Sunday, June 08, 2008

Spoilers, sweetie, spoilers... Forest of the Dead - a Doctor Who review

Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.

Never was the sentiment of a TV drama serial more aptly highlighted.

So if you're not inclined to find out what was going on in Forest of the Dead - Moffat's glorious conclusion to Silence in the Library - then I suggest you look away now.

Go on. Put down the blue TARDIS book.

Do not open its pages.

Keep your eyes closed.

Don't read the websites. Do not even think of visiting forums.

And stay out of the shadows.

Done that?

Sure you're wanting to find out more?

Well, I'm still going to try and keep it vague. Hey, bless 'em, that's even - to some extent - what they do on the show.

I've just rewatched Forest of the Dead, along with the Cut Down Confidential (on which note, I know there are all the copyright issues and all that, but really the full length versions are so far superior with their excerpts from the classic Who days etc that I really am more and more disappointed each time I see a Cut Down version for what younger viewers are missing on the DVDs. It is just so nice to have the context, the cross references, the additional nuances and history. And by all accounts younger viewers are pursuing the older stories on DVD so is it really just down to the legalities why we have to miss out on the full-length Confidentials on DVD?)


Here's what I thought.

I thought it was lovely. Gorgeous. Visually amazing (completely helped in that by gorgeous Swansea Library btw along with some sterling lighting work: top marks to the lighting crew), with some breathtaking effects and some very nice old skool imagery -- come on, the skeleton zombies in spacesuits were pretty cool in that regard.

I liked the invisible-ness of the 'villain' - the Vashta Nerada, the dust in sunbeams, the shadows [not every shadow, but any shadow]. Did it/they give the Doctor his one day to evacuate the people and then leave them to their 'forest', the books? We'll take that one as unresolved (or as Cloud said 'they fell out the script' -- ouch!)


That's almost beside's the point since what really made this episode work for me was the emotions it portrayed. It was truly emotional in all the right ways. I'm writing this without reading the reviews - hell, I hardly even read last episode's reviews - so I'm not going to bother too much about how other people felt about the emotions. I hope they were as engaged and touched by it as I was, but I suspect some have been feeling too anticipatory of the Return of the Rose to 'feel' the way I did for these characters. If that turns out to be true, that's a shame because I really liked how the close ensemble cast made us care for the crew in the Library, and for CAL and for the Doctor Moon and for Lee McAvoy. Tate as Donna gets some wonderful opportunities to show her acting chops through both episodes - particularly with Miss Evangelista, but also the ebb and flow of Donna's sense that not all is well in her world of marriage and children [and btw I thought the tricksiness of using televisual techniques to show the unrealness of that world was really great, highlighting the arbitrary way in which we accept and fill in the blanks of TV narrative].

And then there was Professor River Song.

Dear god, what a character. What a marvellous portrayal. Alex Kingston hasn't always been well served by all her roles but she usually brings a hefty amount of gumption and verve and sheer sexiness to her work and this was no exception. But more than that she also brought heart.

From the get go -- "hello sweetie"; "Pretty boy" -- her affection for the Doctor was beautifully conveyed. The moment last week when she looks at him with eyes afresh and notes "how young" he looks ("I'm really not" the poor Doctor replies) and then begins to realise that this isn't quite her Doctor, the Doctor she called on, the Doctor she knows... the sorrow Kingston captures in her eyes is heart-breaking.

When I watched it last night (Saturday), you didn't have to be a great mind to anticipate that the sparkiness of how the Doctor and River Song bickered and debated and generally interacted was not unlike the manner of ... well, we all know those relationships where you spar and bounce ideas and spark and tense and get tart and ...

Even so, when River Song gets to that point where she knows she has to say something - to provide a 'spoiler' - in order to convey to the Doctor why she trusts him but also how she has a sonic screwdriver (with 51st century, square gun skills [hiya Captain Jack!] and dampers and everything)...

Last night, I sat and clutched a blanket as a cushion to me and as she leaned towards him I murmured aloud "she knows his name".

When David Tennant is allowed to act, often the quiet moments when a thought crosses his mind, when an emotion rises up, then he really shows what he is capable of.* When River Song asks him after her whisper "Are we good?" and the Doctor finally manages a response, it is a soundless, perfect, choking "yes" with eyes that are dark and still and horrified. It makes me choke just thinking of the scene.

And he does it again, though in a totally different mode, when he is grinning with joy at CAL as he inputs River Song's sonic screwdriver into the hard drive: the best save he could make. Makes me hold my breath to think of that moment.

