Doctor Who: 804 “Listen” Review
Reviewed by John Hussey.
Steven Moffat has certainly proved himself to be a successful show-runner over the course of his four-and-a-bit-year reign so far. His main goal throughout his tenure has been to examine the Doctor as a character and expand upon it in new and interesting ways. What we’ve also had is clear and thoughtful planning into how to display his character and some of his more interesting back-story that we clearly had no idea about and Moffat has incorporated through his genius. I don’t wish to make this about Steven Moffat or anything but I thought I would indicate how much I admire this man and his work. I can say without a doubt that the show is still in safe hands whilst Moffat is in-charge.
Throughout Series Eight, Moffat has gone about to examine the Doctor’s character even further with the simple notion of “is he a good man”, which has spanned across the Doctor’s adventures since 1963. Moffat has cleverly revamped the idea and incorporated it in a way to tell exciting new stories that widens the Doctor’s storyline and allows us as a viewer to see more of his character and make us question him further. The grand idea of introducing a hidden incarnation during the 50th celebrations was fresh and incredibly clever to say the least. It gave the Doctor some well rounded mystery and made us even doubt the character even further. That’s what I like most about the Doctor, his alien nature and the fact he isn’t what he’s made out to be and does without a doubt hold back information for his own personal reasoning.
With Peter Capaldi’s portrayal of the character it was back to basics with how the character is told. We have a more William Hartnell approach with the whole cold-hearted and alien nature which causes lack of concern and understanding of those around him. This is what I’ve liked and I give Moffat true credit for being bold with this approach.
The concentration in ‘Listen’ was the Twelfth Doctor’s curiosity. I’ve said many times over in articles and fan discussions that the Doctor’s curiosity is his ultimate weakness because he allows it to control his actions and push him into doing things that causes danger to not only himself but to those around him. The whole idea of the story was the Twelfth Doctor randomly becoming curious over the question of “is there such thing perfect hiding”. This was a frightening concept to say the least and it lead the Time Lord into uncharted territories, i.e. the oldest fear imaginable.
‘Listen’ does well at showcasing Moffat’s ways of developing scares, the idea of the man using inanimate objects or chilling childlike nightmare fuel in order to develop something that can lead the monster back into our own living room. The Weeping Angels for example have made people become wary around everyday statues. This kind of fear is what Moffat does best at as he wants people to become frightened by things around them in everyday life. That is true terror.
It is a great idea having the old idea of ‘something under the bed’ as a basis for a monster, or perhaps an idea for something to be scared of. The Twelfth Doctor’s speech to Clara about questioning whether anyone is ever alone was just a chilling idea. It’s a basic fear among all humans that they believe there’s something in the room with them when they stand alone, that there may be something in the dark waiting to come out and grab them from behind, something lurking under the bed as we sleep. What made the idea more thrilling was that it was made to believe that everyone had the same primal fear and dream, making you wonder whether it was just coincidence.
The Twelfth Doctor’s curiosity led him to bring Clara into his little journey by essentially making her a lab rat in order to prove his theory correct. This curiosity became an almost obsession through the episode, growing and growing until it led him into mortal danger. The inability to be proved wrong cropped back up as the Twelfth Doctor tried desperately to prove his theory right. What I liked about the episode was the Twelfth Doctor actually resorting to having a monologue to get across his theories and to also help with explaining the story at the beginning of the story. It almost showcased a sense of madness and an inside into what the Doctor actually gets up to when he’s alone. Without anyone there he simply talks to himself out loud in a strange manner. Also before we move on I will point out the Twelfth Doctor’s inability to understand humans was put in with humorous results that allowed more of the comical side of Twelve to seep through in an insulting way.
Clara’s character was also explored more I think and I truly believe her character has matured since her introduction in Series Seven. You really believe that she has grown taller as a character and feels more independent. When she was with Eleven these elements were seen but only since her interactions with the Twelfth Doctor has she developed a new authoritative figure that can rival the Doctor’s own authority in terms of intellect and courage. I really thought she challenged the Twelfth Doctor in what is right and wrong, ultimately showcasing that his curiosity was consuming him and everyone around him. Little things like how to talk to Danny as a child during the reassuring scene showcased that Clara understood human qualities and how to show her feelings. This is something, as well established to date, Twelve lacks in and simply doesn’t care about anymore. Her usage of the Colonel figure became something of vital importance as the story went on.
