an incredibly close relationship it would appear that they aren’t married. Still I want some answers and with the word “spoiler” being tossed around virtually every five seconds, this episode didn’t reveal all that much.

When it comes to the Vashta Nerada, the only thing we really learned was that they came from the library planet. The Doctor managed to wrangle that out of Proper Dave but the menacing creatures managed to kill both Other Dave and Anita in the story. Their creepiness is still wonderfully retained though this episode seemed to focus more on River, Donna and The Girl rather than the Vashta Nerada.

The Girl and Doctor Moon’s part in this episode comes across as the real surprise in the whole episode. Doctor Moon comes across as something so morally ambiguous that even in this episode you still don’t know if he’s trying to protect both The Girl and Donna or if he’s out to hurt them.

It seems that by distracting them, he’s out to protect them but when The Girl starts freaking out during Donna and Miss Evangelista’s conversation in the park, there’s little else that he can actually do. It also doesn’t help that the library itself suddenly becomes in danger as well.

It’s around this time that Lux actually steps up and contributes to the plot. He’s been evasive over the whole CAL thing because it’s real identity is The Girl. To be honest I kinda guessed that part and I’m also not too surprised that The Girl is related to Lux too. That being said it does make his motives for getting into the library all that more interesting than before.

With 4022 people to release, The Doctor has to be the one to do it but it seems that River has other ideas. The Doctor might have gotten the Vashta Nerada to give him one day to fix everything but his future companion isn’t quite so generous and decides to take matters into her own hands.

Knocking him out and handcuffing him to a railing, there’s a fantastic set of scenes between Alex Kingston and David Tennant. River proved earlier on that she really did know The Doctor by whispering his name and now she’s convinced that their meeting meant that he knew all along that she would have to sacrifice herself.

For a character that’s only been in two episodes and may very well never be seen on this show in the immediate future, it’s a credit to both Steven Moffat and Alex Kingston to how well River works as a character. Her sacrifice is poignant if not actually tear jerking and because of it, everyone is released.

The last few minutes of this episode has a similar harking that “The Doctor Dances” did. River might be gone but with so many people actually saved and the Vashta Nerada no longer a threat, there’s a big emphasis on everyone getting to live as well.

The Doctor manages to repay River when he figures out that her sonic screwdriver actually saved a part of her. Locked in a safer version of that alternative world, River gets to live out the rest of her days with Ella, Joshua, Charlotte, Doctor Moon, Anita, Miss Evangelista, Other Dave and Proper Dave.

Whether or not this can be construed as some form of a heaven is entirely up to you as a viewer. I wouldn’t think it is but River seemed to be happy enough at the end. She got to be a hero and she made sure that she left a lasting impression on The Doctor that precedes her own.

However there is one other thorny issue and that’s The Doctor and Donna. Donna may not have found her Lee in the real world but her conversation with River is playing on her mind. After all, River didn’t exactly state where Donna factored in the future and if I were Donna I would worry.

There is a funny moment when Donna is telling The Doctor about her perfect man and The Doctor does forget himself. Seeing them bond over something like that is great. Donna’s really come into her own as a character and her friendship with The Doctor has easily strengthened more too.

The annoying thing is both her and The Doctor had an opportunity to get some answers on that. Look Steven Moffat can be opposed to spoilers all he wants but there are some things that if I were either The Doctor or Donna, I’d want to know in advance. Some things just should be spoiled.

At the very least I was sort of hoping that even if The Doctor and Donna resisted the urge to spoil themselves, then we as viewers could get some insight as to what is happening. It’s common knowledge that Rose, the Daleks and Davros (more or less) are seconds away from re-entering The Doctor’s life. Surely we could’ve gotten just the tiniest of peeks to that, right.

Also in “Forest Of The Dead”

The original title for this episode was supposed to be “River’s Run” but Steven Moffat changed it at the last minute.

Donna: “Doctor Moon, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you for a minute.”
Doctor Moon: “And then you remembered.”

Is it me or did Donna wear the same dress when she married Lee that she also wore when she was going to marry Lance in “The Runaway Bride”?

Donna: “I saw The Doctor.”
Doctor Moon” Yes you did Donna and then you forgot.”

Anita (re The Doctor): “You say he’s your friend but he doesn’t know who you are.”
River: “Listen all you need to know is this. I trust that man to the end of the universe and actually, we’ve been.”

Steven Moffat mentioned in Doctor Who Confidential that the characters of Ella and Joshua were named after his son and the son’s friend.

River: “Doctor one day I am going to be someone you trust completely but I can’t wait for you to find that out, so I’m going to prove it to you and I’m sorry. I’m really very sorry. Are we good? Doctor, are we good?”
The Doctor: “Yeah, we’re good.”
River: “Good.”

Donna: “Is that a letter?”
Lee: “No, it’s Midnight.”
Donna: “Go see what it is.”

It’s funny that the title for the next episode “Midnight” gets so casually mentioned. Then again “Turn Left” was mentioned in “The Sontaran Stratagem”.

Donna: “How do you know me?”
Miss Evangelista: “We met in the library. You were kind to me and now I hope to return that kindness.”

River (to Anita): “The Doctor’s here. He came when I called him just like he always does. But not my Doctor.”

I should’ve mentioned this last week but River’s got the same sonic blaster that Captain Jack had in Season One. Come to think of it, she’s a bit like a female Jack as well.

The Doctor: “Can I get you anything?”
Anita: “An old age perhaps.”

Miss Evangelista (to Donna): “I have two qualities to see the absolute truth. I am brilliant and unloved.”

One of the original rumours circling the internet was that Donna did read some of the spoilers in a book. Pity we didn’t get a little glimpse.

Ella: “Mummy, Joshua and me, we’re not real, are we?”
Donna: “Of course you’re real. Why would you say that?”

Anita: “Computers don’t dream.”
Lux: “No, but little girls do.”

CAL – Charlotte Abigail Lux and one of Lux’s aunts. He did mention that Charlotte was a dying daughter of his grandfather.

Anita/Vashta Nerada: “How long have you known?”
The Doctor: “I counted the shadows. She only has one.”

River: “If you die here then it was like I’ve never met you.”
The Doctor: “Time can be rewritten.”

The Doctor Who Confidential for this episode was rather good. I liked the brief appearance from John Barrowman halfway through it as well.

Donna: “I made up the perfect man. Gorgeous, adores me, never said a word. What does that say about me?”
The Doctor: “Everything.”

Next week’s episode “Midnight” is at the later time. We’re getting so close to the end now.

As follow ups go, this was perfect. “Forest Of The Dead” was a good way of resolving everything that had appeared in this episode but with the overuse of the word ‘spoiler’, would it have killed Steven Moffat to have given us a little peek of what was in River’s diary?

Rating: 10 out of 10.

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