Doctor Who: Listen (EPISODE REVIEW)

I apologize for not posting my review sooner. I do my best to post them as soon as I finish something, but with Doctor Who I prefer to watch the episode at least twice before putting my thoughts down. And for an episode as divisive to some as Listen, I needed to watch it twice. And here we are.

It’s interesting what will scare one person and not the person sitting right next to you. Upon first watch of this episode my younger brother and fiancé claimed it wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I found it. Meanwhile they found episodes like Blink far more scary than I. Perhaps it has something to do with personality, or what deep seated fears lie within us, and perhaps scare levels within specific Doctor Who episodes would be an interesting study of ones psyche – but now is not the time or place.

The episode begins with a rather intriguing break-the-fourth-wall moment that at first is a bit… unnervingly odd. But it is soon made clear when the Doctor begins to evaluate what he deems are the “perfect” evolutions for hunting and defending. But why isn’t there a species with the perfect ability to hide? Why do we talk to ourselves when we think we’re alone. What if these creatures with perfected stealth only engage when being expressly referred to (which the Doctor is alluding he is doing)? Maybe the Doctor’s already forgotten about the Silence, but that’s alright – because these guys seem even creepier.

The episode goes a few steps further and tells us that we’ve all had one dream at one point or another, where you wake up and feel as if you’re not alone. You feel as if the room isn’t right. So you get up and something reaches out from under the bed. This sequence was fantastic, chill inducing even. But then, as I’m sure everyone and their mothers did, I asked myself if I’ve ever had that dream before. And I don’t recall it, particularly the bit with the hand reaching out from under the bed. But there have been those odd nights where something does just feel off, and you’re unaware if you’re still half asleep or if something is actually wrong. I think it was this first notion of imbedded fear that sat with me through the episode.

Throughout Listen is the running, not quite parallel juxtaposition of Clara’s terrible date with Danny Pink. With the help of a little time travel she was capable of going back, smoothing over previous maladies, but in the end it was just a terrible first date. I love Samuel Anderson’s Danny character. Even when he smiles you can tell it’s masking a torrent of emotions. But his character too is testy and barks out at anything she says wrong. So maybe this episode wasn’t the best glimpse into their eventual relationship, but any screentime with the two is surely welcome.

Her bad date did push the timey wimey elements of this narrative to certain points, and I liked that. I felt the entire let-the-TARDIS-feed-into-your-sub-conscience thing was brilliant science fiction writing. We got to meet a young Rupert Pink (soon to be Danny), and I loved the bit about the Doctor giving him this grand dream of turning into Dan-the-Soldierman to the chagrin of Clara – knowing this would change the course of the poor guy’s future.

Then there was that scene where Clara and Rupert go under the bed, and someone sits on top. My heart stopped probably. One of my worst fears, heightened by the fact that the monster was out of sight for the entire scene, underneath a blanket. How well done was that!? Easily the number one best scare I’ve received from the program, and many other reviewers will admit it rivaled many modern horrors. The fact that even when the blanket came off and we still couldn’t see it, but were able to make out that it definitely wasn’t human, also added to the scare. The episode as a whole relied on the fact that it was an unknown entity that could potentially react terribly to its being seen to instill its fear. I think it’s less about the fear of the unknown and more about the fear of the unknowable that gets to us here.

And then the episode takes it too far. It’s clear up to this point that this creature does exist. Clara and Rupert saw something hiding under the blanket, before the Doctor even showed up. There’s the scenes with the monster under the bed. There’s Orson Pink, last human in the universe, hearing ghastly figures outside his locked door at night. But Clara suddenly gets this notion out of nowhere that it’s a figment of the Doctor’s imagination. I understand we couldn’t see the monster, but to tell us later that there is nothing behind the curtain to begin with is sloppy writing.

