“Forest of the Dead” – Review: Redux

River Song “If you die here, it will mean I never met you.”
The Doctor “Time can be rewritten.”
River Song: “Not those times. Not one line. Don’t you dare.”

The Forest of the Dead

The genius of this piece is the added irony that it depicts both River’s last meeting with the Doctor and his first meeting with her. Well, this statement would have been true had not, River from “The Day of the Doctor”, implied that she was visiting Vashtra, Straxx, Jenny et al from after her death/upload seen here at the end of “Forest of the Dead”.  I’d hazard a guess that Audrey Niffenegger’s book, The Time Traveller’s Wife would have been just out of shot of Steven’s bookcase that had appeared in the accompanying Doctor Who Confidential instalment. This appetiser of Moffat-era Doctor Who, is all the more interesting in that it features David Tennant in the role. We know, anecdotally, that there was an initial plan to keep him in the role after Russell T Davies left, so the chemistry between Tennant and Kingston is a taste of what might have been.

It is amusing for me, as I re-read the review I previously wrote, after “The Forest of the Dead” had aired, that “While I’d love to see a series of mis-matched, temporal encounters between the Doc and River, I doubt that this will ever see the light of day”. How wrong I was. Wrong but happy that this encounter was not the last we got to see of Professor Song. It is such a fun conceit to have this larger than life character pop in and out of the Doctor’s life in the wrong order, although you can see some writers would shy away from such a thing in fear on confusing the hell out of the casual viewers that the series is so keen to attract.

Of course, the other brilliant thing about the story is the Vashta Nerada. Steven Moffat’s other great monster creations, the Silence and the Weeping Angels have both come back in subsequent tales but this is the only appearance of this menace: One which not only lives in the shadows but *is* the shadow itself. I guess that it doesn’t exactly lend itself to making a comeback given the limitations of a possible storyline but I found this to be one the creepiest concepts that the series has created in ages, even if it was let down the tiniest bit by some strange editing.

Donna’s story was a little strange too as she lived out a life in the virtual reality world of the Library’s planet core, hard drive thing under the watchful eye of Doctor Moon. This was an element of the story that didn’t quite work as well as it might have done for me. The acting from all concerned was top notch and you can’t really go wrong with Colin Salmon, but something just didn’t feel right. May be, in the context of the narrative, that was the point. The heart-breaking touch at the end as Donna and her virtual husband-who-turned-out-to-be-real-after-all, just missed meeting was another lovely touch. Just to complete the circle of the story, as Donna, the husband, and the other 4022 inhabitants of the hard drive were rescued from their “saved” state, it was the Doctor who managed to allow River to live on with CAL and the other astronauts in the same world.

So, to the conclusion. On the evidence of these two episodes, the future is in strong and capable hands, after the not-quite-hiatus that will be 2009. However, before he grabs hold of the reins, there is the small matter of eight consecutive RTD-penned episodes* to round off his time on the show. Eight episodes that would court controversy, provide all the thrills and spills you could shake a sonic screwdriver at, and culminate in the arrival of the eleventh Doctor. They are also eight episodes that will be reviewed here over the coming eight nights. And they start with a doozy tomorrow.

Highlight: River’s first/last appearance (depending how you look at it)

Lowlight: The “dive” in to the data core.

Talking Point: RTD vs The Moff: You Decide!

Demon’s Run Rating: 16 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 7th June 2008

Marathon Status: HALF-WAY THERE!!!

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