Curiosity became the vital point of the episode and brought about a time travel story that ultimately had a huge affect on Danny. Not only did we see into Danny’s past but we also saw into his future. As soon as Clara started to get side-tracked in thought, it wasn’t to guess that the TARDIS would end up in Danny’s past instead of Clara’s past as planned. The simple implication of an orphanage was all that was needed to grant further character development. This vital piece of information showed that Danny, like Clara, suffered with some kind of parent issue. It was a clever implication that didn’t need to be spoken with dialogue, a simple usage of environment to tell the story. We then got a look into Danny’s descendants who gave off the impression that Danny would become more involved with the story and this involvement would eventually have affect the future. These aspects of the story made the episode all the more clever as it allowed Moffat’s timey-wimey storytelling to develop the story of the series and the characters involved.
‘Listen’ allowed Clara to once again become the hero and be the one who saved the Doctor, something hadn’t been seen since the Doctor Trilogy last year. Not only did she aid Danny as a child, but also the Doctor. That was the exciting twist of the story that brought it to a brilliant conclusion that really demonstrated Moffat’s capabilities as a writer and his depth in writing for the Doctor’s character. Once again the environment told a story. I quickly picked up on the fact that not only were we seeing into the Doctor’s past but also we had returned to the barn that the War Doctor attempted to use the Moment.
It was interesting to finally see the Doctor as a vulnerable child where his parents even had doubts in his capabilities in the future, believing him to be incapable of becoming a Time Lord at the academy. This scene made the entire episode seem all the more meaningful as the curiosity in question was created from the Doctor’s own childhood fears. Clara decided to step in and put the Doctor in his place by being human. She did what he didn’t agree with when reassuring Danny, she decided to lie and tell the young Doctor that everything would be alright.
Not only that we had the poetic speech of her encouraging the tiny Time Lord about his future and the events that would go in that very barn. Clara spoke about how he would be afraid but that he would prevail through the notion of hope. The final touches to this scene was the fact Clara recited the Twelfth Doctor’s speech to young Danny which makes you wonder if Clara’s reciting of the speech to his younger self actually influenced him in the first place. Influence through the timey wimey events was the key to the plot and helped with a lot of fantastic character developments. I really loved this scene for all its unique qualities.
The relationship between Clara and Danny was continued and once again incorporated with witty dialogue and emotional moments. The whole banter between the two of them over their pasts really helped the two of them understand one another better and Clara’s interactions with his past self and descendent placed another layer of development on top. The awkwardness was still there which I loved from their first encounter along with the nice touch of out of sync scenes, allowing for pre-judgements over their date through their reactions. It was cleverly written and directed. What made the story all the more sweeter is that by the end Clara and Danny had reached a point of connection, despite both of their mistakes and walkouts during the date and its timey-wimey nature, and began a romantic relationship.
The enemy of the piece was interestingly used as it wasn’t really seen, merely implied. Unlike a normal enemy the creature in question doesn’t cause a threat to the characters nor has any true intention of hostility or has any plans for conquest. It is literally a bogeyman, something that is rarely seen within Doctor Who. The closest to this would be the unseen creature from ‘Midnight’. I liked how the story ended with a mass of ambiguity as to whether the creature in question was real or not. Before the Twelfth Doctor could delve any further into his mad quest for answers Clara stepped in and caused the Time Lord to give up his crusade before he killed himself. It emphasised the nature of the Twelfth Doctor being dark and not fully caring for those around him with his curiosity driving him into danger and that Clara needed to step in and stop him going too far. Their chemistry and friendship really shone out in this story and made the tale all the more engaging and meaningful.
‘Listen’ was an episode all about meaning. Though it wasn’t the most engaging episode in terms of explosive storylines and action, it was intriguing and showed true character development and evaluation, with the Twelfth Doctor and Danny once again sharing common interests and story-aspects. Clara was once again on the ball and proved herself in being there for the Doctor. She is still the Impossible Girl. Steven Moffat continues to show off his potential and continues to surprise in the quality he can produce; reassuring me that he is still the right man for the job of show-runner. Like with his time with Matt Smith, him and Capaldi make a great team and push the show further into new realms.