After a couple of heavy episodes, “In the Forest of the Night,” returns the show back to a bit of lighter fare. The Doctor is back to saving the world, rather than a few individuals. The episode is an opportunity for the show to be a bit goofy before the two part finale, which I have no doubts will be some heavy stuff. It also is a chance for Clara to come clean about the lies she’s been telling both the Doctor and Danny.
The episode opens with a little girl running through the woods with a red coat over her school uniform, reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood. She arrives at the TARDIS and knocks on the door. The Doctor lets her in once she explains something is chasing her. We find out the little girl, Maebh, ran to the Doctor because she thought she hard Clara’s voice tell her to do so. The Doctor is fairly uninterested. He’s more concerned with his failing navigation systems, as he is supposed to be in the center of London. Maebh explains to the Doctor they are in fact in London, it has merely been taken over by a forest.
After the opening credits, we see that Danny and Clara have led an overnight class trip to the London Zoological Museum. As they’re leaving the museum one of the students, Ruby, notices a tree ring is thicker and redder than the other rings. Clara doesn’t really have an explanation. When the class goes to leave the museum, they find what the Doctor and Maebh already know: trees have infiltrated London.
Excited that she found something to show the Doctor, Clara places a phone call to the Doctor to tell him about the forest. The Doctor tells Clara he already knows, and he also informs her that Maebh is with him. When Clara goes back inside the museum, Danny asks if she called the school and the parents. She tries to lie and say yes, but he knows she was talking to the Doctor. He was under the impression that Clara and the Doctor were no longer talking, but Clara chalks up this conversation to the current forest infestation.
So off Danny and Clara go, in an attempt to get the kids safely home. This is Danny’s number one priority, whereas Clara is in full Doctor Companion mode trying to ask questions about how the forest ended up in London.
Danny and Clara arrive at the TARDIS, and the kids start taking pictures of forested Trafalgar Square. Clara tells the kids that the Doctor will sort everything out, but the Doctor says this time he’s not sure he can figure out a solution. The Doctor thinks it’s a natural event, and not a problem that he can solve.
Clare refuses to believe this, and so she, Danny, and the students enter the TARDIS. Danny notices some homework books on the TARDIS, providing evidence that Clara has been with the Doctor more recently than she admits. The Doctor sees Maebh’s homework book with illustrations, and the Doctor needs to speak with her, but they’ve all just realized that Maebh is missing…again. Clara explains to the Doctor that Maebh’s sister went missing the year before and that she’s on medication and hears voices. The Doctor is upset that they aren’t listening to Maebh. The Doctor tells Clara and Danny that Maebh is tuned to a different channel and she can help them
As the Doctor and Clara are off to find Maebh, Lord Nelson’s column falls down and almost takes out the Doctor and Clara. The students and Danny leave the TARDIS, and Ruby chastises Danny for letting Clara go off with the Doctor when he is supposed to love her. They decide to go look for Clara, and Danny once again calls them a team, which they really get upset about.
As the Doctor and Clara are searching for Maebh, Clara notices the paths are growing over very rapidly. They find Maebh’s phone, and the Doctor realizes that Maebh is leaving them a trail so they can track her down. Clara and the Doctor come across a group of government workers attempting to burn down some of the trees for emergency routes. However, the trees are in control of the amount of oxygen, so they can quickly extinguish the flame.
The Doctor shows Clara Maebh’s homework in which Maebh drew a solar flare headed toward Earth, like the one that destroyed the Bank of Karabroxos. The Doctor says that the trees want something, and he also says that Maebh lost someone so she’s more attuned and listening. As they’re walking, they hear a wolf howl, just another fairy tale story allusion in this episode: Maebh running through the forest like Little Red Riding Hood, and her leaving school supplies as bread crumbs like Hansel and Gretel. The Doctor points out that the trees probably mangled the London Zoo’s gates so the animals are now free.
Maebh is still running through the forest, waving her hands about wildly. She stops and we see a couple wolves in the brush behind her. She turns toward them, and then screams. Clara and the Doctor hear it and take off running toward the sound of the scream. Eventually, Clara and the Doctor meet up with Maebh, and the wolves are scared off by something. It turns out that something is a tiger. Luckily, Danny shows up in time to flash a light in the tiger’s eyes and scare the tiger away.
