REVIEW: Doctor Who - "Listen"
One of the great strengths of Doctor Who is how the show can take the most mundane experiences and turn them into the wildest adventures. Few other shows could pick up something like the imagined monsters under a child’s bed and speculate about what they really are; could they just be figments of the imagination, or is there really something more sinister and otherworldly going on?
That’s what Steven Moffat delivers in the latest episode of Series 8, “Listen”. The story hearkens back to Moffatt’s writing during the Russell T. Davies run on Who, when Moffat wasn’t the target of hard-to-please fans or accusations of misogyny. “Listen” is a one-shot episode that combines spooky campfire-story thrills with some particularly strong character-building from its three leads. In fact, it’s one of the best chances so far to get to know the new Doctor, something we’ve been missing since he was introduced several weeks ago in “Deep Breath”.
As the story begins, we find the Doctor pondering a question that’s dogged him for a long time: are we ever truly alone? Or are we constantly accompanied by a perfectly hidden race of beings, who can’t bear to be seen? Might they be the explanation for children being afraid of the dark? To find out the truth, the Doctor recruits Clara (Jenna Coleman), reasoning that plugging her memories into the TARDIS might help direct them to the supposed monsters under the bed.
One of the striking things about “Listen” is that there are no apparent villains – except for a mysterious figure who appears under a bedspread, and some creepy knocking on a spaceship door, Moffat never definitively answers the questions he poses in the episode. Surprisingly, this didn’t end up feeling unsatisfying – unless Moffat brings the threads of this story back later in the series arc, all we can do is accept that some mysteries in life go unsolved. That being said, the scene of the figure on the bed is probably one of the spookiest moments on the show in a while, and the episode was better for it.
In the midst of this, the episode folds in useful information about Doctors both new and old. We see how Twelve puzzles through problems using the chalkboard and books on the new “mezzanine” level of the TARDIS, and how that gives him a professorial air – which seems to jive with Clara’s work as a schoolteacher. He’s not the angry, yet oddly boyish Eleventh Doctor any more – he’s more like Clara’s older colleague, one she takes inspiration from, yet isn’t afraid to challenge.
Later, we get an intriguing glimpse of the Doctor as a child, and begin to piece together some of his decisions as the War Doctor in the 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor”. Not only does this flesh out parts of the Doctor’s background that haven’t been explored on the show before, but also poses another interesting question: if the TARDIS could stumble across the Doctor as a child, has Gallifrey been re-discovered? Could a full return to the Doctor’s home planet be far off?
Clara isn’t just a spectator on this journey – the episode also helps develop her character arc. The major events of the story revolve around a “date gone wrong” scenario between Clara and her new acquaintance Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). Despite their best efforts, Clara and Danny always seem to misunderstand each other’s intentions, getting into a sequence of arguments that derail the date. There are hints that Clara and Danny might eventually have some great chemistry, but the show is building it up slowly, and possibly setting Danny up to become an official companion at some point.
“Listen” is an example of the kind of episode that Doctor Who should be delivering more often – not necessarily in its one-shot structure or lack of villains, but in its willingness to crack open its characters and to spin mind-bending new interpretations of time-worn myths. “Listen” gets three and a half stars out of four.
What did you think of the fourth episode of Series 8? Was it a return to the kind of Steven Moffat stories we remember fondly? Or were you expecting more from the story? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!