The Tyger and the Doctor
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?”
-William Blake, 1794
In the Forest of the Night is a reference to the 1794 William Blake poem entitled “The Tyger” from his collection called Songs of Innocence and Experience. The titular tiger is asking the question many of us have had at a certain point: how was all of this meticulous world around us, perhaps a forest, came to be. The tiger ultimately questions whether the God that created something so beautiful could simultaneously fashion so many horrors. The tiger is a regal creature, yet it is also a terrifying predator whose killed a lamb for its meal. Didn’t that same God also create the lamb? Perhaps there isn’t an answer for the child who’s asking all of these questions. Perhaps the child is simply content with not knowing the answer to the initial excitement of the question. Perhaps the child is okay with believing that the universe is a benevolent enigma with both love and fear. But within that enigma, the experienced reader goes from the innocence of the beauty of the tiger to the reality of the predator lying within. One omnipotent being and simultaneously within one creation there’s mesmerizing beauty and terrorizing horror. The lamb isn’t the only thing that’s died. The innocence of a simplistic beauty no longer exists. Ultimately the dichotomy of the universe that exists with benevolence and terror also exists within the Doctor himself. There are times when the Doctor is the embodiment of his title and at others he’s an absolute force of terror to be reckoned with.
In the Forest of the Night interprets the legendary poem within the context of a fairy tale. Fairy tales traditionally have served as warnings about the dangers of the world, intended to warn children that their perceptions of an innocent universe are nothing but dreams. Certainly they were far away from the modern-day fairy tales defined by the Disney animated slate. They were terrifying tales, full of the most fantastically frightening imagery yet their truest power was transforming one’s reality into a nightmare. They felt real. The episode itself, despite trying its best, doesn’t completely capture that sensation of belonging in a fairy tale because it gets lost in a plot mechanic that really is sort of convoluted to begin with, even though it starts to make more sense once Clara and the Doctor find each other once more. A good section of the episode deals with a young girl named Maebh, who is terribly fragile, especially more so since her sister Annabelle disappeared. The character work is fine, but her “selection” for lack of a better phrase is never truly made clear (unless I missed something, in which case let me know and I should revise my grade). It was a sweet, magical moment nevertheless, but one that leads to the odd ending of the episode that lands spectacularly within the realm of “WTF?” It was sweet, but as an ending it makes zero sense (once again, if I’m wrong, let me know). If it’s revisited somehow, then fine but otherwise I have no clue what they were thinking with that final frame.
It seemed from the episode’s preview that Danny would journey with the Doctor and Clara and I was quite excited for that. That doesn’t quite happen here and I must admit my disappointment, but that’s not to say the hour doesn’t effectively use Danny. He makes it clear that he knows that Clara has been traveling with the Doctor and no, he’s not truly mad at her. He just wants the truth and whenever she’s ready to truly admit it. He understands why Clara wants to travel with the Doctor and see the wondrous solar flares that will be repelled by the massive global forest. Yet, at the same time, as a soldier he doesn’t want to see more things. He just wants to be able to see the things that are in front of him more clearly. Within that profound statement, perhaps for the first time someone has made a contradictory argument to seeing wonderful things with the Doctor. There’s plenty of wonder right there at home, they just have to find it. And in that moment Clara agrees with Danny, abandoning the solar flares for him. These two are so great together, I can’t help but see “tragedy” written all over this with a bloody pen owned by Moffat. And the growing relationship between the Doctor and Clara where he neatly reverses her lines from Kill the Moon, showing how much he took that to heart, seemingly cements that sense of tragedy even further. Perhaps more than any other line illuminating that is when Clara reveals how much she is becoming like the Doctor: “If you can’t save them all, save what you can.” Where is this going?
The most intriguing aspect is how Boyce’s script and Folkson’s direction is how they keep the forest an eerie place while quietly allowing the story to unravel and present the trees as the shield that saves the planet. Clara notes that humans love trees but the Doctor rightfully points out that humans are chopping them down and lighting them on fire. What kind of love is that? Throughout the episode there’s a strong theme of nature fighting back against a species that has been hell bent on destroying it. Trees are an integral part of the entire ecosystem and to consistently destroy them, is to consistently chop away at that lifeline. And the reality of massive deforestation occurring for the sake of short-term financial gain makes the entire situation even more horrifying. The sharpest part of the ecological allegory within the episode was the mention that the trees had mangled the gates of the zoo. It wasn’t just the trees taking revenge, they were letting loose all aspects of nature that ought not be caged by humans. It’s a neat touch and one that makes profound statements without hitting its audience over the head. As the ecological allegory fairy tale episode comes to a close, we go to an eerie shot of Missy, who loves surprises. What kind of surprises she loves remains to be seen, although I have a hard time believing that they’ll be happy ones. ONLY TWO MORE EPISODES TO GO THIS SEASON. Let’s await with bated breath until next week, my fellow Whovians.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“It’s that way.”
+“You need an appointment to see the Doctor.”
+The Doctor describing Clara: “highly unpredictable, surprisingly round face…”
+“She probably has a name.”; “Good point.”
+“They’re in love, why are they shouting?”
+“You don’t need a phone to communicate.”
+“See? Clever kicking in.”
+“No such thing as an arboreal coincidence…”
+“Gifted and talented? Seriously?”
+“If a child is speaking, listen to it.”
+“There are solid scientific reasons to be very afraid right now.”
+“Fear a little less, trust a bit more.”
+The 1908 Tunguska explosion reference
+Were the wolves and the tiger complete CGI? If so, great work.
+“I am Dr. Idiot.”
+“Like you did?”
+The solar flare effects were AMAZING
+The Dr. going from “P.E.” to “Mr. Pink”
+“Go save the next one.”
+The flamethrowers not working against the trees
+The Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel references
+“Why does everything have to go?”
+Clara: “I don’t want to be the last one of my kind.” What does that truly mean?
+The TARDIS as a lifeboat
+ The Doctor: “The human power is to forget.”
+Is Missy standing inside a Cyberman head? If so, that’s kind of awesome.
Title: In the Forest of the Night
Written By: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Directed By: Sheree Folkson
Image Courtesy: Doctor Who Cult
Poem Courtesy: Harvard University
*Note: I do not own or have any rights to the poem above. It is used for the sake of reference from Harvard University and the source is credited above.