But Maebh is still batting at the air wildly, and the Doctor is intrigued. When Danny suggests she needs her medication, the Doctor says they need her without medication to find the source of what is happening. Maebh takes off running and everyone follows. Maebh runs to a circle with a bright light. She says that the forest is her fault because it was a thought that came to her. Since her sister Annabelle went missing, thoughts come to her, and the forest was one and she thought everyone would like it. She says the thoughts are coming to fast to her. The Doctor uses the sonic screwdriver to create some gravity, ad we see a bunch of white dots flying around Maebh. These lights begin speaking, telling the Doctor that they live in the plants, and that they were there long before humanity, and will remain long after it is gone. When the Doctor asks why they summoned him, the lights tell him they don’t know who he is. After this interaction, the lights leave Maebh.
Clara and the Doctor realize that there is nothing that can be done to stop the worldwide forest infestation, or the impending solar flare. When Clara says that she and the Doctor have been to the future, he tells her those futures are about to be erased. She suggests that they head back to the TARDIS and save themselves and the kids they are with.
Once back at the TARDIS, Clara tells the Doctor that the kids aren’t going to go on the TARDIS, as they’ll want to be with their parents. Here, I think we get a glimpse into Clara’s feelings about her parents, which STILL remain a mystery. The Doctor offers to save Clara and Danny, but Clara says Danny won’t leave the kids. When the Doctor offers to just save Clara, she tells him that she doesn’t want to be the last of his kind. In the Doctor’s eyes, there is a bit of hurt and a bit of understanding. It’s a lonely life, how can he ask Clara to go through what he’s been through. Clara says she brought him back to the TARDIS to save him, because the only he would go back is if he thought he was saving someone. She says this time, the human race has to save the Doctor. The Doctor tells Clara that it’s his world too; he walks it and breathes the air. She tells him he’s welcome, but he has to go save the next world. After some hesitance and sadness, the Doctor gets on the TARDIS and leaves.
On the TARDIS, the Doctor watches the solar flare. He realizes something on the TARDIS, and goes back. He calls after Clara and Danny, and Clara refuses to turn back until the kids run after him. The Doctor tells them large solar flares have happened before, flares that should have destroyed the Earth, but the trees saved the planet, and that’s what it’s doing again. Clara remembers the wide red ring that Ruby noticed, and the Doctor confirms it was part of saving the Earth. Danny tells the Doctor the government is sending out defoliant chemicals to get rid of the leaves. The Doctor says they’re going to call everyone on Earth to stop them from harming the trees.
Together, the kids write the message and call everyone on Earth at the same time. Maebh reads the message, telling everyone that the trees are protecting the planet. She ends by asking her sister Annabelle to come home. Just then Maebh’s mother arrives outside the TARDIS, after she’s been looking for her all episode. Seeing Maebh reunited with her mother makes the other kids want to go home as well. Clara tries to encourage Danny to go with her to watch the solar flare from space, but he tells her he’s had enough adventure. He tells her there are wonders on Earth. He says one person is more amazing than universes, and they kiss in front of the kids. Oops.
As Clara and Danny are walking the kids home, he tells her he knows she’s been traveling with the Doctor. He tells her he doesn’t care what the truth is, as long as he knows it. She goes to say something, but he tells her to home and think about it first, he at least owes her that.
When the solar flare hits the earth, the Doctor and Clare in the TARDIS in space watching. The trees do exactly as the Doctor thought, and protects the earth. Back on Earth after the flare, the trees start disappearing, with everything going back to normal. When Clara asks what the explanation will be, the Doctor tells her that people will forget, and instead it will turn into stories (perhaps the reason for the Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel allusions).
As the solar flare happens, with Missy watching. She’s surprised by the turn of events, but again, we don’t yet know what her deal is.
The episode ends with Maebh and her mother returning home. As they approach their house, the trees to a bush disappear, and there’s Maebh’s sister, Annabelle. It feels a little silly, since there’s no explanation for Annabelle’s disappearance, but I guess they had to wrap it up somehow, huh?