Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Malpractice Makes Perfect

In The Forest of the Night is an interesting episode. There's actually a lot of things to be discussed about it. And hopefully I'll be able to get around to some of them in this review. But after watching it there's really only one thing on my mind, and have to get it out of the way before we can move on to the normal level of petty nitpicking:

Now, maybe this isn't something that would bother a lot of people. Maybe you didn't even notice that there was this rather glaringly problematic implication. But for all I love the show, for all I enjoyed the rest of the episode, I simply can't condone the statement that the best thing for any troubled person to do is to not take their medication. Let alone for that person to be a fucking CHILD.

If you're emotionally vulnerable, mentally troubled and hearing voices PLEASE remember to take your pills. Seriously, you don't get prescribed anti-psychotic medication for fun. You get it because you need it to hold your head together. The alternative is...

Not good. Maybe I'm just feeling overly sensitive to the issue because I had a bit of an episode over the weekend. But as an emotionally vulnerable and mentally unstable individual this sort of thing bugs the shit out of me. And bare in mind that my problems aren't even that bad in the grand scheme of things. On average I can pull myself some reasonable facsimile of functioning. So this REALLY isn't the sort of thing I feel it's responsible to imply to actual high-risk types.

So, yeah. Sorry to go all self-righteous Dear BBC there, but I feel it needs to be said, and this is where I say things.

So, moving on from that particular appalling oversight, what else can we say about the episode?

First and most obvious is that we're firmly back in fairy tale territory, after last weeks all to brief foray into something approaching "proper" Sci-Fi. And this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The big dirty secret of Doctor Who that a lot of fans such as myself don't want anyone to know about and have tremendous difficulty facing up to is that the show ISN'T Science Fiction. It's Science Fantasy. And even then a lot of the time the Science part boils down to the fact that space is a thing. This is something that has come to the fore a lot more in recent years. I mean, there's not that many classic series episodes that are resolved with the power of wuv. But it seems like these days there's one every season.

And then there were no more Daleks ever again until next time!

But I digress. Luckily there isn't any wuv in this episode. Although there is a magic forest which strikes me as being oddly... familiar somehow.

So there's the semi-mandatory Deja-Vu box checked. I'm pretty sure there are probably more parallels to be had with The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe, especially in the field of magic trees dispersing into puffs of pretty light, but it has been a long time since I've bothered watching it, so I'm a little unsure quite how well the looming environmental disaster bit works.

Still, I suppose the oddly perfunctory planet wrecking solar flare in Time Heist can be explained as foreshadowing for the oddly perfunctory planet wrecking solar flare in this episode. Kind of. But then again it's here where we can get into some REAL petty nitpicking. At least of a far more enjoyable sort than the the whole "don't take your pills, listen to the voices" bit.

So, the trees magically grow overnight. Okay, fair enough. We'll allow this as it's the conceit of the episode. After all, there's no point sweating the cube square law when you're watching a Godzilla movie. And the lack of rings is a nice touch. The trees apparently do this as an automatic response to impending extra terrestrial disaster in order to protect the indigenous species.

Yeah, I might know one or two genera of extinct creature who might object to that particular hypothesis. But okay. I'm no paleobotanist but I'm pretty sure a lot of modern trees didn't evolve until after the Mesozoic era. So maybe magic trees developed in response to the K/T extinction or something. Doesn't help the Dinosaurs any, but not an unreasonable hypothesis. Then there's the actual WAY we're told the trees insulate the planet from the burning wrath of cosmic fire: By increasing the levels of oxygen.

Look, I know this is a fantasy kind of episode. I know that you're going to be ignoring science to some degree. But PLEASE, could we at least try not to actually CONTRADICT it?

Any basic fire safety talk will include some version of this diagram:

As you can see, a fire needs 3 things. oxygen, fuel and a source of ignition. To prevent a fire you simply need to REMOVE one of these elements. The extra oxygen content of the atmosphere will just mean that whatever fuel is available will burn hotter and faster. It CAN'T just burn off on it's own. It needs carbon or something similar to oxidise, because that's what fire IS.