There's plenty in between of course - there is always something, at least one moment of dazzling wonder per episode, it's just that this time around we get several of these moments for him.

And not just him. Anita, Proper Dave, Other Dave, Mr Lux - all get their chance to shine. Eve Newton as CAL/The Girl is a wide-eyed joy: her delight in watching the Doctor hanging and escaping along the library 'bridge', her hiding behind the cushion and shrieking at the scary bits, her horror when she - at the flick of a button - rids herself of daddy and Doctor Moon are wonderfully conveyed.

Did everything about this episode work flawlessly? Of course not: Murray Gold did get carried away as he too often does (especially when Donna finds her children gone: dude, way with the overdoing an already rather overwrought scene). And as mentioned the 'demise' of the Vashta Nerada was left a little too hanging. What DOES happen to the library? Additionally, Cloud was more than a little heart-broken that Donna did not get to be reunited with stammering Lee McAvoy (it was hard for us to not empathise with the agonising slowness that meant he could not quite call out in time to Donna). But these are small matters to me -- they may not be to you of course, but my heart was already swept away to the future possibilities of life with the Doctor and River Song, with him already aware of what comes next in her life (especially that last time when he turns up and gives her the sonic screwdriver). **Sigh** Gosh darn, they had - will have - one helluva relationship to come won't they? Handcuffs...**

So, overall, a top pair of episodes. I've really enjoyed this series. It isn't hard when it's this good. Tate has more than proved herself worthy in both quiet and louder moments (it's been reassuring that those I really expected dire reviews from have largely been won over and even those who remain unconvinced overall have nevertheless stayed with the programme and enjoyed/complimented her far more than I could have anticipated). It's a grand pity that there is something on Donna's back that doesn't bode well for why River Song gives her the look that pitied even as it admired.

It's the 'Doctor-lite' ep next week, and then the 3-ep finale I think. Hold your breath folks, there'll be a lot of Rose-fandom squeeing at the top of their lungs.

*It's a thing I love in a lot of acting performances. I'll just pick a few here but I could choose many more. It comes when Kevin Spacey in LA Confidential is asked by Guy Pearce why he became a cop and he half chokes as he replies "I don't remember"; it comes when David Morrissey in Holding On is in the travel agency and suddenly all his morality falls away as he is attracted to the assistant there; it comes frequently for Ken Stott when he catches his breath in the heat of a flash and burn scene of tension as his character's humanity tugs at his heart-strings. And it comes with a frequency that is a good part of the reason why I love for Douglas Henshall and David Tennant.

**People, and you know who you are, what was with the text messages on that matter?! For shame, what DO you think of me?!


Poly_Gianniba said...

One marvellous acting moment for DT - and one that hardly anyone will ever mention because it's not big: just after he saves her, he swaggers on and opens the double doors and there is so much bliss on his face. After everything, this made me so happy.

P.S. Next week the episode is not Doctor-lite (and the buzz around it is very intriguing - no spoilers :)), the Doctor-lite episode is the one after that.

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

My miscount Poly so ta for that - and I'm not even sure how I could have thought that given how much DT is in the trailer for next week (though it could well be a Donna-lite ep!)

Excuses excuses. My bad.

And yeah, he does look way happy when he comes through the doors I totally agree. That swagger that River loved - "next stop everywhere" - was utterly at the heart of that entrance.

Jane Henry said...

I liked the clicking fingers for the tardis to open too...

I am in your camp Lisa. I loved this! And the possibilities for the Doctor and Alex are fantastic aren't they.

I wasn't quite sure what I thought about the end though. Not sure I'd want to be saved for ever in a virtual reality world, and the comment she made about him not quite wanting to let go, made me think that really it's Stephen Moffat who can't quite let go of his characters.

But hey... otherwise, great!

JoeinVegas said...

We just caught the Doctor's daughter episode - is it really going into a spin off?
And handcuffs? I missed something there.

Tom said...

Did you really think that the fate of the Vashta Nerada was left hanging? I thought it was quite clear what happened because it was pretty much spelt out what the plan was and the fact that it didn't show anything otherwise implied that's exactly what came to pass. Showing it as well would have just been redundant and repeating what had already been said.

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Tom: I think on reflection you're right that it probably didn't need the on-screen explanation about the pirahnas as a what next -- that was probably just me shoe-horning in Cloud's belief that it didn't get dealt with how he expected...

Thanks for the defense btw folks: nice that I wasn't alone in enjoying this so much!

Tom said...

Definitely not alone. It was bloody brilliant!