A LOT of individuals felt the scene with Clara visiting a young Doctor on Gallifrey the most divisive of the lot. Aside from the scene where Hartnell and Susan steal the TARDIS in The Name of the Doctor, this is the first time we’ve ever seen the Doctor’s past on Gallifrey. Personally, I don’t mind whatsoever. In fact, many people were claiming that the two adults were the Doctor’s parents and that was too much, but it’s so clear upon rewatch that they definitely weren’t. They mention that he could come sleep in the other room with the other boys, insinuating he were in either an orphanage or a boarding school. This also seems to be the place that John Hurt deployed the Moment later on in his timeline. Now this scene didn’t make or break the episode for me. In fact, it really didn’t need to be included at all. But it was definitely one of those Moffat moments where he felt obliged to put his mark on the Doctor’s timeline.

Overall the moffatisms – those tropes that have now become less of a cliché and more of an expectation from his episodes, run amuck in Listen. There’s the fact that Moffat put his stamp on the Doctor’s timeline, his love of the timey-wimey, and the almost inescapable monster that preys on our psychological fears. I was reading a review of the episode that essentially bottled this notion that because the reviewer expected Moffat clichés within the episode, he reviewed it poorly. But as a friend mentioned to me the other day it’s hard to hate these tropes when he does them so well. Another friend told me that this would be his new episode to introduce those of the “not-we” in place of others such as Blink. I’m in that same boat. Although certain points within the episode I actively disliked, I loved the other 90%. Along with Midnight, Blink, Vincent and the Doctor – this is easily going to be added to my list of “episodes to watch with friends on Who Marathon nights.”

Although not the perfect episode we all wanted, this was the scariest Who has gotten in a long while – perhaps since Night Terrors, or Midnight even. And this is undoubtedly my favorite episode so far this season. Not bad Moffat. I almost lost hope. And a surprising lack of the overall arc – that has to be a first with Moffat. But this does mark a few times where Clara seems to be worried about finding out the means of her eventual death. Coincidence?

(Side note, this is my 200th post. Yay me!)

20 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Listen (EPISODE REVIEW)

  1. Isn’t that just a huge plothole? Well, there is two actually. We see the monster in the window but then at the end of the episode it is made clear that there is no monster and we are supposed to belief it was another child in the dorm? Secondly, everyone seems to agree that the barn was on Gallifrey, but why would he release the Moment on the planet he intended to destroy in a big fiery ball?

    As you can probably tell, I didn’t like this episode much. I loved the comedy. I loved the Doctor being rude to Clara and stealing coffee. I liked the twist on who the man in the spacesuit was. However, the whole concept was a huge anti-climax (did I mention the plothole?) and the scenes with Danny were just cringeworthy. You seem to think he is a good actor but I just don’t buy him being all jokey and stupid one second and then barking at Clara about taking lives the next. It’s two different characters, not a mood swing. I do like the path of their relationship though,even if it is terribly predictable for a time travel series.

    My biggest problem though is that Moffat has chosen to try and push this Doctor as the vulnerable, crying in his bed, afraid of being alone one and I’m just not buying to when his demeanor is tougher and meaner than ever. Even if it is realistic that vulnerable people put on the strongest personas, I’m just not buying it in the context of the show and this actor.

    A weak underdeveloped idea, unevenly presented, and bogged down with a flawed secondary plot, and I say that as a fan not even slightly fed up with Moffatisms.


    1. Regarding your question “…but why would he release the Moment on the planet he intended to destroy in a big fiery ball?”

      That would be obvious to me. The “War Doctor” in that scenario was not looking to survive. He wanted to be punished by his actions… so he would be right there in the thick of it to presumably die… though the Moment told him his punishment would be to survive.


      1. There are two answers depending on how you interpret the story:

        1. In the original timeline the Moment forces the survival of the Doctor. Remember, the Moment says he won’t survive, and the Doctor says he doesn’t want to… so the Moment says, “That will be your punishment then… to live.” So, one can conclude that in the original timeline the Moment protects the Doctor and his Tardis while destroying everything else.


