REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘Listen’

Twelve (Peter Capaldi) making meditation look painful in 'Listen'.
Twelve (Peter Capaldi) making meditation look painful in ‘Listen’.

So what happened?

There were surprises aplenty this week as we dove into the murky world of dreams, nightmares and the monsters that live under the bed. A rather fabulous monologue from the Doctor opened the episode, where he waxed lyrical about the reasons we talk to ourselves, and the possibility that we’re never really alone. Cut to a restaurant where Clara has finally gotten round to having that drink with her colleague, Danny Pink, except the drink has morphed into dinner, and initially things are going swimmingly. That is until she touches a raw nerve about his past as a soldier, and after trading insults, she walks out and goes home only to be greeted by Twelve, who is unconcerned by her dating woes and wants her to help him to solve the mystery of if we really are being watched by some unknown, sinister entity.

Speculating on the likelihood that she, like everybody else, has woken up from a dream and not felt like she was the only one in the room, the Doctor tells Clara to put her hands into the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits so they can be transported back to when it happened and investigate. The fly in the ointment comes when she’s unable to stop thinking about Danny and their disastrous date. Consequently they’re propelled back to a children’s home in Gloucester in the 90’s, and are confronted by a little boy who goes by the name of Rupert Pink and is scared witless by something that he believes lurks under his bed. Coincidence? I think not! Initially Clara is able to reassure the boy that what he’s scared of is a figment of his imagination, but an ominous shaped lump in the bed soon makes her question herself, and it’s left to the Doctor to console Rupert by telling him, “[Being] scared is a superpower. It’s your superpower. There’s danger in this room. And guess what? It’s you!” Steering them away from bedspread-cloaked being to look out of the window, Twelve urges his companion and the young orphan to close their eyes and let the alien/monster/other child playing a prank to leave the room unseen, which it does. Not wanting to leave Rupert alone and afraid, Clara strategically places toy soldiers along the foot of his bed for protection, and hands him the brave, unarmed Colonel of the group, Dan the Soldier Man, with a thinly veiled nod to the Doctor and, indeed, to the man with whom she’d had the ill-fated date and who the boy would grown into.

Orson Pink, intrepid time traveller.
Orson Pink, intrepid time traveller.

With Danny Pink still on her mind, Clara asks to be taken back to the restaurant where she left him, and after seeing herself leave, she goes back in and tries to reboot the date, but is accused of lying when she lets slip that she knows his name used to be Rupert and pretends she can’t remember who told her. Just as he leaves, a mysterious astronaut enters the restaurant and beckons her towards the TARDIS. Following him, she finds the space suit is occupied by a very familiar face, and yet the Danny lookalike seems to be none the wiser who she is. As the action moves on, it transpires that Orson Pink is a lauded time-traveller from one hundred years in the future, who was accidentally thrown to the edge of time and who just so happens to have the toy soldier that Clara gave Rupert which he keeps as a family heirloom. The plot thickens!

Having been stranded in his spaceship for 6 months apparently in complete solitude, it quickly becomes evident that Orson is frightened he wasn’t alone. Out of sheer curiosity and the need to know the truth, the Doctor tells a white lie about the TARDIS having to charge up overnight before he can take him home, and sits it out with Clara until a loud tapping on the air lock jolts them out of their small talk. Forcing her back to safety in the TARDIS, Twelve fronts it out, and is literally left struggling to hang on when the door to the timetraveller’s ship is opened to the elements on this dying planet. Spurred on to help him, Orson ventures out and saves the unconscious Time Lord. Determined to get them back home on her own, Clara re-merges herself with the telepathic circuits and ends up taking them to a recognisable barn where a small boy can be heard crying. Making her way over to him, she’s forced to hide when two adults enter and try to coax the young man to stop crying and go back to the main building with the other boys, but are unsuccessful. As they leave it’s muttered that “He’ll never make a Time Lord,” and the penny finally drops for Clara. The sobbing boy a matter of inches above her is none other than the now scowling, seemingly fearless Doctor. Grasping him by the foot, and setting off a chain of events in the process, the woman who would one day be his companion tells him to get back into bed and go to sleep, before sitting next to him giving him much the same pep talk he gave the young orphan, Rupert, in his future and her past. Interspersed with this we see Orson finally being taken home, safe in the knowledge that he’s met his great-great-grandmother, and Clara going to Danny’s house and finally finding the courage to start a relationship with him. All the while, the Doctor ends the episode where he started it; alone in the TARDIS and ruminating over his chalkboard, finally and literally drawing a line under the whole incident with a flourish.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's likely an evil child who likes to scare other orphans.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s likely an evil child who likes to scare other orphans.