Also bear in mind that covering the whole earth in a thick layer of foliage is going to use up a hell of a lot of carbon. Obviously there's some of this in the ground, but I'm guessing primarily this has been taken from the atmosphere with magic overnight photosynthesis. In the dark. Which apparently was happening over the entire planet simultaneously. Because magic.

ANYWAY. Having stripped out all the actually fire retardant CO2 from the atmosphere also accounts for the elevated oxygen levels. And since the trees themselves are magically fire proof, what do you suppose it is that's likely to be catching fire in this eminently combustible atmosphere?

Seriously. Fire is a tremendous risk in a high oxygen environment. So basically all the trees are doing is making sure they have a good position to watch the filthy mammal scum burn. Are we SURE a Krynoid wasn't actually behind this?

And of course, this isn't even adressing problems such as the effect on the oceans, which are not famed for their tree baring qualities and actually make up the majority of the earths surface. We could perhaps posit an increase in algae or similar, but the episode is very specific about the tress based nature of the situation. not to mention the obvious side effects that such algal blooms tend to have.
Sure, increase the ATMOSPHERIC oxygen why don't you?

Then there's the effect on infrastructure. On the one hand we have the damage to anything in orbit from the solar flare, as well as the significant fact that rather a lot of building happen to rise above tree level and are thus afforded no insulation. Then there's the frankly incalculable amount of damage the trees themselves cause. Just think how much it's going to cost to completely rebuild EVERY SINGLE ROAD. To say nothing of the structural damage caused to foundations. Seriously, you think it takes the council a long time to fill in the pot holes now? And of course all that damage is going to wreck peoples abilities to commute, which combined with the communication issues caused by the loss of all those satellites pretty much guarantees the beginnings of what can only be described as an economic dark age.

So, yeah. Nice idea and all, but you REALLY need to think these things through completely before committing to them.

There are still one or two other points of interest that should be mentioned. It's interesting that this is one of those episodes where the Doctor isn't really involved in the events that are unfolding. I know that, for example, Planet Of The Ood has received some criticism for the fact that the Doctor and Donna were pretty much incidental to the plot, with no real input into the unfolding events. This is slightly different in that the whole point is that the Doctor DOESN'T do anything. Indeed, the only useful input is in trying to convince everyone else to nothing as well. Although just how much defoliation took place whilst he was waiting for a group of delinquent children to concoct a suitable message, and thus how many people died in those areas is left unexplored.

Clara continues to prove what a terrible person she really is, showing a marked disregard for the children in her care. Seriously, even in flashback she's not paying them any attention. How is this woman allowed to be a teacher? Danny Pink of course provides a sharp contrast, being primarily focused on the kids. What's particularly interesting is how the sort of "aren't humans great and interesting?" speech we might have gotten from the 10th or 11th Doctor is here given to him.

Not to Clara. To Danny. Having a more alien Doctor the humanity has to shift somewhere. It's interesting that it hasn't actually been the companion who has taken up that role particularly. Maybe we'll get lucky and it'll be Clara who get's killed off in the finale and Danny will take her place, but I can't see it happening. The nicer they are, the harder they fall.

Finally it's interesting to note that we don't actually get a monster this time around. I've noted before that even in stories that don't really warrant them, a monster tends to get shoved in anyway. Here the token moment of peril comes at the metaphoric hands of actual animals. I'm not sure quite how it is that shining a torch in a tigers eyes does anything except piss it off, but then I'm not a wildlife expert. I guess for an animal that size you need something a bit bigger than the standard laser pointer.

So, anyway. Aside from it's flagrant disregard of basic science and medical ethics this wasn't a bad episode. Even the kids were vastly less annoying than one might expect. But yeah, they really should have put a bit more thought into it. Next week looks like it should be interesting though. The big reveal of the finale apparently being that we get to find out why Clara is such a bitch now. So that should be fun.