        2. Gallifrey was never destroyed. Given the way things play out here… it’s entirely possible that Gallifrey was never destroyed because the future Doctors always intervened and changed his mind… but he forgot and thought he destroyed Gallifrey. Remember, at the end of the story they were clear that when the timelines separated the earlier Doctors would not remember the adventure… so they would go about assuming Gallifrey had been destroyed.

        I’m a complainer, mind you… but this part of the story actually worked pretty well for me.


  2. I loved this! It was scary in a relatable way…and I like the “scared is a superpower” thing, partly because my ex-boyfriend has contempt for fear and assumes that not liking something=fear.
    My only problem with Listen is that we don’t know what the monster is despite it being definitely real!


  3. It was OK, but it is emphatic proof that Mofflodyte only has one story and he is recycling it to the point of extinction now.

    Lawrence Miles nailed it first, with his Moff formula sidebar, and it’s just getting funnier now each time Moffloid does it.


  4. This episode may end up being my favorite, already one of my favorites of all time. For the amount of Moffat-trope there was, those things were very subdued. I loved every little bit of this episode, and that may be why I can’t find much to say about it. However, this episode is now what I will use to show someone Doctor Who. It exemplifies everything I love most about DW, in a way that reflects the overall series in a much stronger way than Blink. The only explanations a new viewer needs is that the Doctor is an alien called a Time Lord, and the shot of John Hurt may slightly confuse them.


    1. And this’ll be that friend I spoke of. Haha. Good points. I’ll try it out next time I get the chance. I’m frankly sick of Blink.


  5. ” I was reading a review of the episode that essentially bottled this notion that because the reviewer expected Moffat clichés within the episode, he reviewed it poorly.” – at first, I thought this was me…
    “Another friend told me that this would be his new episode to introduce those of the ‘not-we’ in place of others such as Blink.” – but then I thought that was instead.

    Having written this, I now think I just have a massive ego.


    1. Hahaha! Well I hate to inflate your ego further but that’s one of the best comments I’ve ever received. But actually I’m referring to IGN’s relatively low scoring review. And one of my friends who texted me last night.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I briefly thought about the Silents as species that had perfected hiding, too, but if I remember correctly: Weren’t they genetically engineered? If so The Doctors evolution speech would pass them, as that was no natural progress of becoming what they are.

    When Clara and Rupert lay under the bed and something sat on it, my first thought was “It’s The Doctor”, but when we later saw him sitting on that chair I somehow really wanted to see the creature underneath the blanket and not just the blurred image in the window.

    Throughout the episode I had this notion that I would be looking at a night of checking the room every few minutes, simply because I had many nights of feeling an eerie presence in the room, but Clara’s conclusion kind of softened that thought and I think that maybe that was the intention. Just like the ending of Blink was to show that the angels wouldn’t be able to move again. (I, by the way, HAD such a half-dream, but as my bed doesn’t have space underneath it, the touch was while I lay half between sleeping and waking up.)

    And congrats on the 200. 🙂


  7. Yay for “Listen” – it showed Clara once more being complicated and intelligent, harkening back to the potential she showed as Clara the Soufle Girl, and which she seemed to lose later one. And yes, it was creepy, but in a thoughtful way. I also felt Moffat laid his breadcrumb trail of clues extremely well.

    And Yay you! 200 posts, well done indeed.


  8. Congrats on 200! 😀

    I’ve also started just watching them twice. I think the reason a lot of people don’t like this one is those Moffatisms, which are admittedly a problem, but it’s worth remembering how well he does them sometimes. They only bother me when they’re wedged in badly.

    Plus, a lot of people didn’t like the “debunking,” but after a rewatch, I firmly believe nothing was debunked. I think Clara thinks it was, and her experience with the Doctor may play into who the listeners are–maybe they do come from the Doctor somehow, that scene where we think one’s taken the man’s coffee but actually it was the Doctor looks like foreshadowing to me–but what was going on in the episode was actually happening. The person under the blanket was not human, and Orson wasn’t imagining things.


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