I remember this one as being an absolute stinker, but on second viewing it’s not terrible, just a little bit meh. It’s always a risk to put kids at the centre of the action, and the sheer number of them involved on this occasion inevitably led to one or two quite annoying ones slipping through the net. It’s odd that Courtney isn’t among their number – I know she’s a little older than this lot, but if you’re going to have a bunch of Coal Hill kids as guest stars, you’d think the one we’d already met would tag along.
Instead, it’s Danny Pink’s chance to take part in an adventure properly, for the first and, it will soon transpire, the last time. I remember being convinced at the time that Danny would turn out to be evil in some way – I just thought that the only explanation for his lack of warmth or charm was that we weren’t supposed to like him. The undercurrent of controlling behaviour is never far away, masked by a nauseating “nice guy” persona. Still no real idea what Clara sees in him.
Luckily, whenever Capaldi’s on screen, things are basically fine. He makes the episode entertaining enough, it’s just that there isn’t much in the way of a threat. It’s just some trees. The only scares come from some CGI zoo animals, and it’s the quality of the effects that are the most frightening thing. Of course, the lack of threat was the point of the story – the trees were our friends all along – but it’s alarming how slowly the Doctor figures it out. He actually decided to leave the human race to die before he made the link between the impending giant fireball and the flame-resistant forest, despite many clunking clues being dropped.
It was all a bit of an anti-climax really, considering how strong the imagery of an overgrown London is. It’s one of those plots that plays without the Doctor actually doing anything – he even leaves the job of calling off the defoliators to a tiny child, who all the world’s authorities take orders from, for some reason. Then we’re told that the entire population will simply forget that this had happened, again just for some reason, and despite all the news footage and selfies we’d been shown throughout.
It’s a flawed episode, and it must have left me wanting more Who that week, because we’ve now reached something of a milestone. I started this watch-through on the day after this episode aired. This is where we came in, over three years ago. It’s strange to think that everything that’s still to go was yet to be released – and in most cases yet to be made – back when I picked An Unearthly Child off the shelf.