“Monster” of the Week

Danielle: In time honoured tradition, after a spate of CGI heavy, budget sucking episodes, Whovian law dictates that an invisible alien and/or an offering deplete of guest stars will follow, and so came the very pared back ‘Listen’. It almost seems remiss to discuss this week’s ‘monster’. Technically there probably wasn’t one, but that seems to be the whole point of the exercise. As Clara says,  “It doesn’t matter if there’s nothing under the bed or in the dark. So long as you know it’s ok to be afraid of it… Fear is like a constant companion. Always there, but that’s ok. Because fear can bring us together.” In other words, the object of the fear is almost immaterial. How we react, the people it brings into our sphere and how we treat them, however, are everything.

Marieke: But what was that thing underneath Rupert’s bedspread? Is it a throw away thing to create the creep factor at first? They weren’t allowed to look… Was a young Doctor or Clara there? Will it be important for the rest of the series, like Moffat can do at times? Was it nothing? Was it an imp? A dwarf? Paper, snow, a ghost? AAAAH. No I am not frustrated at all!

Creep Factor

Marieke: Hiiiiiiiiiiigh at first, but not so creepy later. The atmosphere, the idea of something listening all the time, the danger under the bed, the hairs in your neck standing, the pipes in your room making noises, talking to yourself (or are you??)… All that is just properly terrifying. But as soon as we see it’s Clara comforting a young Doctor and being the hand that grabs his ankle, the terror is mostly gone. But it is done with such a heart that it doesn’t bother me. The noises my radiator made were just noises again, phew! I guess we’re back at not blinking and not breathing for scares then!

Danielle: Watching the trailer before the episode, I was expecting an episode that outright veered into the horror genre. Instead we got something more akin to a nuanced, psychological thriller, and the episode was all the better for it. Moral of the story: don’t believe what you see in the trailer!

Dan, the Soldier Man. Family heirloom.
Dan, the Soldier Man. Family heirloom.

Mystery

Marieke: Nothing about the ongoing mystery again. But we got to know more about Rupert and even the Doctor. I guess I don’t even mind not seeing Missy. Ooh maybe she was under the cover? Heaven…. Must be under a bedspread. But eh no seriously, I know this mystery is lingering, but I don’t even care that much any more. But constantly showing it doesn’t work either. We’ll just have to see how this works out.

Danielle: A huge mystery about why the Doctor became the Doctor was solved in this episode, which is, in itself, a massive leap forward in unearthing his well-guarded past and a hint as to why taking people along for the ride is such a necessity for him. Speaking of companions, Clara once again cemented herself as his Saviour by entwining herself with his timeline for the umpteenth time. Once more we got the mirroring of the young Time Lord and a young Rupert/Danny too. I’m guessing there’s a soldier/healer juxtaposition going on there, but I’ll be interested to know to what ends.

A surprise appearance from The War Doctor (John Hurt).
A surprise appearance from The War Doctor (John Hurt).

 Familiar Face of the Week

A different type of familiar face this week! We never ever expected to see a flashback to the War Doctor (John Hurt), but this ret-con idea actually worked and made his storyline even better. Nice one, Moffat!

The Verdict?

So it’s safe to say that ‘Listen’ divided people. For some it’s one of the finest episodes of the whole show’s run, but for others the sloppy plotting and the ‘de-muddying’ of the water regarding the Doctor’s childhood, left far too many threads hanging and was an exposition too far respectively.  Even here, we can’t agree 100% on where this outing for Capaldi’s incarnation failed and where it excelled. Whatever your opinion, it’s hard to believe that your jaw didn’t hit the floor when you realised that Clara was under the bed of the Doctor in the very barn he came to in ‘The Day of the Doctor’ to make the biggest decision of his life. That was a bold move on Moffat’s part, and bold, however flawed, is never boring.

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