Doctor Who: 8.04 Listen
Watching Doctor Who huddled behind the sofa; it's a phrase wildly associated with the show but rarely evident in the episodes we watch. Perhaps as audiences we're desensitised to scary movies (and scary TV shows). Perhaps the world is so much more horrific that there's nothing in Doctor Who that can really give us the chills. Perhaps we just don't have the capacity to be scared anymore.
Yet tonight, Moffat delivered one of the creepiest sequences we've seen in the show since...well Blink. The man behind the Weeping Angels, the Silence, the Vashta Nerada and the gas mask boy literally gave us the stuff on nightmares when the Doctor, Clara and (surprise!) a young Danny Pink met the thing that lived under a young boy's bed in a children's home in 90's Gloucester.
The shape in the blanket sitting on the bed and then creeping up behind Clara had a very Midnight vibe to it; it was a wonderful example of less is more. The scene may have been the highlight of the series so far. But did it make it the episode of the series too?
Well actually not really. Listen starts off promising enough with the creepy message on the Doctor's blackboard 'Listen'. But after we pass the children's home scene, it never really reaches the heights we expect it to. Given it's self-contained nature (it's the first episode to contain no reference to Missy or the Promised Land), Listen had in itself the ingredients to be the next Blink. Or failing that, the next Midnight.
You may be forgiven for thinking that I didn't like the episode and that isn't true. Capaldi continues to shine as the Doctor. He feels more natural in the role four episodes in, a subdued, colder figure compared to his predecessors but with no less presence. He's also got that playful banter with his companion down well too. His insults to Clara about her appearance are those of someone who can say that because they're close; in fact it continues to come across a more mature relationship. I for one am loving the dynamic between the Twelfth Doctor and Clara even more then her connection with the Eleventh.
Again, Jenna Coleman delivers a strong, more assured performance, while retaining that chirpy banter; particularly with a returning Danny Pink. I'm loving that we're seeing Coupling mark II in Moffat's scenes between Clara and Danny, though it might not be to everyone's tastes and go over the heads of the younger viewers.
In true Moffat style, there's plenty of timey-wimey twists and turns in Clara's burgeoning relationship with Danny. He actually dates Clara from two time periods in the same night (his original date and a Clara hours later) and we immediately learn that they are destined to have a long life together through the surprise reveal of her great-grandson Orson Pink. It turns out the Danny Pink we saw in the space suit in the trailers wasn't actually Danny Pink after all.
Showing her descendant adds weight to this relationship and enables the audience to invest in them further. Whether Clara will leave the Doctor and walk off into the sunset in the Christmas special (her rumoured departure date) or in three series' time, remains to be seen. But one thing's for sure; Danny Pink is going to be a big impact in her life to come. It will be fun seeing how they get there....and for that matter how he reacts to the Doctor when her worlds inevitably come crashing down.
The trip to the future was a nice moment, thought it didn't quite match the chills of the children's home scene. Perhaps the 'thing' pounding on the airlock door was too similar to the thing in Midnight to be original and I think that's where - dare I say it - I struggled . I love Moffat and where he's taken the show. I love the fresh, darker take in the Doctor and the more mature Clara. But I'm starting to feel like the stories have all been seen before.
At the start of the episode the Doctor mentioned the thing you see out of the corner of your eye. My immediate thought was well that's the Silence. As much as Moffat is the master of taking every day situations and making them terrifying, I'm wondering that holding your breath, looking under your bed, blinking, forgetting...it's all become too formulaic in its ingenuity. I expected him to do something fresh and this monster didn't feel fresh.
In fact; it wasn't a monster at all...just the Doctor's nightmare. What should have been a great twist just felt a little flat and never delivered on that children's home -scene. The surprise trip to Gallifrey too was a mix of brilliance and confusion. I loved that the barn we went to was the same we saw in Day Of The Doctor, giving it a special connection to the Doctor. I also liked that Clara continued to fulfill her role of guiding the Doctor by soothing the distressed boy. Becoming the very thing the Doctor had nightmares of was also a wonderful twist but left us with plenty of questions.
Was the same nightmare about the monster under the Doctor's bed connected or just random occurrence? Was the creature under the blanket one of the young (Rupert) Pink's friends? Was there anything at the end of the universe or was the Doctor just going mad? And if Gallifrey is time locked, how did Clara get there; unless of course it was all an illusion.
That is the issue with Listen. At moments I was thinking this might be a 10/10 episode. But the resolution left us scratching our heads, making it the weakest of the four episodes too.
Perhaps that's just it. Maybe the Doctor is going mad. He was talking to himself (and the audience) at the beginning of the episode and it appeared that he might be imagining the thing at the end of the universe. For that matter was Orson sharing the same delusion? Did he influence the Doctor's madness?
Maybe it's all the result of a Doctor that doesn't travel with a companion full time. (Not since the early days of the Ponds has he lived with fellow travellers on the TARDIS). It will be an interesting idea to explore as the show continues, perhaps resulting in Clara making a choice to travel with the Doctor full time or choose Danny Pink. And I hope so, otherwise the madness of the Doctor in this episode seems random.
Listen will definitely be an episode that divides audiences. It's an episode I'll choose not to show my kids, not just because they'll have nightmares for weeks but they might find it too confusing too. It's also an episode that will require repeat viewings to fully appreciate it. Me personally, I both loved and felt frustrated with it. What about you?