[SPOILERS] With the new episode of Doctor Who about to air it’s time to look back on last week’s episode, ‘Listen’. The Doctor suspects an ever-present… um, presence. Why? No clue but he’s determined to find out what it is and what it wants.
- Leading this episode’s “PRO” list is not Capaldi for once, he is the list though. No, instead it is FEAR, terror, and general creepy vibes. This episode is genuinely scary. As a horror movie fan well versed in all manner film scare tactics from the ghostly to the gory. Keeping that in mind, this episode of “family friendly” sci-fi television gave me more creeps than any R-rated horror film has in a great many years.
- The “something under your bed” concept makes for a great premise to tap into our collective fear of the unknown. Beyond that though, it is the direction by Douglas MacKinnon that makes for some remarkably scary moments. The scene in young Rupert Pink’s bedroom tops my list on best horror moments of any medium in the last several years.
- This is a wonderfully Doctor heavy episode offering up several long monologues for Capaldi to deliver and he commands the screen while he does so. I find this Doctor and Capaldi’s portrayal of him endlessly fascinating. Gruff and stern yet vulnerable. He comes across as both brave and forward, if not a bit brash, yet uncertain. I think we are exploring a grand character arc in this series and ‘Listen’ displays a larger step forward in that arc than the previous episodes.
- Clara has certainly become a more realized character in series 8. Previously she felt a bit flat which made Moffat’s insistence to insert her deep into the Doctor’s history a little irritating. He is still splashing his Clara brush all over the Doctor’s timeline but at least she is a stronger and somewhat more defined character now.
- Time travel! This may sound silly but I often wish for more time travel in Doctor Who beyond the usual “we’re going to jump to this time, have an adventure, then go home.” While this is not the most timey-whimey of stories it feature a lot of fun time jumping from young “Rupert” to ancestor Awesome.
- One mark on my positive list that some in the Who fandom have expressed as a negative is a question of who or what the actual monster, enemy, or conflict is. Why is the Doctor suddenly on this fear kick? This is one of the defining aspects that elevates this episode. Who knows? There is no apparent enemy or external conflict at all. The Doctor no doubt has time to contemplate various things. In this instance he has questioned the source of his fear and sets out to the explanation for this fear. Out of this we get not only interesting insight into the Doctor but we actually DO get at the source of his fear in a most timey-whimey manner. No, its not an alien that we can strap to a rocket or another evil machine we can reverse the polarity on. Its something more interesting. While I wouldn’t want a Doctor Who without aliens and evil machines, it is extremely satisfying to get departure from the usual formula.
- While I like the banter between Clara and the Doctor I am not a huge Clara fan. She is still not a strong or likable enough companion to be shoehorned into every moment of the Doctor’s timeline. As cool as the reveal was when she reached out and grabbed the ankle of who we presume to be the Doctor as a boy (and it was pretty cool), it is another instance of Clara playing this massive roll in the Doctor’s life. It seems… unearned.
- After the “resolution” of the episode it is a little disappointing that all the creepy occurrences were a matter of characters spooking themselves out. Each of said occurrences are given possible “real world” explanations as they happen but these explanations fall apart for certain scenes. For example, everything during the end of time scenes.
This is one of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who in a long time. It may even rank up among my favorite of all time. The concept was compelling and a refreshing departure from the usual adventure, the creepy scenes rival many modern horror movies, and Capaldi was captivating. Steven Moffat penned an excellent episode here and touched on many common Moffat-isms without falling into the usual pitfalls.