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!)