Review: Doctor Who – 4×9 – Forest of the Dead

Oh. Was that it?

Forest of the Dead

Two-parters are tricky, aren’t they? You set up mysteries and problems in the first part that need to be answered in the second. Most importantly, you have to make sure there’s sufficient pay-off for the viewer, who’s been hanging around waiting for the answers.

Last week in Silence in the Library, Steven Moffat set up all sorts of questions that needed to be answered this week. Did he answer them this week? And did he answer them well?


As the shadows rise, the Doctor forges an alliance with the mysterious River Song. But can anyone stop the Vashta Nerada?

Was it any good?

It feels kind of odd to say this, but the story felt like something of a let down. Maybe it’s because I’d already guessed the answers to all the questions. Maybe it’s because the answers were obvious answers rather than something more intricate. Maybe it’s because the important answers were ducked and never answered.

Whatever it was, I have a massive “Oh, was that it then?” feeling at the moment.

Now, being a Steven Moffat story, it could never be actually bad. Far from it. Forest of the Dead was in many ways a very clever piece of work. The wrong footing of us right at the beginning with Donna’s story was rather neat. We’ve seen countless times, in shows such as Buffy and Stargate, episodes where the hero or heroine wakes up to be told that all the exciting adventures we know about were delusions. What we’ve almost never seen is the hero or heroine be easily persuaded that it’s true and then lead a normal life of years’ duration afterwards (although you can cast your mind back to the ST:TNG episode The Inner Light and see something similar, if you want).

It was a surprisingly touching story (although no proper coping strategies for adult stammerers in the 52nd century? Really? My wife will be surprised…) and the idea of seeing your kids disappear because they never existed is pretty horrific – as was the Ringu-esque face-pinching on the Miss Faversham-alike PA, although they dwelled on that too long for it to be truly scary. The TV-cuts within the story, which in Cal’s mind was on television, was a clever idea as well.

But there’s a problem with this. If you are essentially building up a “closed room” piece of suspense, you lose all the tension if you keep leaving the room. So even though Silence in the Library piled on the tension very well last week, Forest of the Dead didn’t get much of a chance this week. It wasn’t helped by having the “scary last week” monsters – scary because they were mindless and unreasoning yet able to kill you in a blink – become reasoning and able to sign truces. Where was the real threat? Nowhere in the library any more.

As a result, the story became a simple winding up of plot threads and explanations – and spectacularly uninvolving as a result. To me anyway, it was obvious last week that Dr Moon was probably some kind of library helper program, that the kiddie was essentially the library itself, and that everyone, including Donna, had been saved to disk somewhere and just needed to be restored. I just needed the exact details, it turns out. I didn’t guess that the books were the source of the shadow wotsits, although I had a vague idea it was something to do with the library that caused the infestation, and I didn’t guess that the girl was one of Steve Pemberton’s relatives – but I didn’t care either.

The only real mystery – the only one anyone did care about – was the identity of River Song. And we didn’t get that answered. Now clearly she’s supposed to be the Doctor’s future wife, but would it really have hurt anyone just to say that? So much less tedious – certainly less tedious than the Sartre-esque Hell that the Doctor committed her to for all eternity like a complete git. Wasn’t expecting that particular denouement, but it was a bit like a certain Kylie moment from Voyage of the Damned, so I wasn’t expecting them to repeat themselves so soon.

I could nitpick a bit about things like finger clicking, but I’m not really in the mood for once so I’ll pretty much leave it here. Euros’ direction wasn’t quite as good as last week’s; Alex Kingston’s acting also went downhill a bit; and there was way too much running up and down corridors being chased by not terribly scary but repetitive zombies for my liking.

Oh well. Maybe I’ll like it better in a few days’ time. At the moment, it felt like Steven Moffat by numbers – all his usual themes repeated but without sufficient variation to be of real interest. Which is shame after such a cracker of a first part.


Do proper reviews end in blurgh?

Other reviews

None yet. But we’ll meet them soon and they’ll be very, very important to us.

Continuity references

No really big ones, although the square gun of Captain Jack’s was back again.

Doctor Who Confidential

Firstly, anyone notice that Confidential, of late, has become a great big nostalgia fest – a sending off of RTD and Phil C while simultaneously introducing Steven Moffat to the masses? Clips from old episodes, fore and art. Steven giving his philosophies of the show. Rusty explaining why he did certain things over the last four years. It’s the changing of the guard, everyone.

Secondly, anyone notice that Rusty said that Martha was coming back on to “the main show”? Companion for the specials or just a future episode this